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The Lone Screenplay Nominee – 2014 Original Screenplay Race

Nightcrawler

Writers are an odd bunch. Every year we get a movie (or two) that earns a screenplay nomination… and nothing else. These deviations from the pack mentality of the Oscars (where we see a few movies dominate in all categories) are what make for a fun and delightful nomination morning. In fact, many times the writing branch of the Academy honors movies that later become much more lauded and acclaimed decades later. We wanted to take a look at these lone screenplay nominees and figure out which have aged well and should they have earned more nominations.

What Movie Only Earned an Original Screenplay Oscar Nomination in 2014?

Nightcrawler — Written by Dan Gilroy

What Is ‘Nightcrawler’ About?

What would you do for a good scoop?

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) realizes news networks will pay good money for the grisliest of accident or murder footage. Sensing an opportunity, he decides to start filming crime scenes with a camcorder and selling it to KWLA 6, specifically to the morning news director, Nina (Rene Russo). He enlists a young hustler, Rick (Riz Ahmed), to help him in the filming of these murders, often re-staging them to get better angles and look more sensationalized.

As Lou’s scheme begins to work out, he gets more and more ambitious with the footage he turns in. This leads him to a triple homicide in Granada Hills which makes him the target of police looking to actually solve the murder.

How Did ‘Nightcrawler’ Earn Its Original Screenplay Nomination?

The most important precursor for Original Screenplay heading into the Oscars is the WGA Award. Luckily, Nightcrawler showed up here alongside four other films that all wound up Oscar nominated. The eventual winner in this category, Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), was deemed ineligible for the WGA Awards. Whiplash took its place in the lineup, but that film was later classified as Adapted at the Oscars. With no other insurgent underdogs gaining steam in Original Screenplay, this nomination virtually locked up Nightcrawler’s nomination.

The WGA wasn’t the only place to honor Dan Gilroy’s script. BAFTA, the Critics Choice and the Indie Spirits were just some of the major precursors the script picked up on the way to the Oscars. As we’ll detail later, Nightcrawler was an unexpectedly major awards player in many categories. Original Screenplay seemed like the easiest get for a movie that could’ve earned up to four or five nominations on its best day.

In terms of box office, the film opened in wide release to solid, if unspectacular numbers. After grossing $10 million on opening weekend, the film finished with $32 million domestic and $47 million worldwide. While this is not exactly the makings of a huge hit, it was a mainstream release with solid viewership. This puts it ahead of some of the indie contenders that were struggling to get seen.

What Other Categories Should It Have Showed Up In?

It’s still shocking that Jake Gyllenhaal did not earn his very deserved second career nomination for Nightcrawler. Leading up to Oscar nominations, Gyllenhaal had racked up many critic wins and nominations from all four major precursors – Golden Globes, SAG, Critics Choice and BAFTA. It’s rare that an actor misses out on an Oscar nomination with all four precursors, though one happens every couple of years (see Timothee Chalamet for Beautiful Boy and Amy Adams for Arrival). Still, Gyllenhaal gives an incredible, transformative performance that deserved to be recognized. Louis Bloom is a fully realized monster that is frightening, yet well-rounded, an impressive feat.

He’s not the only person in the cast that had Oscar buzz. Rene Russo came close to a career Oscar nomination for playing Nina, a vulturous morning news director. She earned a BAFTA nomination and citations from LAFCA (Los Angeles Film Critics Association) and the National Society of Film Critics in the Supporting Actress category. On the other side of the spectrum, Riz Ahmed earned breakthrough awards for his performance as Louis’ nervous assistant, Rick. Both the Indie Spirits and Gotham Awards singled him out specifically.

Best Picture was also not out of the question for Nightcrawler, though it would have likely needed an acting nomination for it to have a real shot. It wound up in the PGA Awards top 10, which is one of the primary precursors needed on the way to a Best Picture nomination. It also received nominations from other guilds such as the WGA, ACE (Editors) and ADG (Art Directors). This demonstrates broad support across a variety of disciplines, which is necessary to get an Oscar nomination. Likely, Nightcrawler was very close to a number of categories.

In terms of craft categories, Nightcrawler had the best chance at a nomination for Film Editing. Aside from the aforementioned ACE Eddie nomination, it also received editing nominations from BAFTA and the Indie Spirits. There was a world in which the Oscars went wild for the movie and it received four to five nominations. However, the film was close enough to being a genre picture that they kept it at arm’s length. Thus, it became a Lone Screenplay nominee.

What Movie Will Win The Oscar For 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

Though Nightcrawler was likely fifth place in terms of votes, it stands out as one of the best nominees of the bunch. In fact, it would likely get my vote if I were filling out a ballot.

Birdman ended up winning the prize, along with Best Picture, Director and Cinematography. The script works best when it’s in conversation with the meta elements of the film’s casting of Michael Keaton. There’s an interesting conversation this movie has between commercial success and artistic integrity. While so much of the movie works for me, there are times where the script oversimplifies its arguments, particularly as it applies to the critic, played by Lindsay Duncan. Still, it’s a worthy enough winner in the category.

Wes Anderson deserves to be an Oscar winner, though I’m likely in the minority that The Grand Budapest Hotel is not his finest hour. It’s a technical marvel that is tons of fun at many points. However, the melancholy undertones don’t gel as well with the central caper. He’s been able to balance the fun and sadness of nostalgia better in other films, such as Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums. Still, it was great to see him get major traction for this film.

Both Boyhood and Foxcatcher have different strengths as films, neither of which are the scripts. Boyhood is a feat of directing and editing that, by design, has a threadbare script hardly deserving of this nomination. Likewise, Bennett Miller’s chilly direction pairs interestingly with the trio of central performances (Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo). Yet, the script never has enough narrative propulsion to make it a satisfying watch.

Closing Thoughts

In so many ways, Nightcrawler’s script is the better version of each of its nominees. It’s able to critique the media landscape while simultaneously delivering chills and thrills, as well as high octane entertainment. While it was likely never going to win the Oscar, it deserved to get more nominations than it received. Hopefully more people will discover the film over the years since it can still call itself an Oscar nominated film.

What are your thoughts on the 2014 Original Screenplay race? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Another great article on these. I agree with a lot of what you said about Nightcrawler. I don’t think I loved it as much though (it was in my top 20 but not 10). I do agree it was probably very close to maybe 5 nominations. I could see it being in the second group in at least 4 categories other than screenplay. Maybe more. Personally I would have given it just 1 myself but it wouldn’t have been screenplay. Just Rene Russo in Supporting Actress. But Gyllenhaal would have been my 6th or 7th…but that performance has gotten better for me as time has gone on. Ahmed would have been 6th or 7th too. Production Design would have been close for me and Cinematography. Just not in the top 5. Although in all those cases I would put it ahead of a few of the nominees….just have others I would put in first. And Original Screenplay it’s the same deal for me. It along with Chef, Foxcatcher and Top Five just missed for me. It was probably 7th behind Chef. And my nominees were Birdman, Boyhood, Calvary, Grand Budapest and Skeleton Twins. And I was good with Birdman winning…although I would have been better with them spreading the wealth a little bit between Birdman and Boyhood.

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