Writers Guild of America Awards 2019: Will Oscars Winners Be Determined?

The Writers Guild of America Awards don't hand out many awards, but they may be pivotal in the Oscars race.

If Beale Street Could Talk
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Usually by this point in the Oscar race, we have a good clue as to who’s ahead in the screenplay races. But this year, there is some genuine suspense in both categories. This Sunday, the prestigious Writers Guild of America Awards will be handed out to the Best Adapted and Best Original Screenplays. These awards are usually pretty accurate as far as predicting who wins at the Oscars. In the last ten years, 8 of the last ten Adapted Screenplays chosen here go on to win at the Oscars, and that number matches the Original Screenplay winners. It’s not a lock, but it sure helps. Only two major film categories here that will repeat at the Oscars, so let’s get to them.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

And the winner will be…BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman has seemed to be the safe pick for this category since the race began in September, and fans like myself have been predicting since August (when the film opened) that this script, by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee would win big at the Oscars. It picked up the BAFTA award earlier this week, and you could argue that in the Best Picture race, this film outpaces A Star is Born and Black Panther, two other scripts that are also nominated at WGA.

However, I’d look out for Barry Jenkins’ script for If Beale Street Could Talk. Jenkins won at Critics Choice, and his script has been nominated everywhere it could this year, while BlacKkKlansman missed out at the Golden Globes. If there is a real passion for the script and the film, the tables can turn, and suddenly Jenkins could spring ahead right before the week of the Oscars ceremony begins.

 

Best Original Screenplay

And the winner will be…Green Book

This is definitely the harder of the two categories to predict. Of the five nominees, only A Quiet Place is the one that I think should just be happy it got nominated. The other four: Green Book, Roma, Eighth Grade, and Vice all have a shot at a victory on Sunday. Of these four, I think Roma is the first one to go. While the film itself is the heavily-favored winner (at least right now) for Director and Picture at the Oscars, Cuaron’s script is far from the best of the year, and the Guild Awards through the season have not been as kind to Roma as everyone else has. To put it in perspective, the only guild Roma has won so far is the Directors Guild, which was a gimme for Cuaron. Otherwise, it’s come up short everywhere else, including the Cinematographers Guild, which should have been easy for Roma to win, but no dice.

The indie favorite Eighth Grade may indeed have a shot here at winning. Just a few weeks ago at DGA, Bo Burnham had, arguably, the biggest upset of the season thus far when he took Bradley Cooper down for Best First Time Director. That, and the fact that the film has been winning most of the other First Time Director, as well as Young Performance awards (for Elsie Fisher) through the year, shows that despite being shut-out at the Oscars, Eighth Grade isn’t going down without a fight. The fact that it did get bumped from the Oscar list, however, is what’s keeping me short of predicting it to win.

So then we come down to Vice and Green Book. While it’s been heavily documented this season that Green Book has been hit by controversy after controversy, some of which stuck and others washed off within a news cycle or two, Green Book undoubtedly has the edge. Vice, which is written by Adam McKay, hasn’t won a single prize this year for its script. Sure, McKay is an accoladed screenwriter (he won WGA 3 years ago for co-writing The Big Short), and Vice has done better with the guilds than expected, I’m not sensing enough momentum for the film to pull out the W.

So Green Book becomes my somewhat reluctant prediction. Sure, it won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, and the film itself has, with few exceptions, not left a single awards ceremony empty-handed (thanks in big part to Mahershala Ali), but I think what really puts Green Book over the edge is the lack of nominations for The Favourite and First Reformed. Both of those scripts are up for the Oscar, and The Favourite just won the BAFTA for Original Screenplay, so it also has that going for it. First Reformed would also be an opportunity for writer/director Paul Schrader, who has been overlooked multiple times for his past works, to win an Oscar (and it’s also his first nomination).

Still, Green Book has been one of the few films this year where most everybody who sees it likes it a lot at minimum, and if you don’t like it, you love it. The feel-good nature the film leaves you on may certainly help it win at WGA without a few of the other heavy-hitters this season, and it may also help it pull ahead for the Oscars, but a win Sunday doesn’t seal the deal.

This weekend will mark the end of the guild season as we see the remaining guilds hand out awards over the course of the weekend. Once again, WGA awards are handed out on Sunday, February 17th, exactly one week before Hollywood celebrates its biggest night.

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