Saturday, April 03, 2010

Screenplays, Toys, Books

I'm kicking off the Oscar predictions for this new film year. (Have you entered the actress psychic contest yet?) So let's talk about the year's screenplay contenders. Ah, the screenplay... the architectural blueprints of entirely visual buildings. An invisible art to some degree, which is why it's so hard to judge and why films with great dialogue or good dialogue elevated by great acting often get the lions share of the praise in this field. But we can't let that stop us from awards season guesswork. I put up a page with possibilities for both Original and Adapted work.

As per usual there's a few titles that might switch categories eventually whether because of unavailable information, confusing Oscar practices or fluid definitions. I don't remember any sequel not based on a novel or somesuch prior to Before Sunset (2004) claiming itself to be Adapted... but now that seems to be the norm when campaigning films dealing with "pre-existing characters" even when you did write it yourself rather than basing it on material (which seemed to be the case with Jane Campion's Bright Star last year). This year there's a number of True Stories that have been written about already though the screenplays seem to be original. We'll see. The new fluidity probably makes Toy Story 3 this year "adapted" even though it's not adapted from anything and even though the original Toy Story (1999) was campaigned as "original" and some of the characters in it were obviously "pre-existing" (just ask Hasbro). The more you think about it the more confused you can become.

Here's two more confusing ones: The Illusionist, the new animated film from Sylvain Chomet (Triplets of Belleville) is based on an unproduced screenplay by Jacques Tati. But obviously Chomet would have had to have rework it (they're both listed as writers) so is it an "original" or an "adapted"... see the fluidity? I've seen other sites mention The King's Speech, a baity sounding thing about a royal with a speech impediment, as an adapted screenplay. Not so concrete. Though conceived as a stage play, at least according to Wikipedia, it headed for the screen first which may mean it has plenty of wiggle room in this day and age of calling yourself whatever it is you'd like to call yourself. So I'm guessing "Original"?

One tangentially related tidbit... last night on twitter I asked followers for some book recommendations. Only one person mentioned a book that's soon to be a movie (Never Let Me Go). Here's some upcoming adapted situations, though not the entire picture of this year's crop.

"Now a Major Motion Picture"

  • Eat Pray Love - Ryan Murphy and Jennifer Salt refashion these memoirs around the radiant Julia Roberts for this summer journey. (previous post)
  • London Boulevard -Ken Bruen's novel about a criminal (Colin Farrell) and the reclusive actress he works for (Keira Knightley) is the directorial debut of The Departed scribe William Monahan.
  • Rabbit Hole - David Lindsay-Abaire rewrites his own award winning play for a director who knows his way around both stage and screen (John Cameron Mitchell).
  • Norwegian Wood - Murakami's coming of age story about a group of college students gets visualized by The Scent of Green Papaya's Anh Hung Tran. Should be lovely. Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) stars.
  • The Rum Diary - Actor/writer Bruce Robinson gives Johnny Depp a chance to return to the Hunter S Thompson crazy fountain.
  • Fair Game - Valerie Plame's memoirs get Naomi Watts' face. Easy casting.
  • The Tempest - Julie Taymor sets her imagination loose upon William Shakespeare for the second time (she previously attacked Titus).
  • Never Let Me Go -This sci-fi tinged bestseller by Remains of the Day author gets reworked by Alex Garland for music video director genius Mark Romanek to make his way back to the cinema for the first time since 2002's One Hour Photo.
And then we've got more confusing situations where the title has been changed but they are adaptations anyway.

"a rose by any other name..."

  • "Prince of Thieves" gets no less generic sounding with its new title The Town. The screenplay is by Ben Affleck, Peter Craig and last year's Oscar nominated screenwriter Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air)
  • "A Very Private Gentlemen" still keeps his name hidden. He's now simply The American in the screenplay by Rowan Joffe.
  • "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman" is a punny title for a book. But punny won't do for eternal Oscar-seeker Edward Zwick who renames this the also clever Love and Other Drugs. Good title. Especially considering how addicted so many of us are to both stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway.
  • "The Adjustment Team" gets a major reworking as The Adjustment Bureau. Hollywood never tires of adapting Phillip K Dick short stories
  • "The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom" this true World War II story is retold by the great Peter Weir as The Way Back
  • "Accidental Billionaires" the screenplay based on this founding of Facebook tale is by Aaron Sorkin and it's now called The Social Network.
Have you read any of these books that'll be visualized soon?
Would you recommend others pick them up? And what do you think of the screenplay predictions?


Danielle said...

I've read Never Let Me Go, and if I could describe it in one word, I'd say it was "uncomfortable." A brilliant, brilliant novel that gives a spin to the dystopian genre. I'm also planning to read London Boulevard and Rabbit Hole before the two movies come out.

As for the predictions, they're about as solid as you can get this far in advance. I do think Toy Story 3 will be nominated no matter what, but I'm hoping it's in original. I don't know about Never Let Me Go being much of an awards magnet, but I think screenplay is very likely. And if only because Monahan is adapting it, I think London Boulevard will be a contender as well.

I have high hopes for The Way Back - it's the film I'm putting the most stake in, so to speak.

Volvagia said...

PIXAR is getting stale. Toy Story3? I'm sorry. The only reason they're approving that is they have no idea where to go. The Bear and the Bow? PIXAR is a male company. If the leaked art style is any indication, they really want to jump the Vasquez wagon. If they wanted that, why not buy Invader Zim and go in another new direction. Be filthy, make a new Bakshi. Surprise people, mix it up. But please don't say PIXAR is cutting edge right now. Just don't. Even Spielberg got stale after AI, ending his reign. And that's what Up is. The end of PIXAR's reign.

joy said...

I fear for "Never Let Me Go", it's such a tricky book and i don't have much faith in Mark Romanek.

Having read both the book and script, I now feel a lot more optimistic about “Eat, Pray, Love". The script is actually better than its source.

Loved "Rabbit Hole" on Broadway with Cynthia Nixon, and believe strongly that this will finally give Nicole another Oscar moment.

Liked "Norwegian Wood" a lot as a book, but Rinko Kikuchi is so miscast.

Amir said...

nathaniel, i had a question somehow relevant to this.
are you planning to finish the 'extra' awards from last year's film bitch in the future?

Amir said...

so i just looked at the list.
i was expecting to sofia coppola's 'somewhere' in there, since she already won and you really like her work.
no hope for that movie?


amir... damn. that is SO weird.
i finished this MASSIVE spreadsheet this morning so i wouldn't forget anything as I worked and somehow that movie still slipped through cracks.


Rob T. said...

As the longtime screenplay tabulator for the "Fixing the Oscars" game at the "Classic Film" bulletin board on the IMDb, I'd say I've put more thought than most into what constitutes an "original" and an "adapted" screenplay. I think the Academy pretty much leaves it up to the studios/filmmakers as to whether to promote a given film as original or adapted for Oscar purposes, which would explain why Before Sunset (the sequel to Before Sunrise) was nominated as an adaptation while The Barbarian Invasions (the sequel to The Decline of the American Empire) was nominated as an original the year before. (As sequels to originally conceived movies, I would have ruled both to be originals in their own right.)

Some of my rulings as "screenplay czar" have contradicted those of the Academy, most notably because movies "based on a true story" (e.g. Patton, Dog Day Afternoon) used to be lumped in with originals even when derived from specific printed sources (as both of my examples were). However, my most controversial ruling along these lines had nothing to do with the "true story" issue; I ruled 2001: A Space Odyssey an adaptation--essentially, Arthur C. Clarke's cinematic expansion of his own short story "The Sentinel", with Stanley Kubrick as a major collaborator--despite its Oscar nomination in original screenplays.

Finally, I haven't yet read any of the sources mentioned in your post, though Never Let Me Go is on my "must-read" list. In your longer predictions essay I have read Brighton Rock and the last "Harry Potter" book, and have also picked up a few "Iron Man" comics here and there.

Dylan said...

I'm reading Never Let Me Go right now, about seventy pages in. Pretty good stuff so far!

Glenn said...

I don't have much to say, but I just really liked this entry! Good to get some level footing on this year's race.

Danielle said...

I am very much looking forward to Somewhere and the interesting pick of Dorff in the lead role.

Jenn said...

I just finished reading "Rabbit Hole" today for the first time and I loved it, and I'm sure I'll be reading it again soon because there's just so much underlying emotion that one time isn't enough to grasp it all. And I usually try not to have too much expectations about a movie before it comes out, but now I can't help but think of how amazing the movie could be (and how amazing Nicole Kidman would be).

By the way, I love your blog and I've been reading it for a while now, although this is the first time I'm commenting on here.

James T said...

Never Let Me Go is very good even though, for personal reasons, it depressed me. It could be a great film or a bad film. There's no way to tell.

I don't think I have any interest in the other books. Maybe next year's Let's...Kevin. But from my experience, reading the book made the experience of watching the film less satisfying. Atonement, Shutter Island. I don't count Lovely Bones for obvious reasons.


thank you Jenn.

i should read that play, too.

James T -- books do ruin movies. BUT usually the original book is better so totally worth it to ruin the movie.

Colin Low said...

Evolution of a Viagra Salesman is a far better title than Love and Other Drugs. But what do I know.

Anonymous said...

Nathaniel, i recommended you Rabbit Hole

vg21 said...

I really hope Never Let Me Go turns out to be a very good film. I love Ishiguro's work and it would be nice to see another "The Remains of the Day":). I'm also very much interested in The Tempest, although I will probably have to wait a long-long time before I can see any of them.

Chip said...

Volvagia, you've really come across as a pompous idiot in your post. Pixar is making Toy Story 3 because they want to, not because they're getting stale. The early buzz from the film has been excellent, even from people who said they were very skeptical about a new Toy Story movie. And Pixar is not a MALE company, it's a company for everyone. There are plenty of women who work at Pixar (for the record, Darla K. Anderson is producing Toy Story 3). And Up was good.

Chip said...

Speaking of screenplays, Toy Story 3 is definitely going to get a screenplay nomination (whether for original or adapted, hopefully for original). It's about time the franchise has gotten its due. The screenplays of the first two were excellent; one can only hope the third's is just as great.


@Chip... well Volvagia isn't entirely off base with the "male" thing. There's been a lot written about how Pixar just won't do female leads. Everything is very boy fantasy. Which... well it's hard to argue with the quality of their output but it does suggest some limitations of view as a storytelling company.

and i hope you're right that 3 is as good as the first 2. But are third films EVER as good as the first two? The cinema is littered with threequel problems.

Jake D said...

I got SO EXCITED when I saw "The Long Walk" up there, but then I realized it's something Holocaust-y instead of the brilliant Stephen King novel that has yet to be filmed. It's about a competition where 100 boys have to walk for as long as they can (and get shot if they fall too far behind). I am stunned no one has filmed it yet; it's a travesty.

Bernardo S said...

"Somewhere" by Sofia Coppola?


bernardo s. i added it. merely an accidental slip.

notanotherblog said...

Hold the phone: Aaron Sorkin's never been nominated for an Oscar. Obviously he's had more work in television but we gotta fix this.

I've always seen the screenplay noms are what would the Academy nominate for best Best Picture if they weren't so chicken (The Messenger/In The Loop instead of The Blind Side/Avatar). So would everything but The Beaver and The Way Back make it to your Best Picture noms?

Anonymous said...

I recently read 'The Danish Girl', which is supposedly being made into a film with Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow, but only recently has it been shelved.

I really hope it still gets made because I think Nicole Kidman would do an incredible job in this!