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WGA: Don’t You Love ‘Her’ Madly? (Analysis)

Writers alway like to add plot twists. The trophy to Billy Ray and “Captain Phillips” was a popular choice at the WGAW Saturday, but the talk of the room was the win for Spike Jonze’s “Her.” But maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise. The Warner Bros. film is a quiet powerhouse; in private conversations, many Academy voters have singled it out as their favorite film.

The WGA original screenplay race is especially interesting because the five contenders are the same five cited by Oscar.

The adapted-screenplay win is certainly a boost for Ray and the Sony film but in Oscar terms, it comes with a footnote, since two strong Academy contenders were not WGA eligible: “Philomena” and “12 Years a Slave.”

As Jonze stated in his acceptance, “It’s a high honor coming from writers.” Peer recognition is incomparable. But at this time of year, every awards announcement includes the subtext “But what does this mean in terms of Oscar?”

The WGA has a fairly good track record at predicting the Academy Awards. In the past 19 years, WGA and Oscar matched 12 times in the original-screenplay race, 14 times in adapted.

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But sometimes eligibility is a factor. Last year, Mark Boal won the WGA original screenplay prize for “Zero Dark Thirty,” but Quentin Tarantino took the Oscar for “Django Unchained,” which had been ineligible for WGA. (Chris Terrio won both for adapting “Argo.”)

The guild says that the only eligible scripts are ones produced under WGA jurisdiction or under a collective bargaining agreement in Canada, Ireland, New Zealand or the U.K. This year, the WGA declared more than a dozen high-profile scripts ineligible (Variety, Dec. 3).

Guild execs are adamant that their eligibility rules will remain in place, saying there are many reasons to keep them.

For the record, the identical WGA and Oscar nominations for original screenplay: David O. Russell and Eric Singer for “American Hustle” (which many had predicted would take WGA honors); Woody Allen, “Blue Jasmine” (his 21st nom); Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, “Dallas Buyers Club”; Jonze, “Her”; and Bob Nelson, “Nebraska.”

In adapted screenplay, it was three for five. WGA nominated Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, “Before Midnight”; Ray, “Captain Phillips”;  Terence Winter, “The Wolf of Wall Street”; Tracy Letts, “August: Osage County”; and Peter Berg, “Lone Survivor.” Oscar also picked the first three, but instead of Letts and Berg, Oscar nominated John Ridley, “12 Years a Slave”; and Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, “Philomena.” Those two films were WGA-ineligible because of guild rules.

For documakers, the WGA’s continued recognition is itself a triumph, acknowledging that documentaries are in fact written and not just “assembled.” Sarah Polley won the WGA honor for her docu “Stories We Tell.” It’s a well-deserved recognition, but not any omen since the film is not an Oscar contender.

Results were based on voting by the WGA’s 12,000 members. The event at the JW Marriott L.A. was theoretically held simultaneously with the WGA East event. But many in L.A. were reading tweets from New York because the winners were announced roughly an hour earlier there.

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