Thursday, February 14, 2013

One Category at a Time: Adapted Screenplay

The contest for Best Adapted Screenplay is stuffed with the four leading Best Picture contenders, which makes it rather tricky to anticipate this year. We have a difficult literary adaptation from a popular potential sweeper, a quirky screwball comedy that a lot of pundits seem to be underestimating, a verbose historical drama that glows with eloquent language, and a zingy crowd-pleaser that appears first in line to win Best Picture. Joining them is a scrappy indie whose best shot at winning anything may come in this category (not that it's a great shot).

Chris Terrio may have taken lots of creative license in fashioning the script for Argo from a lengthy article on the CIA's involvement in rescuing American hostages from Iran, but that's part of what makes the film such a memorable and satisfying piece. Witty one-liners and a precise attention to narrative construct make a very reasonable winner in this field. Logically, if the film wins Best Picture, it should win some other major award, and this seems to be the natural choice.

I was unsure before nominations that Beasts of the Southern Wild would be able to garner enough Academy love to break through in Best Picture, but one branch that I could believe would stick up for it was the writers branch. And stick up for it they did, making nominees of director Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar, author of the play Juicy and Delicious on which the film is based. It's possible that Beast's passionate fan base rallies around it in this category, knowing that it stands little chance at winning any of its three other nominations, but it's still probably too small and unusual to pull off an upset.

Life of Pi is shaping up to win lots of Oscars, and may even ride a sweep of the craft categories on to Best Director and Best Picture triumphs, but I think the buck stops at Best Adapted Screenplay. The film is more revered as a directorial feat than a feat of writing, even though it presented many adaptation challenges to David Magee. Challenges that some may feel weren't overcome, as several people have complained about its framing device and cop-out ending. The absence of dialogue for long segments of the film will inevitably hinder it further.

Still considered the frontrunner in many circles is Tony Kushner for his brilliant paring down of the dense historical nonfiction Team of Rivals into the beautifully theatrical Lincoln. There's no denying that his screenplay is the most “writerly” of the bunch, and that could help secure for him a much deserved win, even if Argo ultimately takes Best Picture. Truth is, there's no reason not to predict Lincoln for the win here, but Argo's presence on this ballot is enough to give me pause. It just seems like a category that Argo will take if it turns out to be our Best Picture winner.

Finally, the true dark horse in this race is David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook. The Academy as a whole is much kinder to comedies in the writing categories than they are in Best Picture and Director, and many may see this as the perfect place to reward Russell for penning and directing what is undoubtedly one of the Academy's most beloved films of the year. I still think his competition is just too stiff, but an upset is certainly not out of the picture. And even though I think he hardly deserves it for this particular movie, how cool would it to see an odd duck like Russell win an Oscar!

Will win: Argo
Runner-up: Lincoln

Should win: Lincoln
Should have been nominated: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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