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.

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