Could we be underestimating ‘Minari’ for Best Original Screenplay Oscar?

Aaron Sorkin (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) won Best Screenplay at the Golden Globes, and then Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) pulled ahead by winning Best Original Screenplay at the Critics Choice, Writers Guild, and BAFTA Awards. So they’re the two to beat for the Oscar, with Fennell enjoying a significant lead in our racetrack odds based on the combined predictions of thousands of Gold Derby users. But what about Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”)? Might we be underestimating him?

We don’t have that much to go on in terms of the strength of Chung’s screenplay as an Oscar contender. His script was snubbed at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, but neither group liked “Minari” overall as much as the Oscars did. The Globes only nominated it for Best Foreign Language Film (which it won), and while it earned six BAFTA noms (the same number as it got at the Oscars), four of those were in categories decided by the new jury system designed to level the playing field and promote more diversity: Best Supporting Actress for Yuh-Jung Youn, Best Supporting Actor for Alan Kim, Best Director for Chung, and Best Casting. The only nominations it got from the wider British academy membership were Best Foreign Language Film and Best Score, and it didn’t win anything except Supporting Actress for Youn.

And at the Writers Guild Awards, “Minari” wasn’t eligible due to the guild’s stricter rules, so we haven’t gotten to see how the film stacks up when nominated for writing against “Promising” and “Trial” by a major industry peer group. Our closest comparison to the Oscar race is the Critics Choice Awards, which did love “Minari” as much as the motion picture academy did (even more so, actually, as it got 10 nominations there) and did nominate it for writing alongside its two chief Oscar rivals, with “Promising” prevailing.

We’ve seen writing upsets before. Geoffrey Fletcher (“Precious”) didn’t win at the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, Writers Guild, or BAFTA Awards before claiming Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars. And “Green Book” scribes Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga, and Brian Hayes Currie had only won the Golden Globe before their Oscar win. Chung could get an extra boost of sentimental support from the fact that he’s a writer-director telling a story inspired by his own family and experiences, like Vallelonga and a couple of other writing champs from the last 20 years, Cameron Crowe (“Almost Famous”) and Tarell Alvin McCraney (“Moonlight”). So Chung may yet be a stealth writing champ come April 25.

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