2016 Oscar Circuit: Best Adapted Screenplay

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Welcome to our annual Oscar Circuit series, our deep down look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of AwardsCircuit.com will tackle a different category, offering up their own perspectives on those specific races.  If you miss a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Circuit 2016. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions for that particular race by clicking on the link here or at the bottom of each article.  Make sure to include your predicted winners in the comment section too!

At one point early in the season, Best Adapted Screenplay seemed like a face-off between a former winner in this category and a novelist adapting her own book to the screen. As the season progressed, Aaron Sorkin won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, grabbed a WGA and BAFTA nod, but somehow was left off the final ballot, perhaps in large part to Universal abandoning the picture and Steve Jobs flopping.  For a longer time, the category seemed touch-and-go with who would get in. Many of us thought (thankfully to be proven wrong), that the 3 women-driven and -focused films would be victims of a tough category. Heck, we saw just a year prior the great Gillian Flynn snubbed for adapted her own work–it didn’t engender much confidence for how the male-dominated writers branch would accept Emma Donoghue. Heck, Carol wasn’t even a safe bet until we heard its name called.  And yet, in the end, one film quickly floated its way to the top–making Best Adapted Screenplay one of the easier picks on Oscar night.

And the Nominees Are:

  • The Big Short (Adam McKay & Charles Randolph)
  • Brooklyn (Nick Hornby)
  • Carol (Phyllis Nagy)
  • The Martian (Drew Goddard)
  • Room (Emma Donoghue)

Just Happy To Be Here:

Emory Cohen as "Tony" and Saoirse Ronan as "Eilis" in BROOKLYN. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Brooklyn (Nick Hornby)

Nick Hornby should have a few screenplay nominations, but he’ll have to settle for just his second, this time for adapting Colm Tóibín‘s novel of the same name.  In Brooklyn, Hornby creates an unforgettable character in Eilis Lacey, and cleverly crafts one of the most feminist screenplays I’ve seen.  Give credit where credit is due to Saoirse Ronan‘s magnificent portrayal of Eilis, much of her character is on the page. She’s strong, brilliant, brave, witty, open, and most importantly her own person. While the third act has some troubles, it’s a beautiful script and one that’d be contending better in a different year.

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The Martian (Drew Goddard)

After winning Best Adapted Screenplay at NBR, I began taking note of the very real possibility Drew Goddard had of snagging an Oscar nomination for his smart, funny, dramatic, and sharp-tongued adaptation of Andy Weir‘s book.  The Martian as a film doesn’t fit the typical bill of a screenplay nominee–but where it divulges is where its strength lies. In lieu of focuses on spectacle and larger-than-life situations, Goddard brings the big home, forcing us to care about Matt Damon‘s Mark Watney because we like him, not just because he’s in peril.  Goddard masterfully balances comedy with the need to explain the science behind everything. And unlike a more recent sci-fi epic, Goddard makes the science in The Martian accessible, clear, and easily digestible without sugar-coating it. Also, the most endlessly quoteable script of the bunch, which counts for something.

Watch Out For:

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Carol (Phyllis Nagy)

Deep down, I’ve often wondered if this isn’t going to be out big, jaw-dropper on Oscar night–Phyllis Nagy winning for her brilliant adaptation of the classic Patricia Highsmith novel, The Price of Salt. I mean, can you believe there was a time where we thought this nearly wasn’t getting in? Dark time, indeed. Nagy crafts a tight, loving romance story that pulls no punches. Restraint is the word I keep coming back to, time and time again, when I think on this script. Nagy molds Therese Belivet every step of the way, from mousey shopgirl to confident woman. The letter Carol writes Therese towards the end is a particular favorite moment of mine, coupled with the perfect love scene. I’m rooting for Carol to upset on Oscar night.

The Frontrunners:

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The Big Short (Adam McKay & Charles Randolph)

Hot take: The Big Short is a really good screenplay. Hot take: the Margot Robbie scene is brilliant. Hot take: the breaking of the third wall plays like magic. Need I keep going or are we tired yet of The Big Short being everyone’s big punching bag this season? In reworking Charles Randolph‘s original script, former SNL head writer and Step Brother director Adam McKay creates a world unto his own in The Big Short. The comic wherewithall to cleverly assemble the “explaining financial information” scenes is simply brilliant. Sure it may not exactly earn some of its dramatic arcs (Carrell, the Florida people), but when it delivers, it really, really delivers the laughs and the “oh my god what is wrong with out country” gut-punches. This script has now won WGA, BFCA, USC Scripter, and BAFTA adapted screenplay prizes, all but solidifying its place atop this list. Plus, I mean, if it’s going to win Best Picture, which it very easily might, it’s gotta take at least one with it, right?

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Room (Emma Donoghue)

As I mentioned above, at a certain point early in the season, Emma Donoghue looked like she might be in the driver’s seat to win an Oscar for her stunning adaptation of her own novel, Room. Then, I began to fear that the Academy would yet again not think a woman good enough for a nomination for adapting her own work. Thankfully, Donoghue landed a nomination and the script is propelling Brie Larson to seemingly a locked-up Best Actress win. Many have wrote in the No-More-Awards-To-Give-Out-I’m-Bored-What-Conspiracy-Theory-Can-We-Throw-Out post-BAFTA corridor that Room might be a threat to WIN Best Picture. If this is true, then maybe we’re in line for an upset.

Will WinThe Big Short is pretty unstoppable here, taking BFCA, WGA, and even BAFTA in this category–we’d have to be looking for an Up in the Air style upset for McKay and Randolph not to win.

Could Win: Room or Carol

Should Win: The Big Short

Should Have Been Nominated and Won in A Walk: Aaron Sorkin’s baller poetry masquerading as a script for Steve Jobs.