More than a few major contenders for the two Screenplay Oscars are going to miss out on their chances for one of the biggest award precursors. The Writers Guild of America will announce its nominees for Original and Adapted Screenplays on Monday and a solid batch of contenders have been deemed ineligible. This is knowledge we should have known by now, but is starting to get reported so us Oscar prognosticators don't dismiss their eventual chances.
Those of us who belong to critic groups know when a studio has dropped faith in their product for year-end accolades. They simply don't send screeners. Granted, some groups get a little more favoritism than others from the Academy on down, but one look at any studio's "For Your Consideration" site and you begin to get the picture that films like Angels & Demons don't exactly fit into their awards plans. So when Movieline reported that Harvey Weinstein failed to send out screeners to the WGA (a group that, unlike the Directors' Guild, allows such promotional refresher courses), the assumption was one that he had given up on a number of his titles. Harvey give up? The man who got The Reader nominated over The Dark Knight? The hell you say.
More like an early report talking the hell out of something before looking into it further. The Weinsteins haven't given up on Inglourious Basterds, The Road or A Single Man. It's just that none of those screenplays are eligible under WGA rules. More specifically, be one of us or get no love. As reported by Steve Pond, respective writers Quentin Tarantino, Joe Penhall and Tom Ford are not guild members and therefore will not be competing when the lists are finalized. It's not that Mr. Weinstein doesn't care - he just knows you don't send gifts to prop up an already beaten horse. Probably why he reportedly didn't send Nine screeners as well.
But it doesn't end there.
According to Indiewire, Nick Hornby's adaptation of An Education is also being taken off the list. But wait. He has been a WGA member for 10 years, so what gives? Oh, just a new rule. One that states that Mr. Hornby must also be a member of his local WGA chapter in Great Britain. A rule that was established AFTER An Education was completed. This post-production loophole is already on top of the one that deems animated films ineligible as well. For those who forgot that neither Toy Story nor Shrek nor Finding Nemo nor The Incredibles nor Ratatouille nor WALL-E were nominated by the Writers Guild but went onto Oscar nominations. Anyway, remember to only cross Up and Fantastic Mr. Fox off one of your lists.
So where does that leave the WGA races for Monday? Two films crossed off Original and four off Adapted and you actually have an interesting guessing game on your hands. The Road hasn't figured much into the discussion, other than a nomination from the D.C. critics, and A Single Man is sporting only a single script nod from the Broadcast "Film Critics" Association. But the absence of An Education and Fantastic Mr. Fox makes us go to the wheel of potential nominees. These omissions alone appear to clear the road for both District 9 and In The Loop to be locks. Oh, but hold everything. In the middle of putting together a new list, Kris Tapley reports that both of them have been scratched as well.
So what does that leave us with? Up In The Air and Precious become mortal locks. But then what? Where The Wild Things Are was nominated by Chicago and the Online Film Critics Society. Chicago also liked The Informant. Aside from the potential of Crazy Heart sneaking in (as it did in the USC Scripter nominations) anything else that sneaks in now (likeInvictus, Public Enemies or Star Trek) will be the first nomination of its kind this award season. I don't know how the writers of The Lovely Bones or Julie & Julia could possibly stick with the whole "honor to be nominated" shtick knowing how many of their competitors have been disqualified for not having the secret handshake.
Over to the Original category we still only know of Basterds and Up being out of play. OK, fine. So (500) Days of Summer, The Hurt Locker and A Serious Man look even stronger for nods. But after that there are only two other Original screenplays that have received any kind of notice from voting groups. One is Nancy Meyers' It's Complicated that was slurped up by the Golden Globes as one of the year's best comedies and one of the five best screenplays. Really, Hollywood Foreign Press? You couldn't find a better script with an ensemble cast that you could invite to your party? Like maybe the other on this short list, Away We Go? Chicago wisely nominated this screenplay and hopefully the Writer's Guild took notice.
Meyers has been nominated by the WGA before. Once before. Back in 1980 for Private Benjamin (along with Harvey Miller & Charles Shyer, her ex-husband) for which she was also nominated for an Oscar. Meyers' output as a screenwriter since then speaks for itself:
Irreconcilable Differences, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Baby Boom, Father of the Bride I & II, Once Upon a Crime, I Love Trouble, The Parent Trap, Something's Gotta Give, The Holiday
Throw in directing those last three along with What Women Want and It's Complicated and you know what you are thinking. It rhymes with "trap." Now you have Dave Eggers, throwing his hat into the screenwriting ring in 2009 with his current spouse, Vendela Vida, and crafts a beautiful road movie that has somehow got lost in the shuffle. Then he's responsible for co-writing Where the Wild Things Are with Spike Jonze, one of the best non-animated children's films in years. What does Dave Eggers have to do for his peers to recognize him, other than disqualifying the competition?
One certain wild card in WGA's Original race is Funny People. Scoff if you must, but Apatow is already 2-for-2 with the Guild, getting nominations for both The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. After that the field is wide open. What has happened to Bright Star? Will smaller films like The Messenger, Goodbye Solo, Moon and Summer Hours be invited in? Could Adventureland be remembered? Or will they go the blockbuster route with James Cameron leading to the inevitable query -"Avatar had a screenplay?" We will know for sure on Monday. Until then, one thing's for certain in my mind. If Nancy Meyers is nominated and Dave Eggers is shut out completely, the Writers Guild have most assuredly disqualified themselves.