In the lead-up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2, HitFix will be bringing you the lowdown on all 24 Oscar categories with multiple entries each day. Take a few notes and bone up on the competition as we give you the edge in your office Oscar pool!
The race for Best Adapted Screenplay has a little more intrigue than you might think on first blush. Sure, there's a heavyweight Best Picture contender in the mix, but another one with passionate support won the BAFTA Award in this category. As always, we can't look to the WGA for much help, given the usual list of ineligibilities, so we're off to our own devices. It's a solid line-up this year, four Best Picture nominees represented, while the fifth absolutely SHOULD have been a Best Picture nominee. At the end of the day, though, the smart bet may just be the obvious bet.
The nominees are…
“Before Midnight” (Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke)
I'd have to say this “Before Midnight” is far and away the best of the bunch here, but maddeningly, it's the least likely to win. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke were nominated for their work on this franchise nine years ago in what turned out to be a bit of a surprise awards season trajectory for “Before Sunset.” This year it all seemed fated, as “Before Midnight” is the richest of the three films, and recognition here is the perfect way to tip your hat to all three. I have this fantasy where Richard Linklater, one of the most vital voices in the history of American cinema, finds himself with an Oscar in his hand. I hope it happens one day. (Check out our interview with Linklater, Delpy and Hawke here.)
“Captain Phillips” (Billy Ray)
Again, the WGA Awards aren't the best barometer, but Billy Ray surprised more than a few by fending off “The Wolf of Wall Street” for this prize from the guild. Indeed, “Captain Phillips” has hung on throughout the season, always there for a surprise when people have counted it out. So it will absolutely find its share of support in this category, while Ray is a very well-respected writer in the industry to begin with. If you think about it, outside of Best Picture, this is the only place the Academy has been left with to honor it in a major category. That could concentrate some votes. Consider it a dark horse.
“Philomena” (Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope)
“Philomena” started the season by winning the screenplay prize at the Venice Film Festival and kept its trajectory going throughout. It was WGA-ineligible, but no bother, as it would pick up the BAFTA Award for adapted screenplay in due time. Meanwhile, Steve Coogan has probably never worked so hard on the publicity trail in his life (the wonders Harvey Weinstein can manage). The phase two push for the film has been considerable to say the least, making its way all the way to the Vatican. If there is a shocker in the mix (not that plenty of the signs wouldn't have been pointing in this direction), it may be Harvey landing this as his major prize on Oscar night.
“12 Years a Slave” (John Ridley)
It feels like the film with the most Best Picture heat in the category is the one to beat. “12 Years a Slave” has made its way through the season as a testament to the written word of Solomon Northup, so it is nothing if not a prestigious adaptation. So it was that it received the University of Southern California's Scripter Award for adapted screenplays and source materials. It was not, however, eligible for WGA (potentially owed to his crossing picket lines during the WGA strike, an issue that, if widely known enough, could be problematic). The film also lost this award to “Philomena” at the BAFTA Awards, so basically, it's not a cinch. It's probably the safest bet, but don't say we didn't warn you if the Academy opts to check off a different box.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” (Terence Winter)
Along with “American Hustle,” Martin Scorsese's “The Wolf of Wall Street” hit the season at the last possible moment. But it turned out to be a good way to go, as it was top of mind as ballots were in hand and it landed a number of major nominations. Terence Winter is hugely respected in the industry, and for those not springing for the film in Best Picture or Best Director, this is a sound alternative, an outrageous (albeit largely improvised) piece of work that leaves you with plenty to think about when the film is over. But it couldn't beat out “Captain Phillips” with just the writers at the WGA Awards, and one imagines it doesn't have as much appeal throughout the Academy as other players in this race. (Check out our interview with Winter here.)
Will win: “12 Years a Slave”
Could win: “Philomena”
Should win: “Before Midnight”
Should have been here: “This is the End”
Again, this could be closer than you imagine, with passion feeding the “Philomena” vote. But if we surmise “12 Years a Slave” is as close to a Best Picture victory as we do, then it makes the most sense. Most of my favorite films this year stemmed from original screenplays, but I stand by “This is the End” as one of 2013's best, smartest comedies and would love to have seen something like that (which was adapted from a short film) nominated.
What do you think deserves to win Best Adapted Screenplay this year? Vote in our poll below.
Who should have been here instead? Have your say in the comments section.