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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Oscar Series: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay

Adapted Screenplay
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Screenplay by Eric Roth, Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
Doubt, Written by John Patrick Shanley
Frost/Nixon, Screenplay by Peter Morgan

The Reader, Screenplay by David Hare

Slumdog Millionaire, Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

Of the two screenplay categories this year, adapted is going to be much easier to predict. Save for Best Director, this should be the easiest major category to predict. It's nothing against the other four nominees, but Slumdog is looking real good. Let's take a closer look.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is adapted from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is the fourth nomination for Roth (won in '94 for Forrest Gump) and first nomination for Swicord. A lot of people say that Roth simply re-wrote Gump. The films do match up probably a little too much, but a lot of films are similar to one another. It's extremely difficult to write a completely original film these days. Also, Roth is a seasoned screenwriter and has done some great work previously. The bigger problem with this script is lack of character development and story. It's also too long and loses focus.

Doubt is adapted from a play. This is the second nomination for Shanley (won in '87 for Moonstruck). This film has gotten a lot of attention for its acting, but that can be partly attributed to the script. Some real good dialogue in here. With no other nominations except for acting, it faces an uphill battle.

Frost/Nixon is also adapted from a play. This is Morgan's second nomination ('06 for The Queen). He is quietly becoming a well respected writer. Like the above film, this one has mostly gotten attention for its strong acting. The dynamic between Frost and Nixon is interesting to watch development. It just feels like it lacks enough punch to get have a legitimate chance.

The Reader is adapted from a novel. This is the second nomination for Hare ('02 for The Hours). This film probably is the biggest long shot to win this. It has the holocaust subject going for it, but it's hard to get a read on how well this film is received within the Academy. It has the Best Picture nomination, but it feels like Kate will win the only major award for this film.

Slumdog Millionaire is also adapted from a novel. This is the second nomination for Beaufoy. He already has the WGA and Scripter. Expect him to take home the Oscar. Slumdog is a script with a strong love story and carefully weaves in and out of flashbacks. We're at a point in this award season where you have to just face the music and acknowledge this film is going to have a good night.

This Oscar should be a slam dunk for Slumdog. A loss here would be a huge red flag that this film may not win Picture or Director. I just don't see it losing.  End of story.

Original Screenplay
Frozen River, Written by Courtney Hunt
Happy-Go-Lucky, Written by Mike Leigh
In Bruges, Written by Martin McDonagh
Milk, Written by Dustin Lance Black
WALL-E, Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter

Unlike Adapted Screenplay, this is a much more interesting race. The feeling right now is this should be a heads up match between Milk and WALL-E. Milk has the WGA. WALL-E is universally loved. Let's take a closer look.

I have Frozen River and still need to watch it. This is an independent film that has gotten some support (Leo nominated for Best Actress). It seems like though that the nomination is the award for this film like other recent indie films nominated here (i.e. Lars and the Real Girl). This is first nomination for Hunt, so hopefully she can come back and win this down the road.

Happy-Go-Lucky is another film that I have and still need to watch. I would still put this in the same category as Frozen River. The nomination is the award. The only difference is that this is Mike Leigh. This is his sixth nomination (three writing nods and two directing nods). Leigh is well respected, but I still expect him to go 0/6.

I just watched In Bruges the other night. I see this as somewhat a wild card here. This is the second nomination for McDonagh (won Best Short Film Live Action in '05 for Six Shooter, which starred Brendan Gleeson). The script is funny at times and also romantic. It's a very enjoyable movie. Dare I say I liked Colin Farrell's performance. Plus, this script has a funny line re: John Lennon. That's always bonus points for me. A lot of people like this film, but it probably does not have the support to pull off the upset.

Milk seems to be the current frontrunner. This is Black's first nomination. He already won the WGA and he may very well have his first Oscar. There have been talks about making a movie about Harvey Milk's life since the 80s. No one could write a good enough script until a young writer named Dustin Lance Black. This film does a great job looking at the important moments of Milk's life. It also creates an interesting dynamic later in the film with Milk and Dan White. A lot of people think this is a standard bio pic. It's much more than standard, it's one of the best of this decade.

WALL-E poses the biggest challenge. This is the fifth nomination for Stanton (won Best Animated Feature in '03 for Finding Nemo), first nomination for Reardon, and fourth nomination for Docter. Credit has to be given to Pixar for always stressing story in their animations. That is why they are always top notch. When I was in film school, I took a feature analysis class. The first film we were shown was Toy Story. Why? Because it's a great story and has great structure. 14 years later that is still true. It's no surprise that Stanton and Docter also had a part in writing Toy Story. The most impressive aspect of WALL-e is that it uses very little dialogue. Yet, it still builds relationships and a great love story. Here's the problem with it. It's an animation. This shouldn't be the case, but that may hurt its chances as older members of the Academy may have a problem voting for it. They may also not want to vote for a film with so little dialogue in this category.

Really, Milk or WALL-E are great choices. The edge should still go to Milk. Just remember that while it does have the WGA, none of the other four nominees in this category were nominated for the WGA. So, Milk is actually going against a group of new opponents. I don't see myself changing my pick in a week unless I hear something that makes me think any different. This should still be a close race.

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