Best Adapted Screenplay
It's not so much a case of what's going to make the cut as what won't in the adapted field, as most of the big Best Picture hopefuls are in this race. But the writers' branch doesn't always reward a movie just for being a big swinging dick in the awards race if they don't feel it was a quote-unquote writer's movie (think of "Avatar" missing out in 2010, for instance).
For instance, bar the film being a disaster, we're expecting "Les Misérables" to be a serious challenger in most races, but with much of the text of William Nicholson's screenplay coming straight from the stage show's lyrics (indeed, in the version published by Universal, he shares credit with the original writers) will voters feel that the "Gladiator" writer simply copy and pasted? Or will the difficulties of the adaptation job (which can sometimes bypass the Academy) shine through? Similarly, "Life of Pi" is going to be a big player, but early reviews pointed to the script by David Magee ("Finding Neverland") as one of the film's stumbling blocks, and for such a visually driven film, that could see it miss out (that said, John Logan's equally problematic script for "Hugo" made the cut last year, albeit in a weaker field).
On safer territory are two of the frontrunners, "Argo" by Chris Terrio (based on a Wired article) and "Silver Linings Playbook" by David O. Russell (based on Matthew Quick's novel). They're both the kind of smart, funny writing that always does well at this category, and are certainly the two frontrunners so far. It's possible that "Argo" may be seen as more of a director's movie, so we'd probably give the edge to Russell (who's only had one nomination before, for directing "The Fighter") but it's definitely going to be a tight contest.
Elsewhere, Tony Kushner certainly has a good chance for a second nomination (after "Munich") for "Lincoln," which is by most accounts a very writerly, almost theatrical film. But his chances of winning the thing are slimmer; the only Oscar victory in this category for a Spielberg film remains Steve Zaillian's script for "Schindler's List" in 1993. On a much smaller scale, while we're still to see if Sundance films "Beasts of the Southern Wild" by Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar (based on her play) and "The Sessions" (by Ben Lewin, based on the article by central character Mark O'Brien) have the legs for Best Picture, they're both in with a good shot at making the final five -- though we'd argue that the screenplay is the weakest part of "The Sessions."
Otherwise, "Hitchcock" remains something of a question mark, but the screenplay, an adaptation of the book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" by "Black Swan" co-scribe John J. McLaughlin, has been a popular Black List contender in the past, and if the film lives up to Fox Searchlight's hopes, this should certainly make the cut. Less likely is "This Is 40" -- as we said above, we thought the screenplay was a cracker, but the spin-off nature of the film may be its undoing. It would have a good chance if, like last year's nominee "Bridesmaids," it was in Original Screenplay, but with tougher, more serious competition in Adapted, it's less likely to happen. If the film picks up great reviews, though, don't rule it out altogether.
None are likely to bother Oscar in major categories, but the difficulty of adapting seemingly unadaptable novels "Anna Karenina," "Cloud Atlas" and "On the Road" could see them surprise -- we'll see what happens if any get a boost from the WGA, where films like 'Beasts' are likely to be disqualified from competition. They're arguably in with a better chance than something like "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" or "Quartet," which appeal more to actors than writers, or for Playlist favorites like "Rust & Bone" and "Killing Them Softly," which are unlikely to get the traction. And those with fingers crossed for blockbuster nominations for "The Dark Knight Rises," "Skyfall," "The Hunger Games," "The Hobbit" or "The Avengers," it's probably best not to waste your time (even though Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens have two nominations and a win for the "Lord of the Rings" films, and we could argue that the success of "The Avengers" was principally down to Joss Whedon cracking that screenplay).
So, our five picks for Adapted Screenplay at this stage of the race are...
Tony Kushner - "Lincoln"
John J. McLaughlin - "Hitchcock"
David O. Russell - "Silver Linings Playbook"
Chris Terrio - "Argo"
Benh Zeitlin & Lucy Alibar - "Beasts of the Southern Wild"