As usual, contenders in the Adapted Screenplay category are a varied bunch, with movies of all shapes and sizes adapted from plays, novels, memoirs, and a prior film.
Among the theater adaptations, auteurs have the advantage with Academy voters. Debuting at Sundance and relaunching at the fall festivals was “The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics), which French playwright-turned-director Florian Zeller adapted with Christopher Hampton from his popular stage play (“La Pere”). Anthony Hopkins plays an imperious old man who tussles with his daughter (Olivia Colman) as he struggles to keep track of his changing surroundings. The script won the BAFTA.
Regina King makes her feature film directing debut with “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios), adapted by Kemp Powers from his Olivier Award-nominated play. Right after Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) defeats heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in 1964, the boxer meets with Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.,) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) to figure out ways to make their voices heard in the segregated South. The screenplay scored WGA, USC Libraries Scripter, and Critic Choice nominations.
Playing four fall festivals including Venice, Toronto and New York was Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” (Searchlight), a follow-up to the Chinese multi-hyphenate’s 2017 breakout feature “The Rider.” After directing Marvel’s upcoming “Eternals” (2021), Zhao returned to exploring America with a road movie adapted from Jessica Bruder’s memoir. Two-time Oscar-winner Frances McDormand (“Fargo,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) plays a woman hit by the 2008 recession who drives around the country in a van. “Nomadland” picked up wins at the Critics Choice and USC Libraries’ Scripter Awards, which often presage the Oscar, as well as a BAFTA nomination.
Writer-director Ramin Bahrani follows up HBO’s “Fahrenheit 451” with another adaptation, India rags-to-riches tale “The White Tiger” (Netflix), based on the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Aravind Adiga, who Bahrani has known since they attended Columbia. The story tracks a low-caste Bangalore driver who climbs out of poverty as a chauffeur who steals his young boss’s money to fulfill his destiny. Bahrani scooped up bids for both WGA and BAFTA.
Unexpectedly, Sacha Baron Cohen came roaring back with hard-hitting political agitprop “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Amazon Studios), a hilarious yet poignant father-daughter comedy. The WGA-winning script is credited to nine writers, including Baron Cohen. Thirteen years back, that was the only Oscar nomination for “Borat,” and history could repeat. The writers branch tends to recognize the degree of difficulty for a raunchy comedy (see: “The Hangover,” “Bridesmaids”).
Contenders are listed in order of their likelihood to win.
Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton (“The Father”)
Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”)
Sacha Baron Cohen & collaborators (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”)
Kemp Powers (“One Night in Miami”)
Ramin Bahrani (“The White Tiger”)