'Miss' a hit with scribes

Opting for recent awards-season favorites, the Writers Guild of America presented its top screenplay trophies to Michael Arndt for “Little Miss Sunshine” in the original category and William Monahan for “The Departed” in the adapted category.

Arndt’s dysfunctional family comedy bested “Babel,” “The Queen,” “Stranger Than Fiction” and “United 93.” Monahan’s crime drama — adapted from the 2002 Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs” — topped “Borat,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Little Children” and “Thank You for Smoking.”

Both Arndt and Monahan were first-time WGA nominees, together with the rest of the field.

“I think the only thing that is standing between me being up here and living in my mom’s basement is my agent Bill Weinstein,” Arndt said, noting that Weinstein was the first person in Hollywood to peddle his script six years ago as Arndt crashed at his mother’s house.

Kudos were announced Sunday night in simultaneous ceremonies for the 59th annual Writers Guild Awards at the Century Plaza in Los Angeles and the Millennium Broadway in Gotham.

Based on voting by the 13,000 WGA members, the victories maintain recent momentum for Fox Searchlight’s “Sunshine” and Warner Bros.’ “The Departed,” which are vying for the best picture Oscar along with “Babel,” “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “The Queen.” “Sunshine” won the Producers Guild and SAG ensemble awards, and Martin Scorsese drew the DGA trophy for “The Departed” on Feb. 3.

Arndt’s WGA award is for his first produced screenplay and comes half a dozen years after he first penned “Little Miss Sunshine.” He noted at the guild’s panel discussion Thursday that it was crucial in the road-trip comedy that the characters face seemingly unsolvable dilemmas.

“The problem with comedy is that it’s not serious enough,” Arndt said. “There have to be problems the audience can’t see a solution to, so it comes as an epiphany. As you watch the film, it feels like a comedy because you’re laughing, but the characters feel like this is the worst weekend of their lives.”

Monahan’s script centered on mobsters in Boston, where he grew up, and its Irish Catholic culture. The pic’s mob boss, played by Jack Nicholson, was partly modeled on James “Whitey” Bulger, who was eventually revealed to be an FBI informant.

A nervous Monahan’s acceptance speech was simply, “I can’t thank you enough; I did not prepare anything to say.” He then briefly

thanked the WGA membership and everyone who helped make “The Departed” a success before departing.

Arndt and Monahan head into the Feb. 25 Academy Awards as front-runners, although this year’s screenplay races are viewed as especially competitive.

WGA winners have matched Oscar winners in the original category in seven of the past 12 years, including last year, when Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco won for “Crash”; the guild’s winner in the adapted category has doubled as Oscar winner eight times in the past 12 years, including last year’s Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana for “Brokeback Mountain.”

“Little Miss Sunshine” faces Oscar competition in the original screenplay contest from “Babel,” “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Queen.” “The Departed” competes in the adapted category against “Borat,” “Children of Men,” “Little Children” and “Notes on a Scandal.” “Pan’s Labyrinth” wasn’t eligible for a WGA award since it wasn’t made under guild jurisdiction.

Amy Berg won the documentary feature writing award for Lionsgate’s “Deliver Us From Evil.” Pic, which centered on a former priest and convicted pedophile, was the only docu among the finalists with an Oscar nomination.

The WGA docu awards are in their third year; previous winners were “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and “Super Size Me.” Documentaries were excluded from the feature categories after Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” won the WGA’s original screenplay trophy four years ago.

In the WGA TV awards presented Sunday, HBO’s “The Sopranos” won the drama series trophy and NBC’s “The Office” took comedy series, while ABC’s “Ugly Betty” won the new series award. WGA trophy was the third for “The Sopranos,” which won drama episode awards in 2000 and 2002; the guild added the three series award categories last year.

Steve Carell won a second trophy for “The Office” in top comedy episode for writing the “Casino Night” segment, while Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer’s pilot for HBO’s “Big Love” took the drama episode category. Carell was one of the dozen writers honored for “The Office” in its comedy series win.

Upon accepting his award, Carell evoked a big laugh by saying tongue-in-cheek, “The other writers did not help me, so I celebrate me.”

Nevin Schreiner won the original longform award for A&E’s “Flight 93,” and John Frink took the animated trophy for “The Italian Bob” episode of Fox’s “The Simpsons.” Win was the fourth consecutive for “The Simpsons,” which had received four of the six nominations.

The WGA didn’t announce noms in the adapted longform category this year.

The comedy/variety series award went to 25 writers for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” while Joan Meyerson won for PBS’ “The National Memorial Day Concert” in the comedy/variety — music, awards, tributes — specials category. “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” had won the previous two comedy/variety series trophies.

Alana Sanko won the children’s award for Nick’s “Premiere” segment of “Just for Kicks,” and CBS’ “As the World Turns” took the daytime serials trophy.

PBS won both TV docu awards –not surprising, as it had received all 10 nominations — with Michael Kirk feted for “The Dark Side” for “Frontline” in current events and David Grubin winning in the other-than- current-events category for “Marie Antoinette.” Victory for Kirk was his third consecutive in the category.

In the news categories, Jonathan Kaplan won for CBS’ “Remembering Lou Rawls” in the regularly scheduled, bulletin or breaking category, and Tom Jennings won for PBS’ “Crisis Mismanagement” in analysis, feature or commentary.

WGA West prexy Patric Verrone made a surprise announcement: The guild’s board had bestowed the Robert Meltzer award for bravery upon the dozen writers at “America’s Next Top Model” who lost their jobs last year after striking unsuccessfully for a WGA contract. Robert Wuhl hosted the awards in Los Angeles, while Tina Fey, one of the head writers who drew the nod for “Saturday Night Live,” emceed in Gotham.

Meanwhile, about a dozen reps from the Newspaper Guild leafleted at entrances to the WGA East event to protest the lack of progress in contract negotiations for office workers at the WGA East.

(Jeff Sneider in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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