As we touched on in Writers Guild Awards coverage over the weekend, the screenplay categories are a certifiable mess this year because of all the unexpected wild cards. Best Picture frontrunner “Birdman” was ineligible for WGA. Indie favorite “Whiplash” competed in the original category with the WGA but was deemed adapted by the Academy. There hasn't been a lot of consistency in the run-up to the Oscars, so basically, you can argue things just about any way you'd like and you would have a point. But let's look at adapted specifically.
If any of the nominees is just happy to be here, it's probably the best of the lot. Paul Thomas Anderson couldn't even get a little love from the Guild, which opted for “Guardians of the Galaxy” rather than “Inherent Vice.” Luckily, the Academy's writers branch stuck up for him and here he is, destined to be a bridesmaid for the film with the least amount of overall nominations in the category. Adapting Thomas Pynchon deserves a salute by itself, even if “Vice” was a novel more given to translation than his previous work.
“American Sniper” just crossed $300 million at the domestic box office, which is objectively staggering. And the film's perceived political divisiveness hasn't really made it's way too deeply into the Academy. It has fans, it's getting plenty of Best Picture votes and Bradley Cooper is a definite wild card in Best Actor. So it's possible voters will look to this category to throw it and writer Jason Hall some love.
But “The Theory of Everything” kept everything real interesting a little over a week ago when Anthony McCarten won the adapted prize at the BAFTA Awards. It was clearly a beloved film with the Brits, beating out two fellow Oscar nominees in a category that included… “Paddington.” So it's hard to glean a lot from that victory, other than to note that, obviously, it has some support.
The race truly seems to boil down to WGA winner Graham Moore for “The Imitation Game” versus Damien Chazelle for “Whiplash.” And the Oscars will be the first time the two young men have squared off with one another due to the Academy's unexpected detour from WGA regulation on “Whiplash's” category placement. You could argue it a million ways. “The Imitation Game” has eight nominations to “Whiplash's” five, but doesn't seem to have the fiery passion of Chazelle's film. There will be a desire to recognize “Whiplash” among its constituency, but J.K. Simmons is also, of course, already a given in Best Supporting Actor while “The Imitation Game” would appear to have fewer places to corral some love.
It's ironic at the end of the day for “Whiplash” to be here, because with the three-way battle going on in original, it probably wouldn't have as much of an angle on a win there. But anyway, we could talk about it all day. Let's boil it down…
Biggest campaign moment: As noted, “Whiplash” suddenly gets yanked from the original category, where it had been campaigned, to compete in the adapted field. The reasoning given by the Academy: a short film derived from a scene in the feature was screened at Sundance, ergo “published,” and so it's considered an adaptation.
Should have been here: Nick Damici and Jim Mickle's moody adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale's “Cold in July” or Dean DeBlois' brilliant job wrangling the “How to Train Your Dragon” series into an epic follow-up installment.
Will win: “The Imitation Game”
Should win: “Inherent Vice”