Top Ten Screenplays

April 15, 2014: Yet another rainy (almost monsoon-like) day in Storrs, Connecticut, home of our beloved Long River and the UConn Huskies. The weather outside is so stiflingly crappy, it seems like the perfect day to make yourself a cup of tea (Nyanka certainly recommends it, here’s why), curl up in bed, and read a screenplay. ‘A screenplay?!’ you say. Yes, a screenplay. Why are you so shocked? Or am I the only one who does that…? You act as if it’s abnormal.

Okay so maybe it is a little weird. Why spend the time reading endless dialogue and bland descriptions when I can just enjoy the film? It’s probably in part just because I’m strange and love movies, BUT it’s mostly because I love watching the way dialogue can move a plot and tie everything together. In my previous post, I discussed how greatly the large number of contributors influence the final interpretation of a ‘novel-to-screen’ film; the movie inevitably creates a different vision than an individual reader might. The film’s production team have the same affect on a screenplay: the final product is going to be a conglomeration of 100+ peoples’ interpretation of it. The script contains the bare bones of what the film actually becomes, so reading it allows you to see what’s there before those one hundred different people got their hands on it. What’s the benefit of this for me? First off, frankly I find admirable how much characterization and development these writers can pack into such little space and description. Second, as someone who’d like to make something of a career out of writing, I find script reading generates new ideas on how even small lines of dialogue can work to mold a character or plot.

But maybe you don’t plan on going into a career of writing for film, or are unwilling to scan through hundreds of pages of script. It’s still cool to be able to appreciate how the dialogue molds the film and be aware of the carefully structured plot. Plus, screenwriters don’t get nearly enough recognition. I laid out ten films (in no particular order) that make it easy to appreciate their witty or poignant dialogue and multilayered plot structure.

 

1. Annie Hall (1977)

Written by super-star director Woody Allen (winner of the Cecil B. Demille award for Lifetime achievement) and Marshall Brickman, the film follows protagonist Alvy Singer as he tries to figure out the cause of his failed relationship with Annie. The humorous and poignant conversations between Alvy and Annie create bold, three dimensional characters and whimsical, clever situations.

2. Pulp Fiction


Picking just one Quintien Tarantino film for the list was more challenging than I can say, but Pulp Fiction was the definite winner. The dialogue is electric with its witty wisecracks, and the three stories weave together seamlessly (not to mention the visuals stylistically unmatched).

3. Some Like It Hot

Billy Wilder is one of the most iconic names in script writing history, and Some Like it Hot is, in my humble opinion, his most emblematic piece. Cynical, satirical, and hilarious, the script creates dry humor in the face of ridiculous situations.

4. Casablanca (1942)

I felt that I had to include at least one classic in this list, although I may have included Casablanca regardless. The Epstein brothers (Julius and Philip) use the dialogue throughout to create a deep nostalgia and affection for Rick and Ilsa’s lost love. Rick’s repeated phrase, “Here’s looking at you kid,” works to tie the both the story and the characters together. (Not to mention the film’s final lines are some of the most frequently quoted ever).

5. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)


One of my all time favorites, this film works to examine the inner workings of a dysfunctional family. Michael Arndt dialogue is charming and whimsical, but also poignant and touching. The parts each family member fulfills within the unit is so dynamic and realistic, even just through their patterns of interaction.

6. In Bruges (2008)

Great film that I discovered during over winter break this year. It’s a little known black comedy starring Colin Farrell which follows the story of a hit-man in hiding. The writing is quick, snappy, and utilizes underplayed humor. Reading the script helped me catch some of the jokes that got lost in Farrell’s quick Irish accent. (Beware Profanity!)

7. Talk to Her (2002) Habla con Ella


The film is written in Spanish, so I had to find a translated version, but even still: WOW. Pedro Almodovar presents an unflinching and haunting portrayal of miscommunications between men and women, and the inability to manage loss with love.

8. Good Will Hunting (1997)


Alright, I must admit that I have a soft spot for both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (and their adorable freaking friendship!!), so that may have earned them a spot on this list. Regardless, the script’s portrayal of Will slowly opening up to Sean Maguire is an exquisite exploration of psychotherapy and the resistance many feel towards revealing suppressed emotions. Plus “how you like them apples”? Such a great line.

9. When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Since I only picked one Woody Allen film, I chose another that was clearly influence by his honest and quirky style. Although I personally find Harry’s big confession of love a bit cliche, the rest of the film is an honest inspection of imperfect friendship that grows into an imperfect love. Harry has huge commitment issues, Sally doesn’t quite ask for what she wants, but their relationship is realistic in all its flaws. Nora Ephron does a wonderful job of creating lovable, eccentric characters that hop off the page.

10. City Of God (2002) Cidade de Deus


This one is also a foreign film, this time out of Brazil and told in Portuguese. With its interweaving plots, the script explores the violence and mayhem created by drug culture in Rio de Janeiro. What puts this film on my top ten list is its truly unique storytelling method. The screenplay’s strange control of story amid this constant switching of character lines replicates the hectic, dangerous lifestyle these characters must adapt to for survival.

Bonus:

Memento: You read this far, so I suppose you deserve an extra treat. Plus, this was so close to being in the top ten because its such an awesome idea. However, story structure is a little wonky. Rewatching the film, I notice several plot holes (which many have attempted to explain, but I’m not buying it). Regardless, it’s still a film I recommend watching (or reading!!) that will have you guessing until the end.

 

If this post piqued any interest in reading some screenplays, Simply Scripts has a great collection of award winners!


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