Original Screenplays Written Directly for the Screen: What to Watch in November and December 2019

The Academy has separate award categories for writing: Screenplay adapted from another source and screenplays written directly for the screen. My last post is a list of movie adaptations coming out this fall/winter. In this post is a list of some highly anticipated features based on an original screenplay, all poised for the Awards Season, eyeing the 2020 Oscars race.




Director Sam Mendes takes a fragment of a story his grandfather Alfred Mendes had told him and wrote this original screenplay. During WWI, two young privates (one apparently represents his grandfather) race against time to deliver a message deep into enemy territory to save 1,600 British soldiers from heading into a death trap. In real life, Alfred Mendes was given a Military Medal for his bravery in taking up the mission voluntarily. So, the movie has a particular personal meaning for the younger Mendes. The Oscar winning director (for American Beauty) has an exceptional track record of top features including Bond movies Skyfall, Spectre, and the adaptation of Richard Ford’s Revolutionary Road. In 1917, Mendes has a stellar cast to work with, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Richard Madden, Mark Strong. Roger Deakins just might get another Oscar nom for cinematography.


A Hidden Life 

A Hidden Life

Here’s another hero’s story but of a very different nature. This time in WWII during Nazi occupation of Austria. Franz Jägerstätter is a farmer in a small village, leading a simple and idyllic family life. Everything changes when he’s conscripted to serve in the German army. Jägerstätter refuses to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler as he considers Hitler’s war unjust and evil. Not a pacifist, but a conscientious objector due to his Christian faith. The consequence of refusing to take the oath is death. Director Terrence Malick after The Tree of Life offers us a poignant and beautiful meditation on this hidden hero, bravery no one would have noticed, on the contrary, bravery that is met with spite and hatred even by his own village folks. I watched this at TIFF and can attest that these could well be the most meaningful 3 hours in this holiday season.



Yet another hero’s story. Harriet Tubman escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad and became an abolitionist and leading ‘conductor’, helping many slave families to freedom. During the American Civil War, Tubman worked for the Union Army in various capacities. Director Kasi Lemmons researched and wrote the screenplay with Gregory Allen Howard. This is the kind of movies where historical facts and dramatization would usually come under scrutiny. In an interview with IndieWire, Lemmons has made this statement: “Of course I embellished, I’m a screenwriter… I added to the story because anybody that’s a writer that approaches a real story has to embellish.” Cynthia Erivo plays Harriet, Leslie Odom Jr. and Joe Alwyn co-star.


The Aeronauts

British duo Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones reunite for another scientific venture after their Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of EverythingThe Aeronauts has these two stuck in a hot air ballon 40,000 ft. above ground. The movie is loosely based on the real-life feats achieved by James Glaisher and Henry Tracey Coxwell, who, in 1862, flew higher into the atmosphere than anyone had ever done before. For story appeal, Coxwell is replaced by the female balloonist Amelia Rennes. Looks like the dramatization of historical discoveries and scientific breakthroughs has developed into a genre of their own, such as The Current War, The Imitation Game, and Hidden Figures. Directed and co-written by Tom Harper. In N. American theatres Dec. 6 then on Amazon Prime Video Dec. 20. But looks like this one should be watched on the big screen.

Marriage Story

Marriage Story.jpeg
Back on the ground, a very realistic depiction. Noah Baumbach has written an insightful script on the dissolution of a marriage. I watched this at TIFF. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deliver a superb performance as a couple going through a divorce. You’d think the process involves the husband, the wife, and the child only. But no. It looks like the lawyers are the major players in our adversarial legal system. Things get much more complicated and pricier than the couple have first thought and uglier than they’d wanted to go. Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda are the lawyers, solid casting. A strong Oscar hopeful. After a limited release in theatres, this will go straight to Netflix.

The Two Popes

The Two PopesFor originality of a screenplay this probably is a good example. Imagine the conservative Pope Benedict XVI meeting the relatively more progressive Pope Francis I as they hang out with each other, a few years before Francis became Pontiff. Maybe a get-to-know-you, pre-screening interview for the Pope-in-waiting. Anthony Hopkins plays the conservative and Jonathan Pryce, the liberal. Helmed by acclaimed Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles whose past works include the Oscar nominated City of God and The Constant Gardener where Rachel Weisz won her Oscar. Screenplay by Anthony McCarten, 3-time Oscar nominee for Bohemian Rhapsody, Darkest Hour, and The Theory of Everything. Again, Netflix will have it after a limited theatrical run in December. 







Related Posts:

Movies Based on Books in Nov. and Dec. 2019

David Copperfield: From Book to Film

Downton Abbey the movie not just for fans

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

11 thoughts on “Original Screenplays Written Directly for the Screen: What to Watch in November and December 2019”

  1. There are several here that sound appealing to me and that I bet will come our way. That’s a good thing!

    Saw Judy this week. Renee might be writing her acceptance speech. Don’t know her competition but she deserves a nomination at least!


    1. I predict RZ will get a nom. but the whole movie is quite thin, as if Judy is calling out for someone to act with her, ie, not enough supporting story. They could have developed more on the role of Jessie Buckley, who plays Rosalyn the assistant. She’s wonderful in Wild Rose which I think you’d love. Coincidentally, her character’s name in Wild Rose is Rose-lynn. She won a Best Actress BAFTA last year for it.


  2. I’d like to see the film Harriet but then I would have to read her bio as well. I know historical movies are embellished. I guess they have to so the public will be interested and not think it’s a dreaded documentary. What I don’t like is, as for the movie “Lincoln,” the videos were given to high schools to be studied, I guess as fact, when the movie was not, but “historical drama” really. They should use the terms as for books “historical fiction based on facts” or something like that.

    Close to my house in Nashville there is an independent movie theatre walking distance. I went last month and saw a 1982s movie, reworked, called “Say Amen, Somebody” about gospel music. They also show foreign films. In a couple of weeks they’ll show The Irishman – I’m planning to see it. While in Atlanta last month I saw the movie “Rocketman” a lot of music there too.

    In your last comment you asked if I had read Indian authors. I know I have books by Ondaatje in GA still on the shelf, not read yet. I just finished 3 books by Indian authors The English Teacher by R. K. Narayan after I read his Dateless Diary: An American Journey, that I really liked. The 3rd book is by Arundhati Roy The God of Small Things.


    1. VB,

      I agree with you about showing movies in the classroom as historical facts, lots have to be qualified, or at least, train students to distinguish what’s fiction and what’s factual. If they’re teaching a unit on Lincoln, and if they want to show the movie, they might as well get the students to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book on which the movie is based.

      Harriet is another good example. It will be an interesting class to decipher what’s fiction and what are facts. BTW, I’d read that Harriet Tubman was supposed to replace Andrew Jackson on the U.S. $20 bill by 2020, but now it will be delayed for some years maybe due to different administration in the WH.

      I read The God of Small Things and much impressed by it. That’s why I quickly got hold of her newest All the Lives We Never Lived but found it less impactful. After Small Things, All the Lives is a holiday. Since you mentioned Ondaatje (who’s Sri Lankan born Canadian), his latest book War Light tells a similar kind of story as Roy’s, about an ‘absent mother’, but of a different nature and setting.

      After you’ve watched your movies at the indie theatre, do stop by again to throw in your pebbles. 🙂


    1. Stefanie,

      I’d watched A Hidden Life and Marriage Story at TIFF in September. Will rewatch when they come to the big screen. The other ones I haven’t and look forward to them. I’ve a feeling you’d like The Aeronauts.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I always save your posts for when I finally get round to watching or reading what you have written about. I enjoyed 1917, I liked the quietness and the intimacy of the storytelling. I’ll always remember the warning not to fall into a crater otherwise you’d drown in the mud. Marriage Story was also very well crafted and acted, and The Two Popes had its moments – I sometimes find biographical films and books a strain on my credulity but the film made me curious about the portrayals of the characters at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I watched The Aeronauts on Netflix. Very British, and you know I love British actors. So, despite being confined in a hot air balloon, Eddy Redmayne and Felicity Jones deliver. Some good scenery too. How’s your Covid Staycation, or, you didn’t need to be locked down in your city? I watched a lot of recent TV series during this time. One I highly recommend: “Normal People”, the series adaptation of Irish writer Sally Rooney’s award winning book.


      1. I’ve not watched Normal People but now I have and it was good to be able to discuss it with my daughter who loved it. She even read the book. I did find it a bit difficult though because I have had similar problems to Marianne and the answer is not to latch onto an equally troubled man and try to save each other but to address your own problems so that you can enter into a healthy relationship with someone on equal terms. It is a nice fairytale story though.


        1. Denise,

          I can see how it could be difficult for you to watch, if you’ve had similar issues. You’ve pointed out too that it’s like a fairytale. In a way that’s true, cause both C. and M. have come out stronger and more mature through all the life episodes they’ve gone through. I feel C. is the steady pillar in a way, sure he’s unsure of himself as a teenager, and afraid of disapprovals from his peers, yet he has a good mother and he’s a decent and kind young man, unlike his school friends, and unlike the men M. seeks after esp. after she’s fallen deeper and deeper into self-destruction.

          I just finished reading the book (reading together with listening to the audiobook) and found Sally Rooney a gifted writer. It’s her voice that draws me in. I highly recommend the book. I wrote down a few thoughts on Goodreads. One thing I must point out here is, at the beginning of the book, Rooney quoted George Eliot, from her Daniel Deronda:

          “It is one of the secrets in that change of mental poise which has been fitly named conversion, that to many among us neither heaven nor earth has any revelation till some personality touches theirs with a peculiar influence, subduing them into receptiveness.”

          It’s that kind of redeeming love that C. has for M., inexplicable, yet beautiful.


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