Academy Awards 2020: Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees

That exciting time in the film fan’s diary is quickly approaching as the 92nd Academy Awards are due to be televised tonight, so, as it has been for the last two years, a small group of extremely knowledgeable film fans and myself will each be looking at a particular category and posting our thoughts on the nominees in one big, exciting collaborative event.

For the past two years, I have looked at the fine men and women who were nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Actress but as I wanted to represent a new category that I haven’t looked at before, I quickly decided to look at the nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay. Why this category? Well, mainly for the simple reason that it was the only category where I had seen all five of the nominees, with the exception of the supporting actor/actress categories.

But still, Adapted Screenplay is a great category as it can be a daunting task to take an already established work (especially in the case of a very popular novel that was adapted this year) and to coherently translate it to the screen, perhaps taking some creative liberties along the way but also staying true to the story, themes and intentions of the original text, so let’s have a look at the screenplays that have been memorable enough to earn a coveted Oscar nomination this year:

The Irishman

Well this must certainly have been a looooong script so maybe it should win the award just because of the amount of time that was put into writing it! But anyway, Steven Zaillian’s adaptation of Charles Brandt’s novel takes us on an epic, decades-spanning journey about a meat truck driver turned hitman and his involvement with the charismatic Jimmy Hoffa, giving veteran maestro Martin Scorsese the foundation for a very different type of mafia film, one that doesn’t glorify all the violence and mob lifestyle at all and instead lets us see how these real life figures were all too active in the world of politics and just how many of the people involved died for no good reason.

It’s a patient and thoughtful story, one that deftly alternates between the past and the present, and it sees our main character reflect on the major events that shaped his life; there’s certainly a lot in it for audiences to feast on and all the dialogue hits the ear perfectly, but the chances of it winning appear to be pretty slim (the film didn’t take home a single award at the BAFTAs) and although it was a colossal undertaking and the film was one of the most critically acclaimed events of the year, I don’t see it winning on the night.

Jojo Rabbit

Another favourite of critics and audiences alike, Taika Waititi’s “anti-hate satire” is told from the perspective of a young boy and sees his adoration for his idol Adolf Hitler called into question when he discovers a young Jewish girl living in his house, going on to truly see the horrors of what’s going on around him and questioning all that he’s been taught to believe. As well as being a perfectly engrossing and entertaining adventure, one that takes place over a very reasonable runtime, Jojo Rabbit is one of the more relevant screenplays in this list as we can indeed recognise that there is still rampant hate abound in this world but we don’t have to give into it and that love can defeat it; Waititi makes a valiant attempt to create a screenplay that’s full of silly humour but which also contains a fair amount of horrors, making you think and feel as much as possible, and while the two tones often seem at odds with each other, the film’s intention and themes are pure, the characters that Waititi has created are colourful, and as it won the BAFTA last week, this film would appear to be the frontrunner for the adapted screenwriting prize.


In one of 2019’s most divisive films and then some, screenwriters Todd Phillips and Scott Silver take on the origin story for Gotham City’s Clown Prince of Crime, showing how a series of unfortunate events and a particularly bad day can turn a mentally ill man into the notorious criminal that we know all too well, and while the screenplay may borrow a little too heavily from The King of Comedy and the works of Martin Scorsese, plus its examination of mental illness is sure to rub some people up the wrong way, Joker gives the great villain a deliciously dark and grounded backstory, showing our character go down a very dark path as his terrible alter ego gradually makes his way to the surface; no comic book film has yet to win a major screenwriting award at the Oscars and I don’t think that Joker will be any exception because, as much as I liked the film and thought that the story was particularly appealing, the script isn’t Oscar worthy and it isn’t as clever or as skillfully constructed as some of the other nominees.

Little Women

Ah, we all love a good literary adaptation now and again and Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel has certainly struck a huge chord with audiences everywhere, emphasising the powerful and all too relevant themes of feminism and sisterhood as the characters strive to achieve something greater than simply settling for marriage just because it’s expected of them, preferring to take their lives into their own hands and to forge their own paths. Though I’m a newcomer to the story, I’d say that Gerwig did a grand job of fleshing out the characters of these women and the film’s switching between the two periods, taking certain creative liberties with the original text (as she did with the ending, apparently), was a good creative decision and it ultimately worked in the film’s favour.

I’d assume that the film is the second likeliest to win the award on the night and it would be terrific if it won as I really appreciate a well made adaptation of a classic novel, especially one that shows off some strong female characters, and Gerwig really deserves to win a major award at the Oscars, talented writer that she is.

The Two Popes

With a script penned by Anthony McCarten, this Netflix film sees a meeting of the minds between Anthony Hopkins’ Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce’s Pope Francis during a tumultuous period in the Catholic church, delving into issues of faith and looking at the events that led Pope Francis to where he is now. The script actually provides some interesting material for us to think about and it surprisingly makes the goings-on of the Vatican vaguely intriguing to watch – although the flashback sequences are honestly quite dull and uninteresting –
but above all, the script also demonstrates a sense of fun as we see the two popes on their “downtime”, bonding over music, gardening and football as they dine on pizza and Fanta and, while I may be looking at this in too simplistic a light, it’s here where the story is at its best as it lets us see the public figures as human beings and the script treats us to some humorous scenes of lighthearted revelry and dialogue.

As for its chances, I’d say that this one’s the least likeliest to win. Far more likely to win for its two central performances but even that’s not going to happen!

* * *

So, some great nominees there! And now I finish, as always, by giving my verdict on what will win and what should win:

Will Win: Jojo Rabbit

Should Win: Little Women

* * *

And now some thoughts on the nominees from some of my fellow collaborators:

Martin says:

Unlike the original screenplay category, there’s one nomination here that sticks out like a sore thumb, this being Joker. It tries to be subtle in its themes, but fails miserably. I had The Irishman down to win this at one point but it seems likely that it will disappointingly walk away empty handed. Given her snub in the director category, it would be very satisfying to see Greta Gerwig win. Many adaptations of this novel have been done, and it’s a testament to her skill as a writer that her adaptation is now the definitive big screen adaptation. Furthermore, it would make her the only woman to win in this category in the 2010s. Yet she has some stiff competition in the form of Taika Waititi and Jojo Rabbit. This definitely could have been a horrible misfire in the wrong hands, but Waititi handled it expertly, brilliantly combining the comedy with the dramatic moments. The divisive nature of Jojo might just help it swing back in Little Women’s favour though, but it’s very close to call.”

* * *
Well that’s it from me folks but I’ll be adding the contributions from the other super cool participants as soon as they become available. Enjoy the Oscars, everyone!

Markus on Best Original Score and Song

Martin on Best Picture