Oscar Derby 2017: WGA

At last -- some awards where *that other movie* does not win anything

The Oscar Derby is in the homestretch. Last night was the last of our major guild awards before Oscar night. Yes, it was the 69th Writers Guild Awards, held by the Writers Guild of America. In a pleasant surprise, the top film prizes last night went to Moonlight and Arrival (for Original and Adapted screenplays respectively.)

If you’ll remember from  last year, the Writers Guild, as compared to the other guilds, has a weaker track record of correctly predicting Oscar winners (specifically in Original Screenplay.) This is due to the fact that a number of scripts are rendered “ineligible” each year, and the crossover can be low. And in the case of the WGA, ‘ineligibility’ can happen for two specific reasons: 

  • The writer who wrote the script is not a Writers Guild of America member.
    •  Not every screenwriter belongs to the Writers Guild of America. For instance, this is your fun reminder that Quentin Tarantino has never had a script nominated for a WGA… simply due to the fact that he himself does not belong to the Writers Guild of America.
  • The film production itself is not a ‘signatory’ with the guild. (In simplest terms: the Writers Guild of America never officially ‘signed off on’ or oversaw the project.)
    • This means that many international films (or films by non-American writers) do not qualify — because the process of becoming a guild signatory production is a pain in the ass. Many simply forgo it entirely. 
    • This also means that many animated films do not qualify for WGAs. Most animated production companies are not guild signatory. That is why you won’t see Zootopia here for Original Screenplay (even though it didn’t get an Oscar nom either so…) 

Of course, that annual spiel out of the way… it is worth noting that last year’s WGA winners in both screenplay categories did go on to win the Oscar — that being Spotlight in Original and The Big Short (hsssss) in Adapted.

Certainly one of the stranger disparities from WGA –> Oscar this year is that Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, nominated and winning here for best Original Screenplay, will be in Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars. It will be alongside Luke Davies’ script for Lion which was rendered ineligible here.


Original Screenplay

Jeff Nichols (Loving)
Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water)
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)

As I said, Jenkins’ Moonlight will be in the Adapted race at the Oscars — it is loosely based on an autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney (In Moonlight Black Boys Looks Blue.)

Loving also would have been moved to Adapted, but it did not manage an Oscar nom at all. It’s place here is essentially taken up by The Lobster; and 20th Century Women replaces Moonlight. The other three are the same you’ll see on Oscars night.

My otherwise wholehearted celebration of Moonlight beating The Movie I Shall Not Name here is tempered slightly by the fact that it is essentially being moved out of the way on Oscar night. The Movie Whose Name I Shall Avoid Typing will probably still win anyway…

But for one glorious night the writers (oh, you beautiful writers) knew better and did good.


Adapted Screenplay

Eric Heisserer (Arrival) (Based on “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang)
August Wilson (Fences) (Based on his play)
Allison Schroeder & Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures) (Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly)
Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Deadpool) (Based on X-Men comic books)
Tom Ford (Nocturnal Animals) (Based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright)

Neither Nocturnal Animals nor Deadpool managed to make it into the Oscars — remember, their spots are taken by the transplanted Moonlight and the ineligible Lion.

This might actually prove to be the trickier Oscar category this year. So Arrival has some steam behind it (and might ride a small wave of awards in some specific categories.) This actually makes me mildly concerned for Moonlight‘s chances… I’m not 100% sure it’s Original Screenplay WGA win can translate into an Adapted Oscar win considering its competition there. I’d certainly like to see it happen — but the Adapted race this year has more than one ‘gaining some beloved steam’ film. I.E. between the move itself, and the move into a category with Arrival, Hidden Figures, and Lion (all of which would not totally shock me with a win) I’m afraid that Barry Jenkins weirdly may have gotten inadvertently screwed over.


You can view a full list of WGA winners (including Documentary and television) here.

I’ll see you later this week with the very special How I Would Vote If I Could post. And after that it will be Oscar night itself.

Keep watching movies, everyone.