Monday, August 12, 2019

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 2002

The Contenders:

About a Boy
The Hours
The Pianist (winner)

What’s Missing

This is one of those years where it seems like every movie has an adapted screenplay and every one of them is a good one. I’ll start, as per the custom, with the sorts of films that wouldn’t get nominated and are more or less ones that I just like. These include The Ring, The Mothman Prophecies, Blade II, and Spider-Man, all of which are worth seeing and have interesting scripts. Both Auto Focus and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind are probably just too bonkers for serious consideration despite both being show biz stories. The remake of Insomnia is an interesting one, but as a remake of a foreign film might have worked against it. Frida was probably ignored because the screenplay is not even close to the best part of it. Road to Perdition may well have been ignored because of its comic book past. I have fewer ideas of why films like Rabbit-Proof Fence, Whale Rider, Catch Me if You Can, and The Quiet American got left out. The cases of Minority Report and The Bourne Identity are more interesting. The first is almost entirely different from the original story, but is just as compelling. The second is far better than the book upon which it is based. Treasure Planet was a flop, which was a damn shame; it’s a far better movie than its box office. The Two Towers was oddly ignored here, even as the weak link of the three Lord of the Rings movies. The biggest miss? City of God.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I genuinely dislike Chicago, and I’m not going to apologize for that. I don’t like the characters and I don’t like the story and I probably never will. I admit that it’s beautifully and creatively directed, but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t like the story or the characters at all. Is it a good adaptation? Probably, but I’m not sure how much I care. At some level, I’m expecting that the winner of this award is going to be a story that I think is worth watching, and Chicago doesn’t cut it for me.

4. I liked About a Boy, in no small part because I love Toni Collette. It’s also a really good example of the sort of role that is tailor-made for Hugh Grant. It’s a sweet story, but it’s also one that doesn’t have a great deal of teeth to it. It’s fluff, and even if it’s really good fluff, it’s still just fluff. There are exceptions to the idea that a film that doesn’t have a great deal of substance winning an Oscar for this sort of category for me, but it doesn’t happen often, and About a Boy isn’t going to get us there.

3. The Pianist was the winner for this Oscar, and all things being equal, it’s not that difficult to see why. This is exactly the sort of movie that Oscar loves to reward and award. It’s meaningful and important, about a terrible event, and filled with moments of that whole “triumph of the human spirit” that Oscar loves. And it’s probably a better movie than I think it is, since it’s one that everyone else seems to like a lot more than I do. My problem here is that I think there are other movies that deserve this more.

My Choices

2. I really liked The Hours a lot more than I expected to. I didn’t know what to expect or if I would care about it at all. Of the three stories, I think one is very good and two are brilliant, as brilliant (or more) than anything else from 2002. I do have another pick for this Oscar, but if someone were to decide that The Hours deserved the award, I wouldn’t object. It has everything a screenplay winner should have—a compelling story about events that are meaningful and important, and good, fascinating characters.

1. But my winner is Adaptation for one, single reason: it’s less an adaptation of the book upon which it is based and more an adaptation of Charlie Kaufman’s process of adapting a completely unadaptable book for the screen. There’s a level of insanity here, a level of meta weirdness that is impossible to fully understand. Kaufman, finding attempting to adapt a book that could not be adapted, leapt off a high dive into the depths of his own navel and returned with something that defies description, and is still brilliant. Based on the creativity alone, this deserved the win.

Final Analysis


  1. I'm with you on City of God although it would receive several Oscar nods at the next year since it came out in the U.S. in 2003.

    There's so many films from that year that got overlooked. Personally, I would've gone with the following for Best Adapted Screenplay: Morvern Callar, Secretary, Personal Velocity, and About Schmidt.

    I love Adaptation, The Pianist, and About a Boy while The Hours I thought was OK as I'm not a fan of Stephen Daldry as a filmmaker (as I liken him as the Oscar-bait equivalent to Michael Bay) and I'm also not a fan of Chicago as it wasn't dangerous enough.

    1. About Schmidt is probably a miss on my part, not difficult in a year this packed. It's also a fair point about City of God, which was, in fact, nominated for this award in 2003.

      You and I have opposite opinions on The Pianist and The Hours. My dislike of Chicago has nothing to do with the lack of danger, but entirely with the fact that I find everything about it hateful.