What the WGA awards hope to tell Oscar voters Sunday

Screenwriters are like architects. They create characters and a story for a movie, the cast and crew produce it and the director gets credit for it. The architect creates the blueprint for a high-rise, contractors build it and Trump slaps his name on it and says he built it all by himself.

Okay, it’s a cheap shot, I admit. Not all directors are narcissists and of the many collaborators on a picture, they are the ones making the decisions and facing the consequences.

But the directors considered to have done the best jobs on films released in 2018 have already been singled out by their peers in both the Directors Guild of America and now, it’s the architects’ turn.

On Sunday, the Writers Guild of America will reveal its choices for the best original and adapted screenplays, conveniently timed to the day before academy voters receive their final ballots.

A win for “Roma” for original screenplay would dispel any lingering doubts you may have about it dominating the Oscars two weeks hence. It will be hard for admirers of “Roma” to deny its screenplay since it is a memory piece, a blueprint sprung from the mind of its writer, director, cinematographer and editor Alfonso Cuaron.

It’s what the word masterwork is meant to convey.

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The only question is how many true admirers among writers does “Roma” have? There are a lot of savvy film people who, while appreciating its beauty and ambition, found it a butt-numbing bore with a meandering script. I imagine many of those votes would have gone to “The Favourite” if it had been on the ballot. It was not, having failed to meet some technical WGA Awards criteria.

So, if not “Roma,” what?

If the majority of the guild’s approximate 20,000 members want to influence their peers in the academy, and God knows they do, they may have passed over the very fine scripts for “Eighth Grade” and “A Quiet Place” because they are not on the Oscar ballot. The WGA winners go on to win the Oscars more than half the time and rarely go without Oscar nominations.

The last time a WGA winner in either category failed to get an Oscar nomination was Michael Moore for “Bowling for Columbine” in 2002.

That leaves the adapted screenplays for “Green Book” and “Vice.”

Despite “Green Book’s” feel-good popularity, it has been hammered on several fronts. The family of the black musician played Mahershala Ali objected to his portrayal. Co-writer Nick Vallelonga, son of the Italian bouncer played by Viggo Mortensen, had to apologize for an old tweet agreeing with Trump that Muslims were dancing on New Jersey rooftops while watching the Twin Towers fall. And director and co-screenwriter Peter Farrelly had to apologize for having flashed cast and crew members on past films (hopefully, not when he was yelling “Action!”).

Should a good movie be punished for the sins of its creators? Yeah, if you’re a writer with a conscience.

“Vice,” which Adam McKay directed from his own screenplay, is wildly ambitious and a hot mess. Among the best picture Oscar nominees, it probably has the greatest separation of fans and haters.

With all that and the absence of both “The Favourite” on the ballot, we’re back to “Roma” and that would be the right thing.

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The favorite for best adapted screenplay is Spike Lee’s “BlackKklansman.” Though the film hasn’t won any guild awards, Lee’s script was finally recognized with a win at BAFTA last weekend. It’s been one of the running assumptions throughout the awards season that Lee is due for an Oscar, if not for his heralded direction then for this screenplay.

Lee, who is rarely less than provocative, missed his chance to shake things up at BAFTA, going directly to the “Thanks yous” and omitting any memorable lines. His rivals with the WGA are the scripts for “Black Panther,” “A Star Is Born,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

“Black Panther” has been in an awards slump ever since its shocking win as best ensemble film from the Screen Actors Guild. It’s had plenty of nominations among the guilds and has seven for the Academy Awards. Tellingly, none of those Oscar nominations is for its screenplay.

If “A Star is Born” was the most over-hyped movie of this awards season, Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s blistering novel “If Beale Street Could Talk” has been the most underappreciated. If Lee were to be upset here, Jenkins has the best shot.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” hasn’t won any major awards and its best chance at an Oscar, Richard E. Grant’s supporting performance, has been dampened by a run of wins in the category by “Green Book’s” Mahershala Ali.

I’d pick “Beale Street,” but I think Lee gets it.

Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until winners are announced on February 24.

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