One of the things I always find interesting about these awards is seeing whether the nominees in the original or adapted screenplay categories of a given year seem to be stronger. In ’07 and ’08 the adapted screenplay categories were better but in the next three years the original category had the edge. Last year though, adaptations made a comeback and I think that trend has mostly continued in 2013. Five really good adaptations this year.
- 12 Years a Slave: 12 Years a Slave is essentially a biopic, but it doesn’t really feel like one so much as it feels like a character study and an overall survey of the institution of slavery and the many forms it took in the antebellum South. John Ridley’s script is based on Solomon Northup’s own autobiography, but the film never turns Northup into some kind of flawless hero. Instead it looks at him as a flawed but ultimately admirable man who managed to maintain his identity and dignity though an onslaught of dehumanizing circumstances.
- Before Midnight: There are a lot of people who seem to object to the idea that a sequel should qualify as “adapted” rather than “original,” but it makes sense to me and this movie is a good example of how sequels can benefit from having their groundwork pre-established by previous installments. It’s also a great example of how a good sequel should be able to go in new and interesting directions rather than simply rehashing previous formulas. Beyond that though, it just felt like a really authentic look at the discussions between two likable people at a turning point in their lives.
- Blue is the Warmest Color: Here’s an irony for you, this screenplay is based on a comic book. Well, an “underground graphic novel” if you prefer, but essentially a comic book. That’s not a medium that many people look towards when making French coming-of-age palm d’or winning dramas, but Julie Maroh’s graphic novel was indeed a worthy source material even if its author was not apparently a huge fan of the resulting film.
- No: The first movie I saw this year was the Chilean drama No, and it’s stuck with me after all this time. For whatever reason I haven’t had many places to honor it so far but its screenplay, written by Pedro Peirano and based on an unproduced play by Antonio Skármeta called “El Plebiscito,” the film looks at an interesting moment in histoy from an interesting perspective and does so with energy and wit. It’s a sort of Latin American Argo, but with less Hollywood back patting.
- The Wolf of Wall Street: Two of the five nominees here are based on autobiographies (the other being 12 Years a Slave) and they could not possibly be about more diametrically different specimens of humanity. Where Solomon Northup was a good man in a terrible situation, Jordan Belfort is a horrible man who is allowed to live a life of luxury… and both stories are frighteningly true. Yikes! What’s more, Terrence Winter’s screenplay tells this particular story in a bold, witty, and oddly entertaining and comical way.