The LAMB Devours the Oscars – Best Adapted Screenplay

by Dylan · February 1, 2008 · LAMB Devours the Oscars · 21 Comments

Editor’s note: Welcome to the fifth of a multi-part series dissecting the 2008 Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every weekday leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category (or more) of the Oscars (there are 24 in all). To read any other posts regarding this event, please just click on the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!

By Mike from 5th Row From the Screen

I was amused when I got randomly assigned the writing duties for the nominees in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. At the top of my head, this award indicated to me that a writer gets recognized for successfully converting a work of literature – a book – into a movie. I thought, “Oh, this is just funny! Give the Best Adapted Screenplay category to the guy who hardly reads books!” Haha.

Seriously, I found it quite a challenge to write about this category as I haven’t seen any of the nominated films [I’m in the Philippines and none of Oscar bets in this category have made it to our cinemas yet]. But since I am a writer and I love movies, I thought I’d just go with the flow and wing it. So, here goes.

The Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay is given each year to the outstanding writer of a screenplay adapted from another source – usually a novel, play, or short story but also sometimes another film [Thank you Wikipedia!]. Since the year 2000, I have had the privilege of viewing the winners of this category – with the exception of 2004’s Sideways and 2006’s The Departed. The films that had won this writing award – Traffic (2000), A Beautiful Mind (2001), The Pianist (2002), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), and Brokeback Mountain (2005) – are some of the best and memorable I’ve seen in terms of storytelling. And while I haven’t read the source materials for these winners, the quality of their screenplays spoke volumes about the ability of their respective screenwriters to retool an existing narrative, tweak it, improve it and make it cinema-friendly.

This year, the source materials for the nominated films in the Best Adapted Screenplay category are three novels, a memoir and a short story. Of the writers nominated here, two have recently received awards for their screenplays; one is a previous Oscar winner in this category; one is a previous Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay; and one is a first time director and screenwriter.

Here is the break down:

+ One source material is a novel about a writer who seeks to make amends by penning a book about what could have been a happy-ever-after in the life of her sister and her sister’s lover. Atonement is adapted from Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name and translated as a story for the big screen by Christopher Hampton. This is one of the two nominees in this category that already received a writing award (the Satellite Award for Best Adapted Screenplay). Many critics have called the film a “successful adaptation of McEwan’s novel”, and have included Atonement in their best films of 2007 lists. This could be an indication of an Oscar win.

+ A short story about a couple whose union goes through the acid test of Alzheimer’s is the source material for Sarah Polley’s directorial debut. Away From Her, which Polley adapted for the screen, is based on Alice Munro’s short story entitled “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” The plot has a bit of The Notebook feel to it (the Alzheimer’s thingy) and has yet to win an award in the screenwriting category. However, Away From Her has also made it to several critics’ top ten list for best films in 2007. That should count for something, right?

+ The French are no strangers to the Oscars, with their films, directors and actors getting attention – and the little golden statuette – in the Academy Award ceremonies. This year, a memoir written by French journalist and author Jean-Dominique Bauby is the basis for the film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The movie focuses on the life, memories and imaginations of Bauby after he suffers a massive stroke leaving him awake and aware but immobile and with very limited means of communication. Academy Award winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood (Best Adapted Screenplay for The Pianist) penned the script for this Julian Schnabel-directed film. The Oscar under Harwood’s belt could weigh in on the Academy’s evaluation for the nominees in this category. Or not! We’ll see.

+ A novel about a hunt and pursuit drama between a local sheriff on the verge of retirement, a professional hit man who has no hesitations about taking lives, and a welder hunting pronghorn but instead finds $2 million dollars, is the source material for the film No Country for Old Men. The script was adapted by Joel and Ethan Coen from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name. The Coen brothers, who already have an Oscar to their name (Best Original Screenplay for 1996’s Fargo) and who recently won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay – Motion Picture, may be looking at their second Academy Award win in this category.

+ Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel entitled “Oil!,” There Will Be Blood focuses on the life of silver prospector-turned-oil businessman Daniel Plainview and how his greed and need to beat out all other competition lead him to a downward spiral laden with deception, manipulation and murder. The story was adapted for the screen by director Paul Thomas Anderson and critics have high praises for the film, even including There Will Be Blood on their lists of best films of 2007. The movie has yet to win in the screenwriting categories of other award-giving bodies and that may indicate its fate in the Oscars.

My two-cents

The popular contenders in this category are the last two mentioned above: No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. If the Golden Globe Awards are any indication, I would say the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay will go to the Coen brothers for their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel – they nabbed the Globes, didn’t they? And there wasn’t even Blood in the Golden Globes’ Best Screenplay nominees list. But you know what, your guess is probably just as good as mine…

…oh wait! Your guess is actually probably much better than mine, since you’ve no doubt seen some or all of these nominated films…

…and I haven’t!

February 24th. We’ll see.

Tags: ,

21 Responses to The LAMB Devours the Oscars – Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Marilyn says:

    The most faithful adaptation has to be Away from Her (the only film of this bunch I’ve seen). Polley lifted most of the dialogue word for word from Alice Munro’s short story.

  2. Nick says:

    Nice article! I can bet that was hard to do having neither seen any of the movies nor having never read any of the original source material. Good job!

  3. Frank! says:

    Great choices, but what about 300?! If ever there was a great adaptation from an original source material it was that. No new/composite/eliminated characters. It follows the story faithfully. I have my own two cents at my blog
    I will say, good job with those that were nominated. And, I hope you do get to see some of these soon!

  4. Fletch says:

    You’ve done a fine job considering your situation – what ought to be even more frustrating is that many of these are regarded as the best of the year – and you don’t even get a chance to see them prior to awards time (unless you go the illegal route, that it).

    I would lay money that No Country takes it. Blood is a terrific movie, but it doesn’t really belong in either the Adapted or Original Screenplay categories, as it’s kind of a hybrid of the two, from all I’ve heard.

  5. Jess says:

    I’ve seen 3 of the 5 movies, and read the book Atonement and the short story for Away from her. Atonement was a wonderful adaptation considering most of the book takes place in the minds of the characters and there’s very little actual dialogue, so I have a lot of respect for the dialogue that was created for the film. However, Cormac McCarthy is a phenomenal author and No Country turned into a terrific movie, so my guess would be that Oscar will go to No Country.

  6. Daniel G. says:

    Nice one, Mike. I agree with you that TWBB and No Country are the favorites. I would put my money on No Country like Fletch and Jess. The Coen brothers are back in a big way. Also, being from Minnesota, they’re likely to win because Diablo Cody won (I mean, will win) Best Original Screenplay. You might think it’s a silly reason, but funny things happen like that come Oscar time. Then we’ll hear (or I will, here in MN) about writing talent in Minnesota blah blah blah.

    Anyway, just my own weird reasoning for why the Coens will win…

  7. There Will Be Blood, though it was a great movie, was only adapted from the first chapter or so of Upton Sinclair’s Oil!. I’d be thrilled if my hometown boys Joel and Ethan Coen won for No Country (I still can’t think of anything bad to say about that movie!), but I think Diving Bell deserves the honor.

    Great write-up, Mike! Especially considering you didn’t get to see any of these yet.

  8. hwhwzn says:

    This has got to be the worst movie site I have been to. Who did this site have to bribe to get a link on imdb? I read a couple of your oscar category posts, and every single one of them started with something like: “I havn’t seen any of these movies,” or “I’ve only seen one of these movies,” or better yet, “I used the trailers to talk about these movies.” What is the point of even doing this?

  9. Nick says:

    hwhwzn: Your face! That’s the point!


    or not.

    (come on, give me a break! I live in a small town that doesn’t like smaller movies).

  10. mikemachacon says:

    @ marilyn: lifting most of the dialogue word for word from The Bear came Over the Mountain must count a lot in consideration for Best Adapted Screenplay. but i also read that Atonement was a successful adaptation of the book. i guess we’ll all just have to wait and see, huh? =o)

    @ nick: thanks. yep, it was tough not having seen the films nor read the source materials. if i had seen all films, this would still have been a wing it article because i still wouldn’t have an accurate assessment of the adaptations. BUT is was fun writing this article — as i’m sure you guys also had with yours — and i enjoy sharing ideas with you all.

    @ frank: could it be because 300 came out quite early in 2007? i checked out your blog. i hear you on the 300 snub, man. clearly. =o)

    @ fletch: thanks. it would have also been great if i had extra time to watch new movies. ;o) between Blood and No Country, i would say No County. based on my “research”, Blood is only “loosely based” on Oil! whereas No Country is “faithfully adapted” from the book.

    @ jess: so i’m guessing the 3 you’ve seen are No Country for Old Men, Atonement and There Will Be Blood? good for you. at least you’ve seen most of them. ;o)

    @ daniel: thanks. we’re all entitled to our opinions — in this case, weird reasoning for why the Coens will win. =o)

    @ nayana: thanks. Blood will have problems in this category because of the following: 1) “adapted only from the first chapter or so” and 2) “loosely based” on Oil! — that sounds redundant, but i claim my right to weird reasoning. [see daniel g.’s comment and my comment to his comment] ;o)

    @ hwhwzn: first of all, thank you for reading a couple of the oscar category posts on LAMB. as for your query on who bribed whom to get a link on IMDB, you’re gonna have to ask fletch about that. ;o) as for our posts mostly starting with “I haven’t seen any of these movies,” or “I’ve only seen one of these movies,” or better yet, “I used the trailers to talk about these movies,” that’s a fact: most of us haven’t really seen all or most of the nominated films in this years oscars. but we don’t let little things like that get in the way of enjoying a good discussion over films, the Academy Awards and category write ups written by people who love movies and who love to write about movies.

    i respect your opinion about this site being the worst movie site. YOU ARE ENTITLED TO THAT. i respect that you don’t get the point of these posts. WE LAMBs GET IT.

    and with all due respect, my friend, you don’t have to be here if you don’t want to be.

    PEACE! =O)

  11. JohnWG says:

    Thanks for this post, I’m making some Oscar bets on the major awards and this was the one I’ve been torn on. No Country will probably take Best Picture, the winner of which often claims a screenplay award. However, as Atonement and Diving Bell were snubbed in the directing and picture categories (respectively) a guilty academy may favour their screenplays. I’d say that they’re the biggest competition for the Coens.

    And to hwhwzn, you shouldn’t be surprised that a writer can predict the Oscars without seeing the films. That’s the way the Oscars work after all: as much of it is about karma and compensation for past losses (eg the Departed, Alan Arkin), current political/social mood (Iraq film snubs), and rewarding careers (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) as it is about actual skill for the work nominated. It’s certainly not necessary to see the films. Oscar voters (the 6000 Academy members) aren’t even required to. The only film I’ve seen this year nominated for a major award is Ratatouille (original screenplay) and I’m still 99% positive I’ll win my bets this Febuary.

  12. Pat says:

    Mike –

    Very nice write-up – very insightful, even without having seen this year’s nominees, you obviously have a good grasp of what the category entails.

    My gut feeling is that “Atonement” will take this category – and probably not much else. (“Atonement” is the only one of the five for which I’m familiar with both the source material and the film, so that may be coloring my judgment a little.)

  13. chw32 says:

    It is also pretty telling that the author claims to be a writer who does not read books. From my experience, that is the sign for hacks and eff-ups–nothing’s more shameful than a supposed writer who does not read.

  14. Marilyn says:

    chw32 – You’d be surprised. I’m a professional writer and have been for 30 years. But I have developed a disability that interferes with my ability to read. Does that make me a hack and an eff-up?

    As for the criticism about not seeing the films, I think it’s legitimate. This is a flaw in our coverage that we need to think about for next year.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I’d have to agree that writing a critical analysis of Oscar nominees is kind of hinged on having seen the films in question. The writing for all of these articles seems competent, but they’re fundamentally useless as examples of expert (or even amateur) opinion, because of the limitations of your bloggers’ small-town theaters. Anyone can make prognostications from viewing a trailer. But having seen the films, paying attention to the little things that make them so great, is where good cinematic analysis begins. A good place to start, I think, when discussing the best films of last year (and the limitations of seeing them) is Slate’s Movie Club blog:

  16. Jed says:

    I think you did a good job considering your limitations. I for one love books and been looking forward to some of the more recent adaptations.

    I have seen all the movies, except The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I had McEwan’s Atonement way back and it’s a great read and Joe Wright’s adaptation is the only one he approved. He’s quite an author and is known for speaking his mind. Wright, I think, did a great job. It’s the separation of the two lovers and their apparent lack of connection (which is McEwan’s intention) that made this movie one of my favorites. People are asking why there seems to be no deep romantic involvement between the two, but that is actually the very reason why this movie moved me.

    I love Julie Christie, maybe because Dr. Zhivago is one of my fave movies. In Away from Her, I think she’s quite amazing. Polley’s adaptation of this short story is impeccable.

    I’m a bit surprised that The Kite Runner was not included in the list. It’s a good book, though there are a number of loopholes and disappointments…and the adaptation was superb. I pictured some of the scenes exactly as in the movie. (esp. the kite flying and cutting contest).

  17. DJ Heinlein says:

    I’m hoping for Away From Her as the winner. It’s amazing to see the little blond Sarah Polley has all grown up on me now. The movie was great and moving.

  18. soundtrackgeek says:

    Yes, The Kite Runner! Jed you got it right except for the part that it was a good book, it was a phenomenal book. What surprised me the most is that my friends who’s never even read a book, found it great. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I can’t say about the adaption.

    No country will probably take this.

  19. Jed says:

    I got the chance to actually see how things are ‘going on’ in Kabul, for a few weeks. My impression of Afghans is that they are a bunch of strong willed people, they take their independence very seriously. In this parts, women are still treated quite differently, and while this movie is a bit ‘polished’ compared to ‘Osama’, it has its share of great cinematic scenes…some consider the book phenomenal, yes I agree!

  20. Matt says:

    The field seems particularly strong in this category so it seems that almost any of the nominees could walk away with an Oscar. No Country gets my vote because of the way the dialogue seemed to slide into the film without feeling the least bit artificial. I’d almost compare it to the way the film was kept silent so as not to give viewers that “safety net,” so do did the dialogue avoid interfering with the movie’s impact.

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