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Guilds give nods to niches

WGA: issue pix front and center

Showbiz writers have rewarded independent features and issues-oriented dramas — along with offbeat comedy “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” — in Writers Guild of America screenplay nominations.

Announced Wednesday, noms in the original category went to Universal’s “Cinderella Man,” screenplay by Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman, story by Hollingsworth; Lionsgate’s “Crash,” screenplay by Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco, story by Haggis; U’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” written by Judd Apatow & Steve Carell; Warner Independent’s “Good Night, and Good Luck,” written by George Clooney & Grant Heslov; and Samuel Goldwyn’s “The Squid and the Whale,” written by Noah Baumbach.

Adapted screenplay noms went to Focus’ “Brokeback Mountain,” screenplay by Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana, based on the short story by Annie Proulx; Sony Classics’ “Capote,” screenplay by Dan Futterman, based on the book by Gerald Clarke; Focus’ “The Constant Gardener,” screenplay by Jeffrey Caine, based on the novel by John le Carre; New Line’s “A History of Violence,” screenplay by Josh Olson, based on the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke; and Warner Bros.’ “Syriana,” written by Stephen Gaghan, based on the book “See No Evil” by Robert Baer.

Writers mostly shunned studio fare, with “Syriana,” “Cinderella Man” and “Virgin” repping the only WGA picks from the majors. Both “Cinderella Man” and “Crash” opened theatrically more than six months ago and have been released on DVD during the awards season.

WGA winners have matched the Oscars six times in the past 11 years in the original category, including last year, when Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth won both awards for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” In the adapted category, winners have matched seven times in the past 11 years, including in 2005, when Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor took both trophies for “Sideways.”

Two of the previous matches came from Gaghan and Goldsman. Gaghan took both adapted screenplay trophies for “Traffic” five years ago, and Goldsman won both kudos in the same category for “A Beautiful Mind” the next year.

Haggis was nominated last year for “Million Dollar Baby.” McMurtry was nominated 35 years ago for “The Last Picture Show.”

“These are the people who really know what writing’s all about,” Haggis said, “I get to spend the day making phone calls instead of writing.”

Every other nominee was a first-timer. “I’m just knocked out; if this is as good as it gets, it’s more than enough,” said Olsen, noting “A History of Violence” was his first studio pic.

Heslov speculated that “Good Night, and Good Luck” resonated with WGA members because of its focus on civil liberties. “Being able to express oneself freely is such a large part of what writers do,” he said. “And Edward R. Murrow is a hero that writers can relate to.”

McMurtry and Ossana credited Proulx’s source material for “Brokeback.” “Usually you have a big sloppy novel to work from, but in this case, it’s just 11 pages, so we were able to really use our imagination,” McMurtry said.

Some overlooked pics include “Match Point,” “The New World,” “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” and “The Upside of Anger” in the original category. Missing out in the adapted category were potential contenders “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Munich,” “North Country,” “Proof,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “Shopgirl” and “Walk the Line.”

Films were eligible for voting by the 12,000 WGA members only if produced under a guild contract, which left out animated films such as “Madagascar” and “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”

There were 108 films eligible for nomination in the original category and 87 in the adapted area.

Winners will be announced Feb. 4 in simultaneous ceremonies at the Hollywood Palladium and Gotham’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

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