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Well, were you honestly expecting anything else? Thanks to a slew of WGA ineligibilities -- notably that of Best Picture Oscar frontrunner "The Artist" -- the competition for these particular Guild awards had already been considerably narrowed, and true enough, the winners were precisely the two films that been set up to triumph here all season long. Only in one of the two screenplay categories can tonight's result be seriously considered as a bellwether for Oscar night; the other remains a virtual toss-up.
In a season heavy on veteran nominees, the Guild played along by adding to the laurels to two multiple previous honorees: Woody Allen took his fifth WGA award in the Best Original Screenplay category for "Midnight in Paris," while Alexander Payne took his third Best Adapted Screenplay gong for "The Descendants," sharing the prize with fellow writers (if not collaborators) Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
Interestingly, both men have higher strike rates with this group than with the Academy. Aside from "Annie Hall" and "Hannah and Her Sisters," for which he won both awards, Allen was rewarded by the Guild for "Broadway Danny Rose" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors" -- but lost the Oscar to "Places in the Heart" and "Dead Poets Society," respectively. Payne, meanwhile, won here in 1999 for "Election" -- preceding his WGA and Oscar wins for "Sideways" by five years -- but sadly fell to "The Cider House Rules" on Oscar night. (Advantage: Guild.)
On all three of these divergences, the WGA winner was hampered by the lack of a Best Picture nod -- not a problem either man faces this year. That said, I'm thinking Allen may once more have to settle for Guild gold: though he also won the Golden Globe, Michel Hazanavicius recently beat him to the BAFTA for "The Artist," and the French phenomenon's momentum is such that I expect many voters to check it off in this category without too much thought.
It's been seven years since a Best Picture nominee failed to take a writing Oscar. While conventional logic would have "The Artist" at a disadvantage in this category due to its lack of words -- screenwriting may not be dialogue, but it's the easiest way for a lot of non-experts to define and evaluate the craft -- there's just as much chance that voters will be tickled by the novelty of awarding a mostly silent work here. There may be lingering sentiment in the Academy for Allen to win another Oscar -- even if the man himself couldn't give a damn -- but given the minimal presence of "Midnight in Paris" in the Best Picture conversation, how does it stack up against their overall love for Hazanavicius's film?
Over in Best Adapted Screenplay, however, things are looking a little less complicated. A couple of weeks ago, there seemed to be a brief window here for "Moneyball," or even "Hugo," as momentum for "The Descendants" slowed. But Alexander Payne's film has come roaring back this weekend. While another writing win at the USC Scripter Awards doesn't mean much in the scheme of things, the family dramedy's surprise win with the American Cinema Editors last night is a show of strength to any observers who thought it might be headed for an "Up in the Air"-style slump.
Finally, the documentary screenplay prize went to a film not nominated by the Academy: terrorist study "Better This World" beat a high-profile field including Oscar nominees "Pina" (not exactly a writing achievement) and "If a Tree Falls," as well as critical favorites "Senna" and "Nostalgia for the Light." That means the three biggest Guilds have awarded for docs not on the Oscar list. (The DGA went for "Project Nim," the PGA for "Beats, Rhymes and Life.") That category is just out to trip us up this year.
Anyway, another one down. The full list of honorees:
Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, "The Descendants"
Best Documentary Screenplay: Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega, "Better This World"
Paul Selvin Award: Tate Taylor, "The Help"
Laurel Award: Eric Roth
Remember to keep track of the ups and downs of the 2011-2012 film awards season via The Circuit.
For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.
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