Monday, February 17, 2014

A Closer Look at the Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees

Closing out our dissection of the big Oscar categories, here is a look at the Best Adapted Screenplay nominees. Much like the Best Original Screenplay selections, this year's batch features an impressive and diverse group of nominees that reflect the best in bring a film's story to life. Some are vivacious with profane bliss (The Wolf of Wall Street) while others explore slaver (12 Years a Slave) and long term guilt (Philomena). It is an interesting group and while less interesting than its counterpart category, it is as open a race.

It is difficult to pin which one exactly is going to win. With all except one (Before Midnight) being a Best Picture nominee, it comes down to each of their own popularity. With 12 Years a Slave, it is the prestige film with plenty of importance to drive a potential win. With Before Midnight, it is the unprecedented masterpiece in a trilogy that explores romance in fantastically insightful ways. Every nominee here has a niche subcategory that gives it some edge. However, this feels like a field that could come down to the biggest name.

Which one is the biggest name? Theoretically, it is 12 Years a Slave. Since October, it has been primed to sweep the Oscars. However, the race has become vastly more interesting with the induction of some serious competition, notably between Gravity and American Hustle (both of which are missing here). It could stand a chance of giving the film another win, but then again, noticing the awards patterns will easily suggest that this isn't the case. The race is still open, especially in a field that often recognizes peppy dialogue more than cohesive plots.

Chiwetel Ejiofor
12 Years a Slave - John Ridley

The biggest advantage that 12 Years a Slave has to winning this category is that it is the prestige film. It is one that is most likely to remain relevant for decades to come out of all five nominees. It is a powerful story and is a great use of directing and acting. The script is not at all problematic, but it doesn't feel like it is the less vibrant quality to the film. People remember the still shots and the quiet moments more than the wordy dialogue. If it does win, it will be more about what the film symbolizes more than what the script did to make it an extraordinary piece of work. The story is profound and is likely to shade voters from voting based on dialogue, action, or other elements that benefited on a script level. Either way, it is one of the few categories that 12 Years a Slave has yet to be shut out of thankfully.

ODDS: Very high, especially with it being the prestige film and having an air of significance surrounding the entirety of the film.

Left to right: Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio
The Wolf of Wall Street - Terence Winter

Never mistake that Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is anything but a terrible, terrible man. However, his terribleness looks pretty great and the excess is only backed by a tight script of foul language, zippy cockiness, and somehow making the whole experience enjoyable for three whole hours. Even if 12 Years a Slave is a greater story, the script to The Wolf of Wall Street is behemoth all unto itself, challenging viewers to make up their own mind on Belfort's terribleness and how it relates to the American Dream. It is an adrenaline shot of exploitation contradicting good tastes. The film itself is controversial beyond belief with conversations still riling up cinephiles. That may keep it from winning, but hopefully it will do the opposite. It is a film that may be divisive, but it is so sure in its execution that it leaves more of an impression than any other nominee on there. The script is the only real win that this film deserves in order to justify its bizarre charm.

ODDS: It is a year of Prestige (12 Years a Slave) vs. Controversy (The Wolf of Wall Street). One shall win, and this film's chances are decent, just because it has remained more in conversation than any other film on this list.

Left to right: Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke
Before Midnight - Richard Linklater,
Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke

I guess I should be glad that Before Midnight got recognized at all at the Oscars. It is a compelling, beautiful love story that was one of the best of the year. It is a miracle as well, as it caps a trilogy 18 years in the making. The film's script elegantly manages to thrive on dialogue mostly spoken between two characters. The fact that it succeeds by staying compelling and full of fascinating nuances alone justify its existence on this list. The only shame is that unless the Academy is willing to overlook the Prestige vs Controversy side of the race, this film will go unnoticed despite being the sweetest and best crafted. It may lack the zappy crassness of The Wolf of Wall Street, but its exploration of the human condition is unmatched. It has already won by being nominated, though it is a shame that it didn't get many, many more nominations this year.

ODDS: Very slim, especially with 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street toppling conversation and making it feel like a two person race. Only if they recognize dialogue-heavy films does this film stand a chance.

Left to right: Steve Coogan and Judi Dench
Philomena - Jeff Pope 
and Steve Coogan

Pulling Philomena out of last place is the surprise win that the film recently had at the BAFTA Awards this past weekend. While it could be that the film plays largely to British audiences, it also does seem to suggest that the Academy could follow suit. The story is a little one-sided and manipulative, but it manages to bring a story of Catholic guilt in the 21st century into interesting territory that has small bits of charm and an emotionally challenging third act. Much like The Wolf of Wall Street, it is benefiting from conversation, notably for its depiction of the Catholic church. However, unless something radical happens, the film isn't likely to capture conversation quite as much as the spunky capitalist tale. Both may be manipulative, but this is the least challenging and interesting of the two.

ODDS: The BAFTAS helped to raise its profile, but it doesn't seem like it is enough to raise its chances in winning this category.

Tom Hanks
Captain Phillips - Billy Ray

The nominations for Captain Phillips have been fascinatingly scattered and inconsistent, much like the directorial style of the film. The strangest is this particular nomination, which makes no sense when considering that the film isn't all that interesting on a script level. At its core, it is a lot of the directorial style and juxtaposition between Somali and American cultures that brings it to life. Otherwise, the clinical nature that taxes the film in the third act is something that could have been edited in the script phase to make for a more engaging, competent story. The film itself is fine, but as far as being of the Best Adapted Screenplay nominees, it seems a little baffling. It was a script in need of editing before anything else.

ODDS: Very low, as the other nominees have already developed a heavy amount of traction in gaining votes.

Is this year's winner going to be Prestige or Controversy? Is Before Midnight capable of pulling an upset? Will the BAFTAS win help Philomena sneak into the top position?

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