2007: Best Adapted Screenplay

1. THERE WILL BE BLOOD by Paul Thomas Anderson
This is not your typical screenplay and only a mad genius with writing skills stronger than most could have pulled this off. Paul Thomas Anderson has basically written a symphony. The overture is page after page of setting things up without dialogue. This section also includes the biggest moment of sympathy for our main character.

Having proved that he can tell a story without dialogue he then launches into a soliloquy. Conversational dialogue is sparse and to the point. The overall structure isn’t plot and character based, but musical with movements and crescendos.

The grand finale is a bombastic explosion of fireworks, the opposite of where things started. (The final line even announces that there’s nothing left to say, effectively bringing down the curtain.) For many, it would be the great screenplay of their life, as if they will never compose another. For PT Anderson, this is just where his muse took him this time.

2. AWAY FROM HER by Sarah Polley
Most films take a subject like Alzheimer’s Disease and make it into a plot point, filled with sentiment and moralizing discussion. Sarah Polley’s adaptation treats her characters with intelligence and respect. Rather than harp on the medical effects, she deals with the social dynamics. You come to understand both the person afflicted and the ones who can only stand by and watch it happen. The script shows research that didn’t come from a news article, and the humanity leaves you with a lot more to discuss.

3. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN by Joel & Ethan Coen
This could have been done as a great action thriller. Three men, a bag of money and a relentless pursuit. The Coen Bros. Stay faithful to the source novel, creating something much more mythic. (The title indicates what the film is really about.) The key to its being more than just a good ride is the Tommy Lee Jones character, who on the surface has very little to do but we feel the sad bewilderment in his words. There’s also great dialogue mixed with wonderfully constructed wordless confrontations.

4. ATONEMENT by Christopher Hampton
I hear from people who read the book that it was unfilmable, so what does that say about Joe Wright’s Oscar worthy adaptation? The script is structured like a great novel, with changing points of view and surprise revelations at every chapter. Yet, everything it expressed in the language of cinema.

5. ZODIAC by James Vanderbilt
I’d like to take a moment to mention how I really didn’t like I’M NOT THERE. -- this connects -- which took the many interesting stories of Dylan’s life, the many flavors and made a gloppy stew. It was so busy being complex it forgot to be a movie.

Writing ZODIAC required pouring through pages of documents. Books and articles, interviews and police reports. Plus, since it’s an unsolved case you have to consider ALL the possible suspects. On top of that, you don’t want the unsolved nature to end the film with a hollow thud. There has to be an ending.

ZODIAC compresses an epic amount of information into a tightly structured investigation thriller. There’s a lot to take in (more than you can absorb in one sitting), and the script wisely focuses on the frustrating obsession, not the crime details. As for a satisfying ending…that’s one of the best moments of the year.

6. INTO THE WILD by Sean Penn
Sean Penn’s script neither praises nor pities McCandless. He’s not looking to pass judgment, but to capture the reality of each situation and let you come up with your own final conclusion. It was smart to intercut the lengthy bus sequence with the rest of the film. It would have been murder to put it all in one spot. Now the bus section makes a nice comment on the rest of the film.

7. SWEENEY TODD by John Logan

This one isn’t very different from the source material, but the source doesn’t call for much re-imagining. The play stretches the confines of the stage, so it wasn’t difficult to open things up for the cinema. The songs were subjected to minor nips and tucks bringing the running time to a more movie-friendly length.

Don’t need to say much to justify this one. It’s the worst book and all the fat was removed, reshaping the story into one of the best Potter films.

9. HAIRSPRAY by Leslie Dixon
I saw the original film, but not the Broadway stage production. The adaptation is not only better than the first film, it completely captures why this must’ve worked so well on Broadway. Everything here is written with great fun in mind, and the jokes don’t try to be too hip or edgy. They work because of their commitment to a more old-fashioned sense of play.

10. 300 by Zack Snyder & Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon
It was close for me between this and GONE BABY GONE. I give the edge to 300 because of some half-baked revelations built into the original story of GBG. There’s a fair amount of cliché and oversimplification in the 300 script, but there’s also the highly quotable dialogue.


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