USC Scripter Goes to 'Argo,' Suggesting Oscar Rivals Not Safe in Any Category (Analysis)

Argo Cast Living Room Still - H 2013
Warner Bros. Pictures

Argo Cast Living Room Still - H 2013

On Saturday evening, the USC Libraries' Scripter Award, which annually honors the year's best adapted screenplay and the source material from which it was derived, was presented to Argo, joining the Critics' Choice, Golden Globe, DGA, PGA and SAG awards, among others, on a long list of accolades that the Warner Bros. film wasn't expected to win, but nevertheless did.

The prize was awarded at the end of a long dinner to Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio, a best adapted screenplay Oscar nominee, as well as Joshuah Bearman, a journalist who wrote an article in Wired about Tony Mendez's Iranian caper, and Mendez himself, whose autobiography The Master of Disguise was also one of Terrio's sources. Bearman accepted the prize on behalf of the trio. Terrio is in London for Sunday's BAFTA Awards, and Mendez was also out of town.

This year's other Scripter nominees -- for the first time there were six, rather than five -- were Beasts of the Southern Wild's co-screenwriters Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, who adapted Alibar's play Juicy and Delicious; Life of Pi screenwriter David Magee, who adapted Yann Martel's novel of the same title; Lincoln's screenwriter Tony Kushner, who adapted Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals; The Perks of Being a Wallflower's screenwriter Stephen Chbosky, who adapted his own novel of the same title; Silver Linings Playbook's screenwriter David O. Russell, who adapted Matthew Quick's novel of the same title. (All except Perks are also nominated for the best adapted screenplay Oscar.)

Many pundits believed that the Scripter was safely in the bag for Lincoln, the dialogue-heavy script penned by today's most respected playwright, who drew from a section of an acclaimed book written by today's most respected presidential historian. Instead, it went to the genre-blending Argo, the script of which was penned by a 36-year-old who was previously best known for directing a little seen indie from 2005 and a 2010 episode of Damages.

At the end of the day, is the Scripter a reliable harbinger of the best adapted screenplay Oscar? The answer is a little unclear.

For the latter, nominees are determined by the Academy's 377-member writers branch, and all 6,014 members of the Academy get to pick the winner. The nominees and winner of the former are determined by a 41-person selection committee that is co-chaired by screenwriter Naomi Foner and screenwriter/WGA West vice president Howard Rodman and includes past Scripter winners Mark Fergus, Kaui Hart Hemmings, Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Ondaatje, Hawk Ostby and Eric Roth; other members of the Academy's writers branch, such as Geoffrey Fletcher and Robin Swicord; and a few critics and bloggers, who are not represented in the Academy.

Over the 24 previous years, in which the Scripter has been awarded, only eight scripts that won the Scripter also won the Oscar -- but four of those eight came in the last five years: Schindler's List (1993), Sense and Sensibility (1995), L.A. Confidential (1997), A Beautiful Mind (2001), No Country for Old Men (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), The Social Network (2010) and The Descendants (2011).