Best of 2011: Adapted Screenplay
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Higher Ground (CAROLYN BRIGGS & TIM METCALFE)
... for taking so many perspectives seriously, and framing a woman's relation to faith in a manageable structure without tidying it up too much;
Jane Eyre (MOIRA BUFFINI)
... for seeming neither cowed by a classic novel nor headstrong about unnecessary changes, managing a deft balance of creativity and due respect;
Moneyball (STEVEN ZAILLIAN & AARON SORKIN)
... for sliding nimbly between scenes the way a dealer shuffles cards, without sacrificing momentum or vivid characterization or emotional hooks;
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (BRIDGET O'CONNOR & PETER STRAUGHAN)
... for wrestling a mazelike novel into an inevitably semi-opaque film, graced with piquant, peculiar notes that make the shadows more intriguing;
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (APICHATPONG WEERASETHAKUL)
... for appropriating the odd, fanciful memoir of a Buddhist monk, infusing it with his own concerns, and leading us places no one else would go.
In the Land of Ambiguous Categorization: I'm never a fan of Adapted Screenplay nominations going to filmmakers who fertilized their own short films and cultivated them to feature length, so I'm glad that Dee Rees and Focus Features stuck to their guns and campaigned for Pariah as an original script. Still, rightly or wrongly, folks have won Oscars in the Adapted derby for succeeding less well than Rees does in this regard. If you don't know the original short, I'll just say that once upon a time, Pariah built to a central conflict over a prop that Alike literally tosses in the trash in this new version. The full-length movie is not a superficial padding of the initial scenario but a genuine expansion and, in graceful ways, a deepening and a transformation. Parental dynamics have shifted and new characters amplify the humor, the romance, and the tension. Being able to gauge and revise her material this deftly makes Rees not just a director to watch (which she is) but a writer worth keeping an eye on.
Runners-Up: Another short-ish list in a year where the heat favored the original scripts, I have to hand it to George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon for giving Willimon's play the extra oomph and narrative it needed to hold the screen in The Ides of March; Richard Curtis and Lee Hall for re-proportioning War Horse to make optimal room for Spielberg's contributions, and for limiting the bathos to much less than it might have been; to Christopher Hampton for moving some scenes around and trimming some others so that A Dangerous Method mostly feels tighter and less obvious than it did as a play; to Pedro Almodóvar for serving himself a finale that weeps and sings in The Skin I Live In, even if every subplot and temporal swerve doesn't serve the whole as well as it could; to Hossein Amini for seeing a movie in the thin narrative of Drive and writing the sleek, racing-striped, intermittently flavorful script that invited Refn's exercise in style; and to Denis Villeneuve for translating Wajdi Mouawad's Incendies in ways that don't efface the fussy unevenness of the source but aptly crystallize its strongest passages, making a fair, ambitious, sporadically effective stab at Socratic grandeur.