David Michôd for Animal Kingdom
Well-paced, gripping and intricate. The actors shine here because they're given a wonderful jumping off point from this debut writer. I can't wait to see what he does next.
Mike Leigh for Another Year
This nomination may garner sneers (he doesn't actually write scripts!) but the details, the nuances, the backstory birthed from the very notion that it's better to envision fully realized characters and giving them a situation rather than chaining stock characters to a rigid plot structure--they're all rich rewards of Leigh's process and yes, his writing.
Derek Cianfrance for Blue Valentine
Like Mike Leigh, he gives his actors room to breathe, but there's so much here that feels poached from genuine, real-life experience. Every character (no matter what time they exist in) has a distinct, believable and consistent voice.
Eric Johnson, Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy for The Fighter
Certain, Russell adds his directorial flair to what's already a tired genre. But the innovation doesn't start there. The film is on fire at the script level, creating a portrait of one of the most compelling cinematic families captured in recent memory. "She's an MTV girl!" So many great lines...
Michael Arndt for Toy Story 3
A beautiful swan song for one of Pixar's most beloved franchises and one of the few franchises in which each sequel has felt necessary, complete and lovely in its construction, starting with the well-structured script that both satisfies and subverts audience expectation. Balances tonal shift with aplomb. We all cried, certainly. But I'm not hearing enough talk about just how hilarious Spanish Buzz Lightyear was.
Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg for The Kids Are All Right. I certainly have reservations about the film, but it's screenplay still reads so well. Funny, sexy, touching. And that well-executed ending. Yorgos Lanthimos's Dogtooth gets points for creating its own universe, replete with strange rules and even an odd take on language itself.
Jacques Tati, Henri Marquet, and Sylvain Chomet create something beautiful and touching with The Illusionist, a better film than Toy Story 3, but clearly less reliant on its screenplay. David Seidler's screenplay for The King's Speech gets a shout out. Not that it would have ever made my list, but it hits its appropriate beats so well and is impeccably structured.