Best Adapted Screenplay, 2002
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of the corresponding films.)

Pete Hedges and Chris & Paul Weitz
About a Boy


Um, it was cute? I mean, some people (not me) thought it was cute?

Three Best Picture nominees, with 27 nominations among them, bringing a hit stage musical, a Pulitzer-winning novel, and a Holocaust memoir into movie screens everywhere. A fourth entry, embraced by actors, and so daring and peerless in its design that it necessitates a reconsideration of the very category of "Best Adapted Screenplay." And a fifth nominee, with no other mentions on Oscar's roster, middling box-office, and no prior awards to its name. Which do you suppose is likely to drop out of the picture?
Charlie & Donald Kaufman

The winner of more critics' awards than any other screenplay this year, Adaptation is also the freakiest, most convention-defying, most conspicuous embodiment of the screenwriter's art we all saw year; we are not assured of seeing its like again. A slapstick comedy that is also a philosophical meditation, a meta-meta-film that finds new humorous dimensions in the word "fuck," there's a lot here for everybody. Not since 8 has writer's block looked so good.
The riddle of what it's doing in this race—isn't Adaptation actually original? Plus, the added enigma of its credited scribes, only one of whom is what the old-fashioned among us might call a "real person." The indifferently received Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Human Nature at least raised some doubts about the Kaufman recipe, and the chaotic end of Adaptation may alienate some of those voters who don't reject the whole vision out of hand.
Bill Condon

In the best case scenario, from the film's point of view, Chicago takes this award as a coattail win along the way to Best Picture and other biggies.
Fairly or not, musicals are not thought of as writerly endeavors, certainly not in the way The Hours or Adaptation is. Plenty of Best Picture winners (The Sound of Music, Braveheart, Titanic, Gladiator) rise to the top with little or no support for their screenplays.
David Hare
The Hours

Increasingly looks like one of the surest bets of the evening, as far as I am concerned: David Hare's reputation as a playwright will reflect nicely on the Academy, and the literary prestige of Cunningham's novel is also a key consideration. The Writers Guild and the USC scripters gave their accolades to Hare, and if The Hours loses Best Picture, the Screenplay category is a perfect, reasonably high-profile showcase in which to offer a consolation.
Besides the fierce originality of Adaptation, which isn't necessarily a plus outside the Original Screenplay race, I can't think of many. Not everyone loves the movie, of course, but the same can as easily be said of its rivals.
Ron Harwood
The Pianist

Eminently tasteful, Harwood's artful contribution to the genre of Holocaust dramas found new ways of representing a familiar but harrowing subject. Harwood was previously nominated for The Dresser but didn't win. Even as award momentum has mounted for this picture, the Screenplay has been surprisingly low-profile. It did win the National Society of Film Critics prize, but they are often the least in synch with Oscar of all the critics' groups; meanwhile, both the Golden Globes and the Writers Guild left The Pianist off their lists, implying that fans of the picture are more conscious of Polanski's and Brody's achievements than Harwood's.

WHO WILL WIN: David Hare, The Hours
With a high degree of difficulty, a challenging three-part structure, and a cast of memorable characters in memorable, tense confrontations, The Hours is virtually tailor-made for this prize. Only Adaptation has a chance to unseat it.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Charlie and Donald Kaufman, Adaptation
I'm a fan of Harwood's work in The Pianist, and I still haven't made up my mind that Adaptation doesn't depend a little heavily on its own self-conscious conceits and gimmicks. I may feel differently later . . . but in the present moment, the film certainly feels like the trickiest and most innovative of these nominees, and its screenplay in particular yields such distinctive pleasures and sensations that I find it impossible to ignore.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: My favorite Adapted Screenplay of the year was Lynne Ramsay and Liana Dognini's for Morvern Callar, a film as tightly bound to its protagonist as The Pianist, as provocatively elliptical as The Hours, and nearly as odd in its approach to structure as the very different Adaptation. Obviously, this film barely registered with American audiences, much less with the Academy. Erin Cressida Wilson's bouncy, bristly Secretary fared a little better, but I suppose its exclusion here was inevitable. (I am not, by contrast, mourning the surprise omission of About Schmidt: way to go, Writers Branch!)

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