Writers announce picks for screenplays

Opting solely for first-time nominees, the Writers Guild of America has tapped “Babel,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Queen,” “Stranger Than Fiction” and “United 93″ for its original screenplay award and “Borat,” “The Departed,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Little Children” and “Thank You for Smoking” for the adapted award.

WGA noms, announced Thursday, showed a strong preference for comedies. Laffers rep half the selected films, including all but one in the adapted category.

“Little Miss Sunshine” scribe Michael Arndt said he was delighted at the presence of laffers in the WGA results. “Even though there’s a belief that dramas portray the world more accurately, I think that comedies actually often present a truer picture of reality,” he told Daily Variety.

The credited writers in the orginal category are Guillermo Arriaga (Par Vantage’s “Babel”); Arndt (Fox Searchlight’s “Little Miss Sunshine”); Peter Morgan (Miramax’s “The Queen”); Zach Helm (Sony’s “Stranger Than Fiction”); and Paul Greengrass (Universal’s “United 93″).

In the adapted category, the scribes are Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham and Dan Mazer (20th Century Fox’s “Borat”); William Monahan (WB’s “The Departed”); Aline Brosh McKenna (Fox’s “The Devil Wears Prada”); Todd Field and Tom Perrotta (New Line’s “Little Children”); and Jason Reitman (Searchlight’s “Thank You for Smoking”).

Winners will be announced Feb. 11 in simultaneous ceremonies in Los Angeles and New York. The nominations were based on voting by the guild’s 13,000 members from films released in 2006 and produced under WGA jurisdiction, with 147 eligible in original screenplay and 105 in adapted.

Guild voters passed over several well-known contenders, including Eric Roth for “The Good Shepherd” in the original category and Bill Condon for “Dreamgirls” and Paul Haggis for “Flags of Our Fathers” in the adapted category. Other notable omissions included “World Trade Center” in the original category and “Children of Men,” “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “Notes on a Scandal” in the adapted category.

The screenplays for “Volver” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” weren’t eligible.

The script for Fox’s “Borat” qualified in the adapted category since it was based on a character created by Cohen, who told Daily Variety that the recognition from scribes was especially gratifying.

“Essentially, this was an experiment to write a story that would happen in the real world,” he noted. “It’s a new way of writing a story where real people move a fictional story forward.”

Field is the only WGA nominee who’s also received Oscar nominations previously. He received Academy mentions for co-writing and producing 2001’s “In the Bedroom,” which wasn’t eligible for WGA consideration.

Field told Daily Variety that writing the script had been relatively easy compared with his other screenplays.

“Most of the time it’s like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the mountain, but New Line was always completely behind what we did,” he said.

McKenna, tapped for “The Devil Wears Prada,” said that comedy’s path to the screen was unexpectedly hassle-free. “We all had the same movie in mind, and it was a huge help to have such amazing actors in it,” she added.

The noms leaned mostly toward smaller and mid-budget films, with three pics – “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Borat” and “The Departed” – having grossed over $100 million domestically.

Fox Searchlight’s Sundance acquisition “Thank You for Smoking” resonated with WGA voters even though it was released last March.

Reitman, who also directed, said “Smoking” probably spoke to the WGA members due to its message of independence.

“I think it connected because it’s a politically incorrect movie that tells people to think for themselves,” said Reitman, who wrote the script seven years ago. “Most films that say they’re open-minded really do have an agenda.”

Announcement continues the awards season momentum for “Babel,” “The Departed,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Queen.” That quartet, along with “Dreamgirls,” took all the feature nominations from the DGA and Producers Guild; “Babel,” “The Departed,” “Dreamgirls” and “Little Miss Sunshine” also took SAG noms for ensemble.

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

Fox and Fox Searchlight emerged as the big winners in the WGA noms with two each.

Writer-directors took three noms – Reitman for “Thank You for Smoking,” Greengrass for Universal’s “United 93″ and Field for New Line’s “Little Children,” which he co-wrote with Perrotta.

In the adapted category, three of the nominated pics were based on novels – Lauren Weisberger’s “The Devil Wears Prada,” Perrotta’s “Little Children” and Christopher Buckley’s “Thank You for Smoking.”

Monahan, who received a nom for adapting Hong Kong actioner “Infernal Affairs” into “The Departed,” eschewed an interview and issued a simple statement: “The nomination is an honor. Many thanks to WGA members.”

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

“Babel”
Guillermo Arriaga, Paramount Vantage
“Little Miss Sunshine
Michael Arndt, Fox Searchlight Pictures
“The Queen”
Peter Morgan, Miramax Films
“Stranger Than Fiction”
Zach Helm, Sony Pictures Entertainment
“United 93,”
Paul Greengrass, Universal Pictures

“ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

“Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,”
Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Peter Baynham & Dan Mazer, Story by Sacha Baron Cohen & Peter Baynham & Anthony Hines & Todd Phillips, Based on a Character Created by Sacha Baron Cohen, Twentieth Century Fox
“The Departed”
William Monahan, Based on the Motion Picture “Infernal Affairs,” Written by Alan Mak and Felix Chong, Warner Bros. Pictures
“The Devil Wears Prada”
Aline Brosh McKenna, Based on the Novel by Lauren Weisberger, Twentieth Century Fox
“Little Children”
Todd Field & Tom Perrotta, Based on the Novel by Tom Perrotta, New Line Cinema
“Thank You for Smoking”
Jason Reitman, Based on the Novel by Christopher Buckley, Fox Searchlight Pictures

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