Hollywood is rarely in search of the new, so each year brings a longer list of adapted screenplays and a shorter list of originals. Winning the National Board of Review were Martin Scorsese and Jay Cocks for “Silence,” while landing Critics Choice nominations were Luke Davies (“Lion”), Tom Ford (“Nocturnal Animals”), Todd Komarnicki (“Sully”), Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi (“Hidden Figures”), August Wilson (“Fences”) and eventual winner Eric Heisserer (“Arrival”), who did not land a Golden Globe nomination for Screenplay.
The Academy recently moved two scripts, “Moonlight” and “Loving,” from Original to Adapted. Technically, the play Barry Jenkins adapted with playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” was never produced. But the Academy, unlike the Writers Guild of America, has decided that Jenkins did adapt the moving Miami-set coming-of-age triptych from another source. So that puts “Moonlight” at the top of the race for Adapted Screenplay.
Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” also makes sense as an adapted script, as much of the dialogue in the film comes straight from Nancy Buirski’s 2011 documentary “The Loving Story,” which the filmmaker and cast tried so hard to bring to fictional life.
Both are now competing against WGA nominee “Arrival,” Denis Villeneuve’s brainy sci-fi encounter between an empathetic linguist (Amy Adams) and alien visitors whose intentions are unclear. Adapted by Eric Heisserer (“The Thing”) from Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life,” the movie is accessible, smart, suspenseful and moving, that rare mix of brain-twister and intimate drama.
Also grabbing WGA nominations was playwright August Wilson’s Pittsburgh drama “Fences,” a holiday hit from Denzel Washington; “Hidden Figures,” Ted Melfi and Allison Schroeder’s true story about African-American woman mathematicians at NASA; Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick’s wittily verbose comic book adaptation “Deadpool,” and “Nocturnal Animals,” fashion designer Tom Ford’s follow-up to “A Single Man.” The gorgeous new movie reveals a winding story within a story about a stylish designer (Amy Adams) who regrets leaving her first husband, a hardboiled novelist (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Also in the hunt is “Sully,” Clint Eastwood’s true story of an aviation miracle: Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s landing of a jumbo jet in the middle of the Hudson River, with every one of 155 passengers saved, written by Todd Komarnicki; and another heart-felt true story, Garth Davis’s WGA-ineligible “Lion,” adapted by Luke Davies from the book by Saroo Brierley (Dev Patel), who lost his family when he was five and found them 25 years later via Google Earth.
Long shots include the last contender to emerge in December, Martin Scorsese and Jay Cocks’ Japan-set spiritual drama “Silence”; two Disney blockbusters, Andrew Stanton’s Pixar sequel “Finding Dory,” which was not WGA eligible as an animated movie, an ingenious extension of the undersea universe he created back in 2003 with blockbuster “Finding Nemo,” and Justin Mark’s faithful adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s children’s classic “The Jungle Book,” which retained some flavor from the 1967 animated Disney movie but was reinvented for a contemporary audience with help from director Jon Favreau. Somehow “The Jungle Book” expertly navigates the shoals of a movie starring a live-action child inside an animated world. Audiences of all ages ate it up ($963 million worldwide).
Frontrunners: (in alphabetical order)
“Arrival” (Eric Heisserer)
“Fences” (August Wilson)
“Hidden Figures” (Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder)
“Loving” (Jeff Nichols)
“Moonlight” (Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney)
“Deadpool” (Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick)
“Finding Dory” (Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse)
“The Jungle Book” (Justin Marks)
“Nocturnal Animals” (Tom Ford)
“Lion” (Luke Davies)
“Silence” (Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese)
“Sully” (Todd Komarnicki)