Adaptations Sweep 2019 Oscars: 97% Noms / 100% Wins

by John Robert Marlow

And the winner is…the adaptation (again). The box office, of course, has long been ruled by adaptations; 80% of the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time are based on other things. (Top 100 Adaptations list here.) Oscar contenders (and winners) from 2001-2019 are also mostly adaptations—but this year, things have gone through the roof, with 97% (96.969%, to be precise) of Big Five nominees—and 100% of Big Five wins—going to adaptations or work on adaptations.

The “Big Five” categories are Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Writing. The Best Writing category actually consists of two subcategories: Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay—though as we’ll see, many “original” screenplays (and, therefore, the movies based upon them) are really adaptations in disguise. This has to do with the way the Academy defines adaptations.

For example, a screenplay or film based on a true story is not considered an adaptation unless it’s based some preexisting work—book, article, movie etc.—about the same true story. If this seems strange to you, you’re not alone; even the Academy has changed its mind a few times.

So, let’s get to 2019’s Big Five nominees and winners (the latter in blue)…

BEST PICTURE

Black Panther: based on the Black Panther comic book character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

BlacKkKlansman: based on the nonfiction memoir of the same name by Ron Stallworth, a black detective who infiltrated the Colorado Springs Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s.

Bohemian Rhapsody: based on the life and times of Freddy Mercury and his band Queen, and named after one of their songs.

The Favourite: based on the true story of two cousins (Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, and Abigail Hill) competing for the favor of Britain’s Queene Anne in the early 1700s.

Green Book: based on the true story of a 1960s Midwest and Deep South tour by black classical/jazz pianist Don Shirley and his white bodyguard/driver, New York bouncer Tony Vallelonga. The title is borrowed from The Negro Motorist Green-Book, an annual guide for African-American travelers which listed accommodations, restaurants and services that accepted black patrons.

Roma: based on the life of director Alfonso Cuaron’s childhood nanny, Liboria “Libo” Rodriguez.

A Star Is Born: based on the 1937 film of the same name (written by William A. Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, and Alan Campbell, about a massively successful singer with drug and alcohol problems who falls in love with a struggling singer/songwriter who’s working as a waitress).

Vice: based on the life of American Vice President Dick Cheney.

BEST WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (an anthology film with six stories, at least two of which are based on other works: All Gold Canyon on a short story by Jack London, and The Gal Who Got Rattled on a short story of the same name by Stewart Edward White).

Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowits and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee: BlacKkKlansman

Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty: Can You Ever Forgive Me? (based on the memoir of the same name by Lee Israel, a failed author who took to forging letters by dead celebrities, stealing actual letters by celebrities–and selling both.)

Barry Jenkins: If Beale Street Could Talk (based on the novel of the same name by James Baldwin, about a black woman determined to prove the innocence of her boyfriend, who is wrongly accused of rape.)

Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters: A Star Is Born

BEST WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara: The Favourite

Paul Schrader: First Reformed (the only non-adapted Big Five nominee)

Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly: Green Book

Alfonso Cuaron: Roma

Adam McKay: Vice

BEST DIRECTING

Spike Lee: BlacKkKlansman

Pawel Pawlikowski: Cold War (based (loosely) on the lives of director Pawel Pawlikowski’s parents, a musical director and a singer who met and fell in love in Europe during the Cold War.

Yorgas Lanthimos: The Favourite

Alfonso Cuaron: Roma

Adam McKay: Vice

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Christian Bale: Vice

Bradley Cooper: A Star Is Born

Willem Dafoe: At Eternity’s Gate (based on painter Vincent van Gogh’s final years, and (apparently) the biography Van Gogh: The Life, in which authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith put forth a new theory about the artist’s death).

Rami Malek: Bohemian Rhapsody

Viggo Mortensen: Green Book

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Yalitza Aparacio: Roma

Glenn Close: The Wife

Olivia Colman: The Favourite

Lady Gaga: A Star Is Born

Melissa McCarthy: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

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