With Many Contenders Ineligible, What Do WGA Film Nominees Mean For Oscar?

Like the Producers Guild earlier this week, the WGA did not produce a list of film nominees in the Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay categories that had any surprises. This in itself is not surprising since the WGA (I’m a member) — due to restrictive rules regarding eligibility of films only produced under the guild’s MBA or certain international affiliated collective bargaining agreements — had far less of a field from which to choose. The number of screenplays eligible overall is slightly more than a third of all scripts the Academy’s much smaller voting body is picking from (polls for Oscar nomination voting close today at 5 PM). As usual, we can look for several differences when the Academy reveals their writing nominations January 10th. Although nominees often vary between the two orgs, the final winners are usually much more in sync. Last year, both WGA Award-winning scripts — Midnight In Paris and The Descendants – went on to repeat at the Oscars. In 2010 though, only WGA Adapted Screenplay winner The Social Network repeated at Oscar time, while the Oscar winner for Original Screenplay, The King’s Speech, wasn’t even nominated at the WGA because it was ineligible.

Related: WGA Awards Nominations Announced

Among the scripts not eligible for a WGA nod this year are PGA nominees Beasts Of The Southern Wild and Les Miserables along with multiple Golden Globe nominee The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Oscar winner Tom Stoppard’s  new take on literary classic Anna Karenina. For Originals, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained was ineligible (so was his 2009 Oscar-nominated script for Inglourious Basterds and his 1994 Oscar winning Pulp Fiction). Tarantino doesn’t follow the WGA rules, but his absence here shouldn’t affect his Oscar prospects for the smash-hit homage to spaghetti Westerns. As with its PGA omission, I also expect Michael Haneke’s original script for Amour to take one of the Oscar spots over one of today’s WGA nominees (Rian Johnson’s sci-fi Looper might be the shakiest since that’s a genre rarely embraced by Oscar voters outside technical categories). Other top originals never in the game for WGA were two more French-oriented films, The Intouchables and Rust & Bone, along with the Spanish production The Impossible (even though it was an English-language film), Seven Psychopaths and anything animated. The latter means a clever ‘toon like this year’s Wreck-It Ralph couldn’t even be considered by WGA voters but is eligible for a screenplay Oscar bid.

Among those actually nominated today (winners will be announced Feburary 17), the surest bets in Original Screenplay are likely to be Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola’s Moonrise Kingdom and Mark Boal’s controversial Zero Dark Thirty, now the subject of a U.S. Senate investigation. How that ultimately affects its final chances of winning is anyone’s guess. Boal won a WGA Award and the Oscar three years ago for The Hurt Locker. John Gatins spent nearly a dozen years trying to get his very personal addiction drama Flight to the screen, and it isn’t lost on writers that director Robert Zemeckis has done many Q&As and interviews saying there were vitrually no changes to Gatins’ script in the final film. That also bodes well for his chances to get into the Oscar race, even though the movie seems to have stalled as a Best Picture candidate. Paul Thomas Anderson’s risky The Master has polarized audiences and that may affect his chances with the Academy, but at least the WGA recognized a very ambitious work.

The real race seems to be in Adaptation, with four solid Best Picture players duking it out at the WGA — and likely the Oscars. My guess though is Tony Kushner’s Lincoln is the frontrunner here and will be with the Academy, although this one’s tight and David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook (hampered only because it is a comedy) and the highly regarded Chris Terrio script for Argo will be strong competition. David Magee’s feat of bringing the “unfilmable” book Life Of Pi to life is admirable, but most feel the film is more an achievement for director Ang Lee than its screenwriter. Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks Of Being A Wallflower figured to be included on the WGA honor roll and could be with Academy writing branch members too since it was the work of an author of the original book who held out to write and direct his own movie version — a real rarity for writers — and the film was highly acclaimed, though not likely to be in the Best Picture race.

With nominations now in from three of the four major Oscar-bellwether guild contests — SAG, PGA and WGA — industry sentiments toward the likely top Oscar nominees are settling strongly on Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Argo, which have had the most impressive showings across the 3 guilds, along with Golden Globes and Critics Choice Movie Awards nominations. Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty and Life Of Pi are right on their tail though, and spring release Moonrise Kingdom is making a late run.

The final major guild, and the one that may be most anticipated as a real indicator this year, the Directors Guild of America announces its five nominees Tuesday. Stay tuned.

  1. As a WGA member, I gotta say it was slim pickins when it came to voting this year. Case in point that MOW “Flight” getting nominated.

    What a waste of two hours and Zemeckis’ time.

      1. You have got to be joking. It was a painfully bad film. The climactic “confession” scene is one of the most unintentionally hilarious things ever put to screen.

        1. Loved the naked chick in the beginning =)

          Hated when she died 30 minutes later. =(

          1. But the heroin addict was hot, right? Especially right after her overdose. Thank god the paramedics grabbed her makeup bag as they strapped her into the ambulance!

            Also, was that not the fastest recovery from a heroin overdose/addiction that you’ve ever seen?

            I did get teary at one point: When Denzel pours all the top shelf booze down the sink. What a waste.

          1. It’s a terrible movie-of-the-week (with a budget) about alcoholism. Not really a spoiler. A spoiler would be telling you the context of the puke-inducing last scene with his son and “the most interesting person… I’ve never met.”

            God that was just ridonkulous.

      2. Flight was absurd. When all that cool upside-down flying happened right at the top of the film, I thought it strange–what are they gonna fill the next two hours with? As it turned out….nothing.

  2. Could someone please explain to me how so many high quality big budget films are done without a WGA MBA? Isn’t that a major guild fail?

    1. Yes indeed. So just add it to the list of other major WGA fails: Negotiating new contracts (complete joke), enforcing existing contracts (late pay and free rewrites are now the calcified reality everywhere in town), organizing reality “writers,” mailing out residual checks in a timely way (my last batch arrived nearly four months late), running a competent health and pension plan….ETC

  3. Wow. Hard to understand all the hate for “Flight”… Is it a perfect movie? No. Did it have some exquisite writing in places? You betcha. The much-discussed stairwell/smoking scene had some of the most real and soulful writing I’ve read in a script for a long time. Also, as someone who covered the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, I found Gatins’ dramatic depiction of a plane in distress to be comparable and exactingly accurate to the hundreds of pages of the NTSB reports I read for an investigative series of the Alaska Airlines crash. Any pilot will tell you Gatins did an AWESOME job, perhaps, the best, in cinematic aviation history.

    It’s easy to knock “Flight” but what I don’t get from critics, who blithely lob molotov cocktails of criticism, is an intelligent exposition for why the movie doesn’t work for them. Is “Flight” worse than, say, “Leaving Las Vegas” (an award winning depiction of a similar alcoholic unraveling) or “Juno” (an award winning script widely praised for capturing humanity – as “Flight” also strives to do) …

    Without an explanation all of these disses just sound like a bunch of negative nabobs engaged in a circle jerk of cynicism.

    1. Hey, as far as the plane crash goes, “Flight” was great. Most of the praise I see for its screenplay center on the first forty pages. Coincidentally, that was the only real interesting part of the film.

      It is a film by an addict, for addicts, who think everyone is as enraptured with their journey to recovery as they are, and can’t… stop… telling us… about it. I get it, the screenwriter had a drinking problem and writing this was his therapy. But slapping it on the big screen, hiding behind a (much more interesting) money shot of a plane crashing and calling it “profound” (much less Oscar worthy) is too much. Frankly, he should have just started a blog; that way it wouldn’t have cost me but a few minutes of my time to find it, see what it was about and move on quickly.

    2. With the caliber of folks behind FLIGHT, you expect more than a made for tv movie. It really was laughable and on the noise.

  4. “It is a film by an addict, for addicts, who think everyone is as enraptured with their journey to recovery as they are, and can’t… stop… telling us… about it. I get it, the screenwriter had a drinking problem and writing this was his therapy.”

    There are a lot of “writers” being discovered at meetings after years of having honed their “shares.”

    It’s getting old.

    1. What piques my curiosity is why did Zemeckis stake his live-action comeback on this tripe? Of all films, of all scripts, this is the one he returned for? Must be slim-pickings in screenplay-land.

  5. hate to burst your bubble, Origami. But I have it on good sources that Flight is getting a writing nom. (granted, it probably won’t win, but in terms of alcoholic redemption stories it is every bit as good as “Leaving Las Vegas” or “Crazy Heart”….. Your zeal against Flight’s writer, Mr. Gatins, seems so over-the-top and misguided. Did he run over your puppy on a studio lot or something? Chill out! It’s just a movie!)

    1. Running over a puppy would have been more interesting a movie than the one Mr. Gatins wrote, bobby.

      As for my “zeal” against it, as someone else said, the talent that is behind what is a glorified television movie is what is appalling. There’s crap (“Ted,” “The Words” etc.) but it’s predictable crap. I sat through a showing of “Flight” with an audience that was clearly there on AA word of mouth – sobbing, nodding, amen-ing. It was embarrassing to behold.

      Again, I get it: He was an addict. We all need to know he was an addict! Really, the big “confession” scene is just the screenwriter begging us to notice his self-realization, is it not? Lights, cameras, hundreds of people staring at him, breathlessly listening to him confess. Who cares? Go to a meeting and leave the sob story for the sad drunks in folding chairs.

      1. Toldja “Flight” would get a screenplay Oscar nomination from the Academy, OrigamiRose! You diss the script, in part because Gatins is a recovering drinker and you felt as if he shouldn’t have tapped his personal journey for the script. But really, isn’t that what all great writers/artists/musicians do — they dig deep in the mine of personal experience and extract diamonds that become indelible characters, arcs and art?

        The first time I read “Flight” I knew the writing was exceptional. Reading the five or six page “stairwell scene” was like going to a major league ballpark and seeing a top pitcher working all his pitches in fine form. there was not one false moment in that extended scene, and much of the remainder of the script held that high level for subject matter that could easily have turned out hackneyed or maudlin . And after I put the script down I just KNEW that scribe John Gatins was a talented hombre. ( congrats, on your nom, Mr. Gatins — and good luck @ the Oscars!)

        as for origamirose…. you can crawl back to your mom’s basement and watch reruns of dragonball z!

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