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‘Glass Onion’ and ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Enter a Sequel-Heavy Best Adapted Screenplay Race

"Glass Onion" stands tall in a year full of sequel contenders for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022). (L-R) Kathryn Hahn as Claire, Madelyn Cline as Whiskey, Edward Norton as Myles, Leslie Odom Jr. as Lionel, and Kate Hudson as Birdie. Cr. John Wilson/Netflix © 2022.

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”

John Wilson/Netflix © 2022

This article contains IndieWire’s past Best Adapted Screenplay predictions for the 2023 Oscars. We regularly update our predictions throughout awards season, and republish previous versions (like this one) for readers to track changes in how the Oscar race has changed. For the latest update on the frontrunners for the 95th Academy Awards, see our 2023 Oscars predictions hub.

We will update these predictions throughout awards season, so keep checking IndieWire for all our 2023 Oscar picks. Nominations voting is from January 12 to January 17, 2023, with official Oscar nominations announced on January 24, 2023. The final voting is March 2 through 7, 2023.  And finally, the 95th Oscars telecast will be broadcast on Sunday, March 12 and air live on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET/ 5:00 p.m. PT.

See IndieWire’s preliminary Oscars Predictions for this category and more here.

The State of the Race

For this year’s Best Adapted Screenplay race, the elephant in the room is just how many sequels, if any, will earn a nomination. “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of the Water” for example, seem like crowdpleasers that are too big for the Academy to ignore. But when it comes to screenplays specifically, the sequels that tend to get recognition from voters are the ones that reframe the entire world that viewers are reentering (e.g. “Logan”). While James Cameron’s highly anticipated follow-up to the highest-grossing movie of all time achieves that goal visually, its script really plays the hits, using a lot of the same story beats from the first “Avatar.”

Same with the “Top Gun” sequel, still the highest-grossing film of 2022. One could argue that the whole fun of the movie is Tom Cruise returning to the exact same environment with a slightly different result, but is that the kind of screenplay voters will jump on? “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” was forced into a sea change, tasked with the seemingly impossible: losing lead actor Chadwick Boseman, and therefore King T’Challa before shooting, though it has been getting dinged for trying to fit in too many ideas.

The sequel looking to fare the best is “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” written by its director Rian Johnson, who received a Best Original Screenplay nomination for the first film. In the Netflix sequel, the filmmaker engineers a completely different mystery that consequently gives the sequel an entirely different feel. The jokes hit a little harder this go-round, and the new narrative shifts are to be admired.

Through the lens of judging their screenplays, it actually makes for an interesting double feature with “Living,” a British adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s “Ikiru,” scripted by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. The Oliver Hermanus-directed film also has a sort of twist that reshapes the final act and has been gaining awards momentum as it prepares for a Christmastime theatrical release. Both projects seem primed to catch the eye of the voters determining Best Adapted Screenplay nominees.

Highest on the list of frontrunners, though it also still has yet to be released to the public, is Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” an adaptation of adapts Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel about a group of Mennonite women meeting to determine a plan of action for dealing with the male sexual predators that live in their colony. It is one of the few adapted scripts to compete in Best Screenplay at awards bodies like the Gothams and Indie Spirits, which notably do not separate the original from the adapted screenplays.

The two projects on the bubble, but are as of right now likely to get nominated are “She Said,” written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, and “The Whale,” written by playwright Samuel D. Hunter. Although it has not been a noisy enough movie to get a full Best Picture push, “She Said” is a well-made film that has plenty of script-driven scenes for voters to pore over. And even if Lenkiewicz has not been as spotlighted by the film’s awards campaign, Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, authors of the book the film is based on, have been, and are throwing their support toward the screenplay for how it not only captures the nuance of their investigation into disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein, but their personal lives dealing with issues like postpartum depression.

Meanwhile “The Whale” faces mixed reviews but has had Hunter, who adapted his own play that mines his own life, including his battle with food addiction, on the frontlines at festivals and FYC events to speak thoughtfully about what the film intended to achieve. Adaptations of plays tend to do well in this category, “The Father” and “Moonlight” being two recent Oscar-winning examples, so Hunter remains one of the A24 project’s best shots at an Academy Award nomination.

And we cannot count out two-time Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro, one of awards season’s best campaigners, to win over more voters with his stop-motion animated musical “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.” Nor should we dismiss two-time writing nominee Noah Baumbach adapting what many considered unadaptable with “White Noise,” his take on the 1985 Don DeLillo novel. Both Netflix projects still have some time to gain more traction with voters when they premiere on the platform later in December.

Oscar contenders are listed in alphabetical order. Only films I have seen will be deemed frontrunners.

Samuel D. Hunter (“The Whale”)
Kazuo Ishiguro (“Living”)
Rian Johnson (“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”)
Rebecca Lenkiewicz (“She Said”)
Sarah Polley (“Women Talking”)

Noah Baumbach (“White Noise”)
James Cameron and Josh Friedman (“Avatar: The Way of Water”)
Joe Robert Cole and Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”)
Guillermo del Toro, Gris Grimly, Patrick Hale, and Matthew Robbins (“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”)
Lena Dunham (“Catherine, Called Birdy”)
David Kajganich (“Bones & All”)
Ehren Kruger, Christopher McQuarrie, and Eric Warren Singer (“Top Gun: Maverick”)

Alice Birch and Sebastián Lelio (“The Wonder”)
Scott Cooper (“The Pale Blue Eye”)
Dean Fleischer-Camp, Elisabeth Holm, and Nick Paley (“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On”)
Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller (“The Son”)
Kogonada (“After Yang”)
Ron Nyswaner (“My Policeman”)
Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell (“All Quiet on the Western Front”)

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