If not bound to have the most impressive lineup, this category may just yield the season’s most deserving win, as Tony Kushner’s script for Lincoln remains miles ahead of the competition, standing, like its subject, in a class by itself. This article is, indeed, intended to outline the predicted nominees, but there are certain Oscar fields whose frontrunner dominates the conversation, and the truth is, Kushner’s path to the podium is even more secured than Daniel Day-Lewis’s. Agog at all the tack-sharp, workplace chattiness, many viewers have employed the term “Sorkinian” when describing Lincoln’s narrative, summing it up as The West Wing for the 19th century. But that analogy doesn’t come close to capturing Kushner’s evenhanded humanism, or his uncanny talents for pacing and characterization, which, together, keep this historical epic as nimble as it is organically populated, filled with individuals who, somehow, seem fully drawn in mere moments. Of course, there’s also the whole laborious research element, which, among other things, saw Kushner whittle his translation of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals down from an initial 500-page draft.
The stage bred many of 2012’s finest film adaptations. In addition to the standout work from Kushner, a playwright, there was The Deep Blue Sea, Terence Davies’s take on Terence Rattigan’s postwar melodrama; Killer Joe, Tracy Letts’s adaptation of his own pitch-black, Southern-fried mindfuck; and Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, an expansion of Alibar’s play Juicy and Delicious. The latter is very likely to clinch a nomination here, even if the film itself can’t squeeze its way into the Best Picture race. Oscar’s screenplay categories habitually reserve some love for odd ducks, and as one of the year’s most buzzed-about, idiosyncratic indies, Beasts surely fits the bill.
The other three Adapted Screenplay slots will likely go to knee-jerk contenders, i.e. the scripts that best correspond with probable Best Picture hopefuls. Ergo, Argo is in, despite Chris Terrio’s infernal pandering to the Hollywood crowd, and the march toward a climax that isn’t very climactic at all. Terrio’s script—which, admittedly, isn’t all that bad until envisioned by junior-slump maestro Ben Affleck—will compete alongside newfound Academy favorite David O. Russell, who made impressive genre soup out of Matthew Quick’s novel, delivering a romantic comedy by way of sports flick, family saga, and mental-illness dramedy. It won’t matter at all that Russell’s gonzo touches largely serve as artifice, or that the film, for all its screenplay diversity, is more than a little racist. The grand performances and crowd-pleasing qualities have already eclipsed all else for most audiences, and it’s unfathomable that that will change before January 10.
As for the final nomination? One could make cases for fact-based, bare-all tale The Sessions, cuddly dark horse The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, ’90s teen saga The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or the long-gestating Les Misérables. But since it’s based on the most wildly popular book in the bunch, a book that every article will tell you was “unfilmable” before Ang Lee came along, Life of Pi seems to have safe chances here, even if such an assumption puts little faith in the writer’s branch, who should know better than to reward David Magee’s horridly bookended script. A worthy work to take its place? We nominate David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, the dizzyingly faithful and uncompromising big-screen version of Don DeLillo’s novel.