Friday, January 20, 2023

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 2021

The Contenders:

CODA (winner)
Drive My Car
The Lost Daughter
The Power of the Dog

What’s Missing

The Best Adapted Screenplay award is a frustrating one for me for this year. There are plenty of movies that are good to great, but nothing in this category that really stands out for me, either in the collection of nominees or in the potential snubs. There are, of course, the movies in the genres that the Academy traditionally hates, films like Candyman, The Black Phone, and Suicide Squad that would never sniff a nomination even if actually worthy. The same is true of No Time to Die, since James Bond is never taken seriously outside of the song category. Science fiction is always a longshot, even with a pedigree like Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and After Yang is eligible for the 2022 Oscars. Oscar still likes musicals, so misses on West Side Story and Cyrano are a little surprising. I think Nightmare Alley makes a strong case for itself, as do The Green Knight and The Tragedy of Macbeth, which feels like the biggest snub.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’m actually angry that CODA won this. It’s a fine movie in every standard respect, but the story is completely derivative. There wasn’t a moment in it that I didn’t predict, because it’s essentially a deaf version of about 100 other movies. Something this predictable and cliched should not be nominated, let alone walking away with the statue. I mentioned this movie to a friend who knew nothing about it. I said, “There’s a girl in a deaf family and she discovers a talent.” He rolled his eyes and said, “Is it singing?” It really is that predictable.

4. I wanted to like The Lost Daughter more than I did. I tried to like it, but it comes across as very strange and cold. The screenplay, honestly, is fine, but there are plenty of better ones from this year that are more interesting, get to the point faster, and have something more interesting to say. Again, this is one that I probably wouldn’t nominate for this award. There’s nothing specifically wrong with it; I just like a bunch of the unnominated screenplays more. More importantly, I think a lot of those other screenplays are more memorable. .

3. I really like the screenplay for Dune a great deal. It does a lot of things right, and it manages to capture much of the feel of Frank Herbert’s book. This is important because as other adaptations of the book have shown, it’s not an easy story to capture. There’s a part of me that wants to put this first because I genuinely love the story and think this is a great adaptation of it, but it’s also an unfinished work. Just like Peter Jackson didn’t cash in until the LotR trilogy finished, I think we need to see the completed work to accurately be able to judge this screenplay.

2. With The Power of the Dog, I think we’ve finally reached a place that I think I can say the films deserve the nomination. This is a smart film, and one with a lot of layers. I wouldn’t have been terribly upset if this had won the Oscar because it is well-written and because it is a film that rewards an audience willing to really pay attention to it. There are moments here that are truly subtle, and I respect any movie that essentially tells me that I’m not an idiot. There’s a lot here to like in terms of the narrative, and that recommends it pretty well.

1. Of the nominations, Drive My Car is the one that I would go with. There is a simple beauty to this story as it slowly unfolds, doing so in multiple languages. I like how much the real world of the film blends with the world of the play being performed, and the interplay of the drama in real life connecting with the drama of the stage. It’s far too slow for a lot of people, and while that can be frustrating, it feels to me like this opens to reveal itself in its own time, like a flower. It’s the cream of this crop, but my final decision is still going to go elsewhere.

My Choice

I am tempted by a few films on this list. Nightmare Alley is a reworking of the original book rather than a remake of the earlier film, and I like a lot of the changes that were made. I am genuinely surprised that The Tragedy of Macbeth was passed over for a nomination. Faithful Shakespeare adaptations must be otherwise out of vogue in Tinseltown, because it seems to me that in past years, this would have been a no-brainer. But for all of that, my vote is going to The Green Knight. This is a classic tale, an Arthurian legend, and it could have been done very badly very easily. Instead, this is a compelling story, if a bit trippy in places. Still, it tells the story perfectly, takes a few risks, and gets us to the ending that works and explains the entire tale. It should have been nominated, and it should have won.

Final Analysis


  1. The Power of the Dog was the easy winner for me in this category. Still bummed it didn't win.

    1. I wouldn't have objected to it winning--it was a solid nomination and I think a pretty good case can be made for it.

      CODA, though?

  2. There is truth about the Oscars hating genres as it is a shame as it only proves that the Oscar voting committee are a bunch of snobbish assholes. I would've gone for The Power of the Dog as well though for me personally, I would've chosen Dune.

    1. With a few notable exceptions, Oscar really doesn't like horror, science fiction, and fantasy. It's such a shame, too, because those genres often suggest such interesting things about the human condition. In very real ways, Oscar has never gone past the idea that these genres are just kids' stuff.

      Dune wouldn't be a bad choice. I really liked it a lot, but I want to see the whole thing.