Oscar Predictions 2014: Adapted Screenplay

Don’t tell anyone, but the screenplay categories, both original and adapted, remain the only Oscar contests that truly matter to me. It’s not just my respect for the written word or any personal interest I may have in the art form, instead it’s the understanding that the script is the singular basis from which every other element of a film builds.

Adapted screenplays have the additionally daunting task of taking an existing creation, whether it be a book, article, or television show, and crafting something new, compact, and wholly its own. All but one of this year’s nominees are adapting a nonfiction memoir, while the fifth is a sequel.

Keep reading for a look at all five of this year’s nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay along with my predicted winner in red

John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave Screenplay

Why It Was Nominated

Solomon Northup’s heartbreaking yet inspiring recounting of his abduction and incarceration into slavery is an amazing true story that far too few of us had ever heard of before. John Ridley’s script adapts the autobiography and those painful twelve years into a concise yet emotionally rich story.

Why It Might Win

It’s a momentum game, and at this point it points towards Ridley taking home the gold. Steve McQueen’s grasp on Best Director is tenuous at best thanks to Alfonso Cuarón’s masterful handling of Gravity‘s terrible, terrible script, and the film is slightly less at risk of losing Best Picture too. This leaves Best Adapted Screenplay as the only serious (non-acting) award that voters may feel comfortable locking down for McQueen’s film.

Why It Might Not Win

Ridley has won numerous awards from regional critics groups, but the big ones (Golden Globes, BAFTAs) have left him and his film happy to be nominated. If there’s an upset, expect it to lean in favor of Philomena.

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Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight

Before Midnight Screenplay

Why It Was Nominated

Who the hell knows.

Why It Might Win

Jesse and Celine have been part of our collective world for two decades now, and through two brilliant films (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset) we watched them come alive and fall in love. The eagerly awaited third film and latest collaboration between Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy sees them in a more settled, more realistic, and far less comfortable place.

Why It Might Not Win

The direction this film takes away from the earlier installments represents an interesting experiment of sorts, but it’s also feels like an ill-fitting follow-up to what those films accomplished. It strips Celine bare, figuratively and literally, makes the duo unpleasant throughout, loses focus with outside characters, and ends on a false note. It feels inauthentic.

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Billy Ray, Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips

Why It Was Nominated

The second of three true stories represented here chronicles the harrowing adventure forced upon a ship captain, his crew, and the pirates themselves. The strength of the story comes from seeing both sides of the equation and the two men at its core.

Why It Might Win

The Writers Guild of America already awarded Billy Ray’s script the best of the year, and they probably know a thing or two about screenplays.

Why It Might Not Win

The film is seen as an exciting visual adventure thanks to Paul Greengrass’ style and abilities, and its biggest accomplishment is the magic that Tom Hanks pulls in the final five minutes. Five minutes that were reportedly ad-libbed. WGA aside, once the voting goes out to the general Academy I don’t see many of them highlighting its script as a real strength.

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Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope, Philomena

Philomena Screenplay

Why It Was Nominated

The Catholic Church has become a common punching bag for some years now, but not all of their offenses rhyme with molestation. This true story details one woman’s efforts to find the son that members of the church took away from her half a century prior.

Why It Might Win

This has been a word of mouth hit with audience members of a certain age, and that happens to skew fairly close to the average academy member age of 113. Judi Dench makes for a sympathetic figure as she chases down the truth, and the contained, modern nature of the film’s events make it easier to connect with its protagonist than the others. The script balances the story’s drama with a much appreciated light heart, too.

Why It Might Not Win

Any Catholics in the Academy may take offense at the film’s depiction of members of their church. And not for nothing, but the true story at the heart of this tale isn’t quite as compelling as what happened to Solomon Northup. I mean if you’re weighing what each person lost, it seems Philomena didn’t really have it too bad considering.

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Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

Wolf of Wall Street Screenplay

Why It Was Nominated

Winter’s script takes a couple memoirs into a two-plus hour ride of debauchery and condemnation that in turn invigorated Martin Scorsese to direct one of the most energetic and exciting films of his career. It’s a big movie from and featuring some of Hollywood’s most acclaimed names, and the script lets them all run loose.

Why It Might Win

It’s not unheard of for films to win in categories solely because voters want to award it with something but know it’s not up to snuff for Best Picture or Director. Voters may want to reward Scorsese for showing such vitality with his latest, but since they know it’s not worthy of the two top prizes a win here may have to suffice.

Why It Might Not Win

The singular argument dogging the film in general applies to the script as well. Does it glorify the behaviors on display or does it condemn them? Some voters may be loathe to take a side on the debate and just avoid it all together. Just as likely are the voters who see the film as an actor showcase and a Scorsese highlight more than a writer’s film.

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What Should Win:

Of the nominees, 12 Years a Slave earns the win, but if the field is opened up the true winner is Blue Is the Warmest Color for adapting a graphic novel into a fearless and organically structured feature uninterested in hitting the traditional narrative beats expected from a relationship drama, straight or gay.

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Oscar 2014


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