The nominees for best adapted screenplay at the Oscars are definitely the weaker out of the two writing categories this year. With a clear frontrunner, a couple disappointments and inclusion that seems pretty strange to say the least, the nominees are a mixed bag this year.
That aforementioned frontrunner is, of course, the police dramedy BlacKkKlansman scribed by the large writing team of Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee. Based on the true story of an African American police officer that infiltrated the KKK, the script seamlessly jumps between chaotic hilarity and hard-hitting emotional gut-punches that has a breathtakingly powerful final moment. The topic of conversation here has to be that legendary screen craftsman Spike Lee has never been acknowledged by the academy with a win before and with the director category pretty much locked down around Alfonso Cuarón, Lee’s best chance of winning gold lies with this screenplay nomination. It’ll be a deserving win and a long overdue one that will probably be the film’s only win of the night.
Veteran screenwriter Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters collaborated together to bring about the fourth iteration of A Star is Born with mixed results. I’m not necessarily surprised to see this here but as a story that’s been told three times previous, the fact that the nomination stands on essentially updating a tale to modern day is a shame to me. If the film perhaps made a decision to go in a different direction than its predecessors then I may give it more credit but as it stands, it’s hard to commend the simple unoriginality here. That being said, the screenplay tells the (same) story very well and with strong scene structure and characters that shouldn’t be undersold despite the film’s shortcomings.
Thirdly we have the wickedly enjoyable script from Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty for Can You Ever Forgive Me? This would probably be my personal pick if I was choosing the winner on the basis that this screenplay just seemed to have the most fun with its characters. Featuring the only female writer in this category, the film is based on the story of Lee Israel who forged literary letters for profit, the script is witty, funny and sharp and doesn’t necessarily burden itself with a serious message or tone which certainly works in its favour. I’d love it to pull an upset but it just seems unlikely at this point.
Barry Jenkins returns with his next film after he won this category two years ago for the impeccable Moonlight with an adaptation of the James Baldwin novel If Beale Street Could Talk. As a huge fan of Jenkins, it was disappointing to see that he couldn’t quite adapt Beale Street as masterfully as he did Moonlight. The film suffers from a classic case of an adaptation that can’t think of a way to translate a character’s inner monologue in a book onto the big screen so resorts to a reliance on voice-over narration. Don't get me wrong, the film is very well directed and Jenkins' script is still really strong but the overuse of narration makes it a weaker contender than it could have been.
Finally, we have the strange inclusion of Joel and Ethan Coen's Ballad of Buster Scruggs which is the brother’s western anthology film featuring six unique and entirely separate tales from the west. The film is great and the writing is (as you’d expect from the Coens) amazing, so why is it strange? Only two of the stories in the film are adapted. One segment based on a story by Jack London and the other ‘inspired’ by a story by Stewart Edward White. This makes it difficult knowing how I should be judging the film. Should I just look at the two segments in a vacuum and disregard the rest of the film? Or should I take the whole film into account and consider the other four segments as a wild deviation from the source material? As it’s hard to judge, academy voters are likely to feel the same way making it incredibly doubtful that it’ll walk away with the Oscar.
A lot of people would call Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s Black Panther a snub here but I wholeheartedly disagree. The strengths of that film are not its screenplay, as stripped away it is a clear example of a by the numbers superhero film. Josh Singer's First Man is a relatively surprising omission but by far, the biggest snub to me is Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased which tells the true story of a young man sent to a gay conversion therapy centre. The film is so important and should be seen by as many people as possible, it’s a shame that the academy missed an opportunity to widen the film’s mainstream awareness.