The LAMB Devours The Oscars 2017: Best Adapted Screenplay

by Jay Cluitt · February 21, 2017 · Featured, LAMB Devours the Oscars · 1 Comment

Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:

Today, Howard Casner from Rantings and Ravings discusses the nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay:

Of all the categories for the Academy Awards, the screenplay nominees have the sole characteristic, when all is said and done, of having ten nominations to every other categories’ five. This is because they have two categories, best adapted and best original screenplay. At various times there has actually been fifteen noms when there was a separate category for best story (the category Dalton Trumbo won for the film The Brave One, while the author was on the backlist).

Yes, I know that Best Picture can have up to ten. However, this year it hasn’t gotten past nine while screenplay always has ten.

This has enabled these categories to often be the edgiest of all the Oscar categories with some unusual nominees (this year it is The Lobster in best original screenplay that garners that distinction). However, this year for Best Adapted, the usual suspects were nominated with no surprises (like the WGA giving a nom to the wonderful Deadpool, which is quite possibly a better screenplay than many nominated here). The list here is weaker and less interesting than the original nominees.


Arrival, screenplay by Eric Heisser based on a story by Ted Chiang, is described as a thinking man’s sci-fi film since ideas and philosophy are the driving force behind the story, rather than blockbuster escapism. When a series of alien ships suddenly appear hovering over various locations in the world, a linguist is asked to help communicate with the visitors to find out if they are friend or foe. Though the movie is intelligent and ambitious, it is hampered by lead characters who are boring and lifeless and so it never rises above what it is. Perhaps the weakest of the five.


In spite of the fact that August Wilson died in 2005, he is credited for the screenplay for Fences. And the film is pretty much a word for word translation to the screen from his play, only opened up by moving some of the action to inside the house and into the front yard. Even the physical screenplay is basically the play with a few sluglines thrown in for good measure. Filled with richly imagined characters and sharp dialog, it revolves around a garbage collector who has become embittered due to the way the world has treated him and so sabotages his son’s chances at the kind of life he wanted, but never achieved. It does suffer a bit by being somewhat stagey and talky and could possibly have used more of a reimagining for the different artistic medium.

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures, screenplay by Allison Schroeder and the director Theodore Melfi from a book by Margo Lee Shetterly, is the definite crowd pleaser of the bunch. In fact, it has surpassed La La Land as the most profitable Best Picture nominee. The story revolves around three black women who worked for NASA during the space race and were indispensable in getting John Glenn around the earth. Well meaning and inspirational, it’s also incredibly formulaic and predictable and about as subtle as a nuclear reactor.


Lion, screenplay by Luke Davies from a book by Saroo Briefry, is another crowd pleaser. The story is about a very young boy in India who falls asleep on a train only to end up in a city far away. Unable to tell anyone where he is from or what happened, he is eventually adopted by an Australian couple, but years later decides to find his original family. The first third of the movie is quite fascinating. But once the young boy grows up into Dev Patel, the story goes flat and forced and loses almost everything that made it interesting in the first place.


Moonlight, screenplay by the director Barry Jenkins from a story by Tyrell Alvin McCraney, is the one to beat in this category. The edgiest and most daring of all the nominees here, it dramatizes the life of a black man at three stages of his life; childhood, high school and adult, as he comes to terms with being gay in the harsh background of the projects. A powerful and beautifully poetic character study, it is also one of the best films of the year. Though nominated for Original Screenplay at the WGA, for the Academy it is considered adapted. This is because McCraney’s story is unpublished, which makes it original for one and not the other (this is why Casablanca was nominated for adapted screenplay, because its source was an unproduced play). This might work out for the better because in this category it is not up against Manchester By The Sea, which is expected to win Best Original Screenplay.

There were two differences between the WGA and the Academy this year. Since Moonlight was original for the WGA and Lion wasn’t eligible (the WGA is the only guild where the nominees have to be guild members or the production has to be guild signatory – Tarantino never gets a WGA nom), Deadpool (which should have had an Oscar nomination) and Nocturnal Animals (which shouldn’t have) took their place.

What do you think of this year’s Adapted Screenplay nominees?