Oscars 2013: Richard Corliss’ Picks – Best Adapted Screenplay

TIME critic Richard Corliss reveals his pick for Best Adapted Screenplay. Share your pick!

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Warner Bros. Pictures.


Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Tony Kushner, Lincoln
David Magee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Chris Terrio, Argo

The Oscar-night invitations to Alibar and Zeitlin could have read: “Hey, kids, come to our fancy party and watch other people win things. Your prize is that we let you in.” Hushpuppy’s running monologue in Beasts of the Southern Wild (based on the Alibar play Juicy and Delicious) is a child’s verdant imagination transformed into Delta poetry. The film richly merits its inclusion in this and the three other major categories — Picture, Direction, Actress — but it has little chance of winning in any of them.

Same with Life of Pi. Magee’s work here is stronger than his earlier scripts for Finding Neverland and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which drowned in arch whimsy. But his Pi script never quite solves the problem (also in Yann Martel’s novel) of encasing the main story in a plausible narrative frame. Ang Lee’s movie is a triumph of visual sorcery that will win technical categories, and possibly Best Director. Just not Adapted Screenplay.

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If the vote counts for Academy categories were revealed — a tactic that, incidentally, would make the Oscar show much more exciting, like a close race on Election Night — Silver Linings Playbook would probably come in third here. An adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel, Russell’s script is a seductive text for actors. At least the Academy members thought so, bestowing nominations on Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver. But it’s not a significant screenwriting achievement, and the voters will recognize that too, by leaving it among the also-rans.

(Read: Oscars 2013: Great Performances)

If the Oscars were the Tony awards, or the Pulitzers, Lincoln would win by acclamation. Kushner took both prizes for his 1993 two-part Broadway epic Angels in America, and received two Tony nominations for his contributions to the musical Caroline, or Change. But Manhattan is not Hollywood; and Kushner, previously Oscar-nominated with Eric Roth for Steven Spielberg’s Munich, may not be able to transport his cachet from the East Coast to the Left. Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s nonfiction Team of Rivals (also a Pulitzer winner), the Lincoln script was originally some 500 pages long — enough for a movie of Angels in America scope. A movie or, better, a play: Spielberg has said that Kushner is considering putting the whole thing on the stage. We avidly await.

Meanwhile, the Tony and Pulitzer laureate is likely to lose to a guy with no previous feature-film screenplay credits. Argo star and director Ben Affleck has lavishly praised Terrio’s fleshing out of Joshua Bearman’s 2007 article in Wired, “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran.” Given the Hollywood love for a story that says moviemakers can be international heroes, the Academy will second Ben’s devotion.