As usual, contenders in the Adapted Screenplay category are a varied bunch, with movies of all shapes and sizes adapted from prior material, whether novels, short stories, or a prior film. As always, auteurs have the advantage with Academy voters.
While David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky may have been defeated by big-screen adaptations of Frank Herbert’s 1965 science-fiction novel “Dune” (Warner Bros./HBO Max), Oscar-nominated French-Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) embraced the chance to bring his trademark visual panache to the sci-fi epic, which will come in two parts. Part One was whittled down from the sprawling novel by the director, veteran Oscar-winner Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”), and Jon Spaihts. Oscar Isaac’s Duke Leto Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson’s Lady Jessica travel with their son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) to dangerous desert planet Arrakis, which supplies the universe with the valuable spice melange. After pandemic delays, the movie played the fall festivals to strong reviews and performed well at the global box office, landing 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Villeneuve’s dramatic omission from the directing nominees lends a sympathy factor to a win in this category, as a way to recognize the creative force who wrangled this superb epic into cinematic life.
For her directing debut, actress-turned-writer Maggie Gyllenhaal obtained permission from Italian novelist Elena Ferrante to adapt “The Lost Daughter” (Netflix), about a vacationing professor (nominee Olivia Colman) who looks back on her painful experience as an academic young mother (nominee Jessie Buckley). After breaking out at Venice, where she won Best Screenplay, “The Lost Daughter” hit theaters December 17 and Netflix on December 31. Last year’s “Promising Young Woman” (which did land a Best Picture slot) set the precedent for an actress breaking out as a writer-director and taking home the Oscar. Gyllenhaal has been on a winning streak, collecting three Spirit Awards including Feature, Director, and Screenplay, Best First-Time Director at the New York Film Critics Circle and DGA, and the USC Scripter Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, often a precursor for the Oscar win. But Gyllenhaal is competing with Best Picture contenders “CODA,” which won the BAFTA, and “The Power of the dog,” which won Critics Choice.
Also from Netflix, Jane Campion‘s faithful adaptation of Thomas Savage‘s 1967 noir western novel, “The Power of the Dog” stars Benedict Cumberbatch as surly rancher Phil Burbank, who ruthlessly undermines the new wife (Kirsten Dunst) of his brother George (Jesse Plemons). After debuting to raves at the fall festivals, the movie hit cinemas November 19 ahead of streaming December 1, and scored a massive 12 nominations including Best Picture. While “The Power of the Dog” is the frontrunner for Picture and Director, will Campion also collect her second writing Oscar after “The Piano”? She won the Critics Choice award.
Picking up steam with four nominations including Best Picture and Director is critics’ fave “Drive My Car” (Janus), adapted by writer-director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and writer Takamasa Oe from the Haruki Murakami short story. In this case, voters may figure that “Drive My Car” will win Best International Feature Film.
Debuting at Sundance was August crowdpleaser “CODA” (Apple TV+), which director Sian Heder adapted from Victoria Bedos & Stanislas Carré de Malberg’s French film “La Famille Belier,” moving the story about a deaf family with a hearing daughter who loves music to a New England fishing village, which won the BAFTA for Adapted Screenplay.
Nominees are listed in order of their likelihood to win.
Sian Heder (“CODA”)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (“The Lost Daughter”)
Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”)
Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts, and Denis Villeneuve (“Dune”)
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe (“Drive My Car”)