Awards aren’t everything but they can reveal current trends. Let’s take a look at this year’s Oscar nominees.
The Academy Awards are the most well-respected film and entertainment awards entity. Though they don’t necessarily equate to box office numbers, they brim with prestige and, more than that, they can be a great litmus test of what kinds of stories are trending in the film industry.
Let’s take a look at the 2022 nominees for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay to glean some commonalities.
Enter the WeScreenplay Diverse Voices Screenwriting Lab. All entries receive FREE feedback!
Best Original Screenplay
Don’t Look Up — Adam McKay, David Sirota
“Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.”
Belfast — Kenneth Branagh
“A young boy and his working-class Belfast family experience the tumultuous late 1960s.”
Licorice Pizza — Paul Thomas Anderson
“The story of Alana Kane and Gary Valentine growing up, running around and going through the treacherous navigation of first love in the San Fernando Valley, 1973.”
The Worst Person in the World — Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt
“Chronicles four years in the life of Julie, a young woman who navigates the troubled waters of her love life and struggles to find her career path, leading her to take a realistic look at who she really is.”
King Richard — Zach Baylin
“A look at how tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams became who they are after coaching from their father Richard Williams.”
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Lost Daughter — Maggie Gyllenhaal
“A woman’s beach vacation takes a dark turn when she begins to confront the troubles of her past.”
Dune — Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts
“Feature adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel about the son of a noble family entrusted with the protection of the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy.”
Drive My Car — Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe
“After his wife’s unexpected death, Yusuke Kafuku, a renowned stage actor and director, receives an offer to direct a production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima. There, he begins to face the haunting mysteries his wife left behind.”
The Power of the Dog — Jane Campion
“Charismatic rancher Phil Burbank inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, Phil torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love.”
CODA — Sian Heder
“As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music by wanting to go to Berklee College of Music and her fear of abandoning her parents.”
As expected, nearly all of the nominees are drama screenplays, the exception being Don’t Look Up, which is more of a dark, satiric comedy. Each one is grounded in reality except for Dune, a sci-fi/fantasy epic that takes place on another planet and features humans with special powers and abilities.
Another common denominator that has sadly become standard during awards season, including the Oscars, is that most of these films deal with darker content such as traumatic experiences or violence. King Richard and CODA are two examples of films that are actually uplifting and inspirational. Licorice Pizza is another that breaks this rule with a nostalgic sense of adventure and romance.
Know Your History
The Academy loves biopics and historical pieces. Belfast, King Richard, and Licorice Pizza are based on true stories and locations, albeit more loosely in the case of Licorice Pizza. I’ll even argue that Don’t Look Up made the impact it did (pun intended) because of how accurately it satirized the influence of social media and divisions in modern society.
While the screenplays this year weren’t leaning as heavily toward biopics as in years past, the rest of the awards contenders were peppered with them, including Being the Ricardos, House of Gucci, and Spencer.
Written by Men
The Academy is currently comprised of 77% men…and guess what — 70% of the nominations for best screenplay were written by men. The Academy is also 94% white, the race that also dominated nominations. When we talk about awards given for art forms, we have to talk about the implicit biases that go along with them. People are more likely to watch and enjoy a film that they can relate to, so older white men are deciding what is worthy of esteem for the rest of us.
It’s a problem. The fix is to continue to write what you know, bring your unique vision to your storytelling, and lift other writers up with you as you go — especially those who have been excluded and marginalized in the past.
Understanding awards season trends can help writers understand the market and maybe set themselves up to stand out in their careers. In 2020, there were 80 films on The Black List, an annual list of promising unproduced screenplays. Of those, 73% were written by men (still not good enough but the number is steadily rising as the industry pays more attention to content created by women). 25% of the screenplays were biopics or historically based scripts.
Knowing this, emerging writers can help to distinguish themselves with a breakout script. Liz Hannah is the epitome of this; her breakout screenplay The Post was number two on The Black List and went on to star Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks with, oh you know, Steven Spielberg directing.
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!