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Source Material: Breaking Down the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay

By posted at 6:00 am on February 24, 2012 14

If the publishing industry really does collapse, as some predict it will, it won’t be the big houses or the independent bookstores that will be most affected, it will be Hollywood. This year’s crop of Oscar contenders raises the question “Can there be a cinema without books?” I’m skeptical. Try to imagine this year’s Academy Awards without Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close or Moneyball or The Descendants or The Help or Hugo. Even Midnight in Paris couldn’t exist without Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Without books, Scott Rudin would have to have to find work as a dentist or something.

coverOf course nowhere is Hollywood’s literary addiction more apparent than the Adapted Screenplay category. This year’s crop of adaptations includes four movies adapted from books and one adapted from a play (The Ides of March). Since I haven’t seen live theater since I went to my friend’s improv show a year or two ago, I can’t comment on how faithful The Ides of March is to its source material. I can state with near certainty, though, that the guys who played the two leads on stage were not as good looking as Ryan Gosling and George Clooney. Call it a hunch.

coverThis year’s crop of book-to-movie adaptations is a varied bunch. Moneyball (about which I’ve written before) delivered on some of the promise of Michael Lewis’ book, while managing to dramatize a business strategy. Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, famous for writing Schindler’s List and The West Wing, respectively, may have turned A’s assistant GM Paul DePodesta into loveably portly stat-geek Peter Brand, but in doing so, they gave a bit of humanity to the cold, hard pursuit of truth.

 

coverI will admit to wondering whether another of the Adapted Screenplay nominees was even necessary. With its 1979 miniseries, the BBC so thoroughly and completely brought to life John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the cinematic adaptation felt superfluous. Could anyone possibly be George Smiley but Alec Guinness? But I have to admit I was entertained and enthralled as the two-and-a-half-hour spy drama played out on the big screen. Some of this was the stellar cast (I particularly enjoyed Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr), but the writers deserve kudos, as well. Packing a work as dense and detailed as Tinker Tailor into a mere two hours-plus is no small feat, and yet screenwriters Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan not only accomplished it, they did so with style. In their Tinker Tailor, Control is revealed to be an alcoholic old coot while erstwhile ladykiller Peter Guillam is cleverly reimagined as a homosexual. The most faithful adaption of the year it isn’t, but it might be the best executed.

coverMartin Scorsese’s Hugo, adapted from Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is likely to win the Best Picture this year. I say this not because it was the best movie of the year, but rather because the Academy loves nothing more than patting itself on the back. What could be more congratulatory than celebrating a movie about the history of movies (especially French ones!). It’s down to this and The Artist, another movie about making movies, and I bet that most of the Academy voters spent the first few minutes of The Artist screeners messing with the settings on their TV to make sure the audio wasn’t screwed up. So the smart money is on Scorsese.

coverAnd finally there’s The Descendants. Much like Sideways, Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel was not widely read before Alexander Payne and his crew decided to adapt it for the screen. Also like Sideways, The Descendants is a story whose location plays as big a role as its protagonist. I’m starting to think that Payne picks his movies based on where he’d like to shoot. I imagine he and his wife in bed. She finishes a book and he asks “How was it?”

“Eh, not bad. I’ve read better.”

“Where’s it take place?” Alexander Payne asks.

“The South of France.”

Payne sits up and takes off his glasses. “Tell me more.”

I think this is the clear runner-up in the race, despite being a satisfying story with a fun cast. As for the book, I can’t say, as I’m not one of the few pre-Payne readers to have tried the novel.

So there you have it. This year’s best adapted screenplay nominations are again dominated by the literary world. That may change in the near future, though. In a sign that the movies don’t intend to get caught looking should the Random House building become a 30-story erotic massage parlor, they’ve already begun exploring another source for material, the board game industry. Battleship premieres this spring.





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14 Responses to “Source Material: Breaking Down the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay”

  1. Amyloo
    at 7:57 am on February 24, 2012

    I think the premise is a non sequitur. Even if the publishing industry and bookstores collapse, that doesn’t mean there won’t be new books and short fiction written.

  2. Rohit
    at 9:07 am on February 24, 2012

    One question. Why is it the wife who reads in bed? And, Payne lolling around, waiting for her to finish the book, is such an image..

  3. Philip Graham
    at 10:17 am on February 24, 2012

    They will never run out of material to adapt, whether it’s amusement park rides, old sitcoms, you name it, and then they’ll spin ‘em into sequels and prequels and:
    http://www.themorningnews.org/article/freddy-and-jason-and-reese-and-julia

  4. Baby Got Books » Friday Links
    at 11:10 am on February 24, 2012

    […] The Millions break down the field for best adapted screenplay. […]

  5. Tony M
    at 11:28 am on February 24, 2012

    Two truisms that get constantly repeated in Oscar forecasts are not actually true. First is the idea that Oscar rewards blockbusters. Remember The Hurt Locker? It made less than Avatar spent on catering. Take a look at Boxofficemojo.com. Of the 30 highest grossing movies of all time, three have won Oscars (Titanic, Return of the King, Forrest Gump.) Few others received nominations. How many nominations have been given to Star Wars, Harry Potter or Indian Jones movies?

    The other is that “the Academy loves nothing more than patting itself on the back“ and therefore gives Oscars to movies about movies. Put together any list of the ten best movies about movies and see how many won best picture. Sunset Boulevard, A Star is Born, Beautiful and The Damned, Singing in The Rain, The Aviator – name some more. If The Artist or Hugo wins, it may be the first time a movie about movies won.

  6. Heidi
    at 12:57 pm on February 24, 2012

    Farragut North (the play the Ides of March is based on) never made it to Broadway, but when it was playing at the Geffen in Los Angeles, Chris Pine and Chris Noth starred and I would have to concur with your hunch: not as good looking as Clooney and Gosling. But maybe we should arrange a time for all of us to meet in person to really figure that one out… ;-)

  7. Patrick
    at 1:38 pm on February 24, 2012

    “Begging the Question” does not mean what you think it means…….

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question

  8. Amy Keeley
    at 1:42 pm on February 24, 2012

    I have no fears about the death of writing or movies. If big publishers go away, Hollywood will just start contacting popular self-published authors.

  9. elle
    at 6:29 pm on February 24, 2012

    I agree wholeheartedly with Amyloo.

  10. La littérature derrière les Oscars 2012 : deux pouces levés ? « Bibliomancienne
    at 9:21 pm on February 24, 2012

    […] Certains disent que si l’industrie du livre s’effondre, ce ne sont pas les librairies ou les grandes maison d’éditions qui  seront les plus affectés mais Hollywood. Derrière la plupart des nominations dans la catégorie des meilleurs films aux Oscars 2012 se cachent des oeuvres littéraires. Les connaissez-vous? […]

  11. co
    at 4:27 am on February 25, 2012

    I hope the publishing industry doesn’t collapse. It would be the end of the world for me.

  12. Links for the Literati – February 26th, 2012 | Indie Books List
    at 12:46 pm on February 26, 2012

    […] of books. And we all know that people can’t write books without the major publishers, right?Source Material: Breaking Down the Oscar for Adapted Screenplay via The MillionsAll Hail Cthulhu?Charles West is angry. The fundamentals teachings of the […]

  13. Chris Roberts
    at 11:51 am on February 27, 2012

    A real nut sac article.

  14. Reading material for 02/27/12: « Robins AFB Library Blog
    at 7:15 pm on February 27, 2012

    […] Breaking down the Oscar nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay. […]

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