WGA Award Noms of Limited Value for Forecasting Screenplay Oscar Noms (Analysis)

Melinda Sue Gordon/Columbia TriStar Marketing Group Inc.

A short time ago, the Writers Guild of America announced its nominees for the 64th annual WGA Awards, which celebrate the year's best adapted and original screenplays. The nominees will be feted and the winners announced on February 19 during simultaneous ceremonies on both coasts.

This year's nominees for best adapted screenplay are: The Descendants (Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Steven Zaillian), The Help (Tate Taylor), Hugo (John Logan), and Moneyball (Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin).

And this year's nominees for best original screenplay are: 50/50 (Will Reiser), Bridesmaids (Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig), Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen), Win Win (Tom McCarthy, Joe Tiboni), and Young Adult (Diablo Cody) -- all comedies!

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While most of the various guilds tend to be the most accurate predictors of what the Academy will nominate in its corresponding categories, that is not the case with the WGA, which has always had quirky eligibility requirements that wind up disqualifying many of the top Oscar-contending screenplays. For instance, because the guild only honors screenplays that were produced by WGA members under WGA guidelines, only 33 adapted screenplays and 55 original screenplays appeared on this year's WGA ballot, and many of the year's most celebrated screenplays -- both adapted (i.e. Albert Nobbs, Carnage, Drive, Jane Eyre, My Week with Marilyn, Sarah's Key, The Skin I Live In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and original (i.e. The Artist, Beginners, The Iron Lady, The Lady, Like Crazy, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Melancholia, Rango, A Separation, Shame, Take Shelter) -- were not among them.

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Consequently, at least one or two WGA nominees -- and sometimes more -- are booted each year by the Academy in favor of films that the WGA refused to consider. This year will be no exception. With the Academy's writing branch, The Artist is a slam-dunk lock for an original screenplay nomination (in fact, it will probably win), and Beginners has at least as good a shot as several of the WGA's selections at scoring a nomination in the category, as well. Additionally, A Separation and Drive are real dark horses to score original and adapted Oscar noms, as well.

So is there anything of substance that we can deduce from today's WGA nominations? Yes -- by looking at which screenplays were on the WGA ballot but still missed.

Most prominent among them is War Horse, which Richard Curtis and Lee Hall adapted from a best-selling novel and acclaimed play. I'm told that WGA members received screeners of the film -- unlike The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, and Moneyball -- which makes it absence from the list of nominees an even more noteworthy snub. The bottom line is that the film isn't doing well with the precursor awards. Yes, it scored a PGA Award nomination, which is important, but the fact that both the Art Directors Guild and now the WGA have both passed on it is not a good sign, since it is the Academy's below-the-line branches, as opposed to its acting branch, that is likely to provide the majority of the film's support. I still think it will wind up with a best picture Oscar nomination -- Spielberg's Munich (2005) also failed to click with many of the guilds, including the WGA, but still wound up a best adapted screenplay and best picture Oscar nominee -- but it's not going to be as strong of a threat to The Artist as I thought it might be.

Another film that took a big hit today was The Tree of Life, which Terrence Malick wrote and directed. While some people love the abstract film, which is a meditation on life and the universe that lacks a traditional narrative, others despise it. Because best picture Oscar voting rewards extreme passion (a nomination now requires only 250 first-place votes), it remains possible that the film could still score a nod, but the fact that it has now been passed over by both the PGA and WGA is not a good sign.

Among the other eligible screenplays that the WGA took a pass on were Contagion, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Ides of March, J. Edgar, and We Need to Talk About Kevin.