Runners-up: Michael Haneke (Amour), Alex Ross Perry (The Color Wheel), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)
5. Reid Carolin (Magic Mike)
Incredibly layered and attentive to even the smallest characters, Carolin’s script digs beneath the surface to transform the specificities of this particular group of men into a universal story about love, ambition and the ‘American dream.’
4. Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha)
Comparisons with the quirky humor and incisive look at young, middle-class New Yorkers in HBO’s Girls will be inevitable, but the similarly tailored Frances ups that show’s game with whip-smart banter and a personality that is all Gerwig’s own.
3. Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
Mark Boal’s screenplay is an astounding achievement of journalism on screen. Structured to maximize the intensity in a mundane affair, Boal builds momentum toward the final climax but allows the film to breathe. It’s a comprehensive text, as a character study and a propulsive action film.
2. Miguel Gomes (Tabu)
In lesser hands, the major tonal shift would create an imbalance between the comic absurdity of the first half and the swooning romanticism of the second, but Gomes makes them work beautifully in tandem. Its richness is in the simplicity.
1. Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
Erudite and exhaustively researched, the respected playwright’s new cinematic work is an engaging and layered work; one that portrays Lincoln as an accessible everyman while maintaining his larger than life character, an antihero clothed in immense power.
Runners-up: Michael Haneke (Amour), Joe Wright (Anna Karenina), Cristian Mungiu (Beyond the Hills)
4. Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
Bigelow’s biggest achievement is keeping focus on the script’s identity as a cautious character study, but her calm control of the film’s progress deftly builds momentum without resorting to cliched Hollywood conceits.
3. Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
The work of a unique and promising talent at the height of his creative energy. He’s a singular voice whose debut feature boasts both the unhinged dynamism of a young visionary and the confidence of a veteran filmmaker.
2. Miguel Gomes (Tabu)
Concocting a magical potion from different schools of cinematography and music, capturing the essence of his own script and getting performances that convey the tone and spirit of each of Tabu‘s episodes, Gomes’s work is a triumph on every imaginable level.
1. Michel Franco (After Lucia)
Working on a shoestring budget, Franco’s hands are tied but he uses the static single digital camera approach to his benefit to instill After Lucia with urgency and frightening intimacy. It’s a harrowing look at an uneasy subject and Franco’s direction traps us inside this fittingly discomforting environment.