The Imitation Game and The Grand Budapest Hotel were the big film winners at the WGA Awards – Valentine’s Day edition – on Saturday night, the last major guild prize before the Oscars but one that isn’t as reliable as the PGA, DGA or SAG as a predictor of Oscar success.
That said, WGA voters usually agree with Oscar voters on at least one of the two screenwriter categories. Last year, Her won at WGA and repeated at the Oscars for Original Screenplay. Eventual Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar winner 12 Years A Slave wasn’t eligible for the WGA because it wasn’t made under the Guild’s basic agreement. WGA, unlike other guild awards, banishes any movie that doesn’t play by its rules (DISCLOSURE: I am a WGA member).
This year, Birdman, an Oscar favorite for Best Picture, wasn’t eligible for the WGA Best Original Screenplay nomination. The prize went to Wes Anderson, on his third WGA nomination.
He won for Budapest, which also beat Birdman in a head-to-head contest in the category at BAFTA last Sunday. Boyhood was nominated but lost here, just as it did in other key guild contests, continuing to dampen its early-season momentum among the critics awards and at the Golden Globes.
Losing so many guild contests never bodes well for subsequent Oscar glory. And this time, main rival Birdman was not on the ballot. The Theory Of Everything similarly was ineligible for the WGA’s Best Adapted Screenplay. Instead, Graham Moore won for Imitation Game at WGA. This was a bit of sweet revenge after Moore lost to Theory at BAFTA last weekend and didn’t grab any other major, or even minor, guild or critics wins this season. It’s a big boost for the film’s Oscar prospects in the category, where it stands the best chance to cash in on its nomination.
But the Academy writers executive committee has, by a technicality in their rules, deemed that Whiplash is an adaptation because part of it was first a short film (to get backers for the feature and prove Chazelle could direct it). That meant it falls under the Academy’s definition of “previously published material.” So both recent Adaptation writing winners – Imitation and Theory – must face Whiplash for the Adapted Oscar.
That could be problematic. Even though Imitation Game and Grand Budapest Hotel seemed popular winners at WGA, those victories in no way guarantee Oscar success next week. Voting continues until 5pm Tuesday, so these wins boost momentum and will grab headlines, however fleeting. But this continues to be an Oscar contest short of the usual surefire signals one week before from the envelopes are opened.
The majority of the three-hour WGA show, held at the Hyatt Century Plaza, was devoted to TV categories and special awards. Our Deadline live blog carried extensive details, along with my colleague Nellie Andreeva’s TV analysis. But the writers show always has plenty of highlights and heartfelt, at times very funny, acceptance speeches. Host Lisa Kudrow had good material and made it all look easy. And at least this time, the results out of the simultaneous New York ceremony didn’t tweet their way into the room before envelopes could be opened in L.A.
The special awards made the evening. It was nice to see Ben Affleck getting the Valentine Davies Humanitarian Award for his tireless work in creating the Eastern Congo Initiative.
And there was a warm tribute to the late Harold Ramis, posthumous winner of the screenwriting Laurel Award. And certainly deserving was the amazing Shonda Rhimes, who received the Paddy Chayefsky Television Achievement honor after just 12 years in the business. What a rise.
A real emotional highlight was the presentation of the Paul Selvin Award to Margaret Nagle. The honor is given to a WGA member whose script ” best embodies the spirit of the constitutional and civil rights and liberties that are indispensable to the survival of free writers everywhere.”
Nagle, who has won two WGA awards previously, spent 10 years trying to bring to the screen The Good Lie, the story of Sudanese refugees making a new life in America. After buying it back out of turnaround at Paramount, then getting it to Alcon and Imagine Entertainment for eventual distribution by Warner Bros, the film disappeared quickly from theaters, almost without a trace.
But Nagle tells me it is now living on as an educational and inspirational fundraising tool for organizations involved in the plight of these refugees whose fate took a downward spiral after 9/11. It is always a nice part of these awards-season stops to see good work rewarded, even as Nagle points out, that “no screeners were sent” and no ads were taken.
I saw the film and reported on its instantaneous standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. And it is one of only three films this year to receive a rare A+ Cinemascore rating. Even with all that, it never really got a shot at developing a larger audience, so this kind of recognition is important.
Speaking to the core of what writing is all about, Nagle talked about the power of film and TV to effect social and political change.
“Film is the one language in this whole world that we all speak,” Nagle said. “We speak story in this room, and story is able to reach people in a place that is beyond ideology, beyond politics and beyond religion. Story unlocks the key to who we really are and how we are all connected to one another…I feel so proud to be part of a group that includes compassion, and the kind of world that we get to live in that we get to embody these stories and tell them. It’s a privilege, it’s an honor. I don’t know if there will ever be another project in my life that takes me this far from home, only to create a home where my heart lives.”
It’s nice that, in the midst of a manic and crazy awards season, this particular Valentine’s Day writers ceremony itself gave one from the heart.