And So It is Written: Writers Award the Best On Screen

These truly are the glory days of ABC’s smash hit comedy, “Modern Family,” which by the conclusion of the 2012 Writers Guild of America Awards Sunday night had added two more trophies to its already awards-laden mantle. 

 

It was the third year in a row that ““MF” walked away with the guild’s top comedy series award, cementing its position as the one to beat against other laughers in the category that included “30 Rock,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Louie” and “Parks & Recreation.”

 

“We are very scared that people are sick of us,” showrunner Steve Levitan admitted to the audience, referring to the freshness of its recent wins at the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards. Not to mention those five Emmy Awards from last fall.

 

When his show also took the statuette for episodic comedy, which recognizes specific episodes, all of the credited writers came up on stage and spit out a one-liner indicative of their talent, including Elaine Ko, who spoofed Asian-American stereotypes by saying, “I’m bad at math, I don’t play an instrument, and I’m not Jeremy Lin.”

 

The WGA West ceremony at the Hollywood Palladium—a simultaneous one was held by WGA, East at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York, was filled with such laughs — due in no small part to its hosts, “Community’s” Joel McHale and this season’s TV comedy “it” girl, Zooey Deschanel. The star of “New Girl” started off the festivities by saying “Welcome to the nerd prom” and proceeding to make fun of male writers’ penchant for wardrobes filled with plaid shirts, admonishing them to shield themselves from the harsh lights of the outside world.

 

The list of  West Coast presenters ranged from Tom Selleck to Amy Poehler, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis, Bryan Cranston and Vince Gilligan, Patton Oswalt and Lisa Kudrow as the Guild awarded a series of honors in other television categories, new media, video games, documentary and feature films.

 

AMC’s “Breaking Bad” gained proof that it is stronger than ever, taking home two trophies, one for drama series and one for episodic drama, tying with up-and- comer “Homeland,” which is already stacking up a cache of awards from its freshman season on Showtime.

 

With Poehler, who had appeared on “SNL” the night before, pushing for her former show in the tough competition for the comedy/variety (including talk) prize, it was Colbert that was in the cards. Stephen’s writing staff bested the scribes at “Conan,” “Jon Benjamin Has a Van, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Since no one from “The Colbert Report” was in the audience, Poehler temporarily claimed the winged statue.

 

In the animation category, “The Simpsons” scored four of the six nominations (episodes from “Futurama” and “Ben 10: Ultimate Alien were the others) and funny enough, Bart and company scored the prize in an episode entitled “Homer the Father” by Joel H. Cohen.

 

In the long form original category, only two contenders duked it out, “Five” on Lifetime, and “Cinema Verite” on HBO, which took home theWGA. In long form adapted, again only two candidates and both aired on HBO: “Mildred Pierce” and “Too Big to Fail,” a dramatization of the financial crisis starring William Hurt that bested its rival in the eyes of WGA voters.

 

As usual during this untelevised kudofest, some of the best material came during the presentation and acceptance speeches of the honorary awards. “The Help” co-stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, both sitting pretty for the Academy Awards next weekend in their respective lead and supporting actress categories, presented screenwriter-director Tate Taylor with the Paul Selvin Award, which recognizes work that embodies the spirit of constitutional rights and civil liberties.

 

Taylor, a white man from Mississippi, has been maligned in some quarters for adapting Kathryn Stockwell’s novel about black maids working in Jackson,Mississippi during the 1960s, on the brink of the civil rights movement– as has Stockwell herself, because she is white.

 

In his acceptance speech, Taylor adroitly addressed those issues, after revealing that he was co-raised by a black woman and had been roommates with Spencer for years as they both tried to break into the entertainment industry, noting that they kept loaning each other the same $500 and would fight over the last bowl of chili in their apartment.

 

“I’ve become aware of a troubling irony,” Taylorsaid. “As ‘The Help’ began its rise, there are those that said two white people had no right to tell the story. Two white people in 2010 had no right to tell the story of people in 1963. But we came from a place of love as Southerners with respect and admiration for those women and millions like her the world over–who may be home with your children right now. People should have the right to tell any story they choose. If not, we all lose. We should strive for a place for people to tell the kind of stories they want without judgment.”

 

Judgment was exactly what David Fincher said drew him to Eric Roth, the recipient of the Laurel Award for Screen, which honors lifetime achievement in outstanding writing for motion pictures. Roth’s work ranges from “Forrest Gump,” “The Insider” and “Ali” to this year’s “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which Fincher directed.

 

“I found someone who hated more people in Hollywoodthan I did, and that was something to build on,” said Fincher, in a funny taped piece set on a soundstage.

For his turn, Roth read a lengthy email reply to Brad Pitt’s query about the importance of storytelling in film, starting out with, “Blondie, go back to what you do best—off-road motorcycling.”

 

Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick received the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television. They received it after kudos from a writer they mentored, Jason Katims, and a lengthy clip from the pilot of their first breakout hit, “thirtysomething” that brought back a lot of memories of that groundbreaking 1980s show.

 

“Midnight in Paris” got the WGA’s top honor for original screenplay for its writer (and director) Woody Allen, a win to which McHale reacted by saying, “I can’t believe he’s not here.” He wasn’t at the New York ceremony either, but recently made his West Coast presence known through a taped piece for the DGA Awards.

 

For the best adapted screenplay, Alexander Payne won the prize for “The Descendants,” which he also directed, with co-writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. Payne thanked novelist Kaui Hart Hemmings for her Hawaii-set book, saying they had a very good time in her world.

 

Meanwhile, McHale noted that his friend Rash wrote all the dialog for George Clooney’s wife, who….um, hello, was in a coma.

 

It was that kind of night.

 

(A complete list of winners can be found here: http://wga.org/awards/awardssub.aspx?id=1517 )

 

 

Gervais Gets Neutered, Silence is Golden for The Artist

It was the second coming of Ricky Gervais to the emcee podium of the Golden Globe Awards, or actually, the third. After last year’s controversial performance, people forget that the British comedian also hosted the 2010 edition of the kudocast.

 

The hyped-up fascination of who he would offend this year paid off again in the ratings, with Nielsen estimating that about 16.8 million viewers tuned in to Sunday night’s NBC telecast.

 

But mirroring his insistence that Johnny Depp was on recreational drugs, Gervais apparently took some recreational nice pills before the show. With a few exceptions, his jabs just didn’t have the bite that aroused such vitriol last year from the likes of insult target Robert Downey Jr.

 

Trashing Kim Kardashian and comparing her unfavorably to Kate Middleton? Standard fare for any standup comic. Dissing Eddie Murphy for bailing as host of the Oscars but saying “yes” to “Norbit?” Fair game. Asking Depp if he’d even seen “The Tourist,” a film he’d trashed last year? Amusing.

 

The wrath of Ricky, despite endless promos touting it, turned out to be pretty toothless during one of the few gigs where it’s okay, and even expected, to drink on the job. After reading the rules he was supposed to follow, like no profanity (yeah, right) and no jokes about Mel Gibson, he quickly followed up with an innuendo-laden rant about Jodie Foster’s (film) “The Beaver,” which the actress/director seemed to take in good humor by giving a thumbs-up from her seat in the Beverly Hilton ballroom.

 

Similarly, evoking sexual innuendo and insults, he lashed into Madonna in his introduction to her as a presenter, which she quickly turned around to bash him. “Ricky, if I’m still like a virgin, why don’t you come over here and do something about it? I haven’t kissed a girl for a long time. (Pause.) On TV,” she said–as he ran back and forth behind her on stage.

 

It was one of the funniest moments of the show, which, despite its reputation for raunchiness saw its share of dignified moments, starting with Christopher Plummer’s acceptance speech as supporting actor for his role in the little-seen film “Beginners,” and continuing with Helen Mirren and Sidney Poitier’s presentation of the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement to Morgan Freeman.

 

There were other Oscar-worthy acceptance speeches as well, not surprisingly, from those who have taken home those more “esteemed” trophies—as Gervais called the grand dame of award shows in comparing it to the Globes—like Kate Winslet (for the lead role in HBO’s “Mildred Pierce”) and Julian Fellowes for PBS’s “Downton Abbey.”

 

Hollywood Foreign Press Association voters went all in for quality television, awarding new and niche shows and their stars golden statuettes. “Homeland,” “Boss,” “Episodes” and “Enlightened” thus have frontrunner status on the road to the Emmy Awards, while critical and popular favorite “Modern Family” added to its trophy case with the prize for best television comedy and “Game of Thrones” scored with a win for supporting actor Peter Dinklage.

 

But back to the show. Seth Rogen drove the lewd scale to a new low when he took the stage as a presenter with actress Kate Beckinsale and promptly remarked upon being unable to contain his physical arousal. (That must have been on the same teleprompter that wasn’t there for Rob Lowe and Julianne Moore—resulting in their ad lib of cold reading for Steven Spielberg.) She never regained her composure as they proceeded to present an award.

 

Who would have guessed that in addition to Gervais’ planned profanities, Meryl Streep caused a bleep when she apparently uttered an expletive upon realizing she forgot her reading glasses as she took the best actress prize for her role as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”

 

Leave it to the ever suave, sophisticated, sexy two-time winner of the night, “The Descendants” star George Clooney to be both funny (coming out on stage with Brad Pitt’s cane, making fun of Michael Fassbender in “Shame”), and touching (complimenting best actor rival/friend Pitt on his humanitarian work).

 

If there were any residual effects of the anti-French sentiment from the Bush era, the people behind the burgeoning awards powerhouse “The Artist” dispelled it with their charm in receiving three Globes, including the top prize as best comedy/musical.

 

As that black and white art house film is showing the world, sometimes silence can be golden–and Rogen could surely take a lesson from that.

 

The Descendants: George Clooney in a Way You’ve Never Seen Him

Savvy. Sophisticated. Sexy. Charming. All of these attributes described George Clooney, offscreen as well as in most of his movie roles– but not in his latest, “The Descendants,” in theaters now.

 

If you want to see Clooney as a hangdog husband who’s been cheated on, a dad of a couple of daughters who clearly don’t respect him, but someone who retains some integrity in the midst of family and financial crises – that’s his character as Matt King, tromping around Hawaii in board shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops, trying to make sense of the chaos around him.

 

The movie starts with flashbacks of his wife and you quickly realize that not only are they not together anymore, but something is seriously wrong with their relationship– and that their two daughters blame him.

 

“The Descendants” refers to a family dynasty in Hawaii, which in this case involves their ownership of a massive piece of land encompassing pristine beachfront territory, which may or may not have to be sold to developers who are sure to decimate its natural beauty.

 

Based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel, the story unfolds across the islands with a clear look at what it’s like to live in what many consider a tropical paradise, but for Clooney’s character– around which everything revolves– a place that could also be a living hell.

 

Directed by Alexander Payne, “The Descendants” doesn’t have the droll humor of his “Sideways” from a few years back, and it certainly isn’t a buddy road trip movie.

 

When we first meet Matt, his wife is in a coma after a boating accident and he’s taken over parenting. The two girls, 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and rebellious 17-year-old Alexandra, played by Shailene Woodley, are obviously distraught about their mother and acting out in self-destructive ways that their father must mitigate.

 

No spoilers here, but the plot takes an unexpected twist when infidelity rears its ugly head in the King marriage and the kids, including Alexandra’s slacker boyfriend, whom she insists comes along for the ride, become involved in a revenge scenario that involves stalking someone to a Kaui retreat from their home base in Honolulu.

 

The multi-million-dollar piece of property that family members are battling over is also on Kaui and it becomes a key motif. Matt’s one ace in the hole is that he’s the guy in charge of it– and the legacy of the family, descended from the union of a Hawaiian princess and the banker son of white missionaries.

 

Instead of his witty conversations in films like the “Up in the Air” and the “Ocean’s Eleven” series, Clooney here is stripped of his usually slick surface and able to lay bare a range of emotions from heartbreak to resentment to love. It’s quite something to see, and “The Descendants” is a worthy journey that should be taken.

 

“The Descendants,” directed by Alexander Payne, written by  Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, Rated R, Run Time: 1:55

TAR Rating: 4 Stars