Monday, May 22, 2017

OVP: Adapted Screenplay (2007)

OVP: Best Adapted Screenplay (2007)

The Nominees Were...

Christopher Hampton, Atonement
Sarah Polley, Away from Her
Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

My Thoughts: It says something interesting about this race when most of the major Best Picture contenders (60% are represented here), meaning that I'm going to be potentially in for some interesting happenings in the Best Original Screenplay category.  We have dragged out 2007 quite a bit (this is a huge undertaking from an editing/writing/viewing perspective, so I need to probably just admit that these are going to always take a while).  That being said, if you've missed any of our 2007 entries, use the links at the bottom of the article to revisit some past ballots or just click here and you'll have hundreds of articles at your perusal.

What strikes me most about this list, at least at first, is that it's predominantly male, perhaps no more so than Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which is entirely filmed from the male gaze, and is undoubtedly my least favorite of these pictures.  While we've encountered all of these films already, it may not have properly sunk in that I really didn't like Diving Bell, save for the cinematography and the scenes with Max von Sydow (so excellent as an estranged father).  The film itself is too gimmick-y as it moves along, never quite deciding if it wants to be a groundbreaking peer into the world of a man robbed of his ability to communicate or a sentimental/heartstrings sort of sappy tale that we've seen many times before onscreen.  There's no doubt that the life of Jean-Dominique Bauby is fascinating, terrifying, and challenging to our thoughts of ability, but I never really got that in the writing here; the film gains from Schnabel's artistic indulgences more than from the actual script.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the only script written by a woman, though here again we see so much of the world through a man's eyes.  Away from Her is a profoundly difficult film to watch, similar to Diving Bell, but Polley's film is more of a writerly sensibility rather than all style and flourish.  I love the way she finds fascinating ways to make Gordon Pinsent's Grant second-guess his relationship with Juile Christie's Fiona, even when he knows that it's the disease at hand.  What makes Away from Her better than something like Still Alice (a very similarly-themed picture) is that here we have a thick amount of plot other than the single spectacle of watching one woman's journey to the edge of memory.  We also gain clues as to regrets from those around Grant and Fiona, wishing that the world had been easier or treated them differently.  It's a loving ode from Polley, and sharply plotted work.

No Country for Old Men is one of two works here adapted from a literary masterpiece.  Cormac McCarthy's words are hard to transcribe to the cinema, as has been evidenced many times (perhaps most famously with McCarthy himself trying to write the problematic The Counselor a few years back), but under the sparse care of the Coen Brothers, this becomes a movie that stands on its own, and perhaps even exceeds the novel.  The movie is perfectly-laid by the script, a ticking time bomb that continues clicking along even after the credits role.  Some of the lines are instantly recognizable, such as the "you can't stop what's coming" and "Friend-o" and they sing off the page.  It takes a very strong pair of screenwriters to make such a specific sentence structure work in the confines of a very real world (particularly that of a desolate Texas), but the Coen Brothers succeed.  Honestly, while Fargo may be their most unique victory, I think at the end of the day No Country's script is arguably the best thing they've written so far.

The same may well be said for Paul Thomas Anderson, who abandons so many of the indulgences that made him a writer-director to be noticed in Boogie Nights and Magnolia and delivers a straight-forward drama that borders on being a horror film.  The film, though adapted from Upton Sinclair's Oil, bares little resemblance to the book and smartly rests on Daniel Plainview.  Daniel Day-Lewis fully inhabits the terrifying speeches that Anderson has brought for him (I don't know that I'll ever get over the way he spits out the word "people"), and Anderson uses the slim cast list to his advantage, insisting on dialogue only being a weapon of necessity, rather than something frivolously tossed around.  The result is a script that is shockingly tight for a 158 minute movie.

The final nomination is for Atonement, by far the most successful adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel (does anyone else find it weird that more of McEwan's work hasn't been adapted given the success of this outing?).  The movie unfolds wonderfully, each chapter given its own identity.  I do feel that there might have been some improvement in the second section, the least of the three chapters in my humbled opinion, but some of the other monologues, particularly that given by Vanessa Redgrave in the final scene and Briony's shaky confidence while dooming Robby, are stupendous.  It's also worth noting, of course, that language is central to the theme of the film (particularly one word that shatters so many lives), and that is not lost in the erudite way that so many of the characters speak toward one another.
Other Precursor Contenders: The Globes combine their writing categories so there is no adapted or original distinction, though that doesn't mean that they didn't find room for an additional nominee in Charlie Wilson's War to go next to Atonement, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and the winning No Country for Old Men.  The BAFTA Awards do split their categories, and nearly went for a carbon copy of the Oscars, except they substituted The Kite Runner in over Away from Her, and gave Ronald Harwood the actual trophy.  The WGA Awards were slightly more eclectic (as they so often are), missing both Atonement and Away from Her, instead going with Sean Penn's Into the Wild (which I'm assuming was the sixth place, and what a weird The Horse's Mouth-style nomination that would have been), and Zodiac (coming in just before David Fincher became fashionable at the Oscars, though there winner was the obvious No Country for Old Men.
Films I Would Have Nominated: Four out of five here, I have to say, the Oscars got exactly right-this is a really good selection, almost certainly buoyed by the fact that 2007 had a very fine Best Picture lineup (since this category usually borrows heavily from the top race).  I would have found time, though, for one of the most under-sung films of the year, Zodiac, perhaps the best serial killer film that David Fincher has ever made.  It's a pity that Oscar couldn't have found somewhere to honor the movie a few years before Fincher became a gimme nominee at the Oscars.
Oscar's Choice: The Coen Brothers won an easy coronation, though I kind of think PTA might have had the edge on Ronald Harwood if NCFOM hadn't existed.
My Choice: While the winner is easy (NCFOM), I actually still want Atonement, even with its flaws, to outrank There Will Be Blood, perhaps because when it's on it actually rivals the Coen Brothers, something Blood never does.  In fourth is the very admirable Sarah Polley, followed by Harwood.

Those are my thoughts-what about you?  Is there anyone out there who wants to deny the Coen Brothers their Oscar here, or are we all in agreement this was dealt correctly?  Who else wishes that Sarah Polley would do another script as good as Away from Her?  And what Ian McEwan novel do you wish would be adapted next (I've already got On Chesil Beach, my favorite of his works, coming in 2017)?  Share below!

Past Best Adapted Screenplay Contests: 20082009, 2010201120122013, 2014

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