Oscar Analysis 2014: Breaking Down The Best Adapted Screenplay Race

Last year’s Best Adapted Screenplay contenders at the Academy Awards competed in one of the most competitive categories of the night, with movies like Life of Pi, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook going head to head. But by the time it was all over, the literal Best Picture had won. Chris Terrio, a relative newcomer to the industry, took home the Oscar for his work crafting the script for Ben Affleck’s Argo, ultimately making it one of the most agreeable wins of the night.

But now nearly a full year has passed and there are five new titles fighting to say that they had the Best Adapted Screenplay of 2013. Will it be The Wolf of Wall Street that picks up the prize this year, or maybe Philomena? Does Before Midnight stand a chance against 12 Years A Slave, or could the prize wind up going to Captain Phillips? Allow us to break it down.


DARK HORSES: Philomena and Captain Phillips

As a general rule, any film that has been nominated for a major Academy Award like Best Adapted Screenplay likely has a lot going for it - but within every category there are titles that have a good chance of winning and those that don’t. These are the ones that fit into the second group.

Stephen Frears’ Philomena is one of the biggest surprises of this year’s lineup of Oscar nominees, collecting three other nods in addition to Best Adapted Screenplay, but the truth is that there isn’t a very good chance writers Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope will go home with a prize this year. The film was a critical darling when it came out last November and The Weinstein Company has worked hard to make sure that critics associations have paid attention to it as they’ve voted for their favorite titles over the last few weeks, but the truth is that Philomena is a movie that will likely be satisfied just with the notice it’s gotten so far.

Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips certainly has a higher profile than Philomena and was also one of the best reviewed films of the year, but the chances for Billy Ray’s script in the Best Adapted Screenplay category look slim. The film took a big blow when Tom Hanks wasn’t named as a contender in the Best Actor category, and while the movie and Ray have picked up plenty of nominations during this year’s award season, not many of them have actually resulted in wins.

Before Midnight

CONTENDERS: Before Midnight and The Wolf Of Wall Street

At the end of every Oscar race there is typically only one winner (the exception being the incredibly rare tie), but there are always titles in each category that you can imagine came up just short when all of the votes were tallied. In the case of this year’s Best Adapted Screenplay race, we predict that those two titles will be Terence Winter’s The Wolf of Wall Street and Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Deply’s Before Midnight.

A big part of what elevates Winter’s role in the race from "Dark Horse" to "Contender" for his Wolf of Wall Street script is Quentin Tarantino’s big win for Django Unchained last year. The Academy is notorious for not touching controversial movies with a 10-foot pole – and The Wolf of Wall Street is nothing if not controversial – but Tarantino’s big win last year in the Original Screenplay category demonstrated that the organization behind the Oscars can recognize great work even when its filled with various kinds of profanity, sex and violence.

Helping Linklater’s Before Midnight’s status in the race is not only a lack of controversy, but also an impressive history. All three Before films – including 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Before Sunset - have been adored by cinephiles, making it one of the most critically-beloved trilogies ever, but with the exception of a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for the second film the movies have never seen any Oscar love. Perhaps this will be the year that the Academy rewards Linklater, Hawke and Deply for 11 years of brilliant filmmaking.

12 Years A Slave

FRONTRUNNER: 12 Years A Slave

Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is a movie that’s so good it hurts. Literally. Walking out of the movie theater you can’t help but feel a deep pain in your chest as you reflect on the truly horrific and terrible things that humans are able to inflict upon each other. At the same time, however, 12 Years A Slave is also an uplifting film that beautifully and effectively portrays the power of human perseverance and will. No movie released in 2013 packed quite the deep emotional punch that McQueen’s did, and a deeply important reason for that is John Ridley’s gutting adaptation of Solomon Northrup’s memoir of the same name. It was so important, in fact, that we expect Ridley will be rewarded handsomely for his work come Oscar night.

McQueen’s film has been having a very successful run on the awards circuit thus far, and while most organizations that don’t divide screenplays into "original" and "adapted" works have given their writing prizes to Spike Jonze’s Her, 12 Years A Slave is likely the favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Ridley has already picked up prizes from critics groups from around the country, including the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and we suspect he will continue his run of success come March 2nd.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.