January 29, 2014 11:45am PT by Scott Feinberg
Oscar Breakdown: The Best Adapted Screenplay Race
Prior to the 86th Oscars on March 2, THR's awards analyst Scott Feinberg will present an eight-part series of posts breaking down the key facts and figures pertaining to each of the "big eight" Oscar categories. (For his predictions, see the weekly "Feinberg Forecast" post.) This post focuses on the best adapted screenplay Oscar race.
Talk about variety: A mid-19th century memoir of a slave; a third installment of a beloved indie trilogy; an autobiography of a man who was kidnapped by pirates; a man's account of his quest to help a woman find her long-lost son; the recollections of a 21st century Wall Street crook. These are the the properties that were adapted into scripts that became 2013's best adapted screenplay Oscar nominees 12 Years a Slave, Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street, respectively.
With 12 Years, John Ridley -- heretofore best known as the man who wrote the story that inspired the script for Three Kings (1999) -- took Solomon Northup's account of his dozen years of involuntary servitude and, while remaining remarkably faithful to the original document, helped to craft the most visceral and searing portrait of slavery that has ever been brought to the big screen. For his work, he has already won the Critics' Choice Award and been nominated for the Golden Globe, BAFTA (still pending), USC Scripter (still pending), Independent Spirit (still pending) and Screenwriters Choice awards.
For Before Midnight, director Richard Linklater reteamed with the actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who have played the central couple in all three of the Before films -- this one was preceded by Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) -- and, for the second outing in a row, co-wrote the script with them, as well. Jesse and Celine are still walking and talking together, now as a married couple whose marital problems come to a head while they vacation in Greece. For their work, the trio has already won accolades from the L.A. Film Critics Association, National Society of Film Critics and Hollywood Film Awards and been nominated for the Critics' Choice, Writers Guild (still pending), Independent Spirit (still pending) and Screenwriters Choice awards.
The drama Philomena was brought to the screen by Jeff Pope and his somewhat surprising writing partner: Steve Coogan, who is best-known as a British funnyman. Coogan was deeply moved by the story of Philomena Lee -- a woman who became pregnant out of wedlock, was forced to give birth and then give up for sale to Americans her young son, and then a half-century later was railroaded while attempting to find out what became of him -- and decided to help tell her story by co-writing it and by playing the acerbic man who helped Lee in her quest. The resulting script was nominated for Golden Globe, Critics' Choice, BAFTA (still pending), USC Scripter (still pending) and Screenwriters Choice awards.
Captain Phillips is Billy Ray's rendering of the autobiography that Richard Phillips produced in the wake of being kidnapped by Somali pirates in April 2009. Ray's work has been widely praised for capturing the heart-pounding intensity of the situation while never dehumanizing the Somali pirates, who had their own motivations -- however wrongheaded -- for doing what they did to Phillips and his crew. It has been nominated for Critics' Choice, Writers Guild, BAFTA (still pending), USC Scripter (still pending) and Screenwriters Choice awards.
And Wolf scribe Terence Winter, who was previously best-known for his work as a writer of The Sopranos and the creator of Boardwalk Empire -- his only other film scripts, Get Rich or Die Tryin' and Brooklyn Rules, never made big waves -- captured the greed and excess that dominated the life of penny stock operator Jordan Belfort's life prior to his fall from grace. His 137-page script has already been honored by the National Board of Review and nominated for the Critics' Choice, Writers Guild (still pending), BAFTA (still pending) and Screenwriters Choice awards.
Expect a close race that will probably come down to 12 Years a Slave (the film about the largest-scale subject and with best picture coattails) and The Wolf of Wall Street (the most ballsy and unconventional adaptation), with Philomena (a contemporary, deeply affecting script) a potential spoiler.