Best adapted screenplay, the nominees:
The Ides of March, George Clooney, Beau Willimon & Grant Heslov
The Descendants, Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne & Jim Rash
Hugo, John Logan
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan
Moneyball, Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian & Stan Chervin
The Descendants is the likely winner here. The movie's trio of credited writers did a fine job adapting Kaui Hart Hemmings' 2007 novel for the screen. The three main characters -- a father and his two daughters -- were memorable, and the movie managed an exceptionally difficult feat, mixing humor and serious drama without capsizing.
Best original screenplay, the nominees:
Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
Margin Call, JC Chandor
A Separation, Asghar Farhadi
The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumulo
Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is the front runner (and my pick) in a category that -- with the exception of Bridesmaids -- includes nothing but award-worthy nominees. A Separation likely will win best foreign-language film, so it probably will miss out in this category. It's possible, if unlikely, that the intricate and literate Margin Call screenplay could prevail.
I pick Allen because the movie was one of his most popular, and because every awards show needs to honor someone who isn't likely to show up.
Caveats: It's always dangerous to count Aaron Sorkin out, and if The Artist goes crazy, it might win best original screenplay.
Join me, Denver Post Film Critic Lisa Kennedy, Starz Denver Film Festival Director Britta Erickson and Oscar maven Bob Becker for an Oscar preview Cinema Salon, 7:30 p.m., Wed., Feb. 22 at the FilmCenter/Colfax, 2510 E. Colfax Ave. We'll predict, I'm sure, but we'll also talk about why we still care (if we do) about the whole damn business anyway.
*An update: The Writers Guild of America Sunday (Feb. 19) announced that The Descendants won its award for best adapted screenplay, and Midnight in Paris took the award for best original screenplay. After I originally posted my predictions in this category, a reader commented negatively on Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (See below). I wouldn't have voted for it as best original screenplay, either, but the professionals evidently admired it more than any other picture in the competition.