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Variety Has Its Eyes on the Oscars

abstract:Variety is a to-the-trade publication that keeps entertainment industry types up on all the latest news, deals and gossip. Here is what they have to say about the screenwriters up for potential Oscar recognition this March 5th 2006. Click on book images to purchase.

article:

December 27, 2005

EYE ON THE OSCARS: THE SCREENPLAY

    1.   INTRODUCTION: WORD WRANGLERS' TIME TO TANGLE

Veterans and rookies pepper the kudos contenders lineup this year as Variety runs down more than two dozen names, mixing past Oscar winners and multiple nominees with first-time scripters, hyphenates and legit veterans.

 

    2.   DAN FUTTERMAN, "CAPOTE"

Futterman's lean, chilling script reveals the dark side of the much-admired writer. "Capote was tremendously manipulative, in a way that made it easy to plot out scenes: Now he's seducing Perry, now he's getting him to tell him that piece of the story, now he's pulling back because he knows Perry will come after him," Futterman says. "Gerald Clarke gave me this stack of letters that Perry and Dick had written to Capote from prison. This childlike way that Perry tries to get Truman to visit is heartbreaking." 

 

 

    3.   LARRY MCMURTRY AND DIANA OSSANA, "BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN"

"Moving," "haunting" and "disturbing" are words often used to describe this potent, spare story. Ossana says maintaining the tone, from the short story to the script to the movie, was the thing she was heavily focused on. Ossana read the story in the New Yorker in 1997, and insisted McMurtry read it immediately. He did, and they acted quickly to acquire an option with their own money from author Annie Proulx. 

 

    4.   JEFFREY CAINE, "THE CONSTANT GARDENER"

John le Carre's stories usually defy screen adaptation, but screenwriter Caine weaves the author's recurring themes of intimacy and betrayal into an unusual cross between a thriller and a love story. Caine found himself writing three dramatic strands: "(The) political content, about the nefarious doings of international pharma in Africa; that personal search by a bereaved man to discover who his wife really was; and a framework that is suspenseful enough to keep the audience interested."  

 

    5.   JOSH OLSON, "A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE"

Olson started with the graphic novel, but kept little more than the premise of a small-town man accused of being an ex-mobster. "What interested me is the question of identity," says Olson. "All of us create who we are over the years," Olson says. "Everybody tells lies to the people around them and themselves about who they are. You have to get through the day. What happens when all that is stripped away?" 

 

    6.   ROBIN SWICORD, "MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA"

Swicord uses the memoir form to her advantage by having Sayuri narrate parts of the screenplay, a conceit that makes the film more personal and helps clarify some of the complex tale's baroque turns. Long anticipated as a Steven Spielberg pic, the movie ultimately was produced by Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher and helmed by Rob Marshall. "I hadn't read the book in about four or five years," recalls Swicord, "so when Doug and Lucy called me to meet Rob in December 2003, I just went in and had a really pleasant meeting. I read the book over the winter break and lost myself in this other world." 

 

    7.   MICHAEL SEITZMAN, "NORTH COUNTRY"

Seitzman got excited about the subject when he saw the authors, a journalist and a lawyer, discussing the book on "The Today Show." He contacted them via their publisher, and eventually pitched his take on the story, about a Minnesota mining sexual harrassment case that set legal precidence, to which Seitzman was able to secure the rights. Here is an excellent review of the movie.  

 

    8.   DEBORAH MOGGACH, "PRIDE & PREJUDICE"

Moggach gives us Georgian-era England in all its vivid, contradictory and class-conscious glory. Instead of the prim and rarefied world of the drawing room, however, she sets the action in the heart of the energetic Bennet household of five sisters, their marriage-minded mother and long-suffering father.  

 

    9.   DAVID AUBURN AND REBECCA MILLER, "PROOF"

In 2001, Auburn won the Tony and the Pulitzer for his examination of madness and genius in a gifted academic family. While the playwright was the first writer hired to adapt the work for the screen, the draft he turned in didn't strike director John Madden and the film's producers as being sufficiently cinematic. In stepped Miller, whom Madden chose on the strength of her 2002 indie pic "Personal Velocity."  

 

    10.   STEVE MARTIN, "SHOPGIRL"

A sometimes whimsical, sometimes melancholy love story framed like a fractured fairy tale. The voiceover, by Martin, is neither narration nor exposition. "I first wrote the script with no voiceover, just to make sure it can be done," Martin says. "I generally don't like voiceover as exposition because I don't think anyone is listening. In the film, it's all lyrical rather than expository and always happens over stillness. It's meant to be like chapters -- the voiceover buttons the various chapters."  

 

    11.   STEPHEN GAGHAN, "SYRIANA"

Gaghan took two years to write the screenplay, notable for its ripped-from-the-headlines immediacy. With more than 100 speaking roles, the screenwriter tried to be punctilious in making every line pitch-perfect. "I wanted to be sure the characters talked just like their equivalents in the real world," says Gaghan, "so I ran the script by all kinds of insiders that helped me catch the proper phrasing."  Read a compelling transcript of Gaghan's interview with media.  

 

    12.   GILL DENNIS AND JAMES MANGOLD, "WALK THE LINE"

Dennis and Mangold document the personal tragedies and pain -- the death of a brother, a failed marriage and drug addiction -- that gave Johnny Cash's songs their dark undertone. "The story became one of a man's failure at love, and a second chance," says Dennis. "I remember thinking it was the story of a man who was afraid to love, because he loved his brother and his brother died. That was something that was eating at him."   

 

    13.   CLIFF HOLLINGSWORTH AND AKIVA GOLDSMAN, "CINDERELLA MAN"

Hollingsworth and Goldsman skirt the usual cliches about boxing, instead relying on small moments and telling details to show the sacrifices Braddock makes for his family.   

 

    14.   PAUL HAGGIS AND ROBERT MORESCO, "CRASH"

No one is spared in this incendiary "La Ronde," in which Los Angelenos of various races and classes are driven, as if by magic or destiny, to smash against one another, forcing them to face their deepest prejudices and fears. "These two carjackers stole my car, and after 12 years I decided to write about them," says Haggis. "I woke up and started writing at 2 in the morning and was finished at 10 a.m., and then called up Bobby and said, 'I have this story, do you want to try and work it out with me?' "   

 

    15.   GEORGE CLOONEY AND GRANT HESLOV, "GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK"

Clooney and Heslov weave together original footage of McCarthy, transcripts of Murrow's shows and invented offscreen dialogue to dramatize the war of words between two larger-than-life figures. Originally intended as a look at the perils of entertainment squeezing out news at the networks, pic gained extra timeliness because questions of dissent vs. disloyalty in the face of a foreign threat are current again. "It was like 'The Crucible' for us," says Heslov, "the way Arthur Miller used the witch hunts to illuminate what was happening in the '50s." Purchase the companion that delves into the history behind the film.   

 

    16.   WOODY ALLEN, "MATCH POINT"

Allen rarely makes dramas anymore, but with "Match Point" he displays masterful command of the genre. A tragic morality play in the vein of Allen's Oscar-nominated 1989 film "Crimes and Misdemeanors," the script takes on weighty philosophical concerns but remains eminently watchable thanks to its elegant structure, Jamesian attention to detail and rich, layered characterizations.   

 

    17.   TONY KUSHNER AND ERIC ROTH, "MUNICH"

Director Steven Spielberg hadn't committed to helming the pic until he saw Kushner's original script -- and then scribe wasn't even sure he wanted to do it. "Tony came to the process about a year before shooting and was initially reluctant," says producer and longtime Spielberg collaborator Kathleen Kennedy. "When he came on, he didn't want us to pay him. He said, 'Let me write a few scenes and let's see what you think.' "   

 

    18.   TERRENCE MALICK, "THE NEW WORLD"

Malick wrote a draft of this script back in the 1970s. His research led him to the colonists' journals, John Smith's among them. Malick even visited Virginia. Then he put the script away. But when he met producer Sarah Green three years ago and discussed various projects, he handed her the script, saying, according to Green, "I think this might be the right time for this."   

 

    19.   NOAH BAUMBACH, "THE SQUID AND THE WHALE"

The "indie film dramedy" has become something of a cliche over the past few years, yet Baumbach imbues this script with a freshness that transcends the genre. "I was under the impression that I was writing a comedy, but I think the movie's sadder than I let on," says Baumbach. "If a movie is grounded properly, and I think this film is, it should be able to hold any amount of comedy and any amount of seriousness."   This movie got 95 on Rotten Tomatoes, a highly reliable movie review site that coelates both professional reviews and general audience feedback.

 

    20.   GUILLERMO ARRIAGA, "THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA"

Based on Tommy Lee Jones' admiration for Arriaga's writing, the two men struck up a friendship and spent days hunting deer on Jones' West Texas ranch. They began talking about a story. "We have the same obsessions and themes," says Arriaga. "One day I was watching a coyote eat something, and I thought, what if that was a wetback that was killed and buried there to cover it up?" He pitched the idea to Jones, who liked it, then went home to Mexico City and spent a year writing the script in Spanish.   

 

 

View all articles currently published on Variety.com.

 

 

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