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Oscars: Are Paul Thomas Anderson & David O. Russell Frontrunners For Original & Adapted Screenplay?

by Oliver Lyttelton
October 25, 2012 12:07 PM
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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.

Tommy Lee Jones in "Lincoln"

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"

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  • Dean Treadway | November 9, 2012 3:24 AMReply

    I wish that Craig Zobel's original screenplay for COMPLIANCE was in the discussion more. I haven't been more riveted in a movie all year long, and this is due partly to the construction of the thrills and the accuracy of the dialogue. The film deserves that MARGIN CALL slot.

  • Sean C. | November 1, 2012 2:12 PMReply

    I'd be interested to see the two Andersons face off, because those are very different movies with very different sorts of crowd reactions. Paul T. Anderson is a very 'serious' filmmaker, with the work getting a lot of critical praise, while at the same time a lot of people found its purposeful inscrutability off-putting; Wes Anderson is the king of quirk, his movie also got a lot of critical praise, but it has a very warm audience reception since it has very different artistic aims. I suspect "Moonrise Kingdom" would have much broader support, but "The Master"'s fanbase could quite conceivably be sufficiently devoted to get it the win over a more broadly liked film that might not rank quite as highly with its fans.

  • Jay | October 29, 2012 12:15 PMReply

    The greatest irony here is this: Think about what movie won last year, Midnight in Paris. What kind of movie was that? It was a comedy that essentially spoofed period a spoof of a genre a much-lauded filmmaker.

    Then what film should at least be NOMINATED this year that did an incredible job at that too...?

    "Cabin in the Woods" obviously. It certainly has the most similarities to Midnight in Paris, in tone, cleverness and overall intelligence, plus it was a whole lot funnier if you ask most people. It probably won't be nominated at all, but just sayin' it's a dead ringer for last year's winner. And I'm no die-hard Whedon fanperson.

  • eduardo | October 26, 2012 6:44 PMReply

    in adapted screenplay it looks like it will be a three-horse race between Argo, Lincoln and Silver Linings...

    as for the original screenplay race looks more like PTA is the frontrunner. Why? the movie has gotten great reviews and it's surviving the early release issue. Anderson has 5 previous nominations, 3 of them as writer and some people might think he's due and his time as come and not to mention Harvey Weinstein is behind The master. And probably its only real competition is Moonrise Kingdom

  • sidsbowl | October 26, 2012 2:31 PMReply

    Promised Land is impressive. The fracking is a tool used to reach deeper issues.

  • MIKE | October 25, 2012 12:49 PMReply

    The Master for SCREENPLAY? The movie has no direction... You can't call a script great or even good for having a handful of awesome scenes in the first half, then falling off a cliff into nothingness for 80 minutes. The entire (opening weekend in LA) audience I saw it with left the theater totally unsatisfied. Go ahead and praise the performances and cinematography and music and directing... all fantastic. But the movie's overall failure is because of the script, and not the other way around.

  • Another Mike | October 29, 2012 9:26 AM

    I agree with Mike too.

    The movie was a long, slow fuck with no cumshot.

  • Wes | October 26, 2012 2:19 PM

    I liked the movie, but screenplay?

  • Michael | October 26, 2012 10:10 AM

    The movie is a love story between Lancaster Dodd and Freddie. Lancaster is gay. The story is about Dodd's attempt to bring Freddie into his cult, which nicely parallels his attempts to get Freddie to go gay.

    I know you will think this is ridiculous. But watch it again and I swear it's all there under the surface. Completely deepens the story and makes it an amazing movie

  • Emma | October 25, 2012 8:02 PM

    I have to agree with Mike. I left disappointed. However, I had enough courtesy to stay - 5 people just got up and left.

  • Jderio | October 25, 2012 3:09 PM

    @Matt One can tell by observing body language, offhand comments peppered throughout the post-film dispersal, etc. My experience matches Mike's, as I certainly noticed a vibe of disappointment from both audiences I saw the film with. The poor word-of-mouth is also evidenced by the rapidly declining box office earnings after the limited release in NY and LA.

  • Matt | October 25, 2012 2:26 PM

    "The entire audience left the theater totally unsatisfied," eh? Did you speak with each and everyone of them after the movie ended? Did you wait by the door and ask all of them their thoughts? Or are you just projecting your opinion onto a theater full of strangers simply to make your judgment seem relevant?

  • cirkusfolk | October 25, 2012 12:49 PMReply

    Oh and it's just my opinion of course but both of the Anderson's films this year I actual did not enjoy and would easily call them their weakest. In fact, I'd given thumbs up to all their films so far but Moonrise and Master were thumbs down for me. Same with Dark Knight but that's another story. Here's hoping Tarantino comes through. I must say having only seen all the trailers, I've already been quoting the dialogue, so that's good.

  • cirkusfolk | October 25, 2012 12:43 PMReply

    U mentioned In Bruges previously getting a nod, so what about Seven Psychopaths. Though I agree it's basically a Coen Bros/ Tarantino knockoff with a dash of Charlie Kaufman (adaptation) I thoroughly enjoyed it and all three of those influences are Oscar winners themselves, so they can't be bad influences.

  • Niko | October 25, 2012 12:36 PMReply

    No mention of Seven Psychopaths? It's probably a longshot, but considering In Bruges got nominated I won't be entirely surprised if it gets in.

  • Wes | October 25, 2012 12:35 PMReply

    I thought Premium Rush had a nice tight screenplay.

  • Wes | October 26, 2012 2:17 PM

    The dialogue wasn't that great, but the unfolding of the story was well put together. I compare it to Looper in that sense. Srsly. :)

  • Craven & Anderson | October 25, 2012 2:28 PM

    Wes knows best.

  • Christian | October 25, 2012 12:58 PM


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