Sunday, February 24, 2019

And the Oscar goes to...

Tonight is the Academy Awards. I previously blogged about one of the nominees for Best Picture, The Favourite, which is not based on a play, but tells the story of the same historical events dramatized in Eugène Scribe's play The Glass of Water.

This got me wondering about other Best Picture winners that started out as plays. Two years ago Moonlight won, and that film was based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's relatively unknown drama In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. I knew of McCraney through his play Wig Out! which I saw at the Vineyard Theatre, but he was basically unheard of when Moonlight won its Oscar. Now, his play Choir Boy is showing on Broadway and he heads the playwriting program at Yale.

The 2010 winner for Best Picture, The King's Speech, was a stage play by David Seidler before being adapted for the screen. It was at a reading of the script at a theatre in London that director Tom Hooper's mother discovered the piece and told him about it. The Academy's 2002 winner, Chicago, was of course adapted from the stage musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb, which was itself adapted from a 1926 play by Maurine Dallas Watkins.

Driving Miss Daisy, which won Best Picture in 1989, is based on a play by Alfred Uhry which still gets performed quite a bit. The film, in fact, still feels like a play, which is not true of 1984's winner Amadeus. Peter Shaffer, after having a hit with his stage play, went about completely rewriting the piece for the screenplay. The result was a film that is profoundly different from the play it's based upon, but both are quite good in their own manners.

No films based on plays won Best Picture Oscars in the 1970s, but in the 1960s the musicals West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music and Oliver! all took away top honors, as did A Man for All Seasons, based on the play by Robert Bolt. Back in 1948, Laurence Olivier's film version of Hamlet won Best Picture. Yeah, you probably knew that was based on a play, but did you know Casablanca, which won in 1943, was based on the play Everybody Comes to Rick's by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison?

The 1938 winner, You Can't Take It with You, was of course adapted from the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The 1933 film Cavalcade was based on a play by  Noël Coward and went on to win a Best Picture Oscar. That same honor also went to 1932's Grand Hotel, which was based on a play by William Drake, which he had in turn adapted from a German novel by Vicki Baum.

None of the nominees for Best Picture this year are based on plays. Too bad!