2016 Precursor Predictions: Writers Guild of America

The Writers Guild of America is the last precursor to award above-the-line achievements. Their atypical eligibility rules make them the least reliable at times, though this year might not be the case.


Best Original Screenplay

Hell or High Water
La La Land (RU:Wesley)
Manchester by the Sea (Wesley, Peter, Tripp, RU:Thomas)
Moonlight (Thomas, RU:Peter, RU:Tripp)

Wesley Lovell: The Writers Guild is the only guild that mandates nominations come only from guild signatories. As such, their nominations are seldom instructive. Their winners, however, can be. That all depends on what’s nominated. Three of the Academy’s Best Original Screenplay nominees are here, the missing are The Lobster and 20th Century Women. Part of the reason is that Moonlight and Loving were both declared adapted by the Academy and were thus not eligible in this category. However, all we need to do is look at the three that were nominated to know which films have a shot. Right now, Manchester by the Sea seems like a good bet. It’s the film that has won the most precursors for writing among actual originals. The big question mark here is whether La La Land is going to build momentum towards a sweep. If it weren’t for Moonlight here, that might be possible. I think Manchester still holds an edge, but La La Land wouldn’t be surprising and if they want to throw things into turmoil, they could go with Moonlight, since they can’t honor it anywhere else.
Peter J. Patrick: La La Land could win, but I think the WGA will go for the more serious Manchester by the Sea or Moonlight.
Tripp Burton: The rules make this a different category than the Oscars, with two of these nominees (Moonlight and Loving) eligible for Adapted Screenplay there. Moonlight is the most praised screenplay of the year, and should win here, which makes things interesting come Oscar night.
Thomas LaTourette: There are four strong possibilities here. Loving seems to have the least chance. Manchester and Moonlight seem to have the best, though they are competing in the same category here rather than at the Oscars. La La Land and Hell or High Water cannot be ruled out, but I think they are not in as strong a position. A win here will definitely place a film into an even stronger place to win the Oscar. I am guessing that Moonlight will come out on top, but it really could go any way.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Arrival (Tripp, Thomas, RU:Wesley, RU:Peter)
Fences (Wesley)
Hidden Figures (Peter, RU:Tripp, RU:Thomas)
Nocturnal Animals

Wesley Lovell: Bringing Moonlight to this category at the Academy pushed out either Deadpool or Nocturnal Animals. The other was displaced by Lion, a late-breaking film that was ineligible for the WGA because Harvey Weinstein’s production company The Weinstein Company isn’t a WGA contract signatory and thus its films aren’t eligible. While the Academy is sure to go with Moonlight, the question is which film is running second. It could be Lion thanks to that film’s popularity late in the game. Fences could be an opportunity to recognize the legendary August Wilson, making it the one I think most likely to prevail here. Hidden Figures had a surge at the right time and remains a strong box office performer, but it’s Arrival that I think is running second to Fences, though the positions will be reversed at the Oscars where Arrival seems more likely than Fences to upset Moonlight.
Peter J. Patrick: For balance, they will probably want to go with something lighter in Adaptation which leads to Hidden Figures, but Heisserer’s expansion of Chiang’s short story for Arrival is the more remarkable achievement.
Tripp Burton: With no Moonlight here, this is a wide-open race. It is probably down to two Oscar nominees, though: Arrival and Hidden Figures. Arrival had momentum earlier, but with Hidden Figures picking up speed the last few weeks, and becoming a surprise box office smash, this is a coin flip.
Thomas LaTourette: Arrival has the most precursors in this category and should pick up this award. Any of the others could make a play, though the humor of Deadpool makes it an unlikely winner, even though I was greatly pleased to see it nominated. Fences or Hidden Figures could make the possible upset, with Hidden Figures standing a better chance perhaps after the SAG win.

Documentary Screenplay

Author: The JT LeRoy Story (RU:Tripp)
Command and Control (Wesley, Thomas, RU:Peter)
Zero Days (Peter, Tripp, RU:Wesley, RU:Thomas)

Wesley Lovell: The exhaustively researched O.J.: Made in America isn’t here. That leaves three films that weren’t Oscar nominees. There are also only three nominees: Author, which is about the literary personal JT LeRoy created by author Laura Albert; Command and Control, the story of the near-launch of a nuclear missile from Arkansas; and Zero Days, Alex Gibney’s documentary about self-replicating malware Stuxnet. My initial instinct is to give the prize to Gibney, a documentary legend, but something about the adaptation of Command and Control seems like it would be more thrilling, exciting and writerly. Author could be a spoiler since it’s about one of the favorite topics of the WGA: writers.
Peter J. Patrick: I have absolutely no idea so whichever one of these wins, would just be a lucky guess.
Tripp Burton: This is always an interesting category, and this year we have three documentaries that didn’t get cited a lot of other places. The dense walk-through that Alex Gibney does for Zero Days is an impressive feat, and will probably win.
Thomas LaTourette: I know little about these documentaries, so this is just a guess.

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