Considering they spend the rest of their time ignored, humiliated, rewritten and robbed of credit, it's only fair that screenwriters get two categories at the Academy Awards, effectively doubling their chances of being nominated. It's also their best chance of gaining real cachet; witness the careers of recent winners Diablo Cody and Aaron Sorkin, both celebrities in their own right now, and both planning directorial debuts.
It's also often the best chance for smaller movies, and comedies in particular, to add a bit of gold to their shelves, with films as diverse as "Borat" and "Winter's Bone" winning nods in recent memory. Nominees, and indeed winners, aren't always awarded for the actual nuts and bolts of screenwriting; instead, the general Academy membership often take the opportunity to turn it into a prize for "Best Dialogue" (see wins for "Juno" and "The Departed," among others). This is particularly true of the Best Adapted Screenplay category, which we're examining this week (with Original Screenplay to follow next week); more often than not, the winner tends to be the winner of best picture (six times in the last decade, versus three in the Original Screenplay category).
As is generally the case, Best Adapted Screenplay this year contains most of the heavy hitters, in terms of Best Picture contenders, with eight of our top ten picks for the big prize being based on other material -- generally books (including one non-fiction work, and one graphic novel/children's book), along with one play, Beau Willimon's "Farragut North" having paved the way for George Clooney's "The Ides of March." Regardless of it's chances at Best Picture, the film looks pretty much a lock for a screenplay nomination; it's the kind of smart, grown-up picture that fares well in the category, and Clooney and Heslov have form, having earned nods for "Good Night and Good Luck" six years ago.
As for the rest, we'll eat a baseball bat if last year's winner Aaron Sorkin doesn't get another seat at the Kodak this time around for "Moneyball," where he's credited alongside Steve Zaillian (who also won, twenty years ago, for "Schindler's List") along with Stan Chervin. The script was passed back and forth between them for some time, which may not help its chances at winning (almost every year, the award ends up going to a single credited writer or long established team), but it's such an impressive feat of adaptation, turning a statistics-packed non-fiction book into a crowd-pleasing commercial flick, that it's bound to get in. Zaillian may well find himself a double nominee, seeing as he's got "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" in the race too, but that seems like less of a certainty, and might be nullified by his other picture.
Another multiple nominee in the chase this time around is Eric Roth, who adapted Jonathan Safran Foer's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" for Stephen Daldry. We suspect the film's going to pick up nominations in most of the big categories, and there's no reason to think it'll be an exception here, especially as Roth has three previous nominations (and one win), and all three of Daldry's films to date won nods for their writers. Only a critical slaughtering could stop this from happening, and even then it might not be enough.
Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" is the kind of upmarket comedy-drama that often does well in the category, and Payne won an Oscar for "Sideways," but the workload was split this time out, with the credit being shared with relative newcomers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. It's a tough category this year, so it's not set in stone, but we hope it does happen, if only for the oddity of seeing Rash, who plays the Dalmatian-fetishizing Dean on "Community," sitting a stone's throw from Jack Nicholson. Another big contender are husband/wife duo Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan, who somehow wrangled "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" down to just over two hours. It'd be a particular heartfelt news if they were nominated, as O'Connor passed away last year, just as the film was going before cameras. However, there have been some complaints of the film being difficult to follow from some quarters, which may see some shy over nominating them.
Otherwise, big hitters Lee Hall and Richard Curtis collaborated on the script for Steven Spielberg's "War Horse," and it could follow the momentum to a nomination, but it's the kind of picture where the writers may not necessarily get the credit, and the same goes for John Logan's script for "Hugo." Some think that Steve Kloves could get a nod in general recognition for his work across the "Harry Potter" series, but as with all prospects for "Deathly Hallows Pt. 2," we're pretty skeptical.
Also possibles, but on the fringes of the conversation: Adrian Hodges, for "My Week With Marilyn" if it gathers momentum; Nick Cave for "The Wettest County," if the film gets a release before the end of the year, and Tate Taylor for "The Help." And if the film lands, is it possible that Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish could get in for "The Adventures of Tintin?" It's unlikely considering the tough competition, but don't forget that Pixar have four screenplay nods in the last four years. With all that in mind, we think the most likely nominees are...
Alexander Payne, Jim Rash & Nat Faxon -- "The Descendants"
Eric Roth -- "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"
Beau Willimon, George Clooney & Grant Heslov -- "The Ides of March"
Steve Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin -- "Moneyball"
Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan -- "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
1. "The Artist" (3)
This writer finally saw it with his own eyes this week, and now totally gets why some have been calling the victory for it since Cannes. A true crowd-pleaser, that transcends its cinephile origins, it's a film that Academy members will take to their hearts.
2. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (2)
The film's screened for some, and it's said to be something of a step-up for Daldry, and a real tearjerker. But LA is a company town, and maybe "The Artist" will resonate more than the firmly NYC-set 9/11 picture?
3. "War Horse" (1)
Is it just us, or is there simply not a lot of anticipation out there for this? Having said that, there's plenty of time for it to get going (apparently Spielberg's still working on it), but we wonder if two Spielbergs within a couple of days of each other will divide attentions, rather than add to the narrative.
4. "In The Land of Blood and Honey" (-)
Barely on any radars before now, the trailer debuted this morning, and it looks like it could be a real contender; Jolie seems to know what she's doing behind the camera, and it looks to have the right blend of grit, horror, and romanticism. This year's "Letters to Iwo Jima"?
5. "Moneyball" (4)
Looks a safe bet for a nomination, but we wonder how it'll fare with the all-important first-choice picks, more important this year than ever.
6. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (6)
Doing a storm overseas, but very quiet in the U.S, a month ahead of opening. Focus need to gear things up, or they risk losing their momentum.
7. "The Descendants" (5)
We were underwhelmed when we caught it for ourselves this week, but it did play like gangbusters with the crowd. Did well at the Gotham Awards, which is an indication of broad support, but feels too minor to actually win, though.
8. "The Ides of March" (8)
Slightly disappointing at the box office, but should outgross "Good Night and Good Luck," which got a Best Picture nod a field of five, albeit in a weak year.
9. "The Help" (9)
Holding stronger than we thought it might in terms of getting people's attention, but there still seems to be more likely candidates in the race.
10. "My Week With Marilyn" (11)
Decent, respectful reviews out of NYFF, and the Weinsteins moving it to the same slot that "The King's Speech" had last year.
11. "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (13)
The material continues to look impressive, and we suspect it's going to do really well, but if even the director admits that the source material isn't very good, it doesn't make you think it's going to be "The Godfather."
12. "Midnight In Paris" (10)
Having now seen "The Artist," it reinforces the idea that it's playing in the exact same milieu as Allen's film, but far more successfully. We suspect the early awards talk mainly came from the fact that no good films came out in the first half of this year...
13. "Shame" (16)
It's not an Academy film, at all. But it's critically adored, and Fox Searchlight seem to be convinced that they can make a real impact on the race, and no studio are better placed to sell a film like this to voters than them. Stranger things have happened.
14. "Young Adult" (12)
Screened in Toronto this week, and seemingly went down well, but may have to settle for acting nods, unless it's absolutely superb -- it's a tougher sell than "Juno" or "Up in the Air"
15. "Hugo" (9)
Didn't go down badly at its NYFF secret screening, but few were really raving about it, and the fact that it's likely to lose a lot of money won't help.
16. "The Tree of Life" (15)
As the critics groups and top tens start to roll out, this'll come back into the conversation; few films have as many impassioned fans. But could feel like old news, particularly with voters aware that they'll have at least two more chances to award voters.
17. "Martha Marcy May Marlene" (20)
Easily one of the best, and best-loved, films of the year, and hitting a peak of love with its opening this week, and Gotham Awards nominations. But then, the Gotham Award mean precisely very little in the grand scheme of things.
18. "The Iron Lady" (18)
Have the Weinsteins forgotten about this? Supposedly Phyllida Lloyd has gone back to work on the film, but even then you'd think they'd have a trailer out by now.
19. "The Adventures of Tintin" (-)
Enthusiastically received by European critics (look for our review on Monday). Still a definite outsider, but it's certainly seen as a return to form for the Bearded One.
20 "J Edgar"
We'll see in a couple of weeks how this turns out, but there seems to be a general lack of confidence about this one. And with "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" looking strong, Warners have bigger fish to fry.
"The Wettest County"
Reports from test screenings are strong, but there's no indication than it'll be opening this year, so it's dropped out of the running for the moment. Could come back, though.
"The Flowers of War"
From the looks of that trailer, it seems decent, but action heavy, and not really Academy material. Plus, it doesn't have a distributor.