Does ‘Argo’s’ WGA Victory Seal The Deal For Oscar?

Tonight’s Writers Guild of America awards show brought further clarity to this year’s topsy turvy awards race but it also brought some embarrassment to the guild. Is there any reason the WGA can’t coordinate the so-called “simutaneous” ceremonies between east coast and west coast so that winners aren’t being tweeted thoughout the room at L.A.’s JW Marriott Hotel Ballroom a full hour before they are announced to the local crowd gathered for the main awards show?

Anyone with a Blackberry or iPhone knew that Argo and Zero Dark Thirty won their respective Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay awards long before the actual winners in Los Angeles even knew thanks to word leaking out of the New York WGA East show. Argo’s scripter Chris Terrio told me he had no idea until it was announced in L.A . that he had won even though that announcement came fully an hour and a half after it was blasted across several websites including Deadline. He said he wondered if something was up when other winners on stage referred to tweets they had received indicating they had won but he never checked. Director Ben Affeck stayed home with the family but told Terrio he would be closely following events on the WGA’s live streaming site. Obviously he had reason to be happy.

Zero Dark Thirty’s Mark Boal told me his phone wasn’t working but he heard about five minutes before his category was announced that he had won . I’m told Sony chief Amy Pascal was even emailing congratulations before the winner was read in L.A.  In his speech Boal mentioned that knowing gave him time to put some words of thanks together. Zero Dark’s  director Kathryn Bigelow , also at the Sony table, said she knew something was up when she looked over and saw me tweeting furiously at a nearby table. Slowly the whole room was getting the word. Half the Lincoln table next to mine clearly knew but seemed to keep the news of the Argo win from Kushner. It seems a shame that an awards ceremony has to be run like this. Can’t we keep it a secret until the envelopes are opened on both coasts?  C’mon this is the social media age. Stuff leaks out fast. Let’s fix it.

As for the show itself it was a classy affair with some first rate acceptances. Valentine Davies special award winner Phil Rosenthal stole it with a particularly funny speech that was at times heartfelt and mostly hilarious. Lincoln’s Tony Kushner also deliverered a fine thank you from the heart upon accepting the guild’s prestigious Paul Selvin Award. And Tom Stoppard’s perfectly pitched acceptance of the Laurel Award for screenwriting was exactly how it should be done and certainly was inspiration for every writer in the room.  It was also nice to see the Breaking Bad team take the series writing award two years in a row as well. Creator Vince Gilligan told me before the show that they are down to their last three episodes ever. When I mentioned rumors that there eventually could be a Breaking Bad movie he shot down the idea. And don’t even think about a  Sopranos –type ending for the series. “We are going to lay it all out on the field,” he said  dismissing any possibility that there will be any question this series has ended once and for all.

As for the meaning of the WGA awards as they relate to Oscars, there are only two days left in Oscar voting so there can’t be too much of a direct impact. But the fact that Argo took the Best Adapted Screenplay prize pretty much seals the deal for this film. If ever there was going to be a place where Lincoln or even Silver Linings Playbook might triumph it was here at the WGA.  And we can’t chalk this win up to simple Argo momentum. The WGA votes were all in by  Friday January 25th , just before the PGA and SAG coronations of Argo were announced. That means there was no big ‘Mo factor at work here and the WGA simply voted what they thought was the best film withoug being influenced by other guilds and awards shows. With Golden Globes, Critics Choice Movie Awards, PGA, DGA, SAG, BAFTA  and now WGA major wins Argo is in just about as commanding a position as any film could possibly be on the cusp of marching into the Academy Awards.

As for Original Screenplay winner Zero Dark Thirty, it’s certainly nice for Boal but it doesn’t cement his Oscar chances in the same category since WGA rules banned Oscar-nominated scripts like Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Michael Haneke’s Amour, both front-running Oscar entries. This is still a wide open race at the Academy Awards but the WGA imprimatur gives Boal a nice boost.

And now there is one week to Oscar Sunday. Although Argo will be entering the Dolby theatre as an overwhelming favorite, stranger things have happened and if ever there was a year ripe for upsets it is this one. Casual surveys of Oscar voters turn up no consensus at all in terms of the way the winds are blowing. That could lead to split votes and surprising winners. Or not.  At any rate expect it to be one hell of a ride in the week we have left.

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