Fine work makes a fall comeback

A quick portfolio of 22 contending screenplays

This awards season, remarkable work abounds across the full spectrum of the screenwriter’s art.

In the field of adaptation, we’ve experienced the surprising spiritual uplift of Anthony Minghella’s interpretation of “Cold Mountain,” the shattering connectiveness of Brian Helgeland’s take on “Mystic River” and the unspoken emotions of Olivia Hetreed’s hushed but radiant “Girl With a Pearl Earring.”

Cracking good old-fashioned storytelling enlivens “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” and “Seabiscuit,” two tales that look inward as much as they press forward through action.

Among originals, “Lost in Translation” and “Thirteen” make arresting examples of the cinema of naturalism, and a remarkable Kiwi girl is given a heart-rending voice in “Whale Rider” – all top-of-the-line entries by female writer-directors.

When it comes to content, the innovative “American Splendor,” with its glumly funny look at the life of comics writer Harvey Pekar; “21 Grams,” with its challenging structure and ambitious soul-searching; and “Dirty Pretty Things,” which brings to life London’s immigrant underground, are all stand-out examples of indie vitality.

To offer a window onto some of the year’s most talked-about work and how it was done, Variety has put together a portfolio of 22 of the top screenplays and screenwriters of a stand-out season. Our choices are a combination of our own judgement and the rising tide of critical acclaim.

Half are adaptations; half are original — all are compelling.

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