Hillary Atkin

A Good Night for Underdogs at the WGA Awards

Feb 19, 2019

“To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars — losers. How is this happening?,” Bo Burnham said with a smile as he accepted the award for best original screenplay for “Eighth Grade” at the 2019 Writers Guild Awards. The conclusion of his short, pointed and unique speech referenced the fact that his film is not nominated for an Oscar.

The winner of the other major screenplay award — best adapted screenplay — is in contention at Sunday night’s Academy Awards. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, was the winner in the night’s other big surprise.

“I want to thank Lee [Israel],” Holofcener said of the late writer and forger of literary letters, whose book the film is based upon. “She’d probably be sitting in the room judging all of us. She thought she was the smartest person in the room and she probably was.”

Both “Eighth Grade” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” contended against heavyweight favorites. In the original category, the other nominees were “Roma,” “Vice,” “Green Book” and “A Quiet Place.” For adapted screenplay, the competitors were “A Star Is Born,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Black Panther” and “BlacKkKlansman.”

The West Coast awards show was hosted by actor and comedian Chelsea Peretti at the Beverly Hilton Sunday night as concurrent ceremonies were held at New York’s Edison Ballroom, emceed by comedian Roy Wood Jr.

The bi-coastal bashes are traditionally how the Writers Guild runs its annual awards, which also honor the best writing in television, radio and video games.

“It’s like the glitz and glamor of the Oscars but without the public interest,” Peretti said in kicking off the 71st annual festivities at the Hilton’s International Ballroom. “Sorry if some of my jokes don’t land. They’re not paying me much, so I had to hire non-union writers under the table.”

Despite the serious content of many of the projects honored, a deep vein of humor always runs through these awards. The trophy girls were two men dressed as FBI agents and the playoff music — used as the evening grew long — was a violin rendition of “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Another Queen song was featured in a hilarious spoof of nominated films sung by Puddles Pity Party to the tune of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Lyrics referencing “Roma,” streaming on Netflix, included “never have to leave my house at all, thank Cuarón, thank Cuarón” and “Spike Lee, your time has come.”

On the TV side, there were more accolades for FX’s dearly departed Russian spy series “The Americans,” which many felt was not duly awards-rewarded during its six-season run. Now that it’s over, it can add the WGA for best drama series to its trophy chest.

An episode of “Homeland” written by showrunner Alex Gansa won the episodic drama category.

HBO’s freshman comedy “Barry,” heading into its second season next month, was a double champ. It scored both best new series for the writing staff and best episodic comedy, making for two trips to the podium for Bill Hader and Alec Berg.

Continuing to rack up its share of hardware, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” took the crown as best comedy series.

There were more television surprises mirroring those of the top marquee awards for movies — little guys prevailing over presumptive heavyweight champions.

In the comedy/variety sketch series category, Comedy Central’s “Nathan for You” triumphed over “Saturday Night Live,” “Portlandia,” “I Love You, America” and “At Home with Amy Sedaris.”

The virtually unknown “The Fake News with Ted Nelms,” also on Comedy Central and starring Ed Helms, won the trophy in the comedy/variety specials category.

“This is most meaningful to us because no one saw the show when it went on last December. Maybe this will put it on your radar,” said Helms, who had also presented the comedy series award.

A good number of the winners on stage called out director Ron Howard in the audience. He was there to present longtime collaborators Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel with one of the evening’s honorary awards, the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement.

The former child actor addressed what had become a running joke during the evening — people exclaiming “Ron Howard!” during their acceptance speeches — immediately upon taking the microphone.

“Unlike the Oscars, this is the WGA and you get Ron Howard,” he said. “I felt like my intro has to be funny and I asked them [Mandel and Ganz] to punch it up but given the circumstances it wasn’t really appropriate. So it may not be funny but it will be earnest and it fucking flows out of me. They’re good men and they work their asses off. They like to come to work at maybe 10 — and stay until 4,” Howard said in touting the writing partners, whom he first met during “Happy Days.” Some of their other projects together include legendary films like “Splash,” “Parenthood” and “City Slickers.”

“As a child, I always wanted to be a screenwriter — and move to the Valley,” Mandel said, eliciting knowing laughs from the crowd, while Ganz regaled them with an anecdote of how he got fired and then rehired on “The Odd Couple” in 1972.

“Vice” writer/director Adam McKay, who made his name first on “SNL” and then with comedy films like “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “Talledega Nights” and “Step Brothers” before earning a WGA, a BAFTA and an Oscar for writing 2015’s “The Big Short,” was honored with the Paul Selvin Award, presented to him by MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes.

The honor is bestowed upon the script that the WGA determines best embodies the spirit of the constitutional and civil rights and liberties that are indispensable to the freedom of writers everywhere.

McKay asked for a beat of silence to pay recognition to the 600,000 to 1 million people he said died during the Iraq war that resulted after the United States invasion.

“It’s not each and every one of our faults. Many of us said it was wrong, but it happened,” he lamented.

As “Vice” famously depicts during a monologue McKay wrote and actor Christian Bale performed at the end, Dick Cheney certainly isn’t sorry about it.

Click here for a complete list of winners.

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