Friday, April 07, 2006

The Writers Guild's Top 101 Screenplays

On Thursday, the Writers Guild of America unveiled its list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays.

For those too lazy to click through immediately, the Top 10 is tough to argue with:
1. "Casablanca"
2. "The Godfather"
3. "Chinatown"
4. "Citizen Kane"
5. "All About Eve"
6. "Annie Hall"
7. "Sunset Boulevard"
8. "Network"
9. "Some Like It Hot"
10. "The Godfather II"

I've already written a commentary on Zap2it noting certain obvious flaws in the list -- the paucity of foreign language offerings, family films and certain obvious missing writers.

The think I find interesting is how the WGA is embracing the idea that Writers Films are at least somewhat different from Directors Films. If you polled the DGA in a similar fashion for the 101 Greatest Directing jobs ever, I would guess that probably five of the Top 10 films would remain the same, but there'd be an awful lot of shuffling. You'd see the Spielberg and Scorsese films move up. You'd see the Wilder films move down. Some Robert Altman films would probably appear, as would Oliver Stone. I'd also imagine that a greater number of foreign language films would suddenly appear. Clearly Writers Guild members are intimidated by projects in languages they don't speak, while the Directors Guild would just recognize that visual language is universal. That would probably only mean, say, five or six foreign films out of 101, but you'd totally get a little Kurosawa or something.

For the Writers Guild membership: If "Yojimbo" and "Seven Samurai" aren't two of the greatest scripts ever written WHY DO YOU KEEP RIPPING THEM OFF? Just curious.

The problem is that the Writers Guild leadership has never actually figured out how to make average people understand what it is that writers do. One minute they're saying, "Oh, writing is more than just witty dialogue." The next minute they're putting up billboards around Los Angeles reminding drivers which scribes wrote their favorite lines of dialogue. Thus, a writer goes, "You know, I don't remember a single clever thing that the characters in "Yojimbo" said." So he fills out his Top 10 with banalities like "The Six Sense" and "Forrest Gump" and then goes back to his cool new crime spec in which a stranger comes into town and pits two opposing crime lords against each other.

In my commentary, I only mentioned a couple films I'd have liked to see on the list, but since I'm sitting at my desk looking over my own DVD collection, here are some of the movies I own because I love their scripts. Obviously, there wouldn't be room for all of them, but maybe one or two?

"Jackie Brown," "The Manchurian Candidate," "Chasing Amy," "Almost Famous," "Rushmore," "Something Wild," "Bringing Up Baby," "Alien," "Election," "Spinal Tap," "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and "The Truman Show."

That's just what I can see from my chair.

Anybody reading is encouraged to contribute their own missing favorites...


  1. How high on a screenwriting list can you rank a movie like Spinal Tap where all the dialogue is improvised?

    Glad to see Back to the Future made the list, though it should be higher. That and Used Cars (not surprisingly snubbed) show how great Gale and Zemeckis were at setting up jokes in ways you didn't even recognize were set-ups until they paid off an hour or more later.

    I wanted more Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, at the very least, if not Almost Famous, too). Like you say on Zap2It, Stalag 17 should be on there; it's one of the small handful of films that, if I see it on cable, I will watch to completion no matter what I was doing at the time. (It helps that it's on cable more than any other Wilder film, but still.) And Empire should definitely be there ahead of Star Wars.

    How is Bull Durham not on this list? More after I go home tonight and study my DVD collection...

  2. Ooh. Good point on "Bull Durham." There are a lot of missing great comedies including "Ghostbusters" and "Gremlins" and "Two For The Road" (yes, I lump those three movies together all the time). And I agree with you on the near-genius of "Used Cars," though I'm not sure that it's *really* one of the 101 best screenplays... But it's certainly a good one...

  3. "If I can install a pacemaker into this man's chest... I can get our screenplay onto the WGA Top 101 list!"

    Okay, maybe not. But I'd sure as hell take it over "American Beauty."

  4. This list is just pure garbage, but what else would you expect? How in the hell did "Forrest Gump" get on here and not something as great as "Duck Soup"?

  5. Anonymous10:42 AM

    What is the cut off date for this list - would Brokeback Mountain, a screenplay that is remarkable in its adaptive capacity as well as its effectiveness be eligible?

  6. The list isn't really PURE garbage, now is it? I mean, I'd probably keep around 80 of these films, shuffle them around a bit and add 20 others. That's not an *awful* list.

    And Brian, it's my guess that Brokeback and Crash (the two WGA screenplay winners) weren't eligible because the ballots went out last summer. I'm 100% sure I wouldn't add Crash to this list and 95% sure I wouldn't add Brokeback. From 2005, though, I *would* add The Squid and the Whale.