Best Adapted Screenplay, 2003
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of the corresponding films.)

Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini
American Splendor


In many ways, more of a writer's movie than any of the other nominees, and a standout pick among Best Picture nominees bound to be honored elsewhere and a Brazilian epic that's more a triumph of direction than of writing. American Splendor is wry and innovative, qualities the Writers Branch tends to embrace.

But it ain't just the Writers who vote for the winners: the general membership won't necessarily have seen (or clicked with) American Splendor, while the other nominees are almost certain to have crossed their paths. Plus, "innovative" is a surer shot to a nomination than a win: Charlie Kaufman has lost two writing Oscars to Best Picture frontrunners.
BrŠulio Mantovani
City of God

Four nominations is a landslide for a foreign-language picture, proving that City of God has widespread support. I'm sure there will be sentiment that it should win something...
...but this seems like the least likely place. Even though there's no certain front-runner in this race, a guns-blazing street epic in Portuguese has an especially tough path to victory.
Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Obviously, The Return of the King is in it to win it this year; the Writers Branch who didn't think the Two Towers screenplay merited a nod have smiled on the third installment, despite (maybe because of) substantial structural revisions to Tolkien's book.
Epics, even those that cop the Best Picture prize, rarely have success in the writing races, which are also customary places to reward the Best Picture also-rans. For one reason or the other, or both, Unforgiven, Braveheart, Gladiator, Chicago, and the unnominated Titanic all struck out. The Lord of the Rings has broken a lot of patterns, but look for this one to endure.
Brian Helgeland
Mystic River

The raviest raves that Mystic River received typically compared it to Greek tragedy. Whether deserved or not, those allusions have scored the movie a literate, "adult" reputation that's quite what the doctor tends to order in this competition.
A grumbly minority seems to believe that the sterling actors saved Mystic River from a wobbly script - and actors themselves, by far the largest body of voters, are more likely than anyone to feel this way.
Gary Ross

Sometimes, if the source material is beloved enough, the screenwriter can reap the benefit of a popularity contest (viz. A Room with a View, The Cider House Rules). Laura Hillenbrand's book is a champion cause for legions of readers, and since Seabiscuit is a high-level nominee with few chances at victory, snubbed director Gary Ross may be - well, you know, a good dark horse candidate. Not all those fans of the book are thrilled with Ross' perhaps necessary truncations of historical context and trackside esoterica. It's typical for at least one Best Picture nominee per year to go home empty-handed.

WHO WILL WIN: Brian Helgeland, Mystic River
There's a tony luster to this category; voters tend to act like literary guilds and go for the most handsome production of an ambitious script. Mystic River fits the bill, and even if the finished product has some detractors, actors can hardly fault Helgeland for keeping at least six meaty parts in play for the whole story.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, American Splendor
I was less than taken by the finished film, but the intriguing screenplay was one of its real pleasures. Even if one never quite understood what makes Harvey Pekar so special, there's plenty of splendor in the plucky interactions between documentary and enactment and the nerdy-frisky dialogue ("I have a number of allergic disorders that really limit me politically when it comes to eating").

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: Craig Lucas never had a shot at a win for The Secret Lives of Dentists, but he deserved inclusion in the unofficial You Can Count on Me slot for witty, incisive humanism. But like the exquisite performances of Campbell Scott and Hope Davis, Lucas' triumphant script was no match for a buzz-less commercial run and a virtually non-existent campaign. A more visible property that might have been included is Girl with a Pearl Earring, whose script by Olivia Hetreed cut a lot of extraneous marginalia out of the novel and rightly made the story a slim foundation for a visually driven story.

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