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Friday, February 6, 2009

Countdown To Oscar: Best Adapted Screenplay

The adapted screenplay category recognizes those films rooted in an outside source – usually a novel, but also plays, short stories, television series or other films (fun fact: all sequels, regardless of whether the story comes from an original idea, are considered sequels by virtue of the connection to the original film, considered the source material).

I sometimes wonder if films based on plays should really be considered adapted screenplays, because it seems to me that it would take less to create a screenplay from a play (assuming it’s a faithful adaptation) than from a novel. I say that not to belittle anyone’s work, but it just seems that it’s not as involved a process than other kinds of adaptations. I think that maybe this is a relatively common idea, given that in the past 20 years only 2 stage-to-screen adaptations have been rewarded.

Eric Roth and Robin Swicord, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
adapted from the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have a bit issue with this nomination - and I say that as someone who actually liked the movie. It bears so little resemblance to the source material that it’s practically an original screenplay... you know, were it not for the fact that it's so similar to that past Oscar winner that we should probably put a moratorium on mentioning for a while. Roth has won once before (for the film I dare not mention) and has been nominated on two other occassions for The Insider and Munich; Swicord is a first-time nominee.

John Patrick Shanley, Doubt
adapted from the play by John Patrick Shanley

Doubt is a fine movie, but one which I think never really loses its "stageyness" despite Shanley's attempts to open it up and make it film ready. Chances of it winning seem pretty slim, as only 2 of the past 20 winners have been for films that weren't also nominated for Best Picture. Shanley already has an Oscar for Original Screenplay for one of my personal favorites, Moonstruck.

Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon
adapted from the play by Peter Morgan

An adaptation of a play which is itself an adaptation of the televised interviews of Richard Nixon by David Frost. I haven't had a chance to see the film yet, so I can't personally attest to the strength of the screenplay, but from what I've heard it's quite strong. Morgan was nominated previously for adapting another of his plays, The Queen.

David Hare, The Reader
adapted from the novel by Bernhard Schlink

Hare's adaptation is quite faithful to the novel, perfectly matching the cold/detached tone of the source, and managing to fit in all the plot elements. This is actually one of those rare adaptations that expands the source story rather than compressing it. The biggest difference, from what I can recall (it's been a couple of years since I read the book), is that the film is more sexually explicit - which makes me think of that exchange from Sullivan's Travel:
"I want to hold a mirror up to life. I want this to be a picture of dignity! A true canvas of the suffering of humanity!"
"But with a little sex in it."
Hare was nominated previously for The Hours.

Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
adapted from the novel by Vikas Swarup

The probable winner, given that it's cleaned up in the awards so far, though the most important screenplay precursors, the WGA and Scripter, haven't been awarded yet. I would be really surprised if Beaufoy didn't win the Oscar, but of course it's not over until it's over. Beaufoy was nominated once before for Original Screenplay for The Full Monty.

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