‘Borat’ brings an improv feel

Oscar's adapted screenplay nominees

By nabbing an adapted screenplay nom, Sacha Baron Cohen and friends pulled one last reveal on the moviegoing public — and once more, forced people to rethink their Oscar-night expectations.

Plenty of folks weren’t even aware “Borat” had a screenplay until it received a Writers Guild nom. (The Golden Globes, which provided the forum for Cohen’s memorable comedy actor acceptance speech, did not offer the same.) According to the L.A. Times, Cohen said he sent 20th Century Fox a five-page outline but secretly had retained a 60-page blueprint and goals for each scene.

Having earned a nomination with what amounts to an anticampaign in the category, all kinds of momentum could build for “Borat” now, considering that this is the pic’s only nom. As the notion that the film was scripted gains traction, perhaps all that “Borat” has to fear is one last backlash from those who fell in love with the film believing it was seat-of-the-pants improvisation.

Well, that or the fact that the category brings other strong contenders to the table.

While speculation unsurprisingly centered on Martin Scorsese’s chances of winning his long-awaited directing Oscar for “The Departed,” screenwriter William Monahan quietly dominated pre-Oscar kudos, earning 10 nominations (including WGA) and five wins. “Borat” might be the brash Ali in this fight, but “Departed” could be the power-punching Frazier that scores the victory by decision.

The little people, meanwhile, will be rooting for “Little Children” — adapted by Todd Field and Tom Perrotta from Perrotta’s novel — which scored early victories with reviewers before getting lost in the shuffle once another “Little” movie, “Little Miss Sunshine,” put its Oscar campaign into overdrive. Separated here from the original screenplay of “Sunshine,” “Little Children” might find salvation as the underdog. Field and Perrotta produced a script that felt like great literature, and Field stands as the only previous Oscar nom in the category.

A film that had adapted screenplay candidacy written all over it, “Notes on a Scandal” will also be reckoned with. Patrick Marber’s pages gained wide appreciation for delivering melodrama in the best sense of the word. With Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett garnering acting noms, there is a solid base of support for the film.

Beyond “Borat,” the biggest surprise nomination in this category was “Children of Men,” a work many observers regarded as a triumph of Alfonso Cuaron’s direction and Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography more than the script, which took on a fair share of nitpicking. The film has graced many top-10 lists, and a win here would be a sweet victory for those who think it might’ve been shortchanged elsewhere.


Sacha Baron Cohen (screenplay and story), Anthony Hines (screenplay and story), Peter Baynham (screenplay and story), Dan Mazer (screenplay), Todd Phillips (story)
Adapted from: Borat character created by Baron Cohen for “Da Ali G Show”
Why it’ll win: Swarms of people bowing down to “Borat” for its clever originality will have their say. And it’s the only chance voters have to send Baron Cohen onstage to see if he can top his Globes speech.
Why it won’t: There is a limit to Boratmania, as evidenced by the film’s failure to gain any other noms. Praise for the pic was hardly unanimous, even before getting into the question of how much was scripted.
Critical quote: “The brilliance of ‘Borat’ is that its comedy is as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy,” says Manohla Dargis, New York Times.

Children of Men
Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby
Adapted from: P.D. James’ novel of the same name
Why it’ll win: The film fascinated auds, providing them both a wild ride and food for thought. With no director award to bestow to Cuaron, there could be a movement to tap him here.
Why it won’t: As with “Borat,” it might be the right film in the wrong category — especially because “Men” has a shot at cinematography honors as well.
Critical quote: “The plot of ‘Children of Men’ is worked out intelligently, and the writers wisely avoid overt, doomy futuristic slogans,” says Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com.

Little Children
Tom Perrotta and Todd Field
Adapted from: Perrotta’s novel of the same name
Why it’ll win: Nominated by multiple critics groups and the WGA, the script is widely considered a knockout and perhaps the real heart of an underrecognized movie. Noms for two of its actors (Kate Winslet and Jackie Earle Haley) are another good sign.
Why it won’t: Throughout kudos season, the film has taken on a bridesmaid quality. The zeitgeist seems to have passed it by.
Critical quote: Field and Perrotta “have wisely trimmed and modified the book. … The result is a movie that is challenging, accessible and hard to stop thinking about,” says A.O. Scott, New York Times.

Notes on a Scandal
Patrick Marber
Adapted from: Zoe Heller’s novel “What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal”
Why it’ll win: Tightly written, “Notes” proved an apt foundation to showcase Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench. Its tidy length might help capture the screener vote.
Why it won’t: Will voters decide that “Notes” was just a highly sophisticated slice of soap opera? Was the success of the film due more to Dench and Blanchett? Enough “yes” answers may dampen the vote.
Critical quote: “What makes ‘Notes’ more than just a Lifetime-ready psychothriller — as well as a satisfyingly nasty awards-season tonic — is the ruthless economy of its execution from start to finish,” says Justin Chang, Variety.

The Departed
William Monahan
Adapted from: Alan Mak and Felix Chong’s screenplay “Infernal Affairs”
Why it’ll win: Scintillating, nimble treatment of a complex storyline in popular, Oscar-contending pic should reflect well on Monahan. Should Martin Scorsese finally win for director, he won’t just have his cast to thank.
Why it won’t: Monahan is a potential victim of spread-the-wealth voting if Scorsese takes helmer honors.
Critical quote: “A cross between a B picture and grand opera, ‘The Departed’ features dialogue that alternates between unblinkered obscenity and tangy lines like ‘he’d kill seven people to cut my throat, and he could do it,'” says Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times.

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