OSCAR: Overview Of Best Screenplay Race

It’s amazing that any good script ever gets made anymore. If there is one common thread running through most of the contenders for screenplay honors this year, it is what a long, looooong journey it is from page to screen. And another fairly obvious truth: the road to Best Picture starts on the page. In fact, since 1933, only 3 movies have managed to win the Best Picture Oscar without at least having their screenplay nominated and, in the majority of cases, actually winning. One of those movies was Hamlet in 1948 but its credited writer, William Shakespeare, wasn’t around for the rewrites. The other two were The Sound Of Music (1965) and Titanic (1997).

The writers strike in 2007 proved not much gets done without scribes and the effects of that strike, particularly in terms of quality screenplays, is still being felt. Nevertheless 2010 is a rich feast as far as the writers are concerned  but none of it was easy. Among the screenplay contenders, Black Swan, Blue Valentine, Get Low, and Inception were each percolating in the minds of their writers for more than a decade. In the case of The King’s Speech, it was more than 3 decades. The Kids Are All Right and Hereafter were thrown into drawers, unfinished, only to be rescued years later. And to demonstrate just how important  the right words and concept are, it was 11 years between Toy Story 2 and 3. Of course the wait for just the right concept and script paid off when Toy Story 3 not only became the highest grossing film of the year, but also the number one animated film of all time and the best reviewed movie of the year on Rotten Tomatoes.

On the other hand, it doesn’t always have to take years to see a script turned into a movie. Another of 2010’s most critically acclaimed hits, The Social Network, was fast-tracked. The events it depicts happened just six years ago and were still unfolding when Aaron Sorkin wrote his screenplay even as the book it is partially based on was still being written itself. That seems to be an exception as most Oscar caliber scripts languish in development hell, most of them “too good” to get made until fate — and a reasonable budget — intervenes. Of all the branches in the Academy, the writers have been the ones to go off the page as it were and select offbeat and sometimes unexpected and unheralded nominees.

Here is a rundown of the screenplays that completed Hollywood’s obstacle course  and now have a shot at the industry’s highest award:


Animal Kingdom – David Michod: This tight Australian crime thriller about a 17-year-old trying to survive in a fearsome crime family has so far won lots of notice this awards season for co-star Jacki Weaver but could be recognized by writers for writer/director Michod’s powerfully effective and almost Shakespearean-like tale.

Another Year – Mike Leigh: Leigh’s uniquely original scripts borne out of a long and involved rehearsal period in which his actors all contribute to the final product have won him four previous nominations here (Secrets And Lies, Topsy Turvy, Vera Drake, Happy Go Lucky) and this slice-of-British-life drama could make it five.

Biutiful – Alejandro Gonzalez  Inarritu: After directing such critically acclaimed films as Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel all written by Guillermo Arriaga, Inarritu strikes out on his own to write this very personal, dark, and moving journey about a man whose life is in freefall. He’s been previously Oscar nominated as a director, producer, and for Foreign Language Film. But this could be the first time he is recognized for his writing talents.

Black Swan – Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John J McLaughlin: This script started out as sort of an All About Eve set in the world of ballet but it morphed into much more than that once it finally got into the hands of Heyman, director Darren Aronofsky’s director of development. After 10 years and almost being permanently shelved just a month before production was to begin, it’s turned into a hit movie and major awards magnet.

Blue Valentine – Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, Cami Delavigne: First written in 1998 and then rewritten more than 60 times, Cianfrance, who also directed, took 12 years to finally see his very personal story of a failing marriage hit the screen. The rawness of the dialogue and intensity of the scenes nearly landed this with an NC-17 until distributor Harvey Weinstein convinced the MPAA to change course and award an “R”.

City Island – Raymond De Felitta: This spring crowd-pleaser about a loud but loving and highly dysfunctional New York family was one of the first to get its screeners out, a good thing since many Academy members missed it and now seem to have a sense of discovery as they have been catching up with it. Whether that translates into a long shot surprise nomination in the writing category is anyone’s guess. But this movie has been full of surprises since winning the audience award at Tribeca two years ago.

Company Men – John Wells: The timeliness of WGA president John Wells’ story of corporate executives being downsized and thrown out of a job could be the thing that gets his fellow writers to give this a whirl in the DVD player. But the Weinstein Company seems to be pushing other higher profile movies in this category like The King’s Speech and Blue Valentine a little more forcefully. Its 76% fresh ranking at Rotten Tomatoes suggests that critics at least have liked what they’ve seen.

Conviction – Pamela Gray: She wrote two films, A Walk On The Moon and Music of the Heart, both released in 1999. But it would be another decade before she earned another big screen credit for this remarkable true story of  Betty Anne Waters who spent 18 years putting herself through school in order to become a lawyer and get her wrongly convicted brother out of prison. Still this might be as much of a long shot as that triumph was.

The Fighter – Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington (co-story): Another long in development dream project, this true story of boxer Mickey Ward and his relationship with his crack-addicted brother Dicky was another case of ‘never say never’, thanks in large part to the perseverance of star/co-producer Mark Wahlberg who didn’t stop training even when the Paramount movie looked dead until further rewrites and budget cuts got it a greenlight from Ryan Kavanaugh/Relativity Media. With strong Best Picture prospects, this would seem a shoo-in for a nomination.

Get Low – C. Gaby Mitchell, Chris Provenzano: Mad Men writer Provenzano dreamed up the story of a hermit wanting to throw his own funeral in 2001 but then saw it reworked five years later by Mitchell. The result of this shotgun writers’ marriage was this long-in-development film finally got made and gave Robert Duvall  another major starring role and shot at a second Oscar at age 80.

Hereafter – Peter Morgan: As a writer Morgan tended to do real life stories like The Last King Of Scotland, The Queen and Frost/Nixon, the latter two both winning him Oscar nominations. But the death of a friend led him into very different territory with this very spiritual tale on the tenuous connections between living and dying. With director Clint Eastwood insisting on not changing a word, Morgan got to live the writers dream and could land his third nomination although the film seems to be fading in memory this awards season.

Inception Christopher Nolan: Shortly after winning his only Oscar nomination to date with his original screenplay Memento 10 years ago, Nolan came up with the concept for this startling and emotional story about dream invaders. It took a couple of enormously successful Batman films but Nolan finally got it made, winning that “dream” combination of rave reviews and blockbuster boxoffice. This would seem a certainty to earn him his next dance with Oscar.

The Kids Are All Right – Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg: Indie filmmaker Cholodenko wanted to go a little more commercial. And commercial filmmaker Blumberg wanted to go a little more indie. So the perfect combination was formed to write this family dramedy about a Lesbian couple with two teen kids whose relationship hits the rocks when their sperm donor suddenly flies in from the past. Winner of a NY Film Critics screenplay award and nominated for Golden Globes and CCMA honors, this is a rare comedy that could break through against its super serious competition.

The King’s Speech – David Seidler: Seidler, who had stuttering problems of his own as a kid, has been waiting 35 years to tell the story of the friendship between King George VI of England and his Australian speech coach, Lionel Logue. It’s been the longest journey of any screenwriter this year, but this WGA nominated writing veteran (Tucker: The Man and His Dream) is suddenly an “overnight” success and an Oscar frontrunner.

Made In Dagenham – William Ivory: A feel-good period piece about a group of feisty female factory workers fighting for equal pay in late 1960s England, Ivory’s deft combination of pathos, humor, and determination would make this an instant contender. But box office has been spotty, and its main chance at Oscar recognition would appear to be in the hands of the writers branch who are often known for championing the little guy – or in this case gal.

Please Give – Nicole Holofcener: This spring comedy was one of the first 2010 films to elicit any awards talk when it was released in April but its memory has faded a bit and another offbeat family comedy The Kids Are All Right may have stolen its thunder. Still, Holofcener’s quirky dialogue and amusing and flawed characters are highly entertaining and could pull a (major) surprise.

Somewhere – Sofia Coppola: This European-style minimalist exercise may be an acquired taste but don’t count out Coppola who won here for her only other original screenplay, Lost In Translation, in 2003. The Grand Prize winner at the Venice Film Festival, this story of a LA actor adrift and trying to forge a relationship with his young daughter actually could strike a few chords and win a few votes from other writers who may see someone they know in this.


127 Hours – Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy: Adapting Aron Ralston’s book about his 5-day ordeal trapped “between a rock and a hard place” in a canyon he only escaped by cutting off his own arm, would seem to be impossible. Director Boyle had a vision and conquered 2 drafts before bringing in his Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire writer Beaufoy to do clean up. Somehow, they managed to turn this one-man show into a compelling movie and so far have landed Golden Globe and CCMA nominations for this ‘farewell to arm’ tale of man vs. nature with Oscar recognition a good bet at this point.

Fair Game – Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth: This riveting political thriller won top reviews in Cannes but failed to ignite the box office in its November opening stateside. Still, the screenplay crackles as the Butterworth brothers took both books by Valerie Plame and husband Joe Wilson to tell the tale of Plame’s massive CIA identity leak and the ensuing nightmare it caused. Longshot.

The Ghost Writer – Robert Harris, Roman Polanski: With Polanski’s aid, novelist Harris took a crack at his own book about a hired writer helping to craft the memoirs of a shady former British Prime Minister. With Hitchcockian twists and turns, the pair wrote a screenplay dealing with the craft of writing among many other things that should have great appeal in this category and may well win a nomination despite the threat of being forgotten due to its early 2010 release date.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg: Despite its Foreign Language and Swedish origins, this first of Stieg Larsson book adaptations (followed by The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest) represent perhaps one of the highest profile and most prodigious contenders in the category this year. Writers branch members in their Oscar voting are often receptive to foreign films so this one has a genuine shot of making the grade.

How To Train Your Dragon – William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders: Taking Cressida Cowell’s stirring kids book and giving it heart, humor, and action, this writing team could find themselves competing against another toon, Toy Story 3. Writers have never been shy about acknowledging the scribe talents behind animated features in recent years and this one should be no exception. But it would mean seeing two toons going head to head here for the first time.

Love And Other Drugs – Ed Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, Charles Randolph: Jamie Reidy’s book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman proved to be perfect source material to get Zwick off the historical epic beat and back to romantic comedy basics. An underperformer at the box office,  this sexy romp is a long shot but showed there’s still life in the genre.

Rabbit Hole – David Lindsay-Abaire: Broadway hit play movie adaptations were once a mainstay of Hollywood studio filmmaking and this category, but now they are few and far between. Rabbit Hole is the only one on my list this year as Lindsay-Abaire gave the cinematic treatment to his own Pulitzer Prize and Tony-nominated play about a married couple struggling with the death of their 4-year-old son. Using humor and irony, he makes it seem far less bleak than it sounds, and, as a writer getting to bring his theatrical work to a wider audience, could win praise from his peers as well.

Shutter Island – Laeta Kalogidis: Dennis Lehane’s novels Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone have proved strong fodder for filmmakers, and so it should come as no shock that this one became director Martin Scorsese’s biggest boxoffice hit. Getting the atmospherics of a creepy mental institution and emotional undercurrents just right, Kalogidis’ adaptation was chilling and the kind of material that usually wins nominations  except it seems few people seem to remember the Febuary release came out this year.

The Social Network – Aaron Sorkin: Despite many Emmys for his TV work on shows like The West Wing plus Golden Globe nods for screenplays like An American President, A Few Good Men, and Charlie Wilson’s War, Sorkin has surprisingly never been Oscar nominated. But that is definitely going to change this year with his front-running screenplay adaptation of The Social Network, a tale of the Machiavellian machinations behind the founding of Facebook that has been compared to everything from Shakespeare to Citizen Kane.

The Town – Ben Affleck, Aaron Stockard, Peter Craig: As he did in his feature directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, Affleck (and his co-writers) have turned to another story set near his hometown of Boston. Based on Chuck Hogan’s  Prince Of Thieves, this crime tale weaves big action and strong drama around a gang of bank robbers who go for one last job and get in over their heads. Lest we forget, Affleck is already an Oscar-winning writer (he and Matt Damon won for their Good Will Hunting in 1997) and he could be back again this year.

Toy Story 3 – Michael Arndt (story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich): Arndt won an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine in  2006 but has changed gears to deliver the penultimate adventures of Woody, Buzz, and the gang in a 2nd sequel that defied all expectations and topped its predecessors critically and commercially. The first Toy Story was nominated as an original script in 1995 but now is deemed an adaptation for this installment. No toon has ever won for its writing but there’s always a first time — and TS3 could surprise.

True Grit – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen: Some thought the Coen Brothers’ Oscar winner No Country For Old Men was a western, but they rightly disagreed. No question this remake based on Charles Portis’ novel is a remake and has won rave reviews. That’s no easy task considering the  1969 version is beloved and won John Wayne an Oscar. The Coens focus on dialogue, and critics have called it a dazzling adaptation. With two writing Oscars already to add to their impressive total of four each, no need to guess their peers will be nominating them again – and again.

The Way Back – Keith R. Clarke, Peter Weir: This epic tale of survival freely adapted from Slavomir Rawicz’s  controversial The Long Walk:  The True Story of a Trek to Freedom is a towering directorial achievement for Weir who has also provided a powerful and literate screenplay with Clarke, co-writer and originator of the project . Its relatively low profile and small end of year release may mean not enough voters will see it in time, though.

Winter’s Bone – Anne Rosellini, Debra Granik: This pair grabbed the 2010 Sundance Waldo Salt Screenwriting award for this backwoods story of a young girl’s determination to track down her father. Granik directed in the same spare style she writes, adapting novelist Daniel Woodrell’s poetic dialogue to within an inch of its life. With widespread praise  and lots of early awards attention, this is a likely pick to make the final five here.

  1. Black Swan would have been far better (and actually interesting) as an All About Eve story. It became “much more than that”? It became Showgirls. How disappointing a mere 2 hours after saying to a friend how bad that script was to see it nominated.

      1. “It’s getting a huge round of applause from the critics.”

        Which just tells me how easily impressed today’s critics are. Some of them probably even bought off.

    1. There seems to be at least one movie that I just don’t get why it’s getting heaped on all this praise and i’m sorry to say that I was just underwhelmed by Black Swan. Love Natalie Portman but she is no slam dunk for an Oscar — her best performance ever was in V for Vendetta, as well as in the professional — there is no Oscar scene here — and I just found the movie to just not be all that great either. Mila Kunis’s sag nomination is just very odd to me as well. Anyways, I hope that Nicole Kidman or Annette Bening get best actress this year. There are a ton of movies that deserve the undue praise that black swan is getting and I wish I had liked it more than I did.

    2. I found Black Swan dull in stretches, unintentionally funny in other parts. Nothing particularly new in the style department – mirrors, swish pans, etc. I seriously don’t get the plaudits. Except that one can never overestimate Hollywood’s passion for female mental illness (especially in lovely skin).

      And best screenplay? All I can think is Vincent Cassel’s character informing the ballerinas about Swan Lake near the start: “You all know the story…” then recounts the story fresh for us. Clumsy exposition dump or just a hallucination?

      1. I tend to agree.

        The film is like one long guitar solo start to finish: technically accomplished and impressive but ultimately numbing, detached, the cinematic equivalent of 70s prog-rock.

        Kubrick would take audiences to fractured, startling, hallucinatory places–but the effect was indelible by virtue of the compelling, baseline reality from which you could suddenly be yanked. Same with Hitchcock at his best.

        That said, Black Swan is worth seeing. Even when clumsy, it’s always interesting, there is much to admire visually, and it’s very smart in certain respects.

        But it is, in the end, more a cinematic dance set piece than a movie, and thus less than its potential.

    3. For one thing, it wasn’t originally “All About Eve” set in the world of ballet, it was “All About Eve” set in the ridiculously boring world of Broadway musicals. And it sucked as “All About Eve”… that’s why it sat for 10 years. I wasn’t a big fan of the rewrite, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the original 47 drafts.

  2. People who knock the Swan just don’t get it. The film is as original and unique as any we’ve seen in a decade. Artists struggle for the elusive ideal of perfection. They kill themselves to achieve it (as the movie shows) even though it’s unattainable. I love this movie because it’s imperfect. Because it viscerally delivers the feeling of creation and the desire all true artists feel (actors, painters, writers, dancers) to be the best at all costs. It is a f$&&ing masterpiece.

    1. Not knocking ‘Black Swan’ because I thought it was very well made, but the story, theme and technique has a lot in common with ‘Red Shoes.’

      1. “…original and unique.” Really?

        PEEPING TOM (see parental issues)
        A DOUBLE LIFE (just see it, still holds up!)

        1. Oh, I just saw that you’re a college student! Please try to see the films I listed above. Without these movies, there would be no BLACK SWAN.

        2. You forgot Perfect Blue. And speaking of original screenplays, I love the irony of Inception making that list, given what it cribbed off Paprika.

          1. I don’t know anything about animation — I’m gonna netflix it tho, if I can. Thanks!

            p.s. “College student” isn’t the OP that I responded to, got it wrong. Ooops.

      2. I agree. when I saw it I thought of the Red Shoes. But I think this will win original script . and TS3 for adapted script

    2. Spare me the tortured artist BS.

      There was nothing original or unique about Black Swan. Everything about it could be seen coming from a mile away. Cheap thrills and gimmicks. Oh look another hallucination! Oh look another scene of Natalie masturbating. Oh and let’s throw in a random scene of Mila Kunis and Natalie in full fledged intercourse. And let’s throw in the campy mom from hell. And a big show stopping finale! Part Carrie. Part Red Shoes. Part Showgirls. Part Cinemax.

      And if The Social Network’s characters are cold than Black Swan’s are ice.

      In a way the movie perfectly symbolizes how shallow and glitzy have replaced quality in the eyes of people who claim they love movies.

      1. I’m so glad to see I’m not the only one who doesn’t “get” BLACK SWAN. At least in SHOWGIRLS, Elizabeth Berkeley threw Gina Gershon down the stairs to get the gig.

      2. Einstein knew he, “…stood on the shoulders of many who came before (him)…” All of you film snobs who think BLACK SWAN is so derivative should go out and try to make a film yourselves. I’ll bet you would all fall flat on your faces. None of you could write or direct a THREE’S COMPANY, much less a masterful work like BLACK SWAN. This is the problem with “informed” Americans. They have so much “information,” but so little “wisdom,” they come off like spoiled brats. Aronofsky took a long time to develop as a filmmaker. This is not a fluke, it is a masterwork. Until you can do something half as good, keep your opinions to yourselves.

        1. Sorry Darren, don’t get mad because your film is overrated and has been overhyped, just like The Social Network has been.

          It’s okay…your still a good director, but Black Swan is just not a great film. Good film…sure. Great film? Nope!

    1. @ex employee: What is “way off base”?? You don’t like this list? Seems quite comprehensive, w/most of the likely candidates mentioned, and then some..
      What’s your beef?

  3. Black Swan is the most original film out there that is comprehendible (unlike Inception). Social Network as a script was overly talky and ultimately unemotional. It’s unfortunate that two great minds lime Sorkin and Fincher couldn’t add some feeling into thier ice slab of a film. Black Swan is the exact opposite, a riviting emotional thrill ride. Bravo DA.

    1. @ican’tbelieveitsnotbutter: I think the word you’re looking for is comprehensible. (with an “s”) As to the two films you choose to compare: the performances are fine, but SWAN is WAAAY over-the-top melodrama, and not so fresh/original as you and others feel (see list of previous film ‘influences’ listed by Anonrighter) In the THE SOCIAL NETWORK Sorkin/Fincher take the potentially dry subject matter of the creation of a website and make it soar with fantastically rich characters, brilliant pacing, and plenty of emotion–it just doesn’t whack you over the head like SWAN. But after all, this is a subjective game, isn’t it?!

  4. I’m surprised that there hasn’t been much mention of I Love You, Phillip Morris here. Easily my favorite of the screeners I received as a WGA member. Great, funny surprising script and two amazing performances. What gives, Deadline?

  5. Black Swan – I got it. art as life as art. Cos, the whole thing, like, she’s the swan, and then…From the opening reel of that movie you know what’s going on. Not to say the execution isn’t fantastic, but come on, Synechdoche NY did the same thing. On a staggeringly more complex level. It’s a pretty artistic movie, sure, but the most original concept ever? Especially considering that Deadline reported how they got the idea from a Dostoevsky short story? I hope it gets the nomination, but it’s not my winner.

    And RE social network, Harvard computer geeks are unemotional? that blew your mind? what Sorkin did was create a very nuanced portrayal of a very complex person. And there is a TON of emotion, it’s just understated in a way that clearly doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. Andrew Garfield was fantastic in that regard. You feel his anguish that turns on a dime to quiet rage when he utters possibly the slowest line of the movie (You better lawyer up, cos when I come back, it won’t be for 35%, it’ll be for everything). And Rooney Mara (despite the claims re accuracy) was amazing in her two scenes. It’s a very sophisticated portrayal, but to say there’s no emotion – I don’t buy it. I hope Sorkin gets the nod he deserves – the dialog was fantastic (all 200 pages of it), and the narrative structure (or near lack thereof) was amazing from a writing standpoint.

  6. This race is effectively over.

    “Social Network” will win because most non-writer members of the Academy equate screenwriting with writing dialogue, and all the shiny/sparkly/voluminous dialogue in “Social Network” makes it too tempting to consider any other options based on things like story/structure/character.

    It’s pretty much the same phenomenon that causes all period dramas to win Best Costume and anything with breathtaking natural scenery to win Best Cinematography, even though most DPs will tell you nature is the easiest thing to shoot.

    1. Most writers consider dialogue the most important thing, too. Aside from the fact that people quote dialogue, not story choices, it’s a given that any given movie has a good story, or no one would bother reading/watching to the end.

      But dialogue is what separates a hack from an artist.

      In general, it’s amazing how much award focus is spent on the director and actors, and not the scripts. Actors sometimes work on 5 movies a year. Writers can spent 5 years on one movie, and it may be a director’s medium, but people are far more impressed with a top writer than a given director, because even the layperson is aware that they’re the first person to create something, and the only person to create something from scratch, in the case of an original script.

      That said, most writers in the WGA are just as hacky as the actors everyone loves to criticize.

      1. From a writer!!! Dialogue is the least important. It is the easiest to change and most often it is changed. The tone, structure, characterizations (which include) dialogue are most important.
        Dialogue – No. Silly comment Teddl.

        1. Disagree. All things being equal, as most good writers are able to create great characters in story, but it is the true artists like Sorkin who write dialogue that other writers cannot. That’s what audiences will pay to see. It’s why Juno — love it or hate it — and The Social Network and early Tarantino (even Kevin Smith) resonated. Yes, story and character were there — but the dialogue, even though it’s stylized and too much at times, that make those writers.

          1. The overated Social Networks dialog wasn’t that great.

            It was a film made for the tweens and teens of the FB generation and that is the age group that think this film was great because that age group thinks the dialog is just so great.

            30-50 year olds no better not buy in to that crap. That’s why most of that particular age group did not watch the film.

          2. I am one of many people who liked “Juno” DESPITE, not because of, the dialogue.

            I found it a touching and moving story with compelling characters marred by ridiculous/quirky/mannered dialogue that distracted from the rest of the story.

      2. “Most writers consider dialogue the most important thing, too.”

        Sounds like someone who’s never actually tried to write a script — or never even talked to an actual screenwriter. Doing things like, you know, creating characters and themes and entire worlds from scratch takes a little thought as well.

        “it’s a given that any movie has a good story.”

        OK, laughing my ass off at that one. Why is it a given? Oh, right, because a WRITER came up with a story. Actors can make up dialogue on the spot, they don’t make up story on the spot.

        But don’t listen to my dumb ass, listen to Hitchcock: “As soon as the script has been written, AND THEN THE DIALOGUE FILLED IN, we are ready to start shooting” (CAPS MINE).

        Re-read that preceding sentence until you understand it and you’ll get the point.

        1. I get what you’re saying when it comes to creating characters and themes from scratch. That is definately one of the most difficult parts of writing scripts because those things can’t be filled with fluff or BS…if you’re writing a good script that is. But I think your argument takes away from the fact that creating believable, convincing dialogue is often one of the most important parts of crafting a screenplay. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen thoroughly compelling characters ruined by bad dialogue. Those sort of moments in a movie when you scratch your head and think “Why in the world did he/she say that?” On the flip side of that coin, I’ve seen some average characters made infinately more interesting because of great dialogue written for them. Take The Social Network, Juno, American Beauty, Pulp Fiction or Fargo for instance. Just throwing it out there.

        2. I’m a screenwriter and I agree with Hitchcock’s priority list.

          That said, thinking over the great moments of The Social Network, they’re all dialogue for me: “dating a Stairmaster”… “a _billion_ dollars”… “your patronizing question”. My feeling is, if those moments were extracted, it wouldn’t be nominated. Surely better to view dialogue as one of a number of story-telling techniques mastered by a great screenwriter? Rather than simply something tacked on at the penultimate stage? After all, Hitchcock isn’t dismissing dialogue, he’s simply proposing its rightful time for attention is after story development.



          1. I’m a screenwriter and I agree dialogue is one of many techniques that takes times to master and all that…but I think the point of the original post is that showy and flashy dialogue is still what many people in the industry (who should know better) equate with good screenwriting. They still think directors create the world and the story and the actors create the characters and the writers just fill in the dialogue.

            I admire Sorkin’s writing and “Social Network,” but when it wins Best Screenplay I do worry it will just reinforce those false notions.

  7. Excellent commentary…esp. the part about getting the script made…its so sad, that these great stories lay idle, but the industry is changing rapidly…I never go to the movies anymore, but I did last weekend with family to see Tron in 3D, and because we had coupons, and because we know which movies are ‘renters’ or wait till they are on TV or who cares….I’m a writer, and publishing is now a nitemare, too…everybody is E-publishing and for free…so with downloadable music, free books, cheap movie rentals, how are people making money?

  8. Black Swan should not be a debated over on a list that includes love and other drugs, a laughably bad script that will do exactly for its young and attractive stars what Sweet November did for Keanu and Charlize…Nothing. Horribly written garbage.

  9. The fact that “Somewhere” is mentioned anywhere as a possible contender for anything is one of the biggest jokes of the year. “Watching paint dry” takes on a whole new meaning. Kool-Aid, anyone?

  10. The Fighter as a screenplay? Are you kidding me? That’s is some of the worst, treacly writing of the year in a movie. The King’s Speech? Now THAT’S writing…. actually it is great writing elevated by, incredibly, even better acting. The FIghter is just average/barely passable/ cliche writing elevated by solid acting. The Fighter has NO shot at best film and certainly NO shot at a writing award. Christian Bale will be lucky to win an acting nod, and that’s if he can beat by The King’s Speech actor. It should be a photo finish. The Fighter is like the movie “Secretariat” in a Boxing Ring — except in “Secretariat” the racing scenes were exponentially better than the uninspired boxing scenes were in The Fighter. The Fighter could have used the ghost of Damon Runyon to help give life to too many lame scenes and pedestrian dialogue, imho.

  11. I’m rooting for a Rabbit Hole nomination and by the way where is ‘Never let me go’ ? I know it’s a long shot but the film was critically acclaimed and I think Garland’s screenplay was brilliant – true to the source material yet very cinematic, a rare accomlishment when it comes to novel adaptations, ESPECIALLY when the novel in question was considered to be ‘unadaptable’.

  12. I feel like an idiot asking this, but how is “Toy Story 3” an adaptation? Was there a book that it was based on that came out after the other movies, or was the “story by” something published?

    1. Hey Skippy,

      It’s an industry convention to class sequels as “adaptations”, following the logic that scripts for subsequent movies are inevitably based on the first. Actually, maybe that should be “logic”.



  13. I`m wondering if AMPAS will throw Nolan a bone with Best Original. He`s not winning Picture and/or Director. TSN and Fincher train seems unstoppable now unless big precursors like GG, Guilds and BAFTA turn things around and cut TSN/Fincher sweep, which I don`t see happening – another year, another timely movie that won`t hold up after its win trumps timless one, what`s new? Nolan also deserves to win Best Editting on that 4 level dream sequence alone but they give this one to the Best Picture winner so another major category Nay. Which leaves Original Script. This may be a major category where they could give Nolan an award considering the impact of this movie and the brouhahaha and consequences of his previous movie snub. TKS is an acting piece so Firth is likely going to be the Best Actor winner. Black Swan will hopefully earn an oscar for Portman who was incredible. Bale earns a win for Fighter and Steinfeld for True grit or Grit ends up without major wins and Leo or Adams win for Fighter. So what of Inception outside of tech sweep and possible Score win? Best Original Script. Seems very likely especially considering that some critic groups awarded Nolan. if he is to win anything big this time, this is it.

    1. Except that Nolan is a terrible writer. The Dark Knight and Inception are two of the most overrated films of the last 25 years. He cannot compare in any way to Fincher/Sorkin or Aronofsky.

      Also, John Wells should withdraw his name from any consideration. The Company Men is a terrible, awful script, from page 1 to page 100. Heavy-handed, probably written in a week. Absolute garbage, this film.

      76% on Rotten Tomatoes means that 24% of critics thought it was a C+ or worse.

  14. Hmmmm…. Lemme see….The Fighter is a better movie than it is a script. Tried reading the script for The Fighter and it was torture, mere shades short of extracting a molar with pliers and no anesthetic. Of, the scripts i’ve read on this excellent list only a few strike me as true, enduring masterpieces: The King’s Speech; The Kids Are Alright; Toy Story III, The Social Network and Winter’s Bone.

    Reading those movies you just KNEW the big screen manifestation of the words on paper would be A OK! In other cases, the acting elevated the printed word. THat is particularly true of The Fighter, which felt like a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, rather than one authoritative writer’s voice.

    1. Sorry, Social Network was nothing. Kids are All, was fine. Will fade from memory faster than a fart after baked beans. King’s Speech, Winter’s Bone, yes.
      Worst Script of the year. S_l_t_ _ _ _ _ _. Agree?

  15. what is all the hub-bub over black swan?
    there was no character development for any of the characters. going from “crazy” to “crazier” isn’t much of an arc, in my opinion.

  16. Blue Valentine was amazing and very original……well written and sharp……should be a top contender

  17. The adaptations of both “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” and “Shutter Island” were remarkably true to the books. Amazing work.

  18. The reason movies like Rabbit Hole, Blue Valentine, Never Let Me Go, and some others are going to be overlooked is because they are making about 2 cents at the box office. Sadly, box office matters.

  19. I’ve seen every one of these films. Not on the list is Tiny Furniture. Tiny Furniture is by far the best screenplay this season. I don’t know if it’s eligible for awards but Lena Dunham is brilliant.

  20. To quote Natelie Portman: “Ballet isn’t for everyone.” This holds true for the Black Swan which I finally watch this afternoon at the Malco Grandview Cinema in Madison. I can tell you it was a packed house too. I do agree that the film is a really good portrait of someone spiraling down the mental illness path. I couldn’t help but to feel sympathy for her. No kidding.
    I couldn’t get over the hype over the Social Network for all it is a promo market film for facebook. Though I haven’t seen it; the Black Swan is a more compelling story, for it holds the mirror to ourselves.
    I’m speculating that the Swan is nominated in the original screenplay category. But despite it’s flaws this film is interesting to watch but it isn’t for everyone.

  21. I agree with many of the criticisms of BLACK SWAN – derivative story, flat dialogue, Portman’s limited range – but at about the 2/3 point the film erupts into ‘pure cinema’ and delivers a kick unlike any the movie this year. In part due to the cliches, in part due to Aronofsky’s shrewd manipulation of B movie shock tactics, but mainly due to the cumulative power of the images to inflame our creepy subconscious desires and fears. There are many kinds of films (I love the very ‘written’ THE KING’S SPEECH for example) but sex and horror have been staples of the cinema from its earliest days and Aronofsky – like De Palma before him – will be both maligned and praised for his provocative contributions to cinema’s primal legacy.

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