'Sideways,' 'Spotless Mind' win top honors at WGA Awards

See Winners

The Writers Guild of America has rewarded quirky looks at contemporary romance, presenting its top screenwriting honors to Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for “Sideways” and Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

In ceremonies for the 57th annual WGA Awards Saturday night, Payne and Taylor won the adapted screenplay trophy for Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways,” based on Rex Pickett’s darkly comic novel about a pair of friends wooing women on a wine-fueled road trip. It was the second WGA win for the duo, who took the trophy five years ago for “Election.”

The original screenplay award went to Focus Features’ “Eternal Sunshine,” which Kaufman scripted based on a story by him, Gondry and Bismuth that centers on a couple’s chaotic attempts to erase the memory of a too-painful love. It was the first WGA victory for Kaufman, who was nominated previously for “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich.”

Debora Cahn won the drama series award for “The Supremes” episode of NBC’s “The West Wing.” In the comedy category, a pair of Fox sitcoms tied for the prize — Jim Vallely & Mitchell Hurwitz for the “Pier Pressure” segment of “Arrested Development” and Neil Thompson for the “Ida’s Boyfriend” episode of “Malcolm in the Middle.”

HBO won both longform awards, with Tony Kushner taking the adapted category for “Angels in America,” based on his play, and Peter Silverman and Robert Caswell copping the original trophy for “Something the Lord Made.”

‘Simpsons’ scores

Ian Maxtone-Graham won the TV animation trophy for the “Catch ‘Em If You Can” episode of Fox’s “The Simpsons,” topping three other “Simpsons” segs and a “Justice League” episode. NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” won the comedy/variety series award; George Stevens Jr. and Sara Lukinson won for CBS’ “The Kennedy Center Honors” in comedy/variety specials; and Wendy Kesselman won the children’s award for Showtime’s “A Separate Peace.” All TV awards went to first-time winners except for Stevens and Lukinson, who have now won five apiece.

The wins for “Sideways” and “Eternal Sunshine” capped the awards, presented simultaneously at the Hollywood Palladium and the Pierre Hotel in New York.

The screenplay victories — based on voting by the 12,000 WGA members — were not surprising, given the wide support for “Sideways” and “Eternal Sunshine” during awards season. Both won trophies from BAFTA and the National Board of Review, and the “Sideways” screenplay picked up a Golden Globe last month. Both pics are Oscar-nominated in their respective categories.

Payne received an Oscar nom for directing “Sideways,” which is also up for picture, supporting actor and supporting actress; “Eternal Sunshine” also received an Oscar nom for Kate Winslet in the actress category.

Sitting pretty

Both pics have avoided the late-season crunch of award contenders. “Eternal Sunshine,” which opened in March, grossed $34.4 million domestically; it beat “The Aviator,” “Garden State,” “Hotel Rwanda” and “Kinsey.”

“Sideways,” which has grossed about $59 million domestically since its October release, topped “Before Sunset,” “Mean Girls,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Motorcycle Diaries.” “It’s an honor to be in this company,” said Kaufman of his fellow nominees in a brief acceptance speech. “It sounds like it’s not true, but it is.”

Payne echoed that sentiment and thanked Fox Searchlight, producer Michael London and his agents before singling out Pickett. “We share this with you, Jim and I,” he added. “Thanks for the gift of the novel.”

The WGA Awards have tended to be only somewhat reliable in predicting the Academy winners. The guild’s winners have matched Oscar’s winners six times in the last 10 years in the adapted category, diverging last year when Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman won the WGA trophy for “American Splendor” but the Oscar went to Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

The WGA has matched the Oscar choices in the original category five times in the past 10 years, including last year, when Sofia Coppola won both awards for “Lost in Translation.”

Screenplay competition

“Sideways” is competing for the adapted screenplay Oscar against “Before Sunset,” “Finding Neverland,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Motorcycle Diaries.” “Eternal Sunshine” is up against “The Aviator,” “Hotel Rwanda,” “The Incredibles” and “Vera Drake.” “Finding Neverland” and “The Incredibles” weren’t eligible for the WGA awards because they weren’t produced under guild jurisdiction.

John O’Hurley hosted the event at the Palladium while Charles Grodin MC’d in Gotham. The WGA West moved the event from the Century Plaza to show solidarity with a union boycott of that facility. Of the new digs, O’Hurley said, “It’s the Oscars with self-parking.”

One of the biggest laughs of the event was elicited by Don Payne in his acceptance of the Paul Selvin Award for the “Fraudcast News” segment of “The Simpsons,” which satirized media consolidation. “I’d like to thank Rupert Murdoch for not having me killed,” he quipped.

Little mention was made of the bitter financial feud between the WGA West and WGA East, though presenter Andy Rooney said at the Gotham ceremonies, “Before I came out here I got a call from the WGA West. They said they’d pay me double what I was getting if I didn’t show up here tonight.”

(Ian Mohr in New York contributed to this report.)

And the winners are…

SCREEN NOMINEES

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (Focus Features) Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, Story by Charlie Kaufman & Michel Gondry & Pierre Bismuth
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“Sideways”(Fox Searchlight Pictures) Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, Based on the novel by Rex Pickett

TELEVISION NOMINEES

EPISODIC DRAMA
“The Supremes” (“The West Wing”)(NBC)Written by Debora Cahn
EPISODIC COMEDY
TIE “Pier Pressure” (“Arrested Development”)(Fox) Written by Jim Vallely & Mitchell Hurwitz
TIE “Ida’s Boyfriend” (“Malcolm in the Middle”) (Fox) Written by Neil Thompson
LONG FORM – ORIGINAL
“Something the Lord Made” (HBO) Written by Peter Silverman and Robert Caswell
LONG FORM – ADAPTED
“Angels in America” (HBO) Teleplay by Tony Kushner, Based on the play by Tony Kushner
ANIMATION
“Catch ‘Em If You Can” (“The Simpsons”) (Fox) Written by Ian Maxtone-Graham

COMEDY/VARIETY – MUSIC, AWARDS, TRIBUTES – SPECIALS
“The Kennedy Center Honors” (CBS) Written by George Stevens, Jr. and Sara Lukinson
COMEDY/VARIETY – (including talk) SERIES
“Late Night with Conan O’Brien” (NBC) Written by Mike Sweeney, Chris Albers, Jose Arroyo, Andy Blitz, Kevin Dorff, Dan Goor, Michael Gordon, Brian Kiley, Michael Koman,

Demetri Martin, Brian McCann, Guy Nicolucci, Conan O’Brien, Allison Silverman, Robert Smigel, Brian Stack, Andrew Weinberg
DAYTIME SERIALS
“Guiding Light” (CBS) Written by David Kreizman, Tita Bell, Joyce Brotman, Christopher Dunn, Lloyd Gold, Kimberly Hamilton, Jill Lorie Hurst, Penelope Koechl, Eleanor Labine, Royal Miller, Casandra Morgan, Danielle Paige, David Smilow, Gillian Spencer, Brett Staneart, Donna Swajeski, Ellen Weston
CHILDREN’S SCRIPT
“A Separate Peace” (Showtime) Teleplay by Wendy Kesselman, Based on the novel by John Knowles
DOCUMENTARY – CURRENT EVENTS
“From China with Love” (“Frontline”) (PBS) Written by Michael J. Kirk

DOCUMENTARY – OTHER THAN CURRENT EVENTS
“The Fight” (American Experience) (PBS) Written by Barak Goodman

NEWS – REGULARLY SCHEDULED, BULLETIN OR BREAKING REPORT
“The Reagan Funeral” (“ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings”) (ABC) Written by Steve Alperin
NEWS – ANALYSIS, FEATURE OR COMMENTARY
“Change of Heart” (“60 Minutes II”) (CBS) Written by Rebecca Peterson & Scott Pelley
NEWS – ON-AIR PROMOTION (RADIO OR TELEVISION)
“Still Standing: Kill Bill, King of Queens: Runner” (CBS) Written by Chris Cranner
“Center of the Universe: Direct TV” (CBS) , Written by Chris Cranner & Jay Curtis & Mark Mallor
“Still Standing/Listen Up: Who’s On First” (CBS) Written by Chris Cranner & Jay Curtis
NEWS – TV GRAPHIC ANIMATION
“CBS 2 Celebrates Subway Centennial/Sports Block” (CBS) Written by Christopher T. Ingram

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