Will Win: Chris Terrio, Argo. Taut, funny, and pulse-pounding, this script claimed the WGA trophy and is riding high on the Argo wave of support. This category is extremely difficult to call, however. As fun as Terrio’s script is, it may have the least emotional depth in this field of nominees. If it wins, it will be because voters admired its finely crafted clockworks.
Runner-Up: Tony Kushner, Lincoln. The elegance of the language in this script is impossible to deny, yet somehow it has failed to build the passion necessary to dominate this award season. If there’s a contender who has been robbed this year, it’s Kushner. He blended real and imagined dialogue, built from letters, speeches, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s historical tome Team of Rivals, and his own imagination in a seamless recreation of backroom politicking during the Civil War. There’s still a chance, but the margin will be slim.
Surprise: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook. I wouldn’t bet money on it, but there’s a chance that love for this movie could result in an upset here.
Will Win:Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
He didn’t win for Inglourious Basterds, which is arguably an even better script, but Academy voters remember those sorts of things and tend to count them toward the next good work a nominee does. This violent, racially charged shoot-‘em-up had members cheering over its sheer blood-soaked audacity. The speechifying by Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio brings an added level of grandiloquence to the proceedings.
Runner-Up: Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty. Another one of the crimes of Oscar season was the way this Osama bin Laden takedown thriller got mired in false accusations and misunderstandings. Did it glorify torture? No, it actually showed torture not working, and eventually other methods are shown, leading to actionable intelligence. Careful readings didn’t come soon or often enough, but if Academy voters managed to pay attention to what this blend of journalism and screenwriting actually had to say about what the U.S. government did in the search for the terrorist leader, they might push it over the top.
Surprise: Michael Haneke, Amour. Those who love this drama about death and aging are passionate and determined, leading quite a few pundits (including yours truly, for a while) to place this as their number one. The whole race is too close to call with any confidence. It really could be any one of these three films. But for now, I hear equal — if not stronger — passion for Django.