Best Adapted Screenplay
First off is one of the four ancestral categories, tracing back to the first Academy Awards for 1927-1928. Best Screenplay as it originally was known, underwent several reinventions in its early years, featuring as few as 3 or as many as 11 nominees and twice award works that cite no prior source material (in 1929-1930 and 1936). In 1940, it settled into its five-nominee dualistic relationship with Best Original Screenplay, a collective ten-film spread that has yielded some truly diverse slates of nominees in both categories.
At present, I’ve seen 326 of 422 nominated films, leaving a considerable 96 films to be seen, including 3 of the winners: The Story of Louis Pasteur (Pierre Collings and Sheridan Gibney), Midnight Express (Oliver Stone), and Traffic (Stephen Gaghan). Among the ones I’ve yet to see, a number are embarrassing omissions. In addition to major Oscar winners like Traffic and Captains Courageous are spirited films like Trainspotting (John Hodge) and Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov) that I know ought to be part of any decent film education. There are movies by favorite directors Sidney Lumet’s Serpico (Waldo Salt) and Prince of the City (Jay Presson Allen, Sidney Lumet), as well as favorite writers: Ronald Harwood’s adaptation of his own play The Dresser. There are films that intrigue me solely based on what little I know of their premise–The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (Nicholas Meyer) as the seminal Sherlock Holmes update, Ulysses (Joseph Strick, Fred Haines) as the doomed-to-fail adaptation of James Joyce’s magnum opus–and ones that are a blank slate to me apart from their title and the impressive pedigree of the authors: I love Graham Greene, but couldn’t tell you the first thing about his pre-Third Man partnership with Carol Reed on The Fallen Idol. I’m perhaps most looking forward to the handful of art films that were swept up alongside Original Screenplay’s foreign language renaissance from the mid-1940s to the early 1980s. Movies like The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci) and Rome, Open City (Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini) have been awaiting my patronage for a long time, and I cannot wait to oblige them.
Along with Best Director, I tend to regard Adapted Screenplay as a shadow Best Picture category: of the 422 nominated films in this category, 247 are Best Picture nominees, including all but 3 of the winners and 27 of my remaining 96. Consequently, I tend to split consideration of my favorites into Best Picture and non-Best Picture piles, with the former including classics like Casablanca (the Epstein Twins and Howard Koch) and Apocalypse Now (John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola) as well as unsung or undersung gems like Here Comes Mr. Jordan (Sidney Buchman, Seton I. Miller) and Moneyball (superteam Aaron Sorkin and Stephen Zaillian), and the latter including writing feats as eclectic as Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata), Laura (Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Betty Reinhardt), and The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella).
Indeed, for as much of a Best Picture clone as it sometimes seems, the real takeaway from this category for me is its profound eclecticism. An entire essay could surely be devoted to the rich interplay of authors among both nominees and source materials, from the ubiquity of Tennessee Williams and Neil Simon to the surprising appearances of Alec Guinness and Jean-Paul Sartre. What fascinates me most, though, is the array of sources: in addition to the traditional novels, short stories, and stage plays, the source material mandated by the category has taken the form of:
- comics (Skippy, American Splendor)
- graphic novels (Ghost World and A History of Violence)
- genre fiction (Children of Men, Murder on the Orient Express)
- television (Pennies from Heaven, Borat)
- short films (Sling Blade, District 9)
- prior feature films (Before Sunset as a sequel to Before Sunrise, The Departed as a remake of Infernal Affairs)
- even a couple of Adapted Screenplay nominees inspired by Original Screenplay nominees (Toy Story and Toy Story 3; Profumo di Donna and Scent of a Woman).
Quite a range, and quite a vibrant category. I plan to hold off on this category for at least a little while, given that a good deal of the work can be done in pursuit of other categories, but I look forward to the chance to revisit this group soon!