- Writing - Original Screenplay
- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
- Boyhood written by Richard Linklater
- Foxcatcher written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
- The Grand Budapest Hotel screenplay by Wes Anderson; story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
- Nightcrawler written by Dan Gilroy
Birdman is an incredibly precise screenplay with sharp dialogue and an intelligent division of screentime. We get to see a rich satire of big-budget actors and live in the schadenfreude of their grounding. There's a crack at an aging generation struggling to comprehend social media that is at times clever, though the gag is already starting to wear thin after such high-profile stabs as The Internship and Chef. Nonetheless, it's not lost in the character study of an old actor clutching to regain prominence. There's an incisive scene with a stage critic's opinion of Hollywood stars crowding out legitimate stage performers. Birdman has a few pitfalls (mostly written for Emma Stone), but the overall package is witty and rich.
As is typical of Linklater, Boyhood features an incredibly tight script designed to look improvised. Even still, the script was written year by year out of a rough blueprint he developed very early on. With this seamless blend of structured storytelling and improvised story, Boyhood avoids becoming clunky, stale, and obsolete over the twelve year filming process. It's a touching story of a child growing into an adult, but while his life is all growth, the auxiliary characters find themselves dealing with the death of their dreams. It's a beautiful take on growth and mortality. There's a scene where Patricia Arquette's character poignantly laments about the ongoing progress of life that she "just thought there would be more" which is exactly how I first felt about Boyhood, but, then, that's life, isn't it?
It's notable that Frye said, "It was really hard to make [du Pont] not a monster, to make him not crazy. Because we didn't want to make a movie about a crazy rich guy who shoots a wrestler" because the story is about a rich guy who shot a wrestler and was found guilty but mentally ill. In turn, they made the very movie they seem to think they avoided. Praised for its restraint, Foxcatcher forgot to add tension to the film. More than perhaps any other film this year, I found myself bored and pleading with it to end.
Wes Anderson wrote the screenplay for The Grand Budapest Hotel, and, as per usual, he was decidedly militant about adhering to it. The detail and precision of his work here is impressive. As an instruction manual it's indelibly deft. It's creation of a world and of characters is adroit and profound. As a story, however, it's lackluster. There's a disappointing lack of tension in the film. Zero is quickly taken in by Gustave, and we can more or less deduce how their relationship will play out by the simple fact of Zero's modern condition. We never have to wonder whether Gustave did or did not do the thing. For as much as we are given an incredibly articulate world, cared for with a deep affection, it is populated by characters for whom we're given paradoxically little reason to care for. Much like the romance of Zero and Agatha, The Grand Budapest Hotel follows a predictable and only minutely obstructed course.
Nightcrawler creates a curious character out of Louis Bloom. Very literally starting with nothing more than raw materials he is selling for scrap, he crafts himself into a successful social and entrepreneurial force. Giving no backstory lends to the conceit of concept as character, and here Bloom is so many delicious things. He's seemingly a distillation of google searches constantly telling us what he has learned that day. He speaks like a wikipedia article informed TED talk. Every ounce of his dialogue is socially farmed as he tells us banal stories of how his online business class shaped his life. Beyond that, it's no mistake that as a white, male Louis pulls himself to the top, he unrepentantly steps on his protégée played by Pakistani-British Riz Ahmed, the woman who is is news contact, nor is it a mistake that the force of justice in the film is played by a black woman who notably does not succeed. Bloom never cares for another person, not because he's inherently devoid of the ability, but because he never needs to. He is self-made in the way that CEOs are self-made, by making unfulfilled promises and exploiting others' misfortunate and humanity. The difference is that Bloom has no real identifiable skills outside of his ability to manipulate. The film as a whole skewers local news as bloodthirsty, sensationalistic creators of fear. As the story progresses, Bloom looks more and more like he could have had a bit part in American Psycho, and that's no mistake. Much as Patrick Bateman has lost his individuality in the surging wake of consumerism, Bloom has lost his humanity in the shifting paradigm of the traditionally white, male institutions of education, business, and news.
There are a host of really bright films here from fantastic scene setting, to beautiful dialogue, to insightful themes. The Grand Budapest Hotel just won the Writers Guild Award for original screenplay, and I think that will play out through the Oscars as well, though Birdman has a really strong shot. Nightcrawler really should win, in my opinion, but if it isn't going over Academy Award voter's heads, I doubt it will be well-received.
Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win: Nightcrawler
Should win: Nightcrawler