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Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine"
Nebraska
Bruce Dern and Will Forte in “Nebraska”

The Writers Guild of America announced their nominations for original and adapted screenplay the other day, and there are a few surprises.

This year the WGA nominations for best original screenplay went to Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell’s “American Hustle,” squaring off against Woody Allen’s Cate Blanchett starrer, “Blue Jasmine.”

Other contenders – which are decidedly more of a long shot – are the quirky romance “Her,” written by Spike Jonze, and the 1980’s AIDS drama “Dallas Buyers Club” by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack. Also in the running is “Nebraska,” with dialogue that is sparse but funny, written by first-time feature film writer Bob Nelson.

David O. Russell
David O. Russell at NYFilmCriticsSeries | Paula Schwartz Photo

Last year at the Gotham Awards, where he was honored, David O. Russell told me about his actor-driven scripts: “The greatest thing about writing a script or telling stories that affect an audience is then you get the good actors to come forward and really want to do anything they can for you. They’ll run through fire for you if they believe in you, and that’s what I’m most grateful for.”

For best-adapted screenplay, nominations went to “August: Osage County,” by Tracy Letts, based on his play, and “Before Midnight,” which was a collaborative endeavor by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, based on characters created by Linklater and Kim Krizan.

Also nominated is “Captain Phillips,” written by Billy Ray, based on the book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea,” by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty.

A surprise in this category is “Lone Survivor” by Peter Berg, based on the book by Marcus Lutrell with Patrick Robinson, and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” written by Terence Winter and based on the book by Jordan Belfort.

At a recent press conference for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Winter said of Belfort’s memoir about his life as a sex-and-drug-crazed stockbroker fraudster: “I read the book in galley form somewhere in 2007. I read it in one sitting. I could not put it down. I couldn’t believe what I was reading was exactly a true story and that that person would actually be alive at the end of it.”

In the best documentary writing category, nominations went to “Dirty Wars,” by Jeremy Scahill & David Riker; “Herblock – The Black & The White,” by Sara Lukinson & Michael Stevens; “No Place on Earth,” written by Janet Tobias & Paul Laikin; “Stories We Tell,” by Sarah Polley about her enigmatic mother, and the controversial Alex Gibney doc, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks.”

The WGA selections have a pretty good track record mirroring the Oscars, but the group is also a quirky bunch with their own bureaucratic rules, which means not all films are eligible for nominations. This year “12 Years a Slave,” adapted from a book by Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who was abducted and sold into slavery, and “Philomena,” adapted by Steven Coogan and Jeff Pope, from the true story of Philomena Lee, an unwed mother searching for her son 50 years after his birth, were ineligible for WGA nominations, but this doesn’t mean they are out of the Oscar running.

Still the WGA for best original screenplay often translates into Oscar gold, as it did in 2008 for Dustin Lance Black, who won both awards for “Milk.” Their choices also coincide with Oscar in the documentary field, as they did last year with Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn’s “Searching for Sugar Man,” which was lauded by the WGA and went on to win an Oscar.

And 2013 best picture Oscar winner “Argo,” which received the WGA award for best-adapted screenplay, also went on to pick up the little gold man.

But the WGA choices are not bulletproof: last year the WGA chose Mark Boal’s “Zero Dark Thirty” for best screenplay, while the statuette went to Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.”

The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), have simultaneous ceremonies on both coasts. The Los Angeles ceremony will take place at the snazzy JW Marriott Hotel, while in Manhattan, a raucous group of scribblers will settle in at the gritty Edison Ballroom.

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