Scott Cooper (from Thomas Cobb’s novel)
Though Cooper doesn’t shy away from the downbeat qualities of Cobb’s novel (concerning the twilight years of an alcoholic, washed-up country crooner named Bad Blake), his screenplay refocuses on Bad’s decency, resilience and newfound May-December passion without the usual heart-tugging. It’s an homage to 1984 winner “Tender Mercies” by way of “The Wrestler” — a tender redemption tale anchored by a burned-out, walking, flawed character coming to terms with a lifetime of self-destructive behavior.
Why It’ll Win: Jeff Bridges’ buzzworthy turn as Bad highlights the empathy written into the role.
Maybe Not: The drama is far more modest than the script’s complicated protagonist.
Nick Hornby (from Lynn Barber’s memoir)
Hipster novelist Hornby perceptively hones the female liberation that colored Barber’s memoir, about a sharp-witted schoolgirl in 1960s suburban London who is seduced by a suave hustler almost twice her age. The script is just as witty and seductive, buoyantly illustrating the possibilities for life’s adventures within the context of an era and the ideals of the lower middle class, and yet never moralizes, when lesser screenwriters might.
Why It’ll Win: The Academy loves a good period piece with modern social relevance.
Maybe Not: Some may balk that the age-inappropriate creepiness of the affair is never addressed.
Anthony Peckham (from John Carlin’s book ‘Playing the Enemy’)
Clint Eastwood comes at post-apartheid relations in South Africa from an oblique angle, focusing on Nelson Mandela’s controversial decision to encourage reconciliation between blacks and whites by supporting the country’s underdog rugby team. Typical of Eastwood, he picks a screenwriter with relatively few credits (Peckham also co-wrote this year’s “Sherlock Holmes”).
Why It’ll Win: The emotional, true story may be too irresistible for voters to ignore. Plus the Academy loves Clint.
Maybe Not: Critics have chastised the script for playing it safe and straightforward, and the third act may be too rugby-centric to secure victory.
JULIE AND JULIA
Nora Ephron (from two tomes by two cooks)
Ephron adapted not one but two memoirs for this femme-centered cook-off, depicting both the early years of chef Julia Child’s culinary career and the aspirations of Julie Powell to prepare all 524 recipes in Child’s seminal cookbook in a single year. Ephron managed to weave both stories into a delightful sleeper hit that proved a considerable showcase for the talents of Meryl Streep.
Why It’ll Win: After three nominations spanning 25 years, voters might want to finally give Ephron the ultimate recognition.
Maybe Not: Some criticized “Julia” for essentially being two different films, only one of which was truly great.
Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella (from Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston’s musical)
With roles custom-tailored to its star-studded cast, the film tells the story of a 1960s Italian filmmaker whose creative block is overshadowed by the women in his life. Working closely with director Rob Marshall, the writers conceived a way to translate the Tony-winning 1982 musical to the screen, weaving the numbers into scenes from Federico Fellini’s “8.”
Why It’ll Win: It could prove impossible to resist honoring Minghella, who lost his first posthumous nomination for producing “The Reader.”
Maybe Not: It’s been 51 years since “Gigi” — the last time the Acad honored a musical with a screenplay Oscar.
Geoffrey Fletcher (from Sapphire’s novel ‘Push’)
The story of an obese and illiterate black teen who overcomes her domineering mother, “Precious” was long considered a tricky adaptation due to its bleak source material. The film tapped into the cultural zeitgeist to become the most talked-about movie of the fall, inspiring heated debate about its powerful themes and provocative issues.
Why It’ll Win: First-timer Fletcher does a commendable job of making the novel’s harsh material accessible without cheapening its harrowing impact.
Maybe Not: Director-producer Lee Daniels has been front and center in the press, which means Fletcher has been lost among the bigger names in Lionsgate’s awards campaign.
A SINGLE MAN
Tom Ford and David Scearce (from Christopher Isherwood’s novel)
In their adaptation of the 1962-set novel, helmer Ford and co-scribe Scearce spun one day in the life of a gay college professor into a narrative that transcends sexual boundaries. Flashbacks to the protagonist’s relationship with his late lover amp up the tragedy, but Ford’s most inspired stroke was his decision to introduce suspense via the main character’s impending suicide.
Why It’ll Win: Defying his skeptics, Ford crafts a debut rich in both visual style and empathy for its protagonist.
Maybe Not: Redemption by way of attractive potential boy toy is a rather hoary plot device.
UP IN THE AIR
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner (based on Walter Kirn’s novel)
Updating Kirn’s 2001 novel for our economically strained times, helmer Reitman and co-writer Turner fashioned a knowing throwback to classic screwball comedy while keeping one foot firmly on the ground. The script’s sophisticated look at the realities of modern air travel and the incursion of new technology into corporate culture make for a smooth fit with its very retro sense of craft.
Why It’ll Win: The sparkling one-liners have earned comparisons to Billy Wilder.
Maybe Not: Some consider the film’s layoff montages glib and opportunistic.
IN THE MIX
It’s a crowded year for adaptations, with many of the year’s most acclaimed films deriving from earlier works. Top-reviewed British comedy “In the Loop” brings BBC sitcom “The Thick of It” to the bigscreen, with Armando Iannucci assembling his favorite collaborators to write a political satire that would’ve made Paddy Chayefsky proud.
Michael Hoffman’s look at the final days of Leo Tolstoy, “The Last Station,” fictionalizes Jay Parini’s meticulously researched novel, and with “No Country for Old Men” novelist Cormac McCarthy earning a Pulitzer for “The Road,” that could in turn bring Joe Penhall accolades for adapting the terse post-apocalyptic tale.
And two auteurs offered highly personal interpretations of popular children’s books, with Wes Anderson taking a decidedly grown-up approach to Roald Dahl’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” while co-writers Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers used Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” to address deep-seated childhood emotions.