Oscar Week: Best Adapted Screenplay

The Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay is one of the two most important awards to be handed out on Oscar night. The other is for Best Original Screenplay. Every film has to start with a screenplay… it may not be any good, but until words are put to paper, no other part of a film’s production can begin.

As the recent writers strike showed, without writers and their screenplays and scripts we’d be stuck in a world of reality TV and movies. It’d be Jackass and Hannah Montana at every cineplex. It would be hell. The category has gone through several name changes over the years, from “Best Writing Adaptation” to “Writing Achievement” to the awkward “Screenplay Based On Material From Another Medium.” It was only in 2002 that the category became “Best Adapted Screenplay”. Regardless of the name, the award’s purpose remains the same… to honor the best screenplay based on previously existing material.

And the nominees are…

Atonement – Christopher Hampton, novel by Ian McEwan

Why Is It Nominated: Because this movie was made to be nominated. A purportedly epic and sweeping love story and period piece, Atonement had Oscar written all over it from day one. The story lulls the viewer into its dramatic emotions and betrayals and then turns every thing you’ve seen onto its head in the final minutes. It’s a tale of what is, what was, and what could have been.

Why It Might Win: Because Hampton won the same award once before for 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons, so he’s no stranger to Oscar glory. The story jumps back and forth through time in a mostly well-orchestrated manner. The movie as a whole has been nominated for seven Oscars, and while a sweep is highly unlikely it’s bound to win something… so why not for adapted screenplay?

Why It Might Not Win: Because it’s not No Country For Old Men. Plus… while the film has been nominated for several awards outside of the Oscars and won several of them, it’s only won one for best screenplay. And that was at the Satellite Awards, given by the International Press Academy. What awards you say? Who you say? Exactly.

Away From Her – Sarah Polley, story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro

Why Is It Nominated: Because the movie is an intimate and devastating romantic drama that tackles a terrifying subject in Alzheimer’s disease. It’s difficult to approach a topic like Alzheimer’s without entering the realm of Lifetime made-for-tv movies, but Polley does it with sensitivity and grace. She’s crafted a love story you won’t soon forget. Unless you have Alzheimer’s.

Why It Might Win: Because Hollywood loves fresh faces, and Polley is the only first-time nominee on this list. She’s only twenty-eight years old, and she directed the film as well as adapted the original story. This is a simple and elegant love story that stands out from the other nominees for that very reason.

Why It Might Not Win: Because it’s not No Country For Old Men. Plus… the only award this movie will win on Oscar night is that for Best Supporting Actress, Julie Christie. And while Polley has a long career of writing and directing ahead of her, most people still see her as the checkout girl in Go offering up the future Mrs. Cruise to a drug dealer in exchange for a handful of ecstasy.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Ronald Harwood, book by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Why Is It Nominated: Because it’s the only biographical film nominated in this category, and what a biography it is. The memoir’s author, Jean-Dominique Bauby, was living the high-life as editor of French Elle magazine until he suffered a stroke that left him with a condition called locked-in syndrome. Completely paralyzed, he eventually gained control of his left eyelid and was able to communicate via blinking one letter, one word at a time. He “wrote” an entire book this way, and died just a few days after it was published. The screenplay captures the unbearable sadness and the resilient determination in Bauby’s head.

Why It Might Win: Because Harwood has been nominated twice before for The Dresser and The Pianist, the latter of which he won. The book is a heart-breaking read as Bauby’s love for life is so blatantly at odds with his predicament, and Harwood captures that strange juxtaposition of joy and anger beautifully.

Why It Might Not Win: Because it’s not No Country For Old Men. Plus… it’s in French. And who likes to read French?

No Country For Old Men – Joel and Ethan Coen, novel by Cormac McCarthy

Why Is It Nominated: Because the brothers Coen have returned to the style and wit of their last great film, Fargo. What starts as a straightforward battle between good and evil becomes something else entirely as the screenplay does what few films dare. Expectations are thrown out the window, and the result is an incredibly brave film with a sharply divided audience reaction.

Why It Might Win: Because the Coen’s have been nominated for best screenplay twice before for the fantastic Fargo (which won) and the mediocre O Brother, Where Art Thou? (which didn’t.) Like the McCarthy novel it’s based on, this film explores the roles fate and chance play in a person’s life and death. It won for best screenplay at the Golden Globes press conference as well.

Why It Might Not Win: Because it’s No Country For Old Men. The movie has eight Nominations, and while it’s a near lock for best picture, the screenplay award may have to be sacrificed to secure it. Plus… and let’s be honest here, the Coen brothers are more than a little overrated. They’ve made twelve movies, and only four of them (Blood Simple, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men) can honestly be called great. The rest range from pure crap (Miller’s Crossing) to borderline entertaining (The Hudsucker Proxy.)

There Will Be Blood – Paul Thomas Anderson, novel “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair

Why Is It Nominated: Because like Dirk Diggler’s dong, the wait between Anderson’s films gets longer and longer with each release. The five years it’s been since Punch Drunk Love seems to have been worth the wait as Anderson’s newest opus is meticulous and harrowing and captures a side of the American spirit not often glimpsed in cinema. Some people say Anderson has written this century’s Citizen Kane. (Not sure if that counts as hyperbole since Citizen Kane is a boring-ass film.)

Why It Might Win: Because Anderson has been nominated for best screenplay twice before, for Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Like it’s main competition this year, No Country For Old Men, it’s been nominated for eight Academy awards. It’s also ranked #1 on more critic’s Top Ten lists than any other film from last year.

Why It Might Not Win: Because it’s not No Country For Old Men. Plus… the film is standing out mostly for Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the barely restrained Daniel Plainview. The critical praise he’s receiving is overshadowing every other aspect of the film. And when you get right down to it, aside from the random bouts of violence, it’s a pretty goddamn boring movie.

Who Will Win?

No Country For Old Men – Joel and Ethan Coen, novel by Cormac McCarthy

Who Should Win?

No Country For Old Men – Joel and Ethan Coen, novel by Cormac McCarthy

Who Was Overlooked?

Zodiac – James Vanderbilt, books by Robert Graysmith

Rob is the Chief Film Critic of Film School Rejects. He doesn't eat cheese on weekdays.

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