2019 Oscars Look: Best Adapted Screenplay

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Welcome to our annual Oscar Look series, formally known as “Oscar Circuit” – our deep dive look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of 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 Look 2018. 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 own predicted winners in the comment section too!

And the Nominees are:

  • “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” – Joel & Ethan Coen
  • “BlacKkKlansman” – Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
  • “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” – Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
  • “If Beale Street Could Talk” – Barry Jenkins
  • “A Star is Born” –Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

Of the two writing categories this year, Best Adapted Screenplay has fewer Best Picture nominees, but an overall better lineup. What assumptions can one make from that statement? I don’t know. However, it’s an exciting time to profile a category that features two stories from black perspectives, a queer narrative, a western anthology and blockbuster remake.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the nominees.

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Netflix


Nominee: Joel & Ethan Coen
Oscar Scene: The titular short, particularly when “A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings”

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” from the Coen Brothers, managed a surprise nomination despite no precursor support. The film features a collection of six western stories, all bound by location, genre and a looming presence of death. Being Oscar favorites, it was foolish in hindsight to bet against the Coen Brothers, even if they went to Netflix. It’s not often we see anthology series nominated for Oscars. Sometimes these films slip into Foreign Language Feature (“Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” and “Wild Tales”). Perhaps the most likely comparison point for “Buster Scruggs” would be “Short Cuts,” a Robert Altman anthology that snuck into Best Director on the strength of Altman’s name. All in all, this nomination amounts to not much more than a novelty nomination for two filmmakers Oscar clearly loves.

“BlacKkKlansman,” Focus Features

Blackkklansman JDW and LH

Nominee: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Oscar Scene: Ron Stallworth first calls upon the Ku Klux Klan

One major strength of BlacKkKlansman’s script is the way it toggles between its characters’ viewpoints. Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) makes a compelling protagonist as he instigates this investigation into the Ku Klux Klan. From there, the film makes sizable journeys into the KKK, where we are placed within their organization with no out in sight. The script then balances this with the wonderful scenes between Ron and Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), a radical civil rights activist with misgivings about the police. This all amounts to an engaging, well-balanced script. Being a Best Picture nominee with a shot at a win, this feels like the one to beat in this category. If “BlacKkKlansman” is heading to a Best Picture win, this will come along with its haul. If “BlacKkKlansman” is heading to a Best Picture loss, this will most likely be its consolation prize.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me,” Fox Searchlight

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Nominee: Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
Oscar Scene: Lee Israel and Jack Hock visit Julius for one last time.

Can You Ever Forgive Me succeeds at being an engrossing biopic precisely because it leans into the prickly nature of its leading lady. Lee (Melissa McCarthy) always feels like a fully rounded curmudgeon, even a relevant and relatable figure. Add in the dynamic Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), Lee’s confidant and partner in crime, and you have a crackling script. Additionally, the script’s DNA truly understands queer friendship. This voice flows through every line and interaction. The literary influences that Holofcener and Whitty pepper into the script make this appear like a true writer’s film. This makes the film a dark horse in the category. However, its lack of a Best Picture nomination speaks to a lack of broader support in the Academy for the film. Still, the movie should get a fair share of votes from its passionate fanbase, but not enough to pull a surprise win.

“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Annapurna Pictures

ifbealestreetcouldtalk kikilayne

Nominee: Barry Jenkins
Oscar Scene: Fonny runs into an old friend, Daniel Carty, around the neighborhood.

Adapting James Baldwin was a feat that had never been done before. Barry Jenkins broke new ground with his incredible adaptation of “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Jenkins handles the prose of Baldwin well while pairing it with his sumptuous filmmaking style. It takes some massaging to make the novel fit the traditional screenplay structure. Even still, the movie plays like more of a novel than a movie, which feeds into the experience. Had the film managed a well-deserved Best Picture nomination, this would have been quite the challenger to “BlacKkKlansman.” Unfortunately, without the corresponding Picture nomination, it has an uphill battle at a win. Still, between this and “Can You Ever Forgive Me,” this is the non-Best-Picture nominee that stands the best chance at an upset due to the Baldwin pedigree.

“A Star Is Born,” Warner Bros.

A Star Is Born Lady Gaga Bradley Cooper Shallow

Nominees: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
Oscar Scene: Jackson Maine and Ally go on an all night first date that ends up in a parking lot.

It’s not easy to be the fourth adaptation of the same story (yes, I’m acknowledging “What Price Hollywood”). The first hour of “A Star is Born” is masterful as Jackson Maine (Cooper) and Ally (Lady Gaga) begin their tumultuous relationship over one magical night. The rest of the movie juggles a lot of themes, with roughly 60% of them getting the amount of exploration necessary. However, the best thing Bradley Cooper and company do is deepen the character of Jackson Maine. The greatest strength of the film is its handling of alcoholism within Jackson’s character. It’s heartbreaking in its precision and illustrates how the disease of addiction extends to loved ones. Being the other Best Picture nominee, it could have a shot at a surprise. However, that would be more possible if “A Star is Born” was expected to take Picture.

Will Win: “BlacKkKlansman”
Could Win: “A Star is Born”
Should Win: “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Should Have Been Nominated: “Paddington 2”



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Written by Christopher James

Christopher James has been an Oscar obsessive ever since watching his first ceremony at age 5 when "Titanic" won Best Picture. He is a recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University with degrees in Screenwriting for Film and Television and Marketing. Christopher currently works in media strategy and planning at Liquid Advertising, based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can find Christopher running on the sunny beach, brunching at trendy restaurants or mostly just sitting in a dark room watching movies and TV in sweatpants. Follow me on Twitter @cwj92movieman


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