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Adapted script nominees get dark

How we got here: Adapted screenplay

As usual, the adapted screenplay competish was fierce, with three previous winners, a two-time nominee and a rising talent making the final cut.

Joel and Ethan Coen already have Oscars socked away, from “Fargo.” Their lean adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men” had to capture the feel of the book’s first-person ruminations.

“There Will Be Blood,” loosely adapted from Upton Sinclair’s “Oil!” by Paul Thomas Anderson, charts a power struggle between two American archetypes: a rapacious, misanthropic oil baron and a smug evangelical minister. It’s not Sinclair’s style of muckraking, but it’s still an indictment. Anderson has made something of a career of exploring human darkness, as reflected in his two previous writing noms, for “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia.”

Ronald Harwood, a winner for “The Pianist,” wrote his adaptation of the French book “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” in English only to see it translated into French for production — then subtitled back into English. Harwood, an accomplished playwright, proved an ideal choice for this story, carried by author Jean-Dominique Bauby’s observations.

Christopher Hampton, an Oscar winner for his adaptation of “Dangerous Liaisons,” outpitched Tom Stoppard to adapt Ian McEwan’s popular novel “Atonement.” Hampton’s script was more faithful to the book than the final cut of the film, but the result still manages to feel uncannily true to the novel while taking substantial liberties with it.

The rookie in the field is Sarah Polley, writer-director of “Away From Her,” based on an Alice Munro short story, about a woman with Alzheimer’s. Polley had been spending time with her 94-year-old grandmother in a retirement home and wanted to capture those moments. “I didn’t want to simplify what the story was about,” Polley says. “I wanted to make it feel like a piece of literature.”

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