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“Borat” nominated for Writers Guild award
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Box office sensation “Borat,” a largely improvised faux documentary about a boorish Kazakh journalist, gained more Oscar momentum on Thursday as it was nominated with four other comedies for the 2006 Writers Guild of America Awards.
“Borat” star Sacha Baron Cohen and three collaborators will vie for best adapted screenplay against the writers of two other comedies, “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Thank You For Smoking,” and two deadly serious dramas, “Little Children” and “The Departed.”
Two more comedies, “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Stranger Than Fiction,” were nominated for best original screenplay along with three dramas — the globe-spanning saga “Babel,” royal family portrait “The Queen” and the September 11 thriller “United 93.”
The list comes out less than two weeks before nominations for the Academy Awards, Hollywood’s top honors, are announced. Due to overlapping membership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which oversees the Oscars, the WGA awards are regarded as a key bellwether for a film’s Oscar chances, especially in the screenplay categories.
All the writers who made the cut this year are first-time WGA nominees, a guild spokesman said.
But one of the big surprises from this year’s roster of contenders is the unusually large number of comedies — half of the 10 nominated screenplays — competing for an award that tends to favor dramas.
“I can’t tell you how happy that makes me,” said Michael Arndt, who wrote “Little Miss Sunshine.” The offbeat comedy centers on an eccentric family rushing across the country in a broken-down Volkswagen bus to get their plucky young daughter to a beauty contest, and how a string of disappointments brings them all closer together.
“Sometime’s there’s a sense that because comedy deals in humor that it’s less substantial than drama,” Arndt told Reuters. “But I think comedy can see the human condition as clearly, and sometimes more clearly, than drama can.”
For Cohen’s film, fully titled “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” the WGA nod was striking for its recognition of an outlandishly broad comedy whose script was largely ad-libbed by its star.
The concept of the film was based on the Borat character Cohen created for his TV show — a cluelessly offensive Kazakh TV journalist with a thick mustache, wild-eyed grin and boisterous catch phrases like “Very nice!” and “Sexytime!”
Chronicling Borat’s exploits on a cross-country U.S. road trip, the film is driven by Cohen’s improvised, unrehearsed encounters with ordinary folk who become unsuspecting foils.
The low-budget “mockumentary” was an unexpected smash hit at the box office, grossing $127 million in North America alone, but it also sparked a fair amount of controversy.
The film drew protests from Kazakh authorities outraged by Cohen’s portrait of their Central Asian country as a backward nation of imbeciles. It also sparked lawsuits by some of his unwitting subjects, including two college fraternity brothers shown guzzling alcohol and making racist remarks in the film.
While Cohen said he worked from material he and three co-writers sketched out in advance, the film was very much a moving target that evolved according to the situations he confronted during production.
Cohen said he was happy that the Writers Guild sought to recognize what he said was “essentially an experiment.”
“We didn’t know if it would work or not,” he said in a telephone interview. “The idea of writing a story, and then trying to make that story literally happen in the real world, was something that had never been done before.”
The film previously garnered Golden Globe nominations for best comedy and for best actor in a comedy for Cohen.
The Writers Guild Awards will be presented on February 11 in simultaneous ceremonies in New York and Los Angeles. The Oscars, whose nominations are revealed on January 23, are handed out on February 25.