Christopher Nolan’s "Inception" and Aaron Sorkin’s "The Social Network" took home top screenplay honors at Saturday evening's Writers Guild of America awards.
Nolan’s work beat out the scripts for “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “The Kids Are All Right” and “Please Give” in the original screenplay category. “The King’s Speech” and “Another Year” -- contenders for an Academy Award for best original screenplay -- were ineligible in the WGA category under guild rules.
Sorkin’s script bested those for “127 Hours,” “I Love You Phillip Morris,” “The Town” and “True Grit” in the adapted screenplay race. Oscar nominees such as “Toy Story 3” and “Winter’s Bone” were ineligible in the category under guild rules.
In accepting his award, Nolan touched on the exclusion of big-name films that were kept out of contention under WGA rules.
"Nine years ago I had a lot of success for 'Memento.' It was excluded," he said. "Nothing is more important than recognition from my peers. There were some notables left off the list this year."
"I'm not going to name them, for fear that it boosts their chances at the other show," he said, referring to the Feb. 27 Academy Awards. "I hope next year the person who stands up here can give thanks without qualification."
Mark Boal, who won an Oscar and the WGA award last year for best original screenplay for "The Hurt Locker," was in attendance with "Hurt Locker" director Kathryn Bigelow; they presented the awards to Nolan and Sorkin.
"You can imagine how I feel to get recognition like this," Sorkin said. "I wrote a good screenplay, but David Fincher made a great movie." (Actors Armie Hammer and Andrew Garfield were at the ceremony to root Sorkin on.)
In the documentary film category, the guild honored "Inside Job," produced, written and directed by Charles Ferguson and co-written by Chad Beck and Adam Bolt. In accepting his award for the movie about the financial crisis, Ferguson, clad in jeans and sneakers, quipped, "In the grand tradition of documentary filmmakers, I'm severely underdressed."
Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal presented the Laurel Award for Screen (honoring lifetime achievement in outstanding writing for movies), to Steven Zaillian, writer of films including “Schindler's List” “Gangs of New York” and “Awakenings.”
“Schindler's List” director Steven Spielberg introduced the clip on Zaillian. "He's the most economical writer I know. He writes, short, powerful scenes," Spielberg said. “You’re a young enough guy, Steve, to get this award again in 15 years.”
Accepting his award, the 58-year-old Zaillan said, “I learned to write a lot in college, but not in school. I was an usher in a movie theater in San Francisco, and we played ‘Serpico’ twice a night for two months. I learned more from writing for movies from watching that movie.”
On the TV front, “Murphy Brown” star Candice Bergen presented the show’s creator, Diane English, with the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award, which is bestowed on the WGA member who “has advanced the literature of television through the years, and who has made outstanding contributions to the profession of the television writer.”
English received a video tribute from Michael Patrick King, who also wrote for the show.
“She was the voice of a new woman,” he said. “First time you saw a mad pregnant woman was on ‘Murphy Brown.’ She's very, very current. Not only the topics, but the politics and the conversations were current.”
“Lifetime achievement, it sounds so wonderful,” English said. “Then self-doubt creeps in: Why are they giving it to me now? Am I supposed to be done? I'm not done. I'm going to be like Lillian Hellman, 110, sitting on my porch in Martha’s Vineyard, with a laptop and a scotch writing something that the producers will say will never get made.”
She added: “People ask me if I’ll return to television. CBS hear me: If Sarah Palin runs for president, I beg you to bring my show back. Six episodes is all I need.”
The tone of the evening was light, with numerous presenters making jokes about the ceremony, which is less glitzy than other Hollywood guild awards and isn’t shown on TV. A parallel ceremony is held in New York simultaneously for East Coast WGA members.
Martin Short, on stage with Catherine O'Hara to bestow the Best Comedy/Variety TV Series award to Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” joked that there’s “no bigger high than appearing on an untelevised award show. Only difference between you people and pharmaceutical grade morphine is morphine doesn't judge.”
“Modern Family” was named best comedy series and “Mad Men” was named best drama series. (In a bit of a gaffe, the East Coast and West Coast ceremonies got a bit out of sync in their announcements, and “Mad Men” was announced first in New York and the news spread via Twitter to the Hollywood ballroom.)
Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, on hand to present writing awards in the documentary category, joked that the event was "the only award show where [the invite] says 'self-parking in Hollywood & Highland.' Stay classy Hollywood!"
Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Ferguson sang "Write It Gay," a comic tribute to the many TV shows and movies of the past year with gay and lesbian characters or themes. Referencing their own hit show "Modern Family," plus films including "The Kids are All Right," "I Love You Philip Morris" and "Black Swan," the song joked that including gay themes was "how to make it to the top of the critics list."
"As long as there are profits, who would want it straight?" they sang. "Now all we have to do is get rid of Prop. 8. "
Click to the jump for the full list of winners.