Let's get one of the big boys out of the way, shall we?
Over the last decade or so, the Best Writing categories have both become something of the de facto "Best Indie Movie" category. It's traditionally populated with titles like Sideways or Lost in Translation that just didn't have the mainstream pop to win the big award. That's all changed now since Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker, and it'll be interesting to see how this category evolves now that the little indie movies do have Best Picture pop (if not the mainstream pop).
“127 Hours” Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy (Download)
“The Social Network” Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin (Download)
“Toy Story 3” Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich (Download)
“True Grit” Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (Download)
“Winter's Bone” Adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini (Download)
127 Hours: There are some great moments in this story that don't involve Aron Ralston being pinned between a rock and a hard place. The cave swimming scene is one of the best that the nominated films have to offer this year, but I can't get away from the fact that this is a film that is all about Franco becoming Ralston during this altering experience. The film is sold on Franco's face and reactions and one lone, gory act than it is as an overarching story. But still, Boufoy and Boyle did an outstanding job pulling this off.
The Social Network: Typing and talking, yawn. Or that's what we'd be saying if anyone besides Aaron Sorkin had busted out this screenplay. It's a slight departure from the usual "talking and walking" Sorkin story, but this is his best work since the second season of The West Wing. It's deft and limber, and though Sorkin has an unfortunate for recycling phrases ("if you'd invented Facebook, you would have invented Facebook" is remarkably similar to Matt Albie's "if they had written the screenplay, they'd have written it" rant on Studio 60, for instance), it's an astounding piece of work.
Toy Story 3: To be brief: it's perfect. There isn't a wrong step taken, no time is wasted, every character is utilized definitively and -- most importantly -- when it's supposed to zig the kids' film zig it zags way the hell off into unpredictably brilliant territory. And it's utterly sincere the entire time. Rick Deckard could just show this to find out who is human who isn’t a replicant.
True Grit: This is the most delicious of the five nominees, especially in dialogue. From what I understand, in many places the dialogue is word for word what is in the book, but there is still a matter of the Coen Brothers and how they've stylized the dialogue in every film they've made. Its about rhythm and tone and timing, and it takes a writer-director to be able to get away with dialogue this grammatically overt without being stilted and formless on screen.
Winter's Bone: If you explained this story to me without showing me the film, thus denying Jennifer Lawrence's outstanding performance an audience, you would notice a fairly thick glaze over my eyes. An Ozarks girl searching for her likely dead, redneck meth cook father who put up their house for his bail bond? It's not exactly my cup of tea, nor anyone else's I assume. But the scenario changes dramatically by simply adding in the words "played by Jennifer Lawrence" after "Ozarks girl". Is this a big city bias? Maybe. But I doubt if it took place in Maitland or Altamonte or Brooklyn or Tokyo the glaze would have been thinner without Lawrence as the lead.
Toy Story 3 (by a nose over The Social Network.)
Writers: Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
Up next: Best Animated Film. Hmm.