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Saturday Awards Barrage Spreads Wealth Between Many Contenders (Analysis)

The weekend kicked off with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival's writers and directors panels, followed by the fest's final tribute and both the USC Scripter Award and the Art Directors Guild Awards ceremonies.

Gravity 12 Years a Slave Split - H 2014
Warner Bros./Fox Searchlight
"Gravity"; "12 Years a Slave"

We are now just three weeks from the 86th Academy Awards, and don't think that contenders, publicists and journalists aren't counting the days. It has been a long and draining season for all of the aforementioned parties, which is why some were half applauding and half rolling their eyes on Saturday night as a barrage of yet more awards were dished out -- including one to an ex-slave who has been dead for 150 years, another to a guy who hasn't stopped campaigning since September and yet another to a director at a ceremony for production designers. Go figure.

Following a Friday night on which the American Cinema Editors guild made some surprising choices at its 64th Eddie Awards gala -- Captain Phillips (Christopher Rouse) topped fellow best film editing Oscar nominees 12 Years a Slave (Joe Walker) and Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron, Mark Sanger) to win best edited feature film (dramatic) and best film editing Oscar nominee American Hustle (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers) beat the likes of Nebraska (Kevin Tent) and The Wolf of Wall Street (Thelma Schoonmaker) to win best edited feature film (comedy or musical) -- no fewer than two awards groups and one film festival dished out their honors on Saturday.

At the USC Scripter Awards, which are held each year inside the historic Edward L. Doheny Memorial Library on the USC campus -- think the Great Hall in Hogwarts Castle -- and honor the year's best screenplay adapted from a book and the book from which it was derived, 12 Years a Slave was the night's big winner. Consequently, the honorees were the film's Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Ridley and the man whose 1853 autobiography of the same title he adapted, the late Solomon Northup, several of whose descendants joined Ridley and his son at the ceremony.

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In picking up the Scripter, the winner of which is determined by 35 writers from various facets of academia and the film industry who voted on Jan. 14 -- and has corresponded with the best adapted screenplay Oscar winner in five of the last six years -- 12 Years topped Captain Phillips (Oscar nominee Billy Ray adapted the memoir of the real Capt. Phillips, Richard Phillips, who rivaled lifetime achievement award honoree Robert Towne as the most notable person at the event), Philomena (Oscar nominees Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope adapted a biography by Martin Sixsmith), The Spectacular Now (Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber adapted Tim Tharp's book) and What Maisie Knew (Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne's take on Henry James' 1897 novel).

Fun but unverifiable chatter in the room: What Maisie Knew, a film that may be very well made but was hardly seen by anyone thanks to poor distribution, was accorded a nomination largely because Scripter voters did not want to nominate The Wolf of Wall Street and thereby celebrate Jordan Belfort, the controversial figure whose autobiography of the same title inspired Terence Winter's screenplay. (Wolf and Before Midnight, which was adapted from an earlier film rather than a book, replaced Scripter nominees The Spectacular Now and What Maisie Knew in the Academy's lineup.)

Meanwhile, over at the 18th Art Directors Guild Awards, Warner Bros.' trio of contenders -- each of which is also nominated for the best production design Oscar -- swept the three different ADG categories that honor the production design of films, something that has never happened before. The prizes went to Gravity (Andy Nicholson) for best fantasy film, Her (K.K. Barrett) for best contemporary film and The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin) for best period film. Gatsby topped the category's other two Oscar nominees, American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave.

Meanwhile, the ADG also provided the Wolf [of Wall Street] pack with an excuse to reunite for the second time in three nights: best actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio and best supporting actor nominee Jonah Hill presented best director nominee Martin Scorsese with the guild's Cinematic Imagery Award.

And finally, a couple of hours north of Los Angeles, the last tribute of the 29th Santa Barbara International Film Festival -- following others to David O. Russell (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels' The Butler), Robert Redford (All Is Lost) and Scorsese and DiCaprio -- was presented to best actor Oscar nominee Bruce Dern (Nebraska), who was presented with the Modern Master Award that was originally intended for Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) before she was Oscar-snubbed and consequently pulled out of her commitment to the fest.

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Earlier in the day, SBIFF hosted two panel discussions featuring Oscar nominees, each of which lasted for an hour-and-a-half.

The first, moderated by IndieWire's Anne Thompson, was devoted to writers and featured 12 Years' Ridley and Philomena's Pope, plus Craig Borten (Dallas Buyers Club), Bob Nelson (Nebraska) and Eric Warren Singer (American Hustle). Nelson, who has a background in sketch comedy, brought the house down with self-deprecating remarks and revelations about how much of the film is actually based on members of his own eccentric midwestern family. And Borten, who spent 20 years trying to get Dallas made, memorably likened his experience of working with his co-writer/co--nominee Melisa Wallack to "a relationship -- but there was no sex, which is probably why it was very stressful."

The second, which I moderated, was devoted to directors and featured best animated feature nominee Jennifer Lee (Frozen), best documentary feature nominees Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) and Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing) and best foreign language film nominees Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) and Felix Van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown). Video of the entire conversation will appear on this blog very shortly.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg