A look at some likely nominees in the script categories.
Among contenders for screenplay Oscars, Peter Morgan reigns because he has mighty, royal-themed entries in both races: "The Queen" for original script and "The Last King of Scotland" for adapted. Morgan gets the most attention for "The Queen" because it's the best reviewed film of 2006 when measured by combining critics' scores at Rottentomatoes.comand Metacritic.com. Also, observers hope he'll blab about how he came up with dialogue for those private-quarters scenes.
Pedro Almodovar has proved that foreign-language films can win ("Talk to Her"), so "Volver" will probably be nominated. It's a serious best picture contender along with "Babel," "The Good Shepherd" (writer Eric Roth won for "Forrest Gump") and "Bobby" (many actors-turned-writers such as Emilio Estevez have won). There's some confusion about which writing category "The Pursuit of Happyness" belongs in, but it's competing as an original script based upon the life of a real person who published a book after the screenplay was penned.
The dueling Sept. 11 movies clash here: "United 93," focusing on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, and "World Trade Center," spotlighting human heroics on the ground. Real-life inspiration may get "Catch a Fire" noticed because the drama about a black rebel was penned by the white daughter of anti-apartheid activists.
Even if "Little Miss Sunshine" is still stuck in second gear and can't make it into the best picture race, it may end up in this consolation category much like previous feel-good, box-office juggernaut "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Ditto for mega-hit "Borat," which could get the last laugh here if snubbed elsewhere.
Previous nominee Hanif Kureishi ("My Beautiful Laundrette") may return thanks to Peter O'Toole's powerhouse turn in "Venus."
Past Writers Guild/Indie Spirit nominees Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy may finally get noticed by the academy for, ironically, their spoof of Oscar campaigning in "For Your Consideration." Also overdue among comedy screenwriters: Nancy Meyers for "The Holiday."
Voters often hail behind-the-industry tales like "Hollywoodland," "A Prairie Home Companion" and "Stranger Than Fiction." And there are supporters of two bewitching fantasies, "The Fountain" and "Pan's Labyrinth," plus Germany's entry in the foreign-film race, "The Lives of Others."
Many Oscarologists believe in a mysterious link between the adapted screenplay and best picture races: The two categories have shared 48% of their winners over the last 50 years (compared with 22% for original scripts). Usually, three nominees overlap.
Count "Dreamgirls" in: Bill Condon was nominated for "Chicago" and won for "Gods and Monsters." Paul Haggis wrote the last two best pic champs, "Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby," and now is back with "Flags of Our Fathers." "The Departed" was a triumphant retelling of Hong Kong thriller "Infernal Affairs." "Casablanca" and "Maltese Falcon" were nominated for screenplay, so shouldn't "The Good German," something of an homage to those earlier films, get a nod as well?
Particularly impressive is how some bold filmmakers radically change what happens in well-known books and end up creating a superior cinematic experience -- like Todd Field (for 2001's "In the Bedroom") daring to tweak the ending of the bestselling "Little Children," or Ron Nyswaner (for 1993's "Philadelphia") heightening the romantic mood and political tension expressed by W. Somerset Maugham in the pages of "The Painted Veil."
Other notable book adaptations in contention this season: "The Last King of Scotland," "The Devil Wears Prada," "Thank You for Smoking," "Fast Food Nation," "Running With Scissors," "The Da Vinci Code," "Charlotte's Web," "Children of Men," "The Prestige," "The Illusionist" and "Notes on a Scandal."
When dramas leap from stage to screen, plots often get chopped up and jumbled. The opposite happened to "The History Boys," which now follows a linear narrative quite impressively.
Tom O'Neil writes the Gold Derby blog at TheEnvelope.com.