'Inception,' 'Social Network' Win Top WGA Awards

5:58 PM PST 02/05/2011 by Jay A. Fernandez , Georg Szalai
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In an upset, Christopher Nolan's Inception won the Writers Guild of America award for best original screenplay Saturday night. The script beat favorites The Kids Are All Right and The Fighter, among others.

Oscar favorite The King's Speech was not nominated for the prize because it didn't qualify under union rules, an issue Nolan addressed explicitly from the stage by pointedly saying that he looked forward to a time when anyone in his winning position in the future could accept the award “without qualification.”

Unsurprisingly, Aaron Sorkin was handed the adapted screenplay honor for The Social Network, based on Ben Mezrich’s nonfiction book The Accidental Billionaires. Sorkin’s script has won a slew of critics prizes as well as the Golden Globe for best screenplay. Long a dominant TV presence (The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), Sorkin was last nominated for a WGA feature screenplay award in 1996 for The American President. He remains a heavy favorite as the Oscars near.

The major television writing awards went to frequent winner Mad Men for drama series and Modern Family for comedy series. It was the third win in a row for Matthew Weiner’s staff (its debut year it won for best new series) and first for Steven Levitan’s crew (which also won best new series, in 2010).

As part of their acceptance speech, each member of the Modern Family writing staff stepped to the microphone to “apologize” to family members for mining their most embarrassing traits and foul-ups for TV comedy gold. “I’d like to apologize to my children,” Levitan said, “for not locking the bedroom door.”

The writing staff of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire took the award for best new series. Robert Carlock won the prize for episodic comedy for his “When It Rains, It Pours” episode of 30 Rock, while Erin Levy took it for episodic drama for her episode of Mad Men titled “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.”

Charles Ferguson, Chad Beck and Adam Bolt were awarded the documentary screenplay award for Inside Job. The nonfiction writing nominees included Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath for Enemies of the People; Stanley Nelson for Freedom Riders; Josh Fox for Gasland; Michael Zimbalist and Jeff Zimbalist for The Two Escobars; and John Scheinfeld for Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?

The WGA’s annual awards for film, TV, radio, news, promotional, video-game, animation and variety-show writing were presented Saturday night in simultaneous ceremonies at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel in L.A. and the AXA Equitable Center in New York City. Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet of Modern Family hosted the West Coast show, kicking off with a funny song-and-dance number called “Write It Gay.” The Daily Show With Jon Stewart correspondent Kristen Schaal hosted back east.

The writing staff of The Colbert Report vanquished its rivals at The Daily Show for best comedy/variety series. Ken Keeler won the animation award for his Futurama script “The Prisoner of Benda.” And lead script writer Jeffrey Yohalem and his team won the videogame writing award for the Ubisoft game Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

Among the presenters were Mitch Albom and Hank Azaria, Blossom creator Don Reo and star Mayim Bialik, Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, SCTV icons Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short, Amy Poehler and Greg Daniels, J.J. Abrams and Fringe star Anna Torv, Candice Bergen, WGA West president John Wells and Simpsonsregulars Al Jean and Dan Castellaneta, who presented in the voice of Homer Simpson.

Honorary awards were bestowed at the WGA ceremony, as well. WGA-award winner Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List) received the guild’s Laurel Award for Screen; writer-producer Diane English (Murphy Brown) received the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television; Mike Scully (The Simpsons) received the Animation Writers Caucus Animation Award; Jez Butterworth &John-Henry Butterworth received the Paul Selvin Award for their Fair Gamescreenplay; Tonino Guerra (Blow-Up) received the Jean Renoir Award; and Seth Freeman (Lou Grant) and Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) each received the Valentine Davies Award.

Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-chairman Amy Pascal gave the award to Zaillian, who most recently wrote the adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for her after a relationship that stretches back 30 years. Steven Spielberg, who directed Zaillian’s script for Schindler’s List to Oscars for both of them, sent a message via video. “You’re a young enough guy to get this award again in 15 years,” he said. “And you will.”

Zaillian listed Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler, Robert Towne, Alvin Sargent and Paul Schrader as “teachers.”

Bergen’s presentation to English, who created and ran Murphy Brown in 1988, was especially emotional. Thanking her for creating a seminal female protagonist who ended up doing battle with vice president Dan Quayle, Bergen described English’s contribution to culture as “giving women in the ’90s a role model.” After a standing ovation, English ended her acceptance speech by saying that she had said to execs at CBS that if Sarah Palin runs for president, they have to let English bring Murphy Brown back on the air.

“Six episodes is all I need,” she joked.

Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin (Black Swan), Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg (The Kids Are All Right), Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson (The Fighter) and Nicole Holofcener (Please Give) were also up for the WGA’s original screenplay honor.Also nominated in the adapted screenplay category were Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours), John Requa& Glenn Ficarra (I Love You Phillip Morris), Peter Craig and Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard (The Town) and Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (True Grit).

Nolan’s somewhat surprising WGA win makes the Academy’s original screenplay contest especially hard to predict as the kudos season builds to its Oscars finale. The Academy’s original screenplay nominees include the writers of The Kids Are All Right and The Fighter along with Mike Leigh for Another Year and David Seidler for The King’s Speech. Nolan was previously nominated for Memento and Leigh has been up for the award four other times without winning.

Sorkin will remain the heavy favorite in the Oscar race for adapted screenplay that also includes the writers of 127 Hours and True Grit along with Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3 and Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini for Winter’s Bone. Beaufoy, the Coens and Arndt have all won writing Oscars previously, and Stanton has been nominated several times, while Sorkin is a first-time nominee.

In 2010, Mark Boal won the WGA Award for original screenplay for The Hurt Locker. Sheldon Turner and Jason Reitman took the prize for adapted screenplay for Up in the Air. Other recent WGA award original screenplay winners include Dustin Lance Black (Milk), Diablo Cody (Juno) and Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine).

WINNERS LIST AFTER PAGE BREAK

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