Pete Hammond

WGA Awards: ‘The Descendants’, Woody Allen Big Winners
Eddie Awards: ‘The Descendants’, ‘The Artist’, ‘Rango’ Win

When the awards season kicked into gear at Telluride and Toronto, it appeared the movie to beat was going to be Fox Searchlight’s The Descendants. But then along came the big momentum for the little-silent-movie-that-could, The Artist, and that was all she wrote — that is, until this last weekend before ballots are due. Descendants has been on a tear these past few days, almost seeming to say “it ain’t over til it’s over”. With significant victories for Best Adapted Screenplay at the WGA Awards Sunday night, preceded by the  prestigious USC Scripter Award and Best Drama Feature Editing win at the ACE Eddie Awards on Saturday — not to mention writer-director Alexander Payne’s special  award from the cinema editors — you have a pretty impressive haul. But is it too late to turn around the momentum of The Artist?  After all, ballots are due at PricewaterhouseCoopers by Tuesday at 5 PM, and with the President’s Day holiday on Monday slowing postal delivery, the only way to get ballots in on time is to have them hand-delivered.

Still, one major rival nominee (and loser at WGA) told me it was such a relief not to have to hear the name of The Artist called Sunday night at WGA (it was ineligible for nominations since it was not produced under guild auspices). However, the two big screenplay winners at BAFTA the week before – The Artist and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – although ineligible for WGA, are up for Oscars next week. They could upset the apple cart and veer from tradition since even though WGA winners can be predictive of Oscar winners, it usually is just one out of two that repeat due to the fact that the writers union makes so many non-union films ineligible.

But in my view both of tonight’s big scripting winners at the ceremony held simultaneously on both coasts, Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris and The Descendants appear to have hung on to frontrunner status in their respective writing categories at the Oscars. Yes, if there is an Oscar sweep for The Artist that can easily include original screenplay, but it  seems more likely the Academy will want to spread the wealth and award a personal favorite, Midnight In Paris. It is doubtful that the WGA ceremony, coming as late as it does in the season, has any direct impact on the final vote, but it appears the two voting bodies may be of like mind this year.

And this weekend’s myriad awards shows brought especially good news for The Descendants helmer Payne, who received the ACE’s special filmmaker award, saw his longtime editor Kevin Tent take a surprise Eddie for editing Descendants (Hugo veteran Thelma Schoonmaker was thought to be the winner) and on top of all that won the USC Scripter award. When I caught up with him at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday night still celebrating the ACE wins 40 minutes after the show ended, I gave Payne the happy news that he had just won the Scripter. He seemed pleased, but in a unique moment that shows just how long awards season can be, he asked me: “OK, what is the USC Scripter Award”? Hey, it’s not easy keeping up with every award you win, especially when you are on a roll like Payne is right now. At any rate, he was thrilled to bag two honors in one night and then follow it up on Sunday with yet another. It puts Descendants back in frontrunner postion for the Adapted Screenplay Oscar and adds intrigue in the late innings of the race.

The American Cinema Editors is the one guild that most closely resembles the actual voting pool of the Oscars and pound for pound have by far the biggest crossover of members in common. Statistically speaking, an editing nomination is a must if you have serious Best Picture aspirations, and the win by Descendants – which also has an Oscar nomination in the category — is important. The Eddie victory is tempered by the victory for The Artist for director Michel Hazanavicius and Anne-Sophie Bion in the comedy or musical editing category, so the two will be going head to head at the Oscars with both having the added bonus of Eddie triumphs.

Hazanavicius has really been running non-stop this season and had just arrived from Paris hours before the ceremony Saturday. He goes back right away for the Cesar Awards, set for Friday night in Paris, and then hops a plane back to L.A for the Oscars on Sunday — and hopefully the Independent Spirit Awards Saturday afternoon in Santa Monica, though he expressed doubt that he, wife and Best Supporting Actress nominee Berenice Bejo, star Jean Dujardin and producer Thomas Langmann will make it back in time for the Spirits. The Weinstein Company tells me they are working out flights and are 99% sure the Artist group will indeed make it. Hazanavicius said whatever happens, he is grateful to Harvey Weinstein for the whole experience of this awards season. He said Harvey did not cut a frame of The Artist before releasing it in America (depsite a sometimes-bad rap for fiddling with films). Solo at the Eddies, he said he sent Bejo and their newborn (she gave birth in September at the beginning of the season) to a spa in the south of France for some much-needed rest before the last leg of this marathon run towards Oscar.

One audience member in attendance for both WGA and Eddie awards shows told me the speeches were so good it’s a shame these ceremonies didn’t take place a month ago so they could have maximum impact on the Oscar vote. Indeed, Payne made a truly great acceptance speech at the Eddies, drolly observing, “When they called me up to receive this, I asked them: ‘Who passed it up?’ ” And there was one after another great speech at the WGAs on Sunday, especially from The Help’s Tate Taylor, who won the guild’s Paul Selvin award, and Eric Roth (Forrest Gump), who took the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award and delivered a terrific speech (one that NY Times film critic Manohla Dargis won’t want to hear) that was preceded by a brilliantly wry and funny taped intro from David Fincher.

The best acceptance of the night, though, was not from the movie side but rather TV’s Modern Family, which in winning the WGA’s Best Comedy Series award gave each of its writers a chance to put a “downer” on their victory. Creator Steve Levitan never fails to preside over the best awards acceptance speeches in the business. The two long-overdue writing awards for AMC’s riveting Breaking Bad were also nice to see.

The Cinema Audio Society awards (Hugo got the big movie prize) and Golden Reel awards for Sound Editing were also given out this weekend. The last major guild craft ceremony is Tuesday for the costume designers, and then it is on to Oscar and an end to all this madness.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.