Will Paul Thomas Anderson (‘Inherent Vice’) return to Oscars screenplay race?

Paul Thomas Anderson is usually a darling of the academy’s writers’ branch, but he was snubbed for his last effort, “The Master.” Can he make an Oscars comeback for his “Inherent Vice” screenplay?

Paul Thomas Anderson and cast discuss ‘loose and chaotic’ style of ‘Inherent Vice

Granted, “Vice” is a bit, ahem, oddball, but many academy members love it because it reminds them of their quirky youth. It’s a stoner comedy set in 1970s California, telling the tale of a pot-puffing private investigator (Joaquin Phoenix), who tries to get to the bottom of a conspiracy involving his missing ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston). It’s a dizzy, psychedelic film where the confusing plot may be almost beside the point.

But it’s also the first film anyone has ever dared to make from a novel by famed author Thomas Pynchon, who is widely celebrated in literary circles for his dense, complex prose. That fact alone may win Anderson some bonus points with academy voters, who already love him, especially his fellow writers.

Anderson is a five-time Oscar nominee, and three of those were for writing. He earned Original Screenplay bids for his breakthrough films “Boogie Nights” (1997) and “Magnolia” (1999), and then he hit pay dirt in 2007 with “There Will Be Blood,” which earned him nominations for Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay.

Is ‘Inherent Vice’ too quirky for Oscars?

After that Oscars breakthrough, the relative shortfall of “The Master” in 2012 can be considered a bit of a disappointment; it earned acting nominations for lead actor Phoenix and supporting stars Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but Anderson wasn’t nominated in any category.

Back in October and November, “Inherent Vice” floated between the fourth and fifth slots in the predictions by our Experts. Recently, it dropped to sixth place, but that puts it within striking distance of a nomination as it competes against “Wild” and “American Sniper” for that precious fifth spot.

Curiously, it’s common for films to be nominated only for their screenplays and nothing else. In recent years, “Before Midnight” (2013), “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012), “The Ides of March” (2011), “Margin Call” (2011), and “Another Year” (2010) all earned screenwriting bids as their only nominations. That’s because screenwriting is split into two categories, and the top Best Picture contenders aren’t always evenly distributed between them.

That helps “Inherent Vice.” It’s an adapted script, and this year, most of the top Best Picture hopefuls are original scripts: “Boyhood,” “Birdman,” “Foxcatcher,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Mr. Turner,” “Nightcrawler,” “Selma,” and “Whiplash” are all originals.

Meanwhile, “Vice” may have wiggle room against an adapted field that includes “The Imitation Game,” “Gone Girl,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Unbroken,” and “Wild.”

Join the fierce discussion of ‘Inherent Vice’ in our notorious message boards

“Inherent Vice” is a divisive film. Some people hate it, but it scores highly at Metacritic (81) and Rotten Tomatoes (71). The passionate support of a select few can help push it over the top, especially among elite Hollywood writers who have nominated Anderson thrice before.

Do you think “Inherent Vice” will be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay? Use our drag-and-drop menu to make your predictions, or click here to enter your picks in all Oscar categories, as well as Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, Independent Spirit Awards, and more.

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