The 100 Best Screenplays

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The Writers' Guild of America is currently surveying its membership to determine the 100 Best Screenplays, as agreed upon by working screenwriters. The tricky thing is, as an individual member, I don't get to cast 100 votes--I only get 10.

After some reflection, here are the movies I ended up voting for:

Citizen Kane
High Noon
Lawrence of Arabia
Singin' In The Rain
Memento
The Bank Dick
Groundhog Day
Sunshine
Miracle of Morgan's Creek
North by Northwest

I left films like Star Wars, Chinatown, The Godfather, and Casablanca off the list because I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they'll make the top 100 without my help, and I figured I'd save my votes for films that needed them--because (like Sunshine) they are underappreciate masterpieces, or (like Citizen Kane or Lawrence of Arabia) their direction is thought of so highly that the screenplays don't get the credit they deserve.

Other scripts that I could just as easily have put in my top 10 (and, in fact, if you had asked me on a different day, I might have):

Duck Soup
12 Angry Men
Magnolia
Mulhollland Drive
The Sixth Sense
Eve's Bayou
State & Main
On The Waterfront
The Lion in Winter
Manhattan
Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid
Some Like It Hot
Toy Story 2
Do The Right Thing
Raging Bull
...and probably a dozen others that I am going to think of at 3AM and hate myself for not including.

The other tricky part here is that, in a number of the above cases, I haven't sat down and read the script; I'm judging it purely by the finished movie. This is a risky business, I know. However, my general assumption is that if a film is bad, you can't assume the script was bad--but for a film to be great, all the elements, from script to direction to cast to editing, must be great as well.

I did restrict myself to English-language films, since I don't think it would be fair to judge foreign scripts based on their subtitles.

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6 Comments

Teme said:

That's a difficult task ... I think my ten would be: Sunset Boulevard, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, A Face in the Crowd, Napoleon Dynamite, Psycho, Defending Your Life, Easy Rider, Double Indemnity, Ace in the Hole, The Apartment ... well...12 ... because definitely Some Like It Hot and On The Waterfront ... no, wait ... Citizen Kane and Singin' In The Rain for sure ... oh yeah and the Toy Story movies. And I'm looking forward to seeing Sunshine which I've heard great things about. And ... how many did you say you could pick ... arggh! Also, I think Team America did not get the credit it deserves (who knew American foreign policy could be summed up in 3 words?)

Teme said:

Also "O Brother Where Art Thou" ... the "we thought you was a toad" scene alone could put it on any list of the best.

Interesting list. Too bad they didn't do a "100 best unproduced screenplays" and give us civilians a treat. I know there have been various articles on these over the years but for everyone outside LA, these seem like they'll be forever out of reach.

James said:

You know, I was going to say that "Singin' in the Rain" really shouldn't be up for best screenplay -- once you take away the Freed/Brown songs and the dancing and singing by the leads, there's not a lot of credit left for the screenplay. That's what I was going to say.

Then I looked at the "memorable quotes" on imdb. "I make more money than Calvin Coolidge! Put together!"

Lina alone! Anyway, now I'm convinced.

But, what, no Mamet? "Glenglarry Glen Ross"? (An adaptation from the play, but so's the "Lion in Winter.") Maybe "Untouchables"?

Jacob said:

The line "I make more money than Calvin Coolidge! Put together!" is one of the main reasons I included Singin' In The Rain, along with "Look at them--married for six months already, and still as happy as newlyweds."

But evenwithout the great jokes, it would be the best musical screenplay ever written. If you watch enough musicals (and, believe me, I do) you realize how hard it is to write a script that makes the songs seem like natural expressions of character and story, instead of arbitrary excuses for a dance number. Comden and Green do that effortlessly in Singin' In The Rain; along with The Music Man, it's got the best integration of songs and script of any film ever made.

Freddie Farid said:

I'm glad Memento's on there - but Pulp Fiction has to be way up there - and where is it? It's phenomonal! Also: American Beauty has to be on there!

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This page contains a single entry by Jacob published on July 15, 2005 6:53 PM.

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