Writers Guild Awards limited as guidepost to predicting Oscars

Every year, the Writers Guild of America confounds Oscar watchers when it rules a slew of screenplays ineligible for their kudos. Only scripts written under the guild’s guidelines or those of several international partners are allowed to vie for these awards. Indeed, the 2014 Best Original Screenplay Oscar winner, “Birdman,” was disqualifed at the WGA as was Adapted Screenplay nominee “The Theory of Everything.”

This year, two Oscar nominees were out of the running for these precursor prizes, now in their 69th year — the adaptation of “Lion,” which won the BAFTA, and the original script for “The Lobster.” Below, an analysis of what impact, if any, the WGA Awards will have on the equivalent Oscar races.

Writers Guild Awards winners: ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Arrival’ take Best Screenplay honors

This year’s WGA Awards nominees include only three the Oscar contenders for Best Original Screenplay: “Hell or High Water,” “La La Land,”  “Manchester by the Sea.” The other two WGA nominees in this category — “Loving” and “Moonlight” — were deemed to be adaptations by the academy because they were inspired by a documentary and play respectively; only “Moonlight” reaped an Oscar bid in that race.

“Moonlight” scribes Barry Jenkins and Tarell McCraney pulled off an upset here over “Manchester by the Sea” writer/director Kenneth Lonergan who remains the Oscar frontrunner for Best Original Screenplay.

One of the other two Best Original Screenplay Oscar nominees –“20th Century Women” — was snubbed by the guild while the other —  “The Lobster” — was ineligible. For the latter, co-writers Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos won Best Screenplay from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. for this deft satire but ran afoul of the restrictions imposed by the guild. Other original scripts deemed ineligible included the import “Florence Foster Jenkins” and the indie productions “Maggie’s Plan,” “Miss Sloane” and “Patterson.”

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Likewise, this year’s WGA roster of adapted screenplay nominees included only three of the five Oscar nominees: WGA champ “Arrival,” “Fences” and “Hidden Figures.” We have “Moonlight” winning that Oscar race. “Lion” sits at fourth place on our Oscar chart but Luke Davies couldn’t contend at the WGA awards as his film ran afoul of the requirement that foreign production companies prove their eligibility via a cumbersome process. The WGA rounded out the category with “Deadpool” and “Nocturnal Animals.”

Other adapted screenplays nixed by the guild include a trio of animated hits — “Finding Dory,” “Kubo and the Two Strings” and “Zootopia” as well as three foreign-language films that are strong Oscar contenders in other categories — “Elle,” “The Handmaiden” and “Toni Erdmann” — as well as indie darling “Krisha.”

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Of last year’s five WGA nominees for original screenplay, three then reaped Oscar bids: “Bridge of Spies,” “Spotlight” and “Straight Outta Compton.” WGA contenders “Sicario” and “Trainwreck” were bumped by two scripts that had been ineligible with the guild – “Ex Machina” and “Inside Out.” “Spotlight” won both races. Likewise among adapted screenplays, three contended for both awards – “The Big Short,” “Carol” and “The Martian.” WGA nominees “Steve Jobs” and “Trumbo” were snubbed by the writers branch of the academy in favor of the WGA-ineligible “Brooklyn” and “Room.” “The Big Short” took home both prizes.

In 2014, four WGA original screenplay nominees went on to lose at the Oscars to the WGA-ineligible “Birdman”: “Boyhood,” “Foxcatcher,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Nightcrawler.” WGA nominee “Whiplash” was bumped to the adapted race by the academy because it was based, in part, on a short film by writer/director Damien Chazelle. The Oscar winner for adapted screenplay, “The Imitation Game,” won at the WGA first against Oscar rival “American Sniper” and three scripts that were snubbed by the academy: “Gone Girl” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and “Wild.”

In 2013, all five of the WGA picks for Original Screenplay repeated at the Oscars, with “Her” winning both awards. The other nominees were: “American Hustle,” “Blue Jasmine,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Nebraska.” Only three of the WGA nominees for Adapted Screenplay — winner “Captain Phillips” as well as “Before Midnight” and “Wolf of Wall Street” — reaped Oscar bids; neither eventual Oscar champ “12 Years a Slave” nor “Philomena” were eligible for the guild prize.

UPDATED: Oscar Experts predict winners in all 24 categories

In 2012, seven of the WGA nominees also reaped Oscar bids, including the adaptation of “Argo” which won both races. However, two of the eventual five Oscar nominees for Best Original Screenplay — the winner “Django Unchained” by Quentin Tarantino and “Amour” from writer-director Michael Haneke — were deemed ineligible by the WGA. “Zero Dark Thirty” won that race at the WGA and was among the five Oscar contenders.

In 2011, only five of the 10 WGA nominees went on to contend at the Oscars. Three of the Oscar nominees for Best Original Screenplay — “The Artist,” “Margin Call” and “A Separation” — were ruled ineligible by the WGA as was one of the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar contenders — “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Both of 2011’s WGA winners went on to repeat at the Oscars. “Midnight in Paris” won Woody Allen his fifth Original Screenplay award from the WGA while Alexander Payne claimed his third Adapted Screenplay prize for “The Descendants,” along with collaborators Nax Faxon and Jim Rash.

UPDATED: Oscar odds in all 24 categories

In 2010, six of the 10 WGA nominees went on to compete at the Oscars. Aaron Sorkin won Best Adapted Screenplay at both kudos for “The Social Network.” He edged out the adapters of “127 Hours” and “True Grit” for both awards. However, two of his Oscar rivals — “Toy Story 3” and “Winter’s Bone” — were ineligible to contend at the WGAs. The eventual Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay — “The King’s Speech” — was also ineligible for the WGA award as was another Oscar nominee — “Another Year.” Oscar contender Christopher Nolan won that prize for “Inception” edging out, among others, Oscar rivals “The Fighter” and “The Kids Are All Right.”

In 2009, the four WGA contenders deemed Oscar worthy were: WGA winner “The Hurt Locker” which repeated at the Oscars and “A Serious Man” on the original front and eventual champ “Precious” and WGA winner “Up in the Air” on the adapted side. Two of the eventual five Oscar nominees for Best Original Screenplay — “Inglorious Basterds” and “Up” — were ineligible for WGA consideration. Likewise, three of the Best Adapted Screenplay contenders — “District 9,” “An Education” and “In the Loop” — were left out of the running by the WGA.

Predict the Oscar winners now; change them till February 26

Be sure to make your Oscar predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films are faring in our Oscar odds. You can keep changing your predictions right up until just before winners are announced on February 26 at 5:00 pm PT/8:00 pm ET. And join in the fierce debate over the Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our forums.

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