Wednesday, April 7, 2010

One Category at a Time: Best Adapted Screenplay

High profile and revered source material can often be a decent barometer in forecasting a film's Oscar chances, but the writers branch has been pretty good in not limiting their options only to screenplays based only on books or plays. Any "adaptations" can get nominated here nowadays, even if they're based on TV characters or short films. This year's field looks slightly bare at the moment, but it'll surely flesh out over the course of the year. Who knows what sort of "adaptation" will tickle the Academy's fancy?

For years, Aaron Sorkin delighted TV audiences with The West Wing, adored for its rapid-fire dialogue and sharp wit. The same style can be detected in his feature films A Few Good Men, The American President, and Charlie Wilson's War. In something of a departure from these politically themed projects, he has adapted Ben Mezrich's novel The Social Network, about the origin of the now-ubiquitous Facebook. It may not be Best Picture material (although with ten slots...), but crackling dialogue + true story = ~Oscar success... I think.

Alex Garland's adaptation of Never Let Me Go by author Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day) may have too many dark sci-fi elements to impress Oscar's more conservative voters, but that didn't hinder District 9, and of all the branches in Academy, the writers seem to be the most open to diversity. Plus, it's hard for them to resist scripts based on successful British novels.

Ryan Murphy and Jennifer Salt have adapted Eat, Pray, Love, the best-selling memoir of Elizabeth Gilbert, who traveled the world to find herself and escape her troubles in America. It may well be that this is just a star vehicle for Julia Roberts, or it may become that little movie that everyone ends up liking enough to earn some consideration in other categories.

And how about a play? David Lindsay-Abaire's Pulitzer-winning Rabbit Hole had a brief but celebrated Broadway run, copping five Tony award nominations and a win for female lead Cynthia Nixon. Lindsay-Abaire has adapted his own script for John Cameron Mithcell's screen version, starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as a married couple who lose their son in an accident. Like 2008's Doubt, this may only make a dent in the writing and acting categories, but it's pedigree may elevate it to being a Best Picture contender too.

Finally, Peter Weir's The Way Back, based on The Long Walk, a fact-based account by Slamowir Rawicz about how he and six others got away from a Siberian forced labour camp and trekked 4000 miles south to India in 1942. The historical accuracy of Rawicz's tale has been called into question, but you know what, embellishment makes for a much better story. Here's hoping that Weir's screenplay will be as entertaining as the premise sounds.

Predicted 5:
Eat, Pray, Love
Never Let Me Go
Rabbit Hole
The Social Network
The Way Back

Also consider: Roman Polanski & Robert Harris for The Ghost Writer, Brian Helgeland for Robin Hood, Joel & Ethan Coen for True Grit.

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