Every year there seems to be a late-breaking twist in the Oscar race. This year, that twist comes to pundits courtesy of Netflix and the Coen Brothers. While the assumption for most pundits has been that “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” was an original screenplay, it appears that two of the stories were actually based on preexisting material. Awards Circuit editor Clayton Davis confirmed with the Netflix campaign that the move to the adapted screenplay is official.
“All Gold Canyon” features Tom Waits as an older prospector. Jack London wrote a story of the same name and plot in 1904. We are unsure which of the other stories falls under adaptation, but our money points towards “Meal Ticket.” While the overall story of a traveling thespian and his driver was original, most of the dialogue used comes from pre-existing material. In this case, Percy Shelly’s poem “Ozymandias,” Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 29,” and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address are all texts lifted word for word. This represents most of the dialogue of any kind in the story. The abundance of preexisting texts may have caused the Academy to push the move towards adapted, especially when coupled with “All Gold Canyon.”
This move likely hurts the chances that “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” receives a Best Screenplay nomination. Frankly, it was on the outside looking in against a weaker original screenplay field this year. In adapted, it will likely fall behind the established five for the season, plus the emerging contenders. “The Death of Stalin,” headlined by Armando Iannucci and “Leave No Trace” from Debra Granick already have their eyes set on a nomination. For Netflix and the Coen brothers, this was certainly not great news.