February 2007

Liz Miller

hollywood madam

Best Adapted Tradition

This year's Best Adapted roundup is a sad one, I'll admit. Not just because I've only seen three of the five movies nominated for Oscar's least-coveted major award -- but because only three out of the five are even based on novels. It's not a very high-stakes game for the book adaptation nerds; but traditions are traditions. And I am a slave to routine.

Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Peter Baynham & Dan Mazer, Story by Sacha Baron Cohen & Peter Baynham & Anthony Hines & Todd Phillips

Based on the character created by Sacha Baron Cohen

Oh, Oscar nomination fine print. You are deliciously bizarre. The story for Borat is not, of course, based on any pre-existing material, but because the character originated on Da Ali G Show, this somewhat-improvised film cannot claim total originality. Which is of course an ironic delight, given that it was one of the most original comedies of 2006.

Arguing about whether or not films like these are truly "written" is an issue that currently threatens to tear the television industry apart. In the meantime, though, we have this oddball broken-English film crashing the party. I have no idea what it'll do now that it's here -- but that's part of the fun.

Children of Men
Screenplay by Alfonso Cuaron & Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby

Based on the novel by PD James

Ninety percent of why I don't really care about the Oscars this year is that Children of Men wasn't nominated for Best Picture. It's not that I really thought it would be nominated, but the fact that the best movie I saw last year isn't being recognized seems to invalidate the whole process. It kind of reminds me of how I felt after Al Gore conceded the 2000 election. On a slightly different scale, of course.

My research into the source material consists mainly of a post-movie theater-lobby conversation with my friend Doug, who indicated that between the five different writers on this project, one of them managed to fix all the stuff that went wrong in the book. By focusing the story on one man trying to protect the first pregnant woman in eighteen years, it seems, Cuaron and the script doctors managed to craft a sharp and thrilling narrative out of a rather rambling novel...

Oh, like it matters. Children of Men isn't going to win in this category, because the Academy can't handle the not-too-distant future. I don't know why they're so scared of it. They can't run forever, after all.

Little Children
Screenplay by Todd Field & Tom Perrotta

Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta

This is the only one of the literary adaptations to feature the author as a major participant in the adaptation process; it's also apparently pretty good. I don't know, because I haven't seen it. In fact, in my vast circle of film nerd friends, I only know one person who's seen this movie. Maybe two. Have you seen it? No offense, but you probably haven't, just like the rest of America. If you have, of course, you should e-mail me and tell me if it's good. After all, I like everyone in that movie (though, after Hard Candy, I don't really want to see Patrick Wilson near any children, little or otherwise). But I've seen emotionally complex family dramas before. I've seen naked Kate Winslet before. There's not much about it that seems particularly shiny or new.

Except of course for the promise of real quality. And the last Tom Perrotta adaptation I saw, Election, was fantastic. So maybe I'll see it. Eventually. I'll put it in my Netflix queue. Yeah.

Notes on a Scandal
Screenplay by Patrick Marber

Based on the novel by Zoe Heller

I've not read the original novel, but I've read enough about it to know that it involves scandalous women being punished for their scandalous ways. Sometimes, there's some extra scandal added for flavor. It makes for decent trashy fiction, as a rule, but the dialogue and characterization are never quite up to snuff. So pairing this material with Patrick Marber is a perfect fit (say what you like about Closer, but it does not shy away from good dialogue and characterization -- or scandal, for that matter), and this is one movie I'm deeply shamed about not having seen yet.

Not that it really has much chance, given that this is a surprisingly interesting category this year, and it includes...

The Departed
Screenplay by William Monahan

Based on the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, written by Felix Chong and Siu Fai Mak, and directed by Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak

Here's my vaguely official prediction for this year's Oscars: The Departed wins here, because Hollywood is gangbusters for dudes getting shot in the head. (I don't know if you know this, but man oh man do some people get shot in the head during this movie.) The Departed wins here, everyone gets very excited about Martin Scorsese maybe, just maybe, winning one goddamn Oscar in his lifetime... Before, that is, he loses to Babel and Alejandro González Iñárritu.

According to my Infernal Affairs expert Frank (thanks, Frank!), the major changes from the original Hong Kong film consist of combining the main characters's girlfriends into one adulterous girlfriend, and adding Mark Walhberg's character, along with some Wahlberg-focused twists. Otherwise, though, the movies are very similar. I liked Monahan's work on this script a lot -- The Departed in general is one of those delightfully confident movies that just works. Solid is the word. Totally solid. When it just barely manages to fail winning that Oscar, I'll be disappointed.

But hey, it's just a shiny gold statue. Does it really matter?

Well, yeah. Duh.