The Writers Guild Awards, East and West, always deliver strong pro-union and leftist political sentiments, not to mention a raft of colorful F bombs and dick jokes. Give writers a place to sound off, and likely they will, especially if there’s alcohol flowing. This show, as WGA West’s killer host Chelsea Peretti noted, “has all the glitz and glamor of the Oscars without the pressure of public interest.” Tomorrow, she noted, “most of you will be writing about losing awards.”
Indeed. Like other guild shows this year, the Writers Guild winners did not shed much light on the upcoming Oscarcast. The winner of Original Screenplay — beating Oscar nominees “Roma,” “Vice,” and “Green Book” — was a scribe not nominated for an Academy Award. Youthful Bo Burnham (“Eighth Grade”) at the DGA had already beat “A Star Is Born” writer-director Bradley Cooper for First-Time Director. “To the other nominees in the category: ‘Have fun at the Oscars, losers!'” he said. “How is this happening?” Eventual Adapted Screenplay loser Barry Jenkins (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) rejoiced in his friend’s win with a tweet:
— Barry Jenkins (@BarryJenkins) February 18, 2019
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The screenplay tipped to win in that category, however, is “The Favourite,” which was not WGA eligible. Oscar ballots close on Tuesday.
At evening’s end Cooper was a loser yet again, as the voters gave Adapted Screenplay to Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty for writing a screenplay about writers, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Holofcener cited her subject, the late Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), in her speech. “Lee would be in this room judging all of us,” she said. “She thought she was the smartest person in the room, which she probably was.”
Peretti got a good laugh off Cooper. “There could be a hundred ‘Star Is Born’ remakes in a room,” she said. “And Bradley Cooper would still be the only person who thought he’d come up with it.”
She was among the women at the podium who reminded the many men in the room to keep women in mind. While team sports are diverse groups of people, she said, writers’ rooms tend to be comprised of “two white men.” Her best advice: “Just imagine you like women.”
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes praised the civil rights Paul Selwin Award winner Adam McKay (“Vice”) for helping to fight against “relentless forgetting,” he said. “It’s harder to see what is behind us.” McKay extemporized, reminding that about one million people were killed when “Vice” subject Dick Cheney fraudulently sent America to war against Iraq. “This is the fifth-most dangerous country to be a journalist,” he added.
30-year writing veteran Jenji Kohan, working on the finale of the seventh and last season of “Orange Is the New Black,” accepted the television achievement award by sending a succinct video suggesting local taco trucks where WGA awards show attendees could find better food. “Life is too short to work with assholes,” she said. “Don’t be a dick. If you’re damaged, turn it inward, don’t smear it on others.”
Presenter Rachel Bloom (star of musical series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which originated 157 songs) sounded off on the WGA not representing songwriters: “It’s a bullshit process.”
For his part, presenter Billy Eichner waxed eloquent on gay representation. “From ‘Green Book’ to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ it’s been an amazing year to cut down the gay scenes,” he said. “Who knew there would be more gay sex in a movie about Queen Anne than in a movie about Freddie Mercury?”
Ron Howard, sitting front and center before presenting the Achievement Award to longtime writing partners Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (“Night Shift,” “Parenthood”) was the closest celebrity on view from the stage and thus the night’s running gag — including a shot of his empty chair — and two-time winner Bill Hader (New Series and Comedy Series for “Barry”) milked another laugh when he returned. One writer for “The Simpsons,” sitting close to the bathroom, sprinted to the Beverly Hilton stage in bare feet to accept her award — a model for next week’s Oscars.
New York host Roy Wood, Jr. took on streaming sites Netflix and Amazon. “At the end of the day, Netflix connects storytellers with who knows how many people?” he said. “Seriously, who knows?” He also poked fun at the online streaming giant’s bent toward canceling shows without handing out formal announcements, with many creatives finding out about cancellations via social media. “Netflix has pioneered binge-viewing and binge-firing,” Wood said.
As for Amazon, “they don’t just cancel shows, they canceled Long Island City. How do you cancel an entire city?” he said to a big laugh.
Documentary writing went to another film that was not Oscar-nominated, “Bathtubs Over Broadway” (Focus Features). “It is day three of the national emergency. How is everybody holding up?,” presenter Michael Moore said. “It’s so important that we all carry on with our awards shows, or else the immigrants have won.”
Later, the documentarian joked about the kind of nonfiction films he’d like to laud in the coming decades, including movies about the “brief career” of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the end of the anti-vaxxer movement, and a proposed feature about the third female American president, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Documentary filmmaker Agnès Varda (“The Gleaners and I,” Faces, Places,” “Cléo from 5 to 7”) sent a short video thank you for winning the 2019 Jean Renoir Award for International Screenwriting Achievement. Her son Mathieu Demy pointed out that his 90-year-old mother was presenting her latest film “Varda by Agnes” in Berlin. Now that’s a statement.
Additional reporting by Kate Erbland.