Best Adapted Screenplay

The Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay is awarded to the writer(s) of a particular screenplay adapted from another source, such as a book or play.  This year’s nominees are writers who, for the most part, have little history at the Academy Awards; in fact, between the nominees, they have only received two previous Oscar nominations in writing categories.  Some marvelous screenplays are nominated this year, but it is still pretty up in the air in regards to who will win—David O. Russell has won the BAFTA in this category and Tony Kushner has won the Critics’ Choice Award.  After seeing each of the nominated films, I have my produced my own assessment of the nominees; thus, the following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Adapted Screenplay:

WINNER: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

David O. Russell, also the director of the film, adapted this screenplay from Silver Linings Playbook (2008), the debut novel of author Matthew Quick.  The film itself is among the best of the entire year, and much of the acclaim is directly due to Russell’s unblemished screenplay.  The screenplay is entertaining and captivating, and Russell’s words led to Academy Award nominations for each of his principal actors and actresses (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Jacki Weaver).  David O. Russell faces stiff competition from a year of astounding adapted screenplays, but I believe his work stands alone among this group of heavy hitters.  Russell has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

2. David Magee (Life of Pi)

David Magee adapted this screenplay from Life of Pi (2001), a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel.  The original novel has received a great deal of critical acclaim, including the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and Magee uses a spectacular screenplay to help director Ang Lee recreate this remarkable story.  Even though the film utilizes some extraordinary special effects, the movie would be nothing without the superb script from Magee.  David Magee was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Finding Neverland (2004).

3. Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Lucy Alibar and director Benh Zeitlin adapted this screenplay from Juicy and Delicious, a one-act play originally written by Alibar herself.  The film has received a high level of critical praise, including a nomination for Best Picture, and that says a lot about the script considering the film features a group of amateur actors with little to no previous acting experience.  The biggest advantage for the writers is the fact that Alibar wrote the original play, giving her a much more in-depth perspective for the feature-film version.  Neither Alibar nor Zeitlin have been previously nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

4. Chris Terrio (Argo)

Chris Terrio adapted this screenplay from a 2007 magazine article by Joshuah Bearman, detailing the true events of the covert mission “Canadian Caper” during the Iran Hostage Crisis.  Terrio is a little-known personality in the film industry—his only major involvement with a full-length feature film was as the director of the 2005 movie Heights.  In my opinion, Argo is not one of Ben Affleck’s strongest directorial efforts, but the film is carried throughout by a solid script.  The root of the drama and emotion in the film is Terrio’s writing, and his nomination is well deserved.  Terrio has not been previously nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

5. Tony Kushner (Lincoln)

Tony Kushner adapted this screenplay from Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005), a biographical book by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Even though the book covers Lincoln’s entire presidency, Kushner focused his script on the final four months of the president’s life, specifically his efforts to abolish slavery.  Kushner’s work is by far one of the most fluent and eloquent screenplays of the year, but in my opinion, it is rather bland and boring.  I feel that covering such a short, specific period of time in American history takes out all opportunities for creativity in a script, and it simply lacks a whole lot of action or entertainment.  Kushner was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Munich (2005).

Writers snubbed in this category: Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 9 – Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a film directed by Benh Zeitlin, with a screenplay written by Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar.  The story follows 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a young girl living with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in an area of southern Louisiana below the levee known as “The Bathtub.”  A fierce storm is making its way towards the Bathtub, and the reality that Hushpuppy thought she knew is shifted upside down in an abrupt rage.  The storm leaves her house under water, and Hushpuppy must learn to survive while also taking care of her father who becomes gravely ill.  With the help of the tight-knit Bathtub citizens, coupled with her keen sense of imagination, Hushpuppy fights to conquer these catastrophes.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is by far one of the best films released this past year.  It is fantastical, creative, and enjoyable in every sense of the word.  Part of my fascination and appreciation for this movie is the fact that no one associated with this project is anyone I have ever heard of before.  Remarkably, this is Zeitlin’s very first feature film, having only created short films in his days as a filmmaker.  The screenplay he and Alibar wrote was also adapted from a one-act play (Juicy and Delicious) originally written by Alibar herself.

Aside from the little-known director and writer, some absolutely awe-inspiring acting performances are showcased in this film, and the two lead actors were complete amateurs entering the production of this movie.  In fact, Dwight Henry was simply a local business owner in New Orleans, and after developing a relationship with Zeitlin and the other members of his film crew prior to production of the movie, he was offered the role due to his own emotional experiences during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Before viewing the film, I had no knowledge Henry’s pure lack of acting experience, and quite frankly, he fooled us all.  The passion and power he brings to the role of Wink is done in a way that only veteran actors could do—but here stands Henry, someone who had never acted before, giving viewers an enthusiastically exquisite portrayal of a man that has fallen on hard times of epic proportions.

The most breathtaking performance in the film, however, is that of Quvenzhané Wallis.  Wallis, now nine years old, was only six when the movie was filmed.  That fact alone makes her brilliantly astonishing portrayal of Hushpuppy even more impressive.  In the film, Hushpuppy is driven by her creative imagination and her fascination with animals, and Wallis’ emotional depiction makes you think it is truly Quvenzhané on the screen in these disastrous circumstances and not Hushpuppy.  Her interpretation of this character has not gone unnoticed—she has been nominated for many significant awards, including Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Academy Awards.  After seeing this film, Wallis’ nomination is more than justified.  Beasts of the Southern Wild is rated PG-13 for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language, and brief sensuality.

Academy Award nominations for Beasts of the Southern Wild:

Best Picture (Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, and Michael Gottwald, Producers)

Actress in a Leading Role (Quvenzhané Wallis)

Directing (Benh Zeitlin)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo