Atonement, Screenplay by Christopher Hampton
Away from Her, Written by Sarah Polley
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Screenplay by Ronald Harwood
No Country for Old Men, Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
There Will Be Blood, Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
This is definitely the more competitive of the two screenwriting categories. I really love some of the scripts that are nominated. Looking at the WGA, this category has matched up 5/7 ('02 and '03 didn't match) this decade and 6/10 ('98 and '99 were also misses) the last ten years. The numbers aren't too bad, so that should fare well for the Coens. Let's take a closer look.
Christopher Hampton for Atonement adapted the book of the same name. Some (or should I say a lot) people don't like this movie. I enjoyed it and it's one of my favorites for 2007. Hampton will seek his second Oscar (won back in '89 for Dangerous Liasons). Do I think it has a shot to win? That might be a stretch unless Atonement has the support of the silent majority. Otherwise, it will need a miracle.
Sarah Polley for Away from Her adapted a short story "The Bear Came over the Mountain". I liked Julie Christie's performance, but as a movie, I thought it was so-so. I will say that first time nominee Sarah Polley made a successful jump from actress to writer and that should be applauded. It just will have to come in the form of a hug and kiss rather than a golden statue.
Ronald Harwood for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly adapted the book of the same name. I love this movie and you have to start by admiring the script. The film is about a paralyzed stroke victim and keeps you interested for the duration of the film. Harwood won this category back in '02 with The Pianist (also nominated back in '84 for The Dresser), has a legit shot. The foreign language barrier worries me a little, but in the last decade another foreign film, Talk to Her, won Best Original Screenplay. The thing that worries me about this film is the next two nominees.
Joel & Ethan Coen for No Country for Old Men adapted the book of the same name. They won the WGA and their film is a juggernaut right now. It's hard not to respect this film or adaptation (they didn't even change the ending). If the Coens have a big night as expected, then they will probably win this Oscar.
Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood adapted the book, Oil!. He probably has the best shot to be the Coens. That seems to be his nickname for the Oscars. Although, this could be the category he actually beats them in. Why? Even though Blood is not his best script that he's written, this category is looked on as a consolation for Best Picture. Some voters may have a problem giving the Coens three or four Oscars and leaving Anderson with none for this phemonanal film. It could very well happen and if it does, I will be extremely excited. Anderson comes into the Oscars with two previous nominations ('97 for Boogie Nights and '99 for Magnolia in the Best Original Screenplay category) and people are realizing his true talent.
You may want to play it safe with the Coens, but watch out either Anderson or Harwood to sneak in and pull off the upset.