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  • Sheldon Gaskell

2020 Oscar Predictions: Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Updated: Feb 8, 2020

Nominees: Steven Zaillian (The Irishman), Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit), Todd Phillips and Scott Silver (Joker), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Anthony McCarten (The Two Popes)

Will Win: Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit)

Runners-up: Greta Gerwig (Little Women)

Should Win: [TIE] Steven Zaillian (The Irishman) and Greta Gerwig (Little Women)

Runners-up: Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit)

My Choice: Joe Talbot, Jimmie Fails, and Rob Richert (The Last Black Man in San Francisco)

My Nominees: Steven Zaillian (The Irishman), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit), Anthony McCarten (The Two Popes)

Runners-up: Terrence Malick (A Hidden Life), Christian Petzold (Transit), Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander (Dolemite Is My Name), Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)

This year is a tight race for adapted screenplay with three deserving films battling it out for the top prize: Jojo Rabbit, Little Women, and The Irishman. The Two Popes, though offering a riveting and quite comedic portrait of the relationship between Pope Benedict and the soon-to-be Pope Francis, is a fantasy in that almost none of the "based on true events" ever happened. A nomination for Joker here is criminal given the script's plagiarism of the plots of Taxi Driver (1976) and King of Comedy (1982). out of the worthy nominees, Jojo Rabbit has the edge given Thor: Ragnarok (2017) director Taika Waititi's ability to blend unique odd-ball comedy (a Nazi youth's quirky adventures with his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler) with traumatic, heartbreaking drama (the youth's mother's choice to harbor a young Jewish woman in her home and the consequences therein). Much like Life is Beautiful (1997), a film depicting a Jewish-Italian father's humorous re-imagining of a concentration camp as a summer camp to lighten his son's experience, Jojo Rabbit successfully fuses the drama and comedy genres to great cinematic effect.

I would prefer the award to go to either Greta Gerwig or Steven Zaillian, two writers who artfully, and painstakingly, honed behemoth narratives into entertaining, well-paced experiences for the screen. Gerwig's adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel feels fresh and original to Gerwig's quirky cinematic style with dialogue that pops with wit and charm while realistically capturing the desires and experiences of its young women protagonists. Zaillian's writing likewise does an incredible job capturing a sense of time passing through a reflective approach to character motives at various stages of life. His use of zingy, crude gangster dialogue and silence as a method in communicating unspoken remorse both excite and disconcert the audience. The viewer feels for Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro) as he regrets his past actions, even as we recognize his sociopathic patterns. Though Zaillian's script has come under fire for a lack of women's representation much like Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, his choice to do so is rightfully made in how accurately it captures Sheeran's perspective and worldview: one that sidelines women and is obsessed with self gratification.

I find myself frequently returning to the writing in The Last Black Man in San Francisco for its ability to inspire such heartfelt nostalgia for a place I've never been. Based on the real-life experiences of Jimmy Fails, the main actor in the film, the script is rich with a profound sense of caring devotion to a city that has all but abandoned him. Joe Talbot and Rob Richert have interpreted Fails' vision for the screen with remarkable attention to the nuances of identity communicated through Bay-area dialogue inflections and rich cultural references. Like the plot in Parasite, the narrative here appears to build into one thing and then diverts and drowns the viewer in the realization of something even more provocative.

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