Newbies Rule Screenplay Noms

Sometimes, being the new kid isn't so bad. The 2001 Oscars watch remained ambiguous Wednesday, with the Writers Guild of America announcing its screenplay nominations. The field was dominated by first-timers, with 14 of the 16 writers getting their first recognition from the WGA.

Canine mockumentary Best in Show, penned by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, earned a nomination for best script written directly for the screen, as did Cameron Crowe's rock flick Almost Famous. Also in the running are Billy Elliot, by Lee Hall; Erin Brockovich, by Susannah Grant; and You Can Count on Me, by Kenneth Lonergan, Variety reports.

The John Cusack romantic comedy High Fidelity, which is based on the music-centric book by Nick Hornby, received a nomination for best screenplay based on material previously produced or published. The script was written by D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, Cusack, and Scott Rosenberg.

Other adapted screenplay nods went to Chocolat, by Robert Nelson Jacobs; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, by Tsai Kuo Jung, James Schamus, and Wang Hui-Ling; Traffic, by Stephen Gaghan; and Wonder Boys, by Steve Kloves.

Crowe and Kloves were the only vets among the 16 selected. Crowe was previously tapped in 1997 for Jerry Maguire and for 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High; Kloves received a nod for The Fabulous Baker Boys in 1989.

Crowe, Guest, and Lonergan were the only writers to also direct their features, in contrast with last year, when half a dozen writer-directors received WGA nods. Guest and Levy also acted in Best in Show, while Cusack played the lovelorn lead in High Fidelity.

The WGA nominees, voted on by the guild membership, emerged from a field of 127 for best original screenplay and 58 for best adapted screenplay. Winners from a second round of member balloting will be announced March 4 at the 53rd annual Writers Guild Awards, with simultaneous ceremonies at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., and the Plaza Hotel in New York.

Writers make up 409 of the 5,277 total voting members of the Academy.

Those shut out by the WGA in the original screenplay nods include favored heavyweights Cast Away and Gladiator. Also overlooked were O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Finding Forrester, The Gift, and Shadow of the Vampire.

"I'm surprised, thrilled, and very honored, because these are the people who know what it takes to make a screenplay work," Chocolat scribe Jacobs told Variety.

Traffic's Gaghan revealed that he was surprised by the news. "I'm floored, because the nomination is from writers, who are the people who see through all the tricks," he explained to the trade mag. "I didn't know the nominations were being announced today, so I found out when I called my girlfriend to say I missed her."

Crowe, who found out about his nomination while directing a club scene with 200 extras in Vanilla Sky, noted, "This is the one award where you really feel validated as a writer. I feel that I'm in with an amazing group of nominees."

Reuters contributed to this story.