Sofia Coppola's Oscar momentum got a big boost Saturday when the WGA awarded "Lost in Translation" its top honor for original screenplay.
Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman earned the laurel for adapted screenplay for bringing comic book cult hero Harvey Pekar's life to the screen in "American Splendor," which also is an underdog favorite for adapted screenplay in Sunday's awards season grand finale, the Academy Awards.
The guild embraced the auteur at the 56th annual WGA Awards, held at the Century Plaza Hotel, as both "Lost" and "Splendor" were also directed by their screenwriters.
In accepting her award, Coppola thanked her brother Roman and other friends she called for encouragement "when I was stuck" while writing "Lost," a story of loneliness and longing between strangers in a strange land.
Coppola's win makes her one of a handful of women to take the guild's top film honor. It also came 33 years after her father, Francis Ford Coppola, won his first WGA award, for 1970's "Patton" (which also earned the elder Coppola his first Oscar).
Coppola told reporters after the ceremony that she has been humbled by all the accolades showered on "Lost," but she allowed that the thumbs up from her fellow scribes might just give her "a little extra strut to my step" at Sunday's Oscar ceremony.
On the television side, Evan Katz won the drama series laurel for the "7 p.m.-8 p.m." episode of Fox's "24." Bob Daily won his second consecutive WGA trophy for NBC's "Frasier," this time for the episode "No Sex, Please, We're Skittish."
Katz quipped he was happy to be recognized by the WGA because he knew that winning "the Humanitas was a long shot" with an episode that involved "24's" Jack Bauer torturing a man and pretending to murder his children.
Larry Gelbart was not there to accept his award for original longform screenplay for HBO's "And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself." But Gelbart did send along prepared remarks, which duly noted his "chutzpah" at writing an acceptance speech "on spec."
Anne Meredith won adapted longform honors for Showtime's "Out of the Ashes," about a female doctor forced to work at Auschwitz.
The scribes on the new Showtime series "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" -- Penn Jillette, Teller, David Wechter and John McLaughlin -- trumped their higher-profile competition in taking the comedy/variety series award. Matt Selman of Fox's "The Simpsons" took the animation prize for "The Dad Who Knew Too Little" episode.
George Stevens Jr., Sara Lukinson and David Leaf won comedy/variety special for CBS' "Kennedy Center Honors" telecast.
Agnes Nixon and her team on ABC's "All My Children" earned their fifth WGA laurel for daytime serial. Paul Cooper was recognized in the children's script category for Showtime's "The Maldonado Miracle."
The current events documentary laurel went to Martin Smith for the "Truth, War and Consequences" installment of PBS' "Frontline." PBS' "American Experience" won the noncurrent events docu award for Marcia Smith's "The Murder of Emmett Till."
CBS News' John Craig Wilson prevailed in the TV news category for the "Showdown with Saddam" report. Michael Winship and Bill Moyers won in the news -- analysis/feature/commentary award for the "Wall Street" segment of Moyers' PBS series "Now With Bill Moyers."
In accepting the guild's Paddy Chayefsky lifetime achievement honor, veteran TV scribe Loring Mandel urged the crowd to think about the influence TV writers have as teachers in a culture where kids and teenagers often spend more time in a day watching TV than they do in school. Mandel's long list of credits stretches from "Studio One" and "Playhouse 90" to HBO's 2001 Emmy winner "Conspiracy."
"We can do better by holding ourselves to a higher standard," Mandel said.
The Screen Laurel achievement award went to John Michael Hayes, whose feature career was distinguished by collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock on "Rear Window," "To Catch a Thief," "The Trouble With Harry" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much."
Accepting the Paul Selvin Award for work that celebrates constitutional freedoms, Jason Horwitch, who penned the FX telefilm "The Pentagon Papers," quoted from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black's famed 1971 decision on the New York Times' right to publish classified Vietnam war documents.
"Paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people," Horwitch recited, adding that in his own view, "the relevance of these words unfortunately echoes today."
This year's WGA Awards came at a time of turmoil for the guild. The WGA West's newly appointed president, Charles Holland, may face a recall election later this year because of concerns some members have raised about inconsistencies in past statements that Holland made about his military service and college athletic record. But Holland received more than polite applause when he opened the ceremony with a reminder that contract talks with the studios and networks are just around the corner.
"We're going to the negotiating table," Holland said. "And we're going to make sure that all these unsung 'someones' with pens and laptops stop getting unpaid, underpaid and disrespected."
Highlights of the WGA ceremony will air 7 p.m. Friday on Encore.