Oscar Circuit: Adapted Screenplay


The screenplay categories have a strong correlation with past Best Picture winners.  In the past few years, “Slumdog Millionaire,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “The Departed” have all won the Adapted Screenplay race that translated to a Best Picture statue.  Other winners such as “The Social Network,” “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” and “Brokeback Mountain” have lost Best Picture to an Original work.  2004 was the only year that a triumph occurred here that didn’t align with Oscar.  Funny enough it was Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” which triumphed over Clint Eastwood’s winner “Million Dollar Baby.”  With this year’s Best Picture race likely going to Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist” whoever wins in this category will likely be considered a “consolation” prize.  Three out of the five films (The Descendants, Hugo, Moneyball), are nominated for Best Picture.  “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” had a strong showing on nomination morning when many considered the film dead in the water.  Lastly, “The Ides of March” pulled in a last minute mention, likely riding the coattails of George Clooney acting work in “The Descendants,” and made a well-deserved showing.

Let’s break down the nominees:

And the Nominees Are:

Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, Jim Rash for “The Descendants”
Based on the Novel, ‘The Descendants’ by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Oscar Scene: “Goodbye my pain.”

Many have considered “The Descendants” a frontrunner in this category for months.  The film won the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama), while the screenplay has won several critics awards including the National Board of Review, New York Critics Online, and Satellite Awards.  While the film speaks volumes to members of the Academy, the film has had its detractors as of late.  Critics like Todd McCarthy and even our own John H. Foote named the film the very best of the year.  There have been many, including myself, that found the film overrated and nothing extraordinary.  “The Descendants” has lost a lot of steam in this final stretch of the race and lost this award at the Critics Choice awards to “Moneyball,” a film no one really expected to make a surge.

John Logan for “Hugo”
Based on the book, ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ by Brian Selznick
Oscar Scene: “Georges, you’ve tried to forget the past for so long, but it has caused you nothing but unhappiness. Maybe it’s time you tried to remember.”

“Hugo” is a visual masterpiece, no doubts about that.  While the film succeeds highly on the visuals, many inconsistencies are found in the script by John Logan.  The film at times feels like two successful stories, unsuccessful meshed into one.  It has to be recognized that the film is the most nominated of the year and while it will likely eat up the technical categories, many may feel a more substantial win in a major category could be more fitting.  The second half of the film is Logan’s true success as the story of Georges comes to fruition and inhabits a beautiful quality not seen in his previous works.  “Hugo” is a threat in many categories and a late surge campaign and love could pull it over the edge.

George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon for “The Ides of March”
Based on the play, ‘Farragut North’ by Beau Willimon
Oscar Scene: “I’m not a Christian. I’m not an Atheist. I’m not Jewish. I’m not Muslim. My religion, what I believe in is called the Constitution of United States of America.

“The Ides of March” never caught on properly with critics and audiences.  No one was really saying it was a poor film, but many were not saying it was a great one.  What George Clooney achieves in “The Ides of March” along with co-writers Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon is a political genius of dialogue.  Ryan Gosling’s word exchange with either Philip Seymour Hoffman or Paul Giamatti is a verbal masterclass.  Not to mention the story never feels at all forced or predictable.  Even Clooney’s interpretation of the play never feels “stage-y” or bland.  Sad to say, the nomination is the win.  The film stands no chance at an upset.  Crazier things have happened though.

Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin for “Moneyball”
Based on the book, ‘Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game’ by Michael Lewis
Oscar Scene: “The problem we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there’s fifty of crap, and then there’s us. It’s an unfair game. And now we’ve been gutted. We’re like organ donors for the rich. Boston’s taken our kidneys, Yankees have taken our heart. And you guys just sit around talking the same old “good body” nonsense like we’re selling jeans. Like we’re looking for Fabio. We’ve got to think differently. We are the last dog at the bowl. You see what happens to the runt of the litter? He dies.

The famous chemistry between Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill exists solely on the soldiers of writers Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, and Stan Chervin.  The campaign all season has been, “a film about baseball that’s not REALLY about baseball” has been something that voters can really warm up to.  After winning the Screenplay award from the Critics Choice and New York Film Critics, the film has been positioned strongly to upset early frontrunner, “The Descendants.”  The dialogue is viewer-friendly, the film is a box office success, and the nominations for Pitt, Hill, and Editing shows a strong following.  Many will be marking this on their ballots.  What may give some voters pause is the past wins for Zaillian and just last year for Sorkin.  Hopefully, we won’t see any interference.

Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”
Based on the novel, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ by John le Carré
Oscar Scene: “I want to talk about loyalty, Toby. Control recruited you, didn’t he? He found you starving in a museum in Vienna, a wanted man. He saved your life, I heard. And yet, when the time came… when it came to picking sides between him and Allenine, you didn’t hesitate. It’s understandable, perhaps, with your war experience. You survived this long, I suppose, because of your ability to change sides, to serve any master.

The power of the British is shown with this and the two other mentions for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”  This spy-adaptation is smartly written, while intertwining unique and dynamic characters in a special way.  While it wasn’t surprising, the film’s strong showing at the BAFTA award keeps it in conversation up until the envelope is opened.  The posthumous nomination for the late Bridget O’Connor with her widower Peter Straughan hitting the circuit, dedicating all the accolades and love to her doesn’t hurt either.  If there’s a split between “The Descendants” and “Moneyball,” a film like “Tinker, Tailor” could easily slip through.  Voters may also want to throw it a bone after being ignored all season and with likely losses in Lead Actor for Gary Oldman and Score.

Predicted: Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin for “Moneyball”

Hossein Amini for “Drive”
Eric Roth for “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

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Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of AwardsCircuit.com. Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.