Road comedy "Little Miss Sunshine" and crime thriller "The Departed" won top film awards from the Writers Guild of America on Sunday, setting up a showdown between the two movies at the Oscars in two weeks.
"Little Miss Sunshine," about a dysfunctional family that takes their young daughter across country to compete in a beauty pageant, won best original screenplay for Michael Arndt from the Guild, which represents film and television writers.
"The Departed," directed by Martin Scorsese and telling of corruption among the Massachusetts state police, won the award for best adapted screenplay for its writer William Monahan.
Accepting his award, Arndt said he wrote "Little Miss Sunshine" when he had no job and no screenwriting credits to his name, yet the producers took a chance on him.
He thanked producers Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa and Marc Turtletaub for keeping it away from Hollywood's mainstream studios where it might have been changed.
"They spent five years trying to protect this script from studio notes," Arndt said.
Like Arndt, Monahan also thanked the Hollywood writers for his honor for "The Departed."
Both movies have earned a slew of critical praise and are nominated for the best film Oscar, the movie industry's top award, which will be given out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on February 25.
"Little Miss Sunshine" already was named best film by the Producers Guild of America and was given the best ensemble cast award by the Screen Actors Guild. Scorsese earned the honor of best director at the recent Directors Guild of America awards.
"Sunshine" and "Departed" now become clear favorites for the best film Oscar because many guild members also vote for the Oscars.
The other three best film Oscar nominees are "The Queen," about the British royal family, Japanese war drama "Letters From Iwo Jima" and searing cultural saga "Babel."
The Writers Guild gave the award for best film documentary screenplay to Amy Berg for "Deliver Us From Evil," which explores a Catholic priest's sexual abuse of children and efforts by church officials to shield the priest.
"This is a huge honor," Berg told Reuters.
"Deliver Us From Evil" is nominated for an Oscar for best documentary.
The Writers Guild also gives out awards in television, and the top winners in that arena were mafia drama "The Sopranos" for best drama series and "The Office" for best comedy series.
Bob Tourtellotte writes for The Hollywood Reporter.
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