The USC Scripter Awards are one of the more interesting precursor awards on the circuit, recognizing as they do two different forms of authorship. Sometimes mistaken for a direct equivalent of the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, they are in fact limited to films based on published source material, rewarding both the screenwriter responsible for the adaptation and the author of the original text. (That means Oscar contenders like “Before Midnight” and “August: Osage County” are out of the picture.)
This year’s nominees were selected by an august panel that includes authors Michael Chabon and Michael Ondaatje, Oscar-winning screenwriters Callie Khouri, Steven Zailliamn and Geoffrey Fletcher, and critics Leonard Maltin and Kenneth Turan. And they’ve served up at least one welcome surprise with their choices: Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne’s contemporary updating of Henry James’s late-Victorian novel “What Maisie Knew” — an indie that’s barely been mentioned in the season thus far.
Less surprising, of course, is the inclusion of “12 Years a Slave,” “Philomena” and “Captain Phillips,” all presumably bound for writing Oscar nominations next week. (Meanwhile, the various WGA ineligibilities mean that “Phillips” is the only USC Scripter selection that overlaps with the Guild’s list.)
“The Spectacular Now,” overlooked last week by the Guild, also gets a mention, while the most surprising omission is Terence Winter’s screenplay for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir. As it is Richard Phillips, Martin Sixsmith and Solomon Northup (some 150 years after his death) are all nominated for films expressly about them.
The winner will announced at a USC ceremony on February 8. The full list of nominees:
“Captain Phillips,” Billy Ray, screenwriter, and Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty, authors of “A Captain”s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea”
“Philomena,” Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, screenwriters, and Martin Sixsmith, author of “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee”
“The Spectacular Now,” Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, screenwriters, and Tim Tharp, novelist
“12 Years a Slave,” John Ridley, screenwriter, and Solomon Northup, author
“What Maisie Knew,” Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne, screenwriters, and Henry James, novelist