Animators, Cinematographers, Writers Groups Reveal Winners on Busy Night (Analysis)
The first night of February was one of the busiest of the 2013-2014 awards season. On Saturday, while Blue Jasmine's Cate Blanchett was being honored at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival two hours north of Hollywood, no fewer than three guilds with corresponding Oscar categories -- the Writers Guild of America, the American Society of Cinematographers and the International Animated Film Association -- dished out their year-end accolades back in town. And Her, Frozen and Gravity, in particular, headed into Super Bowl Sunday with plenty of reason to feel happy about their Oscar prospects.
* * *
The Writers Guild of America, which has some 12,000 members between WGA-West and WGA-East, presented its 66th WGA Awards in New York and L.A. simultaneously -- or roughly simultaneously. (Some nominees learned via social media that their category had already been announced on the other coast before it was announced in the room in which they sat!)
PHOTOS: The Scene at the WGA Red Carpet
The guild doesn't have a great track record at anticipating Oscar nominees -- over the last 11 years, only 39 of its 55 best adapted screenplay nominees and 30 of its 55 best original screenplay nominees went on to score Oscar noms -- because it considers for its awards only scripts that are produced under the terms of its Minimum Basic Agreement (which applies to films with budgets over $1.1 million) or its Low-Budget Agreement (governing films with budgets under $1.1 million) in the U.S. or under a comparable collective bargaining agreements in the U.K., Canada, Ireland or New Zealand.
When it comes to winners, though, the numbers are a little better.
Eight of the WGA's last 10 best original screenplay winners -- but only one of the last three -- took home the corresponding Oscar Inception was replaced by the WGA-ineligible The King's Speech and Zero Dark Thirty was replaced by the WGA-ineligible Django Unchained). This year, the two presumptive top contenders for the Oscar, David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer's American Hustle and Spike Jonze's Her, were both WGA-eligible, making the result of the race actually worth monitoring for Oscar watchers. (The other nominees were Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack's Dallas Buyers Club and Bob Nelson's Nebraska, all of which also received Oscar noms.) And, in a bit of an upset, the winner turned out to be Warner Bros.' future-set romance Her, not Sony's 1970s period piece dramedy.
This appears to reflect continued momentum for the former film, which also won the corresponding Golden Globe and Critics' Choice awards, and would probably have to be regarded as the Oscar frontrunner now, even if Hustle was the co-leader in total Oscar noms with 10, versus Her's five. (Interestingly, both films were produced by 28-year-old Annapurna Pictures topper Megan Ellison.) As Hitfix's Guy Lodge astutely noted, "You have to go back 13 years to find an Oscar winner in this category that lost (as opposed to simply being ineligible for) the WGA Award: in the 2000 race, the Guild picked Kenneth Lonergan for You Can Count on Me, while the Academy preferred Cameron Crowe for Almost Famous.
Meanwhile, eight of the WGA's last 10 best adapted screenplay winners -- and each of the last three -- took home the corresponding Oscar (American Splendor was replaced by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Up in the Air was replaced by Precious) -- but it's hard to imagine that streak continuing this year, considering that the Oscar frontrunner, John Ridley's 12 Years a Slave, was not eligible for the WGA Award. Still, it was an impressive show of support for Captain Phillips that, at the WGA Awards, it was able to top two fellow Oscar nominees: Terence Winter's The Wolf of Wall Street and Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater's Before Midnight. (The other two WGA nominees, Tracy Letts' August: Osage County and Peter Berg's Lone Survivor, were replaced by the writers branch of the Academy with 12 Years a Slave and Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope's Philomena; the latter, like the former, was ineligible for WGA recognition).
One final WGA point, of note: Sarah Polley's semi-autobiographical Stories We Tell, which was shortlisted but not nominated by the Academy's doc branch, prevailed in the best documentary DGA Award race over a film that the Academy did nominate, Dirty Wars.