Before the Gold: Best Original Screenplay

This month we’re taking a look at this year’s Oscar nominees and digging into their past work to find hidden gems that you may have overlooked, or specific credits that may have influenced their Oscar-nominated work this year.

The crop of nominees for Best Original Screenplay this year are both diverse and refreshingly, well, fresh. Only one of the nominees in this category has any previous wins or nominations (that would be Aaron Sorkin) which speaks to just how much relatively unknown talent the Academy have decided to embrace this year. Blame it on the pandemic-influenced release schedule if you like, but this batch of creatives would all be worthy contenders in any year. We’ll look at one nominee (or group of nominees, if they’ve collaborated before) for each film:

Keith Lucas & Kenny Lucas 

Nominated for: Judas and the Black Messiah (shared with Shaka King and Will Berson)

Previous nominations: None

Hidden gem: Lucas Bros Moving Co (2013-2015)

There’s no better place to start this list than with former colleague and friend of the site Keith Lucas (who graciously appeared on episodes 14 and 18 of the Awards Radar podcast to discuss Judas and the Black Messiah with us). He and his identical twin brother Kenneth Lucas have gone from stand-up comedy favorites to Oscar nominees in less than a decade, but in between they wrote, created and executive produced 17 episodes of Lucas Bros Moving Co, an irreverent comedy that feels both familiar and distinct within the realm of adult animation. Playing fictionalized versions of themselves, the Lucas Bros find themselves sucked into all many of crazy adventures, with a tone that falls somewhere in between Regular Show and Half Baked. If you’d like to get a sense of their particular brand of humor that will likely carry through in their upcoming collaborations with Judd Apatow and Lord & Miller, this is a great place to start.

Recommended viewing for other nominees from Judas and the Black Messiah:

Shaka King: High Maintenance (2018, 1 episode)

Will Berson: Scrubs (2003, 1 episode)

Lee Isaac Chung

Nominated for: Minari

Previous nominations: None

Hidden gem: Abigail Harm (2012)

Inspired by the Korean folktale “The Woodcutter and the Nymph”, Abigail Harm focuses on the titular character (played by the always delightful Amanda Plummer) as she searches through a fictionalized New York City for a celestial creature that can provide with a sense of love that she’s missing in her otherwise lonely life. Before his depiction of the semi-autobiographical Korean-American family at the heart of Minari, Lee Isaac Chung was sharpening his storytelling skills with this and other small indies, and the balance between low-key fairy tale whimsy and deeply felt emotional longing leads to a potent character study that is well worth checking out if you’re a fan of his latest film.

Emerald Fennell

Nominated for: Promising Young Woman

Previous nominations: None for the Oscars, though she does have two Emmy nominations under her belt

Hidden gem: Killing Eve (2019, 6 episodes)

Though having worked as an actress since 2006, Promising Young Woman marks Emerald Fennell’s feature film debut as both a writer and director. To find a worthy recommendation for her skills as a writer, we must look to her TV work. And it doesn’t get any easier to recommend than Killing Eve. The wildly popular spy series from Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge (based on novels by Luke Jennings) stars Sandra Oh as a brilliant MI5 desk worker who is tasked with hunting down a renowned assassin played by Jodie Comer. The two gradually become obsessed with one another, and what follows is equal parts thrilling and hilarious. Fennell was brought on to write a half-dozen episodes for the second season, but really it would be disingenuous to recommend anything less than watching the show in its entirety so far. You won’t regret it.

Darius Marder & Derek Cianfrance

Nominated for: Sound of Metal (shared with Abraham Marder)

Previous nominations: None

Hidden gem: The Place Beyond the Pines (2012, co-written by Ben Coccio)

As a directorial follow-up to his critically beloved tragic romance Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance and Sound of Metal director Darius Marder collaborated with Ben Coccio on this generational saga about the sins of fathers being inherited by their children in surprising and sometimes heartbreaking ways. An excellent ensemble cast led by Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Dane DeHaan, and Ben Mendelsohn are given plenty to chew on as their characters made decisions that often range from bad to worse, setting them on a doomed trajectory that’s every bit as inevitable as it is exhilarating. Even if the film peaks in the first third with the Gosling-led section, there’s still plenty to enjoy throughout, as the film resolves in a way that defies expectations while remaining true to its characters. If you like your dramas sad and down-to-earth, this should be on your radar.

Aaron Sorkin

Nominated for: The Trial of the Chicago 7

Previous nominations: The Social Network (2010, Winner), Moneyball (2011), Molly’s Game (2017)

Hidden gem: The Social Network (2010)

Alright, so the film that received 8 Oscar nominations (of which it won 3, including for Sorkin’s screenplay) and has still retained a healthy degree of popularity since its release doesn’t exactly qualify as a hidden gem, but hear me out. I would argue that this story of a handful of tech geniuses too young to fully realize the potential consequences of their actions, who ultimately create one of the most powerful and omnipresent websites of all-time that helped to define the current state of social media, is the most important film of the past decade. Facebook was already more than popular enough at the time to justify the creation of the film in the first place, but in the 11 years since then it has only grown more and more exponentially, to the point where it’s no easy feat to find someone below a certain age range who’s never used it, even if they don’t anymore. The thrill of discovery and invention gives way to petty feuds and interpersonal rivalries, writ large as million-dollar court cases, and by the end of it, all the money in the world can’t fill the hole left by a good friend and a broken heart. It may play fast and loose with the true story that inspires it (hardly the first or last time this would happen in Sorkin’s work), but the almost Shakespearean heft these characters and their struggles are given while remaining thoroughly modern elevate this to a piece of cinema that has just as much to say about today’s world as it did upon release. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen it, but in that case give it a rewatch. I’d wager you’ll be impressed with just how well it holds up.


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Written by Myles Hughes

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