Editor’s Note: Nouse continues its focus on the Oscar categories as we turn to the final writing category.
The Big Short (Charles Randolph and Adam McKay)
Brooklyn (Nick Hornby)
Carol (Phyllis Nagy)
The Martian (Drew Goddard)
Room (Emma Donoghue)
Trivia: Emma Donoghue becomes the first female writer to be nominated for adapting her own screenplay.
If the original screenplay is a peculiar Oscar category then the adapted screenplay is even stranger. Screenwriters who adapt have to grapple with the limitations, and blessings, of the screen whilst also dealing with diehard, purist fans of the original source material. Between having to find the balance between pleasing the fans and pleasing audiences it’s an impressive feat to create a great story. There is also a sense of something less creative about an adaptation. In comparison to an original screenplay haven’t the screenwriters worked less hard? Where is their creative voice in comparison to the original author of their source material? This of course is utter nonsense with adaptations requiring as much creativity and originality, in some cases more, than any original screenplay.
This year’s nominees have produced rich, entertaining works. Some of them have adapted from their own novels whilst others have adapted others and turned it into something of their own. All of them, however, have succeeded in creating great stories, some from the strangest of places including the world of finance, a ground breaking lesbian love story and a popular sci-fi story that began life as a self-published, online serial.
The favourite script to win is Charles Randolph’s and Adam McKay’s The Big Short. Adapted from a bestselling book by financial writer Michael Lewis, The Big Short tells the story of the financial crash of 2008 and how it came about. Adam McKay, who also directs the film, is primarily known for his comedic work with Will Ferrell. He had to fight for years to adapt The Big Short from its original book. Despite its bestselling status the funds to make a film about the financial crisis weren’t forthcoming and it was only when McKay threatened to pull out of the Anchorman sequel that he was able to secure funding. Along with Charles Randolph, who has written several screenplays, they have produced one of the best scripts of the year.
Complicated financial situations are explained by cameos from real life celebrities, Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez for example, whilst the narration dropped throughout the film from Ryan Gosling’s character is pissy, angry and breaks the fourth wall. For a film about subprime mortgages and betting against the housing market Randolph and McKay have managed to make a fascinating, entertaining, dramatic but more often than not very funny story. Importantly The Big Short also draws your attention and helps you to better understand one of the most important events of recent times. For those reasons its position as favourite seems secure, but there are a number of other great scripts out there.
‘Carol’ was adapted by Phyllis Nagy from the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt. Highsmith’s novel, originally published under a pseudonym, was a ground breaking piece of lesbian literature at the time of its release. Nagy, best known for her plays, was actually friends with Highsmith and wrote a first draft adaptation all the way back in 1997, going through five more drafts before the script nominated this year emerged. Years in development hell saw the screenplay finally find funding and a director in Todd Haynes. Nagy’s work in developing a novel from 1952, which as she herself has said, was also troublesome to adapt for the screen, is superb. The years of work Nagy put into the screenplay alone make it a labour of love but it is also an excellently written film. The fact that the film missed out on best picture and best director categories are also worth discussing. Amongst all the discussion surrounding race at this year’s Oscars the issue of ‘female-centric’ films also popped up with regards to ‘Carol.’ Whilst it was indeed a snub we should be careful not to let this overshadow Nagy’s work, which is outstanding on its own.
Nick Hornby is nominated for Brooklyn, adapted from a book by Irish novelist Colm Tóibín which won acclaim when it was first published. Hornby, the British writer best known for his books like ‘High Fidelity’ and ‘Fever Pitch’, is no stranger to the Oscars having been nominated for another academy award for best adapted screenplay back in 2009, the only previous nominee this year. That nomination, for An Education, was a film with a somewhat similar theme-a young woman’s journey of self-discovery. Hornby’s script is true to the novel maintaining a calm atmosphere that helps hide the many layers and subtexts going on underneath. Despite his previous nomination the relatively straightforward love story, however good, Hornby produces seems unlikely to win.
Another novelist to join Hornby is Emma Donoghue who adapts her own novel, Room into a screenplay. Donoghue tackles very distressing themes in her work, including kidnapping, imprisonment and rape and, what’s more, explores them from a child’s perspective. Hard enough on paper Donoghue has been rightly praised for her ability to write a screenplay which still emphasises the child’s perspective and the central role he has in the film as the protagonist and audience’s way into the film. Whilst it seems unlikely that Donoghue will win the Oscar it is a worthy Oscar nomination.
Finally there is The Martian. Originally written by first time writer Andy Weir ‘The Martian’ was published initially free online in serial format. Encouraged by positive feedback Weir made it available on kindle before it was finally picked up for traditional publication. Drew Goddard, who wrote ‘Cloverfield’ and directed The Cabin in the Woods’ takes on the difficult adaptation role. Just as Donoghue had a tricky task writing a script around a young boy Goddard had to write an interesting script about a solitary stranded astronaut. Weir’s novel, as well as focusing on the solitary existence of one character, is also full of science and techno-speak so it was a tall order for Goddard. Thankfully he delivered, creating a script that was not only a successful adaptation, balancing the science with drama, but also an entertaining and surprisingly funny film.
As with original screenplays this year’s adapted nominees are surprisingly varied and full of rookies. Only Hornby has a previous nomination. As ever however there were some odd omissions. Aaron Sorkin won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay back in 2010 for The Social Network. This year he produced Steve Jobs but received no nomination for his writing. There are other less obvious candidates who probably also deserved a nomination. Mad Max: Fury Road, for example, told a fantastic and exciting story with minimalistic dialogue.
The inventiveness and entertainment of The Big Short will probably give it the edge and secure its win. When it comes to upsets and surprises it seems that ‘Carol’ will be the biggest threat. In the end however ‘The Big Short’ will most likely take the Oscar home on the day.