WGA's Nix List: Top 10 Oscar Losers
The Writers Guild has ruled some of 2010's best-written scripts ineligible for a WGA Award, since they weren't filmed under WGA jurisdiction. A screenplay that fails to get a WGA nom can still grab an Oscar nom, of course, but it becomes harder to take home a writing Oscar, since the big prizes tend to follow WGA choices. Here's a list of the most important victims (and victors) of the WGA's latest declaration of independence.
The Biggest Losers and How They'll Be Hurt:
1. The WGA. Fine, they don't want to predict Oscars. They want filmmakers to sign contracts beneficial to their members. But by nixing the likes of Inglourious Basterds, Up, District 9 and An Education last year, which meant there was just a 40% overlap between WGA nominees and Oscar nominees, they risked making themselves look the way the documentary Oscar people did back when they omitted lots of prestigious candidates. This year, they're driving a deeper wedge between themselves and the Academy, sullying their reputation as prestige bestowers.
2. The King's Speech. Because it's such a strong Oscar frontrunner, being ruled ineligible for contractual reasons doesn't convey the same shame as being snubbed for an award. The film's best picture, best actor and best supporting actor odds probably won't be affected. But one-time WGA winner and three-time nominee David Seidler's script may lose Oscar traction. That would be a shame, since he may be the most honorable screenwriter of the year (he waited years to make the film just to protect the feelings of the Queen Mum), and you could say of every character's dialogue what Colin Firth's King Bertie says about Hitler: "He says it rather well." Possible beneficiaries: WGA-eligible Inception, The Kids Are All Right and Black Swan.
3. Winter's Bone. Positioned toward the bottom of the best picture contender list, director/co-writer (with Anne Rossellini) Debra Granik could use some WGA love when the WGA noms are announced Jan. 4. The film needs every gust of goodwill and mindshare it can get, and the WGA nix could hurt -- unless Oscar voters get mad and motivated to vote for it, and against WGA bloodymindedness.
4. Another Year. Mike Leigh's marvelously peculiar writing method (lots of improvisation and rehearsal with the actors) was good enough for a WGA nom in 1997 for Secrets & Lies and four Oscar noms. This nix is bad because even if he gets a fifth Oscar writing nom (or even director, less likely), the film was losing heat, and the chief victim is apt to be best-actress hopeful Lesley Manville, in a lifetime breakthrough performance. Palm Springs fest director Darryl Macdonald e-mailed me this heartfelt pitch about Manville's "terrific turn as the bipolar friend wearing her every emotion on her sleeve. Here's hoping [her National Board of Review and London Film Critics awards] will get Academy voters to actually watch their screeners, or better yet come see it at the Palm Springs Festival, and maybe get her a crack at that fifth best actress slot." WGA might bump her down to sixth.
5. Blue Valentine. Surfing a rising tide of good PR (victory over MPAA's NC-17 rating for what the Huffington Post calls "some of the sweetest sex ever shown in movies"), freshly released with an R, this frail, sensitive movie would have done a bit better with a WGA stamp of approval.
6. Biutiful. Critics and pundits are beside themselves trying to loft Javier Bardem's world-stopping, heart-stomping performance to Oscar attention, and the WGA might have helped a bit by giving a nimbus of prestige to a highly downbeat script that's hard to market, except to people with excellent taste and high tolerance for grief.
7. The Way Back. Old-school genius director Peter Weir's extraordinarily tricky, multi-character, globe-spanning, David Lean-on-a-shoestring story faces lots of Oscar obstacles. The WGA nix is just another one that doesn't help.
8. The Ghost Writer. Now that Roman Polanski's legal woes are out of the spotlight, a WGA nom for the exquisitely economical screenplay he wrote with the legendary alternative-history novelist Robert Harris might be a useful nudge to getting them some Oscar spotlight. In his top 10 list on MSN, former Film Comment editor Richard T. Jameson calls it "the best thriller since, jeez, what? Let's say The Parallax View, to which it has some affinities." It hasn't the ghost of a chance at WGA.
9. Made in Dagenham. Granted, William Ivory's screenplay was on few shortlists. But charming star Sally Hawkins was on many, and the WGA nix takes a bit of wind out of the sails of a little film that needs a mighty gust.
10. Toy Story 3. Because it's so enormous and the omission is so striking, I have to put this film on the list of WGA victims. But the blow will harmlessly bounce off, like Buzz Lightyear's laser hitting Woody's badge. In the real world, the WGA is not going to strongarm Disney/Pixar into giving writers residuals by ruling its hits ineligible. Toy Story 3 is a technically a loser in this kerfuffle, but no practical damage will be done at the Oscars.
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Scott Feinberg, the lead awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, is one of the entertainment industry's most experienced and trusted experts about the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys. He started on the awards beat in 2001, writing for independent websites including his own ScottFeinberg.com before joining the Los Angeles Times and then THR, for which he writes “The Race” blog, which won the LA Press Club’s National Entertainment Journalism Award for best entertainment blog of 2012-2013. A voting member of both the Broadcast Film Critics' Association and Broadcast Television Journalists Association, he is also writing a book about film history for young people for which he has interviewed more than 500 high-profile Hollywood figures whose careers span the silent era through the present.
Follow Scott on Twitter at twitter.com/scottfeinberg.