Pete Hammond

Like the Producers Guild earlier this week, the WGA did not produce a list of film nominees in the Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay categories that had any surprises. This in itself is not surprising since the WGA (I’m a member) — due to restrictive rules regarding eligibility of films only produced under the guild’s MBA or certain international affiliated collective bargaining agreements — had far less of a field from which to choose. The number of screenplays eligible overall is slightly more than a third of all scripts the Academy’s much smaller voting body is picking from (polls for Oscar nomination voting close today at 5 PM). As usual, we can look for several differences when the Academy reveals their writing nominations January 10th. Although nominees often vary between the two orgs, the final winners are usually much more in sync. Last year, both WGA Award-winning scripts — Midnight In Paris and The Descendants – went on to repeat at the Oscars. In 2010 though, only WGA Adapted Screenplay winner The Social Network repeated at Oscar time, while the Oscar winner for Original Screenplay, The King’s Speech, wasn’t even nominated at the WGA because it was ineligible.

Related: WGA Awards Nominations Announced

Among the scripts not eligible for a WGA nod this year are PGA nominees Beasts Of The Southern Wild and Les Miserables along with multiple Golden Globe nominee The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Oscar winner Tom Stoppard’s  new take on literary classic Anna Karenina. For Originals, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained was ineligible (so was his 2009 Oscar-nominated script for Inglourious Basterds and his 1994 Oscar winning Pulp Fiction). Tarantino doesn’t follow the WGA rules, but his absence here shouldn’t affect his Oscar prospects for the smash-hit homage to spaghetti Westerns. As with its PGA omission, I also expect Michael Haneke’s original script for Amour to take one of the Oscar spots over one of today’s WGA nominees (Rian Johnson’s sci-fi Looper might be the shakiest since that’s a genre rarely embraced by Oscar voters outside technical categories). Other top originals never in the game for WGA were two more French-oriented films, The Intouchables and Rust & Bone, along with the Spanish production The Impossible (even though it was an English-language film), Seven Psychopaths and anything animated. The latter means a clever ‘toon like this year’s Wreck-It Ralph couldn’t even be considered by WGA voters but is eligible for a screenplay Oscar bid.

Among those actually nominated today (winners will be announced Feburary 17), the surest bets in Original Screenplay are likely to be Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola’s Moonrise Kingdom and Mark Boal’s controversial Zero Dark Thirty, now the subject of a U.S. Senate investigation. How that ultimately affects its final chances of winning is anyone’s guess. Boal won a WGA Award and the Oscar three years ago for The Hurt Locker. John Gatins spent nearly a dozen years trying to get his very personal addiction drama Flight to the screen, and it isn’t lost on writers that director Robert Zemeckis has done many Q&As and interviews saying there were vitrually no changes to Gatins’ script in the final film. That also bodes well for his chances to get into the Oscar race, even though the movie seems to have stalled as a Best Picture candidate. Paul Thomas Anderson’s risky The Master has polarized audiences and that may affect his chances with the Academy, but at least the WGA recognized a very ambitious work.

The real race seems to be in Adaptation, with four solid Best Picture players duking it out at the WGA — and likely the Oscars. My guess though is Tony Kushner’s Lincoln is the frontrunner here and will be with the Academy, although this one’s tight and David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook (hampered only because it is a comedy) and the highly regarded Chris Terrio script for Argo will be strong competition. David Magee’s feat of bringing the “unfilmable” book Life Of Pi to life is admirable, but most feel the film is more an achievement for director Ang Lee than its screenwriter. Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks Of Being A Wallflower figured to be included on the WGA honor roll and could be with Academy writing branch members too since it was the work of an author of the original book who held out to write and direct his own movie version — a real rarity for writers — and the film was highly acclaimed, though not likely to be in the Best Picture race.

With nominations now in from three of the four major Oscar-bellwether guild contests — SAG, PGA and WGA — industry sentiments toward the likely top Oscar nominees are settling strongly on Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Argo, which have had the most impressive showings across the 3 guilds, along with Golden Globes and Critics Choice Movie Awards nominations. Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty and Life Of Pi are right on their tail though, and spring release Moonrise Kingdom is making a late run.

The final major guild, and the one that may be most anticipated as a real indicator this year, the Directors Guild of America announces its five nominees Tuesday. Stay tuned.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.