Usually there’s a clear split between the qualities of the adapted screenplay roster and the original screenplay roster, but this year they seem to be fairly evenly split. What interests me is that this year the adapted screenplays seem to be passion projects to a greater degree than the original roster. Also, while some of these are based on fairly popular works, none of them are adaptations of properties that were household names before they were turned into films.
- Anomalisa: The status of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomolisa as an adapted screenplay is interesting in that it’s actually based on a “sound play” that Kaufman himself wrote and put on in collaboration with Carter Burwell in which the same voice cast used in the film would sit on chairs in front of the audience and read their lines while accompanied by an orchestra and foley artists. I’m not sure how different the puppet version is from the original, but whatever form it takes it’s a fascinating piece of writing.
- Carol: Carol was based on a novel called “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith and its screenplay was written by a playwright named Phyllis Nagy who had not previously written a produced theatrical film. Nagy actually knew Highsmith before her death in 1995 and had been developing this project for well over a decade before it was finally made and you can tell she had thought out every last interaction and line and the attention to detail is palpable.
- The Martian: Drew Goddard is quickly becoming a major force in Hollywood after working on a number of hit TV shows and getting writing credits on a number of cool movie projects. He’s now hit a new level of prestige after writing the feel-good screenplay for Ridley Scott’s The Martian. This adaptation retains the sense of humor and scientific interest of Andy Weir’s bestselling novel and finds ways to keep the film moving along at a good clip and make all of the characters interesting and likable.
- Phoenix: Phoenix took an interesting journey to being a film in 2015 as it is based on a somewhat obscure novel called “Return from the Ashes” by a French novelist named Hubert Monteilhet which J. Lee Thompson actually made into a now mostly forgotten 1965 film under that original title. Both the original novel and that earlier adaptation were set in Paris, but this new adaptation moves the action to Berlin, adding a whole new thematic layer in which the Jewish victims must decide if it’s possible to forgive their home country for what they’ve gone through.
- Room: Emma Donoghue is an Irish novelist who now lives and works in Canada. Her 2010 novel Room became her biggest success to date and when there were overtures to turn it into a film she opted to adapt the novel to the screen herself. The film’s screenplay walks a very fine tightrope and very subtly shifts perspectives over the course of the film in order to make it work and also manages to make material that easily could have come off as corny and somehow makes it work.