OFF THE CARPET: Field of adaptations

Posted by · 8:34 am · November 23rd, 2009

Amy Adams in Julie & JuliaAs always, the year’s adapted screenplay race is much more competitive than the original screenplay race. But what’s intriguing to note is that of the anticipated “big four” still to be widely screened, three of them are right in the thick of this discussion.

In the case of “Nine,” there is a chance for Anthony Minghella to receive his second posthumous Oscar nomination in as many years, something I don’t think we’ve seen since James Dean. But sometimes the razzle-dazzle of a movie musical can overshadow what craft there might be on the page, so it’s no slam dunk. Michael Tolkin is co-writer on the script, and even though I’ve seen the film, I’m prohibited from offering my thoughts on the work.

“The Lovely Bones,” meanwhile, is adapted from a beloved novel, looks to feature a more reserved and refined Peter Jackson than we’ve seen in recent years and could see the lovable trio (Jackson, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh) back in Oscar’s good graces. We’ll know when we see it.

The Royals and invited British press get their look on the 24th. Harry Knowles has received his typical peek (as Paramount continues to nurture the relationship as if it’s 2002 and AICN still moves the needle). The rest of the US press corps has to wait until the other side of the holiday on the 27th to judge. Hopefully we’ll still care by then. I heard some scathing criticisms out of an exhibitor screening last week.

Finally there’s Anthony Peckham’s Nelson Mandela/Rugby World Cup drama “Invictus,” adapted from John Carlin’s book “Playing the Enemy.” The combination of an emotional story that reflects the zeitgeist in some way could certainly find its way in here.

Of the remaining possibilities, there are what I would consider the three frontrunners of the category: Nick Hornby’s “An Education,” Geoffrey Fletcher’s “Precious” and Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner’s “Up in the Air.”

(from left) Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard in An Education Hornby’s script, adapted from a memoir by Lynn Barber, is a formidable contender here for its delicate mixture of sweet whimsy and hard-hitting truth. The structure and dialog of the piece are as crisp as you could hope for, but there are criticisms that the final act is a bit too neat.

Fletcher’s effort, meanwhile, could certainly ride a wave of sentiment, good will and respect all the way to a nomination. The power of the film is perhaps more evident in Daniels’s direction, however, so a miss here wouldn’t be shocking.

Finally, what I consider the script to beat, “Up in the Air” could find its moment here on Oscar night, especially if it takes hold as a true Best Picture possibility. Its potential to walk away with the big prize is left to be seen, but even without such a designation, at the very least, this is consolation territory if ever there was such a thing.

But watch out for Tom Ford and “A Single Man” (accidentally left out of this column earlier). It’s a beautiful piece of work in some ways, but I was more impressed with Ford’s work as director.

Perhaps the biggest under-the-radar possibility here this year is Nora Ephron’s capable navigation of a pretty bad book, Julie Powell’s “Julie & Julia.” Mixing a pair of tales (and a pair of books, for that matter, as Childs’s “My Life in France” was folded in) for maximum entertainment value, Ephron’s work has already been recognized in the precursor festival circuit. Perhaps she can survive the rest of the season and show up on Oscar’s shortlist.

Then we navigate the dark horse contenders. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci could (rightfully) have “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” held against them when it comes to considering their rather clever work on J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek.” The duo found a smart way to reboot a beloved franchise that worked on its own terms, which is more than can be said of many an attempt at other flagships. Moreover, the film was both critically acclaimed and a box office champion. It would be foolish to ignore its chances.

David Benioff’s adaptation of Sussanah Bier’s “Brothers” moves the story of a family in struggle to the conflict in Afghanistan to some modest success. But without loud champions, it’ll be tough to cross over. There are those who might find it a bit melodramatic.

(from left) Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy HeartScott Cooper, meanwhile, could be responsible for scripting and directing the Best Actor Oscar-winning role and performance of the year with “Crazy Heart.” At the end of the day, however, the film is more likely to be respected as an actors’ piece.

Speaking of actors’ pieces, Michael Hoffman’s no frills adaptation of Jay Parini’s “The Last Station” could be something of a creeper if Sony Classics gets serious and voters begin thinking outside the box, while Scott Z. Burns’ zany work on “The Informant!” might have made a play if the film had any staying power. Perhaps it’ll come back around.

Beyond that, there are straggler possibilities in Joe Penhall’s “The Road,” for instance, or Dave Eggars and Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” And Henry Selick is worth keeping an eye on for his adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline.” But things really begin to thin out after that.

Check out the Contenders section for more possibilities. And, as always, we’ve run a comb through the sidebar predictions. With these brief category profiles out of the way, we’ll address the race more broadly on the other side of the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving.

What are your thoughts on the Best Adapted Screenplay race? Have your say in the comments section below!

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48 responses so far

  • 1 11-23-2009 at 8:40 am

    Ben M. said...

    Good article; two quick points though are Geoffrey Fletcher, not Lee Daniels, wrote Precious and James Dean did get back-to-back posthumous noms (I’m not sure if anyone else did so).

  • 2 11-23-2009 at 8:45 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Doh! Thanks, Ben. Missteps on my part. Bad ones. Tis the season!

  • 3 11-23-2009 at 9:03 am

    Blake said...


    When’s the embargo date on Nine?

  • 4 11-23-2009 at 9:28 am

    The Other James D. said...

    Actually Kris, I don’t agree with your opening paragraph. Last year was a *horrendous* year for Adapted. The Original category was overcrowded with contenders, while Adapted barely mustered 8 viable players.

    Milk, WALL·E, Frozen, Bruges, Happy….Wrestler, Vicky, Visitor, Burn (’cause of the WGA nom), Torino (hahaha…but I was scared at first, thanks to NBR), and possibly a couple of others I’m omitting.

    Slumdog, Curious, Reader, Frost/Nixon, Doubt, Revolutionary, Dark; um…Duchess?…………I really can’t think of any others.

  • 5 11-23-2009 at 9:44 am

    Marshall said...

    It was REALLY clever of the “Star Trek” scripters to use the whole parallel universes concept to free them from continuity issues with the original series. For that alone, they deserve to be lauded.

  • 6 11-23-2009 at 9:48 am

    McGuff said...

    “The structure and dialog of the piece are as crisp as you could hope for, but there are criticisms that the final act is a bit too neat.”

    This is close to how I feel about Hornby’s script, but not exactly. To me, I saw Hornby’s personal investment in the story’s first 90 minutes — the last 9 minutes felt like something he was compelled to write. It was rushed, it was “neat,” and it wasn’t fluid. It didn’t ruin the movie for me, which I still gave 3.5 stars on the heels of his structure and dialog, but an Oscar winning script shouldn’t ever feel compromised, IMO.

  • 7 11-23-2009 at 10:10 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    James: Last year was obviously an acception to the rule, but it was also a weak year for films in general.

  • 8 11-23-2009 at 10:27 am

    Frank Lee said...

    I can’t imagine the script for “Where the Wild Things Are” getting nominated. It was the script that sank the movie.

  • 9 11-23-2009 at 10:31 am

    Brian said...

    To be honest, never trust a Harry Knowles review of a Jackson film. Jackson, after all, did make Knowles wedding invitations.

    And secondly, additional word from Bones has been pretty positive so far.

  • 10 11-23-2009 at 10:34 am

    todkommt said...

    …. you forget the ‘A Single Man’ screenplay

  • 11 11-23-2009 at 10:43 am

    Brian said...

    I also wonder how Tyler Perry’s involvement might hurt Precious in the script department. There’s probably no one more loathed in the WGA than Perry at the moment after the stunt he pulled a while ago.

    It might amount to absolutely nothing, but worth keeping in mind perhaps.

  • 12 11-23-2009 at 10:59 am

    SHAAAARK said...

    Why not at least mention In the Loop? It’s technically considered adapted because there are two characters from the series In the Thick of It. And no way is Star Trek even in the same league as In the Loop’s biting satirical humor. Nothing in Star Trek is as great as “difficult, difficult, lemon-difficult”.

  • 13 11-23-2009 at 11:14 am

    j said...

    Yeah, it’s weird because you have A Single Man in your predicted 5, but it doesn’t show up in the contenders list or in this post.

    Although you may not be able to talk about your opinion of certain films, it seems implied. Certain judgment calls made, some of which aren’t changes but are simply your deviations from the norm:
    Pic: Star Trek>Lovely Bones, Basterds, Single Man, Julie & Julia, or Bright Star
    Direct: Avatar>Invictus, Bones, or Education
    Actress: Gyllenhaal>Cotillard, Ronan, or Cornish
    Adapted: Julie & Julia>Invictus, Nine, or Lovely Bones
    Original: Basterds & Summer>Avatar or Bright Star
    Supporting Actor: Baldwin>Sarsgaard, Damon, or Duvall

    I’m mostly surprised by which of The Four you chose to raise, while the rest seem to have gone down. Probably the riskiest film to make, with the biggest act to follow.

  • 14 11-23-2009 at 11:21 am

    "Julianstark" said...

    I think it’s interesting that you are predicting Gyllenhaal to get an Actress nomination for Crazy Heart.

    Just curious: how many times in Academy history has there been a film to receive an Actor nomination and an Actress nomination when the screenplay wasn’t nominated?

  • 15 11-23-2009 at 11:46 am

    alfie said...

    there is no way Star Trek is going to get a nomination for best picture. not going to happen.

  • 16 11-23-2009 at 11:47 am

    Adam Smith said...

    @SHAAAARK: I won’t debate that In The Loop’s script is great–it’s a wonderful piece of writing, one of the funniest I’ve seen all year. However, what you are debating is writing dialogue, not writing a script. Think back to 2001, where Original Screenplay was a battle between Memento and Gosford Park. While the dialogue was written quite well for both, what stood out for both films were their use of structure (Memento as a story told in reverse, Gosford Park as an ensemble piece that weaved several plotlines together). A great screenplay worthy of a win typically is a combination of these two things: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is probably the best example I can think of of the marrying of great dialogue, dynamic characters, and impeccable structure.

  • 17 11-23-2009 at 12:04 pm

    erik said...

    Actually, if Minghella recieves another citation two years after his death he’d join Howard Ashman who received a best song nomination for Aladdin in 93, and a best song Oscar for Beauty and the beast in 92, both after dying in 1991.

  • 18 11-23-2009 at 12:06 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    Yes, I’m very curious about your choice to add Star Trek to your Best Picture predix. I agree that it is not outside the realm of possibility–as usual, I will cite the nominations of the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars. It helps that certain films (namely Bright Star) have just gone completely off of everyone’s radar. But do you think that this town is big enough for two highly populist choices (i.e., Star Trek and Up)? Is there a chance Star Trek will push Up out of the running, and The Lovely Bones will still make it? Why are you inclined to believe that The Lovely Bones is going to fail? Also, since Tucci appears to be your only nod for the film, do you think he can still win, or is it Waltz’s to lose at this point?

  • 19 11-23-2009 at 12:10 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Kris: True, or at least weak by what the Academy was willing to nominate. I know we both loved us some “Pineapple Express”. (And despite slight category fraud, the nominations would’ve been vastly improved had James Franco’s comic magnificence gotten in over Philip Suckmore Hoffman’s histrionic hot mess.) And then there were foreign flicks such as “Boy A”, “Love Songs”, “The Black Balloon”, “Reprise”–all of which I found incredible. So, I don’t want to call it a weak year, but rather a woefully misguided one?

    LOL, I didn’t even notice “A Single Man” was missing and that’s my most anticipated after “Up in the Air”. JFC on a Ritz cracker. I think perhaps we’re all a bit out of sync today.

  • 20 11-23-2009 at 1:28 pm

    Dan said...

    Damn, Kris….only 1 nom for The Lovely Bones?!

  • 21 11-23-2009 at 1:32 pm

    Jilda said...

    @ Brian…

    But he didn’t write it. I don’t get it.

  • 22 11-23-2009 at 2:07 pm

    daveylow said...

    I think Wes Anderson could be nominated for Fantastic Mr. Fox.

  • 23 11-23-2009 at 2:18 pm

    david said...

    I was also surprised to see The Lovely Bones basically absent from the Oscar predictions. Apparently Kris has already seen the film, and must not have liked it much. Then again, if I remember right, he wasn’t a huge LOTR guy either. So we’ll have to just wait and see.

    I really think The Road and Where the Wild Things Are won’t get shut out altogether. Surely they will pick up a nomination or two here or there.

  • 24 11-23-2009 at 2:50 pm

    Alfie said...

    I think Kris bumped bones because of a few comments he heard after a recent screening. I don’t think he has seen has he?

    Plus he is not exactly a Jackson fan. He isn’t a “hater” but not exactly hot on him.

  • 25 11-23-2009 at 2:57 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Oy, spaced it on A Sibgle Man. Clearly it should be included here. Unfortunately I’ve been on a plane for two hours so I’ll get to it as soon as I can.

  • 26 11-23-2009 at 2:58 pm

    Danny K. said...

    I think that either Precious or Up in the Air has a shot to sweep some major categories at the Oscars. Which ever one reveals itself as the Best Picture frontrunner will also most likely win Adapted Screenplay and Director.

    Maybe this is just based off last year, but that’s just how I see it for now.

  • 27 11-23-2009 at 3:07 pm

    SHAAAARK said...

    If structure is a strong criteria of a good screenplay, then I’d still have to put In the Loop over Star Trek. The villain’s motivations never make that much sense, and they shouldn’t have needed the contrivance of just happening to have Kirk marooned on the same planet as Spock Prime AND Scotty. In the Loop is wonderfully structured, building further and further in an ever more hilarious string of fuck-ups, clusterfucks, and gratuitous profanity.

  • 28 11-23-2009 at 3:33 pm

    tintin said...

    Lovely bonessssssss?!?!?!?!!?!??!!?!? Star trek for Best picture?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!

  • 29 11-23-2009 at 4:04 pm

    Brian said...

    Knowles lovely bones review is up and, shocker, it’s a rave. GRAINOFSALT.

  • 30 11-23-2009 at 4:07 pm

    Adam Smith said...


    Definitely won’t argue that In The Loop is the finer achievement. However, I have to say that I don’t much understand your gripe about Nero’s motivations: what didn’t make sense about it?

    More than anything, when I think about the structure of Star Trek as a piece of writing, the time travel incident creating a unique timeline that revamps the entire mythology of the series without alienating newbies and hardcore Trekkers alike is a pretty monumental achievement. Is it the greatest hurdle ever surpassed in the history of writing? Not by a fucking long shot. But does that make it less impressive than an original (well, in In The Loop’s case, MORE original than Star Trek, at least) screenplay that more or less works on its own terms with no basis in a previously existing text? I don’t think so. I think that both original and adapted screenplays display unique challenges. With an original screenplay, there’s a matter of creating a wholly unique world and making all of those pieces fit together. With an adapted screenplay, there’s a matter of capturing the essence of the original text and turning it into a visual text (not just words on a page).

    As for why Star Trek is more in the conversation than In The Loop right now.

    1) Star Trek is more likely to have across the board support, guilds and such–it’s a brilliant technical achievement, one of the finest of year.
    2) Do you know how many people saw In The Loop? You and seven other people. Star Trek grossed nearly $400 million worldwide. I’ll take Star Trek all day, every day.

    OK, all dickish paraphrasing of Ryan Kavanaugh aside, the fact is that In The Loop has not been a film that a ton of people saw. Comparatively, EVERYONE saw Star Trek.

  • 31 11-23-2009 at 4:30 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Shark: The problem is you’re guessing with your heart not your head.

  • 32 11-23-2009 at 4:52 pm

    SHAAAARK said...

    I’m not guessing at all, I don’t think either In the Loop or Star Trek have the remotest of chances of being nominated by the Academy. In the Loop for being underseen, and Star Trek because….in ANY OTHER YEAR if the film had been released, it would not be in the conversation for Screenplay. It’s a product of the ten nominees thing making people think things have changed more than they actually have. A rule change doesn’t suddenly mean the Academy is going to give an upper-category nomination to Star Trek, regardless of how good it was. And I’d say YOU are guessing with your heart by putting Star Trek up as an actual contender here.

  • 33 11-23-2009 at 4:55 pm

    Brian said...

    Couldn’t the same be true of Star Trek getting in over, say, Inglourious Basterds? Especially since that’s looking pretty strong for two other major noms?

  • 34 11-23-2009 at 5:08 pm

    alfie said...

    I liked star trek but I have a really hard time believing in this pretty excellent year of films it will get a spot in the top ten best pic noms.

  • 35 11-23-2009 at 5:15 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    You don’t see me predicting it for a nomination though, do you, Shark? But to disregard a potential Best Picture nominee from the screenplay conversation entirely would be as much if not more extreme than what you’re accusing us of.

    And ditto Brian’s comment.

  • 36 11-23-2009 at 5:49 pm

    Adrianna said...

    Guessing, because I haven’t seen most of them –

    -Up in the Air for Reitman, whose script/direction synthesis always seems strong
    -probably An Education for Nick Hornby because of the past films adapted from his works gives him a good reputation (and most of An Education was very good)
    – The Last Station, as an old-fashioned, makes sense narrative tale (Hoffman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream was very clear and streamlined)
    – The Road, because of the difficulty of adaptation and if the father/son relationship shines through
    – Julie and Julia, because the source book was AWFUL, and the screenplay improves it to something respectable and interesting.

  • 37 11-23-2009 at 6:38 pm

    SHAAAARK said...

    But I don’t consider Star Trek a potential Picture nominee in the first place, so it’s not that absurd. Though, I admit there is a little advocacy mixed into this, as I would be CRUSHED if Star Trek were to be recognized and not District 9. It’s bad enough as a sci-fi fan to see Moon so ignored, but having Star Trek talked about more than District 9 in terms of quality and awards is maddening.
    I do really like that you mention Coraline and Where the Wild Things Are. Rumors of Wild Things’ awards death have been greatly exaggerated.

  • 38 11-23-2009 at 7:25 pm

    tintin said...

    Shark: I consider A single man, District 9, Bright Star, Inglourious Basterds with more potential than Star trek. It can´t be recongnized…is very good, but no enough. Although i think The lovely bones will make the cut.

    (sorry for my english, i´m from uruguay)

  • 39 11-23-2009 at 8:05 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    Such a busy year for adaptations, I’m having a hard time thinking Star Trek could make the cut — not even The Dark Knight could manage that despite all of its other nominations, and last year was a far less crowded in Adapted Screenplay too. Star Trek feels far more like Iron Man than The Dark Knight in terms of Oscar potential (i.e. visual effects, sound, maybe makeup, 3-4 nominations at the most).

    Julie & Julia was an interesting adaptation, I think, and a quite clever one. I wouldn’t mind seeing it get nominated, and it could happen (I’m predicting it’ll make a very decent splash at the Golden Globes, including screenplay).. But things will be clearer once the verdict is out on Invictus, Nine and The Lovely Bones, and whether any of them will stumble.

    Up in the Air, Precious and An Education seem like very good bets to me at the moment, the other two spots to be fought over by aforementioned films and A Single Man, Crazy Heart with Where the Wild Things Are as a dark horse long shot.

  • 40 11-24-2009 at 12:59 am

    Scott said...

    Kris, I’m telling you now…Add Julie & Julia to best original score. I am hearing rumblings this is a done deal.

  • 41 11-24-2009 at 2:17 am

    SHAAAARK said...

    Ohhh, Julie & Julia for score? Interesting suggestion. Just saw the film, and I thought the score was pleasant, but doesn’t rise beyond that. My horse in the score race is Marvin Hamlisch’s score for The Informant!, and I hope Desplat’s success, if your inside information is accurate, doesn’t come at Hamlisch’s expense.

  • 42 11-24-2009 at 3:31 am

    Andrew said...

    I thought Desplat’s score for Julie & Julia was wonderful and deserves the nom. He would have a bigger chance of winning with J+J because the film was a big hit, compared to his other scored films this year. Chéri’s score is nice indeed, but too Benjamin Button-ish. I prefer his score of Fantastic Mr Fox. Memorable.

    And I do think Julie and Julia is in for Adapted Screenplay. The Academy likes Ephron.

  • 43 11-24-2009 at 6:37 am

    MouseRat said...

    The Sun just put up a pretty serious rave of the Lovely Bones….like “Better than the LOTR’s”-type rave. So i’m still hopeful it wont completely suck.

  • 44 11-24-2009 at 8:22 am

    aspect ratio said...

    I too have been thinking Julie & Julia is the score Desplat will get the nomination for out of all of his contenders this year. It had the box office success, it will be nominated for other things (Best Actress at least), and it’s in a way two films in one.

    Coco Before Chanel has kind of disappeared, and with Fantastic Mr. Fox he’s a bit hurt that Anderson also relies quite a lot on pop songs. Cheri, New Moon probably aren’t going to contend, and A Prophet won’t be eligible, I believe.

    With Julie & Julia likely to do well at the Globes (Picture, Actress, perhaps Screenplay, Supporting), it’s certainly not unreasonable to think it could grab a score nomination there as well.

  • 45 11-24-2009 at 9:51 am

    ninja said...

    “I heard some scathing criticisms out of an exhibitor screening last week.”

    Kris, can you elaborate more? Paramount is certainly playing very safe so far, cause Knowles would`ve raved even that Bennifer turkey if Jackson`d directed it. However, his review reads more like a mockery (lovely,lovely, lovely x 100) and fake enthusiasm than the real deal. It`s become the butt of jokes. Not sure if that`s what the studio really wanted.

    Also, the movie will be screened at the charity event with the Queen in attendance and I assume that charity screenings soften the sharp criticism. Not that what the Queen thinks will matter to AMPAS but positive early reviews may create a bandwaggon effect to sway the undecided towards positive.

    Finally, despite reportedly $100 mio budget and built-in fandom, this is getting a slow roll-out in the States (weird) but, unsurprisingly, wide release in New Zealand where it`s a patriotic duty to see Jackson`s movies multiple times and write raves. Expect reports on record-breaking New Zealand boxoffice take. Again, not that AMPAS care.

    I`m confused. It looks like a lot of padding to me rather than real confidence on the studio part. So you may be onto something.

  • 46 11-24-2009 at 10:06 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Scott: LOL “Rumblings this is a done deal.” What does that (or could that) even mean?

    Anyway, lots of people dig the Fox score, but Julia is certainly lurking as a possibility, too.

  • 47 11-24-2009 at 12:38 pm

    alfie said...

    Ninja you have good points but knowles can’t win either way on this one.
    If he went totally overboard with praise everyone discounts him because of his friendship with jackson so when he writes a very positive piece but doesn’t go overboard with the hyperbole but clearly liked the film people try to use that as proof he didn’t really like it so he can’t win.I don’t see how you read his review as fake enthusiam?

    the sun in the uk just posted a real rave calling it the best film of next year as I think it opens in the UK then but the writer loved it.
    said its better than rings. so far the only official reviews not just messageboard rumor have been raves.

    and I just have to say again kris how glad I am to have found this site. its very good.

  • 48 11-24-2009 at 1:56 pm

    ninja said... review can be taken seriously. Thanks for pointing it out. Knowles has only himself to blame for having no credibility. However, it is Kris`s comment about “scathing criticisms” that caught my attention since all the “public” (aka Twitter) feedback have been raving one-liners. I wonder if this is the case of 100% RT score that will go rappidly down when more people see it (the “scathing criticism by still silent majority) or something that will retain the 95-98% freshness and change the game?