WGA gives 'Beauty' a boost; six of 13 nominees also directed

First-timers dominated the Writers Guild of America nominations announced Wednesday, with only three WGA veterans among the 13 nominated for feature scripts.

And it’s a year of hyphens, as six of the contenders also directed the films for which they’re cited: Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia”), Michael Mann (“The Insider”), Anthony Minghella (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”), Alexander Payne (“Election”), David O. Russell (“Three Kings”) and M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”).

Nominees for screenplay written directly for the screen are Alan Ball, “American Beauty”; Charlie Kaufman, “Being John Malkovich”; Anderson for “Magnolia”; Shyamalan, “The Sixth Sense”; and David O. Russell, story by John Ridley, “Three Kings.”

For screenplay based on material previously published and produced: John Irving, “The Cider House Rules,” based on his novel; Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, “Election,” from the novel by Tom Perrotta; Mann & Eric Roth, “The Insider,” based on the article “The Man Who Knew Too Much” by Marie Brenner; Lewis Colick, “October Sky,” from the book “Rocket Boys” by Homer H. Hickam Jr.; Minghella, for “Ripley,” after the novel by Patricia Highsmith.

For Ball, Irving and Kaufman, the scripts were their first produced screenplays. Irving, who waited 14 years before making the screenplay deal, said, “I am honored by the nomination because the opinion of my fellow writers means a lot to me.”

The honorees emerged from a field of 101 for films written for the screen, and 101 for adapted screenplays.

The only three nominees with previous WGA recognition are Anderson(previously nominated for “Boogie Nights”), Minghella (previously for “The English Patient”) and Roth (who won WGA and Academy Award screenplay prizes for “Forrest Gump”).

“This time, the thrill is bigger,” Roth said. ” ‘Forrest Gump’ was more like being a child, while ‘The Insider’ is much more about my professional life. Creating the screenplay was difficult because of its architecture.”

The WGA awards, to be presented March 5 at simultaneous ceremonies at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and the Plaza Hotel in New York City, are a closely watched indicator of sentiment among Academy Awards voters, although the two orgs have not matched all awards since 1997 when “Fargo” won both original screenplay honors and “Sling Blade” took both adapted awards.

In 1998, “L.A. Confidential” won both awards for adapted screenplay, but “As Good As It Gets” won the WGA honor for original screenplay while “Good Will Hunting” took the Oscar in that category. Last year, “Shakespeare in Love” won both original screenplay awards, while “Out of Sight” won the WGA adapted screenplay honor and “Gods and Monsters” won the Oscar.

DreamWorks’ “American Beauty” has won the original screenplay award from the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. and the Golden Globe for best screenplay; USA Films’ “Being John Malkovich” won the screenplay award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., the National Society of Film Critics and the Boston Society of Film Critics.

“This is all kind of overwhelming, because I never really expected my movie to get made,” Ball said of “American Beauty.”

Ball began working on the screenplay in 1997 while he was serving as co-executive producer on “Cybill.” “These characters had been floating around in my head for years,” he said. “I feel like I hit the jackpot with the director, cast and cinematographer. What’s on the screen is pretty close to matching what I had in mind originally.”

Kaufman, who began work on “Malkovich” in 1994, noted he spent three years being told that people liked the screenplay but that it would be unlikely to ever be produced. “It’s very nice to get this honor from the people who do the writing and know what the process is like,” he added.

Colick said he was particularly gratified that his script for Universal’s “October Sky” received recognition even though it was released far earlier than most other contenders. “On the one hand, I figured it was going to be forgotten but I also always felt like a WGA nomination was possible,” he added. “I’m very moved.”

Taylor echoed those sentiments for the nomination for Paramount’s “Election.” “The film is now available on homevideo, so we really weren’t expecting the nomination,” he said. “It’s very gratifying.”

Mann, who received a nomination two weeks ago from the Directors Guild of America for “The Insider,” said he is uncertain how the honors might impact the lower-than-expected grosses on his movie. “You never know how that works,” he said. “But it’s great to be acknowledged now that we’re in the time zone of the awards from people who do what we do.”

“The Sixth Sense” is from Hollywood Pictures; “Three Kings,” Warner Bros.; and “The Cider House Rules,” Miramax Films. New Line has “Magnolia” Paramount/Miramax released “Ripley,” and Touchstone offered “The Insider.”

Among many films that had been viewed as contenders but did not receive nominations Wednesday were “Boys Don’t Cry,” “The End of the Affair,” “The Green Mile,” “The Hurricane,” “Man on the Moon” and “Topsy-Turvy.”

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