Actors who penned their own parts fared well Thursday in the Writers Guild of America’s award nominations, which rewarded a quartet of biopics but also offered up a few surprises.
The adapted category includes thesps Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke and director Richard Linklater for Warner Independent’s “Before Sunset” (story by Linklater and Kim Krizan); Tina Fey for Paramount’s “Mean Girls”; Paul Haggis, Warner’s “Million Dollar Baby”; Jose Rivera, Focus’ “The Motorcycle Diaries”; and director Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for Fox Searchlight’s “Sideways.”
Nominated in the original-script category are John Logan for Miramax and Warner’s “The Aviator”; Charlie Kaufman, Focus’ “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (story by Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth); actor-director Zach Braff, Fox Searchlight’s “Garden State”; Keir Pearson and director Terry George, UA and Lions Gate’s “Hotel Rwanda”; and Bill Condon for Fox Searchlight’s “Kinsey.”
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Winners will be announced Feb. 19 in simultaneous ceremonies at the Hollywood Palladium and the Hotel Pierre in New York.
Fey’s nom for “Mean Girls” was probably the big surprise, less than two weeks before the Jan. 25 announcement of Academy Awards nominations. “Mean Girls” had been mostly absent from awards season recognition until the WGA announcement Thursday.
The WGA noms are closely tracked as an indicator of Oscar sentiment, even though they have decidedly different voting groups. The guild’s awards are decided by its 12,000 active members; there are currently 398 members of the writers branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
Oscar match not so close
WGA winners in the original screenplay category have matched Oscar choices five times in the last 10 years, including Sofia Coppola for “Lost in Translation” last year. Adapted winners have matched six times in the same period, diverging last year when Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman won the WGA trophy for “American Splendor” and the Oscar went to Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”
One of those divergences involved Condon, who went on to win an Oscar for “Gods and Monsters” in 1999 after the WGA opted for Scott Frank for “Out of Sight” in the adapted category.
“Getting a WGA nomination is just as thrilling as getting an Oscar nomination in that you feel so gratified for the recognition by your peers,” Condon told Daily Variety. “I think people have responded to ‘Kinsey’ because of how it shows that things haven’t changed that much.”
Seven of the nominees were first-timers: Braff, Delpy, Gondry, Hawke, Linklater, Pearson and Rivera.
“I am completely surprised to be getting this acknowledgment by established writers,” said Braff, whose “Garden State” was his first screenplay. “I decided the screenplay shouldn’t follow convention, and I think other writers may have liked the idea of its disjointed structure.”
Delpy echoed that sentiment, noting that WGA members may have been impressed by the unorthodox approach to revealing the characters in “Before Sunset.” “It’s wonderful to get this recognition because the screenplay is very atypical with very little plot,” she said.
“Sideways” writers Payne and Taylor are the only previous WGA screenplay winners, having copped the trophy for “Election” in 2000. Fey shared a 2001 WGA award for TV spec “Saturday Night Live: 25th Anniversary,” and Logan won a WGA trophy in 2001 for his “RKO 281” teleplay.
A ‘complex’ portrait
Logan, who also shared an Oscar nom for “Gladiator,” said the support for “Aviator” was probably due to its success in presenting a coherent portrayal of Howard Hughes. “For me, the nomination is the highest compliment because writers appreciate how difficult it is to deal with a complex, multifaceted life,” he said.
Kaufman previously received WGA nominations for “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich”; George shared a nom with Jim Sheridan for “In the Name of the Father”; and Haggis received a 1989 WGA nomination for the sitcom “thirtysomething.”
“There’s absolutely nothing better, and I am beside myself,” Haggis said. “I had great underlying material to work with in F.X. Toole’s story, which is a gem, and a great director in Clint Eastwood.”
Rivera said he was stunned by the notification call, adding, “Since I just got engaged, I initially thought I was getting congratulated for that.
“I think that writers recognize how difficult it is to construct a screenplay out of memoirs that contain no dialogue,” he noted.
The voting overlooked critical faves “Collateral,” “I Heart Huckabees,” “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” “Maria Full of Grace,” “Ray” and “Vera Drake” on the original side and “Being Julia,” “Closer,” “The Door in the Floor,” “Friday Night Lights,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Notebook,” and “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” on the adapted side.
“Bad Education,” “Finding Neverland,” “The Incredibles,” “Kill Bill Vol. 2” and “The Sea Inside” weren’t included among the 193 eligible screenplays — 109 original and 84 adapted — since they weren’t produced under WGA jurisdiction.
Docu noms separate
Guild has also decided to set up a separate award for documentaries this year, so Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” isn’t eligible in the original screenplay category, which he won in 2003 for “Bowling for Columbine.” Kudos will be presented at a separate event prior to the WGA gala.
Source material for the adapted category: “Million Dollar Baby” was based on stories from Toole’s collection “Rope Burns”; “Sideways” was based on Rex Pickett’s novel; “Before Sunset” was based on characters Linklater and Krizan created for 1995 pic “Before Sunrise”; “Mean Girls” was based on Rosalind Wiseman’s book “Queen Bees and Wannabes”; and “The Motorcycle Diaries” was based on memoirs by Che Guevara and Alberto Granado.