As usual, contenders in the Adapted Screenplay category are a varied bunch, with movies of all shapes and sizes adapted from plays, novels, memoirs, or a prior film. And there’s a lot of them in a crowded field this year.
Theater to film
Among the theater adaptations, auteurs have the advantage with Academy voters. Two are collaborations between husbands and wives. At the behest of his wife Frances McDormand, solo director Joel Coen put his own spin on Shakespeare’s Scottish play, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (December 25, A24) and cast three-time Oscar-winner McDormand as Lady Macbeth. The film scored kudos as the opener at the New York Film Festival. Also on the fall festival circuit, Joe Wright’s period romance “Cyrano” (December 25, MGM) was adapted by Erica Schmidt from her musical theater adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s classic play, which also starred her husband, Peter Dinklage, opposite Wright’s wife Haley Bennett as Roxanne.
A pre-war duplex is a primary character in writer-director Stephen Karam’s screen adaptation of his hit Broadway play “The Humans” (November 24, A24), which brings an unhappy family together for Thanksgiving. The movie scored upbeat reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival.
Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his feature directing debut with Steven Levenson’s screen adaptation of Jonathan Larsen’s semi-autobiographical stage musical, “Tick, Tick…Boom!” which opens AFI Fest November 10 before hitting theaters November 12 and Netflix November 19. Andrew Garfield stars as a young Broadway-bound composer.
Eschewing festivals is “West Side Story.” Steven Spielberg’s frequent collaborator, Oscar nominee Tony Kushner (“Lincoln” and “Munich”) went back to the original 1957 Broadway stage musical for this update, which has the approval of “West Side Story” lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who was overshadowed by composer Leonard Bernstein during the release of Robert Wise’s 1961 movie version.
“The Power of the Dog”
While David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky may have been defeated by big-screen adaptations of Frank Herbert’s 1965 science-fiction novel “Dune” (October 22, Warner Bros./HBO Max), Oscar-nominated Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) embraced the chance to bring his trademark visual panache to the sci-fi epic, which will come in two parts. Part One was written by the director, Eric Roth, and Jon Spaihts. Oscar Isaac’s Duke Leto Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson’s Lady Jessica travel with their son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) to dangerous desert planet Arrakis, which supplies the universe with the valuable spice melange. After pandemic delays, the movie played the fall festivals to strong reviews and performed well at the global box office.
Debuting at Sundance and successfully relaunched at the New York Film Festival was actress-turned-director Rebecca Hall’s “Passing” (October 29, Netflix), which the rookie adapted from the 1929 Harlem novel by Nella Larsen about two childhood friends who reconnect. One (Tessa Thompson) lives in Harlem; the other (Ruth Negga) passes for white. Netflix will build word of mouth via a theatrical run in several cities before “Passing” hits the streamer on November 10.
For her directing debut, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal adapted Italian novelist Elena Ferrante’s “The Lost Daughter,” about a professor (Olivia Colman) vacationing in Greece who looks back on her painful experience raising young daughters. After breaking out at Telluride, “The Lost Daughter” will hit theaters December 17 and will be available on Netflix on December 31.
Also from Netflix, Jane Campion‘s faithful adaptation of Thomas Savage‘s 1967 noir western novel, “The Power of the Dog” stars Benedict Cumberbatch as surly rancher Phil Burbank, who ruthlessly undermines the new wife (Kirsten Dunst) of his brother George (Jesse Plemons). After debuting to raves at the fall festivals, the movie will hit cinemas November 19 ahead of streaming December 1.
“The Last Duel”
20th Century Studios
If Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were hoping to repeat their early-career “Good Will Hunting” screenplay Oscar win with the script for Ridley Scott’s medieval rape drama “The Last Duel” (in which they costar), they’re likely to be disappointed. Their odd feminist triptych, adapted with Oscar-nominated Nicole Holofcener (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?“) from the book by Eric Jager, scored better reviews than box office, and is most likely to show up in the Oscar race in craft categories, with an outside shot at a nomination for breakout Jodie Comer.
Skipping the festival route, the Ridley Scott family drama “House of Gucci,” adapted by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Becky Johnston (“The Prince of Tides”) and Roberto Bentivegna from Sara Gay Forden’s 2000 bestseller “House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed,” stars Lady Gaga as a woman who marries into the wealthy fashion family, but comes to despise her new relations.
Rooney Mara and Bradley Cooper, “Nightmare Alley”
Heading for a December 17 release, Guillermo del Toro and writer Kim Morgan adapted “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight) from a 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham into a con-man story starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, and Rooney Mara.
Debuting at Sundance was August release “CODA” (Apple TV+), which director Sian Heder adapted from Victoria Bedos & Stanislas Carré de Malberg’s French film “La Famille Belier,” moving the story about a deaf family with a hearing daughter who loves music to a New England fishing village.
As always, the movies that are viewed by the Academy writers branch will have the advantage.
Contenders are listed in alphabetical order. No film I haven’t seen will be deemed a frontrunner.
Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”)
Joel Coen (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (“The Lost Daughter”)
Rebecca Hall (“Passing”)
Sian Heder (“CODA”)
Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan (“Nightmare Alley”)
Rebecca Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna (“House of Gucci”)
Tony Kushner (“West Side Story”)
Steven Levenson (“Tick, Tick, Boom”)
Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Nicole Holofcener (“The Last Duel”)
Stephen Karam (“The Humans”)
Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts and Denis Villeneuve (“Dune”)
Erica Schmidt (“Cyrano”)
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