One time Oscar frontrunner “Up in the Air” hasn’t had many moments to celebrate this awards season after opening to spectacular reviews, but director and co-screenwriter got to celebrate a singular achievement on Saturday night as the dramedy took home the 22nd USC Scripter Award.
Given to the author of the original source material, in this case Walter Kim, and the adaptation screenwriters, Reitman and Sheldon Turner, “Air” beat out three of its Oscar competitors for Best Adapted Screenplay, “District 9,” “An Education and “Precious.” It was also no doubt sweet for Reitman as he’s a former USC graduate. And while the past two Scripter winners, “Slumdog Millionaire” and “No Country For Old Men,” also won the Oscar equivalent this year is markedly different.
The Best Adapted Screenplay category features the darkhorse nomination of “In the Loop.” The Sundance indie was a critical favorite, but didn’t make the USC cut or qualify for the other usual predictor, the WGA Awards. In fact, the USC Scripter award has only predicted the Oscar winner six times in 22 years. Usually, the WGA is a much more reliable fortune teller, but not this time around as “Loop,” “An Education” and “District 9” were all ineligible. So, while “Up in the Air’s” scripter win is notable, does it really mean Reitman and Turner (everyone seems to forget about him) may win a golden statue? Not necessarily.
Historically, the screenwriting awards have been the most progressive honors by the Academy. The writer’s branch would often select nominees from films that were overlooked by the other branches and therefore give them a shot at winning Oscar. Even after the Academy started embracing the independent film movement in the 1990s, it’s been writing section of the show where films such as “Pulp Fiction,” “Fargo,” “The Usual Suspects,” “Talk to Her,” “Lost in Translation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Gods and Monsters,” “Sideways” and “Sling Blade.” And the critically acclaimed “Loop,” which made many end of year top ten lists, fits nicely with many of those indie winners.
On the other hand, “Air” is pretty celebrated itself and landed six nominations including Best Picture — pretty significant. If you look at the other categories, the only place the Academy can really reward Reitman’s $80 million hit it is in Adapted Screenplay (although we’re guessing he’s hungry for more). So, while “Air” is still the one to bet on in your Oscar pools (not that we’d ever suggest such tawdry recreation as gambling), don’t be surprised if “Loop” pulls an upset.
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