'Descendants' wins the USC Scripter Award

Posted by · 5:53 pm · February 18th, 2012

The 24th annual USC Libraries Scripter Awards were held this evening just south of downtown at the Doheny Library on the USC campus. For the first time in a while, I had to miss the show (which is always a classy affair and, as a former USC grad student, always a bit odd, ordering a vodka tonic at the counter where I used to check out books for thesis and term paper purposes).

Anyway, the goal of the honor is to recognize adaptation of the written word. Once upon a time that was limited to literature, but in recent years it has expanded to include former screenplays (allowing for remakes to be recognized) and comic books.

This year, the big winner, unsurprisingly, was “The Descendants.” Screenwriters Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash were awarded alongside author Kaui Hart Hemmings. The film won the honor just moments after it was announced as this year’s ACE Eddie winner for dramas.

The other nominees were “A Dangerous Method,” “Jane Eyre,” “Moneyball” and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” I think one of the latter two would have been much more handsome and thoughtful recipients since they don’t particularly (well, at all) represent a cut-and-paste by any sretch. “Moneyball” was a book no one thought could be adapted for the screen, and yet screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian (two of the top writers in the business) tackled Stan Chervin’s pre-existing adaptation and it became one of the most dense, thematically rich films of the year.

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” meanwhile, whittled a vast volume that was barely squeezed into a longer mini-series once upon a time and made it flow beautifully within a two-hour frame. How you can argue against these two adaptations being better works on the page than “The Descendants” is beyond me, yet Payne’s film is nevertheless looking good for an Oscar win (and even better if it takes the WGA prize tomorrow night).

Most of the nominees this year were former finalists. Zaillian is actually a three-time winner for “Awakenings,” “Schindler’s List” and “A Civil Action,” and he also won the inaugural Literary Achievement Award in 2008. Sorkin won last year for “The Social Network,” while “Tinker” author John le Carré was up for the prize for the adaptation of his book “The Constant Gardener” in 2005. Finally, “A Dangerous Method” screenwriter Christopher Hampton was up for “Carrington” in 1996.

This marks Payne’s first Scripter win. In 2003 he was a finalist for “About Schmidt” but lost to “The Hours.” In 2005, he was up for “Sideways” but lost to “Million Dollar Baby.” He won the Oscar that year, though.

Recent recipients of the award have included “Up in the Air,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Children of Men,” “Capote” and “Million Dollar Baby.” Only eight of the 23 previous Scripter winners went on to win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, but it’s becoming more common as of late.

Remember to keep track of all the ups and downs of the 2011-2012 film awards season via The Circuit.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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