Oscar Watch: Inside the Screenplay Categories

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At the Oscars, awarding the best in screenplays is broken into two categories: Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay. It’s an important distinction, but also provides us with two distinctly different opportunities to look at the best written words on screen in 2011.

Shailene Woodley and George Clooney in The Descendants

Movie Fanatic’s daily look at the Academy Awards, Oscar Watch, first turns our attention on the Best Original Screenplay category as it is the toughest to call. Riding the wave of 10 nominations, The Artist could easily be thought of as a front-runner. But, this discounts the presence of a legend in Woody Allen who achieved his biggest hit of his career with Midnight in Paris. That film is one of Allen’s most eloquent scripts he’s composed in decades and we think this one is a no-brainer: Allen will win.

As for Best Adapted Screenplay, this is a challenge for Oscar voters. Bringing Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to life in English had to be one difficult and potentially thankless challenge. On the other hand, tackling a popular play like The Ides of March (called Farragut North) is no easy task. Hugo is a wildly successful book as well and its chances for Oscar gold are quite good. Then, there’s the effort of taking legendary spy writer John le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and effectively -- and efficiently -- bringing it to the big screen, which had to be an enormous undertaking. Aaron Sorkin’s handprints are all over Moneyball, and we all know how much the Academy adores him.

But, our winner for Best Adapted Screenplay has to go to The Descendants and the script spearheaded by the film’s director Alexander Payne. Based on the book by the same name, capturing the emotional nuances of that novel, while still maintaining its humor and humanity, is why that script will be awarded the top prize come February 26.

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