Well, at least they ended the suspense before any real curiosity could be created. The Writers Guild of America, currently picketing the pleasantry out of the awards season, announced the nominees for their 2007 accolades. Divided into categories for Best Original Screenplay, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Documentary (which, apparently, is considered an indirect form of writing), the organization at the center of current industry chaos took a moment off to praise their own people. With the recently truncated Critic's Choice Awards, the all but called off Golden Globes, and threatened Oscars giving the industry pause for concern, many wondered how the striking organization would handle their own stab at trophy time. Of course, they cut out all the speculation by simultaneously announcing that their own banquet for recognizing the winners would be cancelled as well.
It wasn't the only intriguing thing about the WGA's nods. Since they follow the Academy mandate and recognize both original and adapted work, the writers decided to do what Oscar doesn't and give comedy a little love. Humor was the basis for 80% of the screenwriter-created category, while drama took 20% (seriousness is the only thing featured in the book/play to film translation category). Rumors also circulating that the WGA posted its list of choices in order of winner and runners up. Even after a similar slip up was reported last year, and a supposed randomization was used to re-identify the contenders, it appears the same thing has happened again. So in the name of all that's fair, SE&L will scramble the names in that good old statistical standby - alphabetical order. That way, a small amount of surprise is left come disclosure. Let's begin with:
Best Original Screenplay
The Oscar for Best Screenplay (Original or Adapted) is often referred to as the 'Runner Up' award. It is usually given to the artist or newcomer who, while outside the studio system or movie mainstream, deserves recognition for what they accomplished. It's where the Coens, and Quentin Tarantino earned their only Academy acknowledgment. Cody should be prepared to have her name listed among this illustrious number as well.
In a perfect world, Apatow would be handed the keys to the cinematic kingdom. After single-handedly saving big screen comedy this year, and inspiring many to once again take up the cause of motion picture wit, some peer recognition would be nice. While Superbad got all the gross out geek love, this is the better movie - from both a performance and screenplay position.
Lars and the Real Girl
Here's a pleasant surprise, the recognition of a truly quirky movie that seemingly got lost among Juno's growing grrrrl power. Critics who had problems with this film often listed Ryan Gosling's oddball performance as the main problem. Others argued with director Craig Gillespie. No one had a bad word to say about Oliver's solid script, however. While it probably won't win, it's nice to know someone was paying attention.
Of the two Guild awards earned by this film, this is the one that makes the most sense. Gilroy is not a solid director (some of his pro-actor histrionic choices mar this movie), but you can't deny the power in his writing. In a clear case of giving some respect to an effort that might otherwise go unnoticed, this nod feels like the final payoff.
Here's the nomination that really throws us. The Savages is a strange film. It's either undermined by its performances (mainly the mannered work of Laura Linney), or it's a victim of a poorly conceived and sloppy script. One imagines that Guild members, wary of having to take care of their own aging parents, gave Jenkins a handout. There are definitely better efforts out there.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
This one's as confusing as The Savages, but for decidedly different reasons. Without a doubt, Julian Schnabel's work is far more satisfying than Jenkins' dour jokefest. But with so much of the material lifted directly from Jean-Dominique Bauby's book, and the reliance on visual vs. verbal cues to tell the tale, it seems like a stretch to award the otherwise fine film for its writing.
Into the Wild
In one of those 'hard to mess up' situations, Penn's persistence with the devastated McCandless family (and their desire to keep their son's story sacred) guaranteed that Wild would work on some level. But matched with the actor's newfound visual flare, and the undeniable emotion inherent in the story, this could be a case of the sum being greater than any one part - including the screenplay.
Joel and Ethan Coen
No Country for Old Men
It's interesting that the Coens are the only team of writers nominated in the screenplay category (documentary does have a trio). Of course, when they make a movie jointly, they are always listed together, even if directing is more Joel's area of expertise. As adaptations go, this is a first rate reconfiguration of Cormac McCarthy's dark and very dense novel. The presumptive favorite, one guesses.
Paul Thomas Anderson
There Will Be Blood
Whether or not Anderson can win this award has a lot to do with what the Guild considers a successful book to screen translation. Upton Sinclair's Oil! is definitely part of the narrative strategy, but the auteur also goes off on enough flights of personal fancy to make much of this movie his own. If strength of direction and acting were factored in, he'd definitely win.
Talk about your dark horse picks. When people discuss the unforgettable work done in this '70s throwback police procedural, few are focused on Vanderbilt. In fact, director David Fincher and his commendable cast usually get first kudos, followed quickly by anyone involved in the look and feel of the film. That someone actually recognized the difficulty in condensing this complex story into a sound, suspenseful thriller is remarkable.
Naturally, SE&L thinks there are a few overlooked or unconsidered scripts that deserved credit as well. Somehow, the WGA decided to neglect these wonderful examples of the written narrative, and choose the 10 efforts above. Any one of these would easily replace at least one (if not two) of the wonky choices provided, beginning with:
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg
The insane minds behind Shaun of the Dead deliver the definitive lampoon of big budget action cop buddy action movies while systematically satirizing the concept of 'being British'. It's a work of undeniable genius from beginning to shoot 'em up end.
Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard
Gone Baby Gone
We know Affleck can write - he has his own little gold man for cranking out Good Will Hunting. This stellar thriller proves that said statuette was no fluke. While earning some cred, this film will probably end up 2007's most unappreciated - and that's a shame.
Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, and Jason Schwartzman
The Darjeeling Limited
Like watching a novel unfold on screen, the work of these terrific storytellers lifted what could have been mannered and manipulative into something quite magical. This is the most human and heartfelt movie Anderson has ever made - and the scripts the reason why.
Charlie Wilson's War
Apparently, burning one's bridges among the Tinsel Town talent pool means that, even when you do something substantially right, you get little recognition in response. Sorkin may be a sourpuss, but his biting work on this non-fiction adaptation deserves more than mere pat pleasantries.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
The twisted turns and tricks of a complex crime story are hard enough to navigate. Now imagine being a first timer creating a Rashomon like narrative for directorial legend Sidney Lumet. But that's what Masterson did, and the results were stellar. Her efforts deserved to be recognized.