Picture: producers Jonathan Demme, Ed Saxon, Vincent Landay
Director: Spike Jonze
Actor: Nicolas Cage
Actress: Meryl Streep
Supporting actor: Chris Cooper
Adapted screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman
The much-anticipated reunion of director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, “Adaptation,” is nonetheless a big wait-and-see in terms of its Oscar chances.
Few surprises were more invigorating during the 2000 Academy Awards season than seeing Jonze and Kaufman nominated for the bracing, hilariously original “Being John Malkovich.” Neither won — apart from critics’ kudos — but their anointment boded well for future collaborations.
Similarly skewed in premise and tone, the Jonze-Kaufman followup “Adaptation” is more like two movies. One is a telling of Susan Orlean’s nonfiction book “The Orchid Thief” with Meryl Streep as journalist Orlean and Chris Cooper as the raggedly charming, flower-stealing subject in her sights.
The other movie is the telling of the telling, with Nicolas Cage as Kaufman himself, a self-doubting schlub in creative despair over turning Orlean’s story into a Hollywood screenplay. Add the fact that Cage also plays Charlie Kaufman’s twin Donald — more ambitious yet more shallow about the writing process — and you have another typically mind-bending seriocomic workout in the “Being John Malkovich” vein.
As a satire on the way we tell not just others’ stories but our own, it stands a little apart among films about the artistic process.
Pedigree and the possibility of critics’ awards will help matters here. Should the movie’s self-referential wit about Hollywood catch on — “Malkovich” is referenced, screenwriting guru Robert McKee is a character — then repeat noms for Jonze and Kaufman could sweep “Adaptation” along. (Co-writing credit for Kaufman’s brother is itself a gag — no Donald exists.)
As for Cage, he has, over the past few years, threatened to undo the good will of his mega-stardom with projects beneath his range, but this might be the movie to remind Oscar voters that his win in 1997 was for the small, offbeat “Leaving Las Vegas.” His perf here is his strongest in years.
Two-time winner and double-digit nominee Streep is also in the year-end drama “The Hours,” but here gets to veer from the near madcap to the painfully subtle, making “Adaptation” possibly the more obvious movie for her Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences fan club.
Cooper is considered a definite possibility for a nom. For years a trusted character actor, in “Adaptation” he brings comedy, tenderness, rage and grief to the portrayal of a man obsessed. He’s a supporting nom, possibly a winner, waiting to happen.
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