Writers Guild of America's inaugural list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays
April 8, 2006 1:50 PM   Subscribe

"Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she had to walk into mine." Casablanca tops the Writers Guild of America's inaugural list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays (full list pdf) of all time, as voted on by members of the guild. Rounding out the top five: Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather; Robert Towne's Chinatown; Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz's Citizen Kane; and Joseph Mankiewicz's All About Eve.
posted by soiled cowboy (41 comments total)
 
What's the MeFi concensus on Citizen Kane? I'm not opposed to older films in any way, and I appreciate that several film-making techniques were pioneered during the making of Citizen Kane, but I really don't enjoy watching it. I find it hard to pay attention to, and I don't really connect to any of the characters.
posted by chudmonkey at 2:01 PM on April 8, 2006


As much as I love "Annie Hall", that film is an achievement of editing, not screenwriting. In an article I read recently (I'll have to see if I can find it), apparently it was a completely different movie until it got to the editing process, where the thread about Annie was expanded into the full movie.
posted by ColdChef at 2:02 PM on April 8, 2006


_____ sucks, ______ should have scored better and ________ wasn't even on the list! For shame!
posted by spork at 2:04 PM on April 8, 2006


I'm happy to see some love for some Hal Ashby films, but it's a shame that both Harold and Maude and Being There are so far down the list. At least Network's up in the top ten, and Eternal Sunshine's up there too.

I haven't been following along too closely lately, but does this mean they're trying to downplay auteur theory again?
posted by thecaddy at 2:04 PM on April 8, 2006


but it's a shame that both Harold and Maude and Being There are so far down the list

Yeah. It hurts to see them outranked by Jerry Maguire and The Sixth Sense (which I don't think belong on there at all). Glad to see All About Eve in the top five, though. Just about every line in that movie is quotable.
posted by jrossi4r at 2:14 PM on April 8, 2006


I just saw Casablanca for the first time a few months ago. What a truly great movie. The 'catchphrases' in the movie sounded a bit hollow at first, but then I realized... this is the movie that created them.

Casablanca was made in 1942. I was born a generation later, didn't see the movie until 2005, and I STILL knew several of its most famous phrases.

If the technology to play movies survives, I suspect they'll be showing Casablanca as long as they'll be doing Shakespeare.
posted by Malor at 2:19 PM on April 8, 2006


I saw this list the other day and was surprised at it. It's pretty good, I think.

Cold Chef, you should read the "more about Annie Hall" link for some stuff about it.

I haven't been following along too closely lately, but does this mean they're trying to downplay auteur theory again?

thecaddy, the list was compiled by the WGA. The W stands for Writers. I don't think they give to much weight to the auteur theory.
posted by dobbs at 2:20 PM on April 8, 2006


I would like to see the Boogie Nights screenplay on that list, as I think it's very well written.

Some other missing masterpieces:
Bringing Up Baby
The Shop Around the Corner
Blue Velvet
The Deer Hunter
Dog Day Afternoon
Miller's Crossing


And, umm... this one. (It's actually a very good screenplay, try reading it.)
posted by soiled cowboy at 2:30 PM on April 8, 2006


Oops. Dog Day Afternoon is on the list.
posted by soiled cowboy at 2:31 PM on April 8, 2006


I don't really connect to any of the characters.

The desire to "connect to the characters" probably explains why you don't enjoy the movie much. That's not at all what Welles was going for. If you can somehow get yourself to watch it as a movie for movie's sake (so to speak), with an eye to camera movement, lighting, cutting, and all the other stuff auteurists are always going on about, you might find it riveting. And yeah, the screenplay is great too. It's an old refrain, but: what a damn shame Welles didn't get to do more. One of the greatest geniuses of American cinema.
posted by languagehat at 2:36 PM on April 8, 2006


I posted a good long while ago in MeTa asking if any MeFi screenwriters wanted to get some sort of online writers group going. Got little-to-no response. Any reading this thread that are keen, email me. Nicholl's approaching!
posted by dobbs at 2:38 PM on April 8, 2006


Star Wars? Really? Seriously, that's like saying a James Bond film or Clash of the Titans is one of the 100 best. Star Wars was a kid's movie that added a sci-fi fantasy element to the generic standard format of adventure narrative. Yes, thirty years later the wild success of the film retcons it's eternal quality but to actual have the money it made blind you into believing it was a fantastic script- the script, of all things- is just ridiculous.

Overall it's a good list but like the AFI lists this one too reeks of being tainted with industry manipulation, even at an incremantal level. For example, the one Coen Brothers film selected was the one that happened to get a Best Picture nod.

Kaufman gets three spots on the list? Of course he does. Of course. Wow.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:42 PM on April 8, 2006


Just two foreign films? Give me a break. Now we learn that screenwriters don't appreciate subtitles either?
posted by goatdog at 2:51 PM on April 8, 2006


Cinemarati members discuss the list.
posted by goatdog at 2:55 PM on April 8, 2006


Kudos for Network being in the top ten, but a big "WTF" to The Third Man being lower than Groundhog Day.

I do like Ramis and Murray, of course. Don't cross the streams.
posted by Mikey-San at 2:55 PM on April 8, 2006


Here it is, from an interview from Entertainment Weekly this spring: (it's password protected, so I'll put the info here)
ANNIE HALL 1977
Allen's artistic breakthrough had a difficult birth. In its two-hour-and-30-minute rough cut, the film (originally titled Anhedonia) was a formless collection of comic bits and pieces. After extensive and ruthless editing, the 93-minute film that emerged would become one of the most iconic romantic comedies in Hollywood history. Audiences didn't just love it — they luhrved it, they luffed it, and the film earned Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actress for Keaton. Allen, however, was a no-show at the Oscars.

posted by ColdChef at 3:03 PM on April 8, 2006


Orson Welles was 25 years old when he co-wrote, directed, and starred in Citizen Kane. His portrayal of newpaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, one of the most powerful men in America, caused Hearst to try to bury the film, and Hearst's influence with Hollywood probably damaged the rest of Welles' career.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:09 PM on April 8, 2006


What spork said.

Lots of great films on that list. Casablanca is my all time favorites, but as much for Bogey as for the screenplay.
posted by caddis at 3:20 PM on April 8, 2006


re: The Sixth Sense

Much, MUCH, MUCH better screenplay than film. One of the most brilliant I've ever read. Unfortunately, Shyamalan is a director in the same way that Tarantino is an actor.
posted by mrmojoflying at 4:01 PM on April 8, 2006


From goatdog's link:
Here is an off-the-cuff list of foreign films I think belong on the list, compiled in all of two minutes:
The Rules of the Game
Rashomon
Children of Paradise
The Leopard
Smiles of a Summer Night
The Marriage of Maria Braun
Ugetsu


And those are just a few that stand out to me as having especially strong, poetic and/or witty dialogue.
The absence of foreign films is definitely the most glaring problem; it would have been more honest to leave them out altogether, but to include two (way down, below Rocky) is like hanging a sign around your neck saying I AM A HAPPY MORON.
posted by languagehat at 4:05 PM on April 8, 2006


I personally love Citizen Kane, but can also appreciate why people have issues with it. It is one of the best constructed films ever made, where everything is obviously carefully considered and laid out. That tickles the filmgeek in me, but most people will subconsciously pick up on it too. You can tell that it is someone's unique vision that is up on screen.

I don't quite know why, but the story did (and still does, on subsequent viewings) actually thoroughly grip me. Mr. Kane is a hard person to like, but he's also hard to hate and, sadly, that sets Citizen Kane apart from a lot of films: it has a multi-faceted, complex and difficult character as the protagonist.

I'll have to look at the list more closely when I have time.. Shame they are so Hollywood-centric.

Also, this made me laugh:
Shyamalan is a director in the same way that Tarantino is an actor
posted by slimepuppy at 4:15 PM on April 8, 2006


Trouble in Paradise and Lubitsch in general is cheated. Billy Wilder kept a plaque on his desk saying, "What would Lubitsch do?"

From Trouble in Paradise:

Gaston Monescu: Madame Colet, if I were your father, which fortunately I am not, and you made any attempt to handle your own business affairs, I would give you a good spanking--in a business way, of course.
Mariette Colet: What would you do if you were my secretary?
Gaston Monescu: The same thing.
Mariette Colet: You're hired.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:57 PM on April 8, 2006


Citizen Kane is complicated, and maybe less accessible, because it's about a real man, as noted by kirkaracha. For people who know who Hearst was, the movie is compelling. It was a daring thing to do - it would be like making a similar movie about Rupert Murdoch today (although he would probably be a duller subject).

Star Wars? Really? Seriously, that's like saying a James Bond film or Clash of the Titans is one of the 100 best.

Yup. These are not the classic films you're looking for.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:25 PM on April 8, 2006


What's the MeFi concensus on Citizen Kane?

Well, my view is it's the Beatles of the film canon. I can see why people rate it; I can see why people love it; I can see the quality of it; personally I think it's okay but it doesn't really move me.
posted by Decani at 6:08 PM on April 8, 2006


I would have guessed that, between them, Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges had a lock on the top 10. And where's Richard Condon (Manchurian Candidate, Prizzi's Honor)?
posted by rob511 at 6:52 PM on April 8, 2006


The Godfather in the top five? What a dreary bore. I enjoyed Goodfellas (#41) much more!
posted by telstar at 7:26 PM on April 8, 2006


Malor: I thought the same thing the most recent time that I saw Casablanca, "hey this film is totally written in cliches!" That really says something about the writing that we're still throwing around lines like "I'm shocked, shocked..." sixty years later.

But Annie Hall as a great screenplay? It's just a bunch of skits. I saw it a few years ago for the first time since it came out and was amazed at what a mess it was. It has some great lines and performances but you could play the reels in any order and it would make as much sense.
posted by octothorpe at 8:17 PM on April 8, 2006


I was hoping to see Rushmore on the list. Few movies give me such a sense that every line was lovingly written and rewritten and rewritten until perfect. I shall have to take solace in Kaufman's getting his due.
posted by Aknaton at 10:05 PM on April 8, 2006


As long as Network's up there I can't complain too much. (Although, Groundhog Day? WTF?)
Great Ahmed Kahn: [fires off his gun through the ceiling] Man, give her the fucking overhead clause. Let's get back to page twenty-two, number 5, small 'a'. Subsidiary rights.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:37 PM on April 8, 2006


The Apartment in the top 20 -- sweet. It's my favorite comedy.

I thought the same thing the most recent time that I saw Casablanca, "hey this film is totally written in cliches!"

People say that about the chase sequence in Bullitt, too. They don't realize that they were creating the conventions that every action movie since has cribbed from.

I think Groundhog Day is Ramis's best, most human work, but didn't deserve to be quite so high (if the numbering means anything). Sixth Sense, Shakespeare in Love, and Moonstruck all seemed ranked too highly for my taste.

I will defend Star Wars. It may not be a complex story, but it's a well-constructed one. Reading the "original drafts" that include the whole story, you really see how judiciously trimmed to its essential elements Episode IV is. There's an iconic, throwback quality to the story and dialog (exploited as well by James Cameron in Titanic).

The foreign films missing rankles, especially because they don't label this list as "best Hollywood screenplays" or something.

Oh, for my money CK is outclassed by Rules of the Game.

A few others I wonder how close they came (100-200 perhaps): Trainspotting, Being John Malkovich, The Sweet Hereafter (or Exotica), The Year of Living Dangerously, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters or Broadway Danny Rose, Aliens or The Abyss, Blade Runner ... ah, I probably have a hundred.
posted by dhartung at 10:48 PM on April 8, 2006


Manhattan IS on the list (54), as is Hannah (95).

My two cents on Annie Hall: Manhattan is a much much better script, the true beginning of Allen's development from a comic to a master of the full range of what's possible in cinema.

That said, I can never understand the purpose of these lists. Hello, subjective!
posted by divrsional at 12:01 AM on April 9, 2006


Many great films are missing from this list. But those films are great because of their direction, their camerawork, their editing, their set and costume design, not the writing of their scripts.

This is a list made by writers. Predictably—as others in this thread have said—these films have many clever, memorable lines. Even if the structure and plot of the film is a mess. Case in point: Annie Hall, as has been mentioned. Citizen Kane, which, as others have said, sometimes feels too much like a bloodless thought experiment. I recently tried to watch The Producers, and failed. Great lines, great characters, but wooden, stagy production.

This also may excuse, partly, the lack of foreign films. Production values are the same in any language, but clever dialog may not translate well. "Poetry is that which is lost in translation." Subtitles are not the same thing. If we're judging films purely by their writing, it's hard to judge the subtleties of language if you're not a native speaker.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 12:32 AM on April 9, 2006


There are writers in Hollywood?
posted by whir at 1:32 AM on April 9, 2006


Just as a general reminder, this article was about the 100 greatest screenplays of all time, not films. While few good movies come from bad screenplays (e.g. Bladerunner), a lot of good screenplays end up being bad movies for various reasons. There are also screenplays that read great, but again, for various reasons, would make bad movies and never make it to the screen.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:13 AM on April 9, 2006


I'd have expected a list made by writers to value plot and structure more than clever lines.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:13 AM on April 9, 2006


Is it at all humorous to anyone that the list is a PDF? An electronic piece of paper (and not as a piece of accessable HTML)?

mrmojoflying is dead on.

Read the screenplays. You'd be stunned how different the page feels (if you can break away from the image you already have of a film.) and use your imagination.

Lethal Weapon is a stunningly good script, for example.

Kirth - this made me laugh hard Yup. These are not the classic films you're looking for.

Oh, and dobbs, i had no idea you wanted to start a writers group.
posted by filmgeek at 8:29 AM on April 9, 2006


I'm surprised there are any foreign films, considering the writers can't even read the screenplays. They can watch the movies with subtitles, but that's cheating for a screenplay list.
posted by smackfu at 8:36 AM on April 9, 2006


Is it at all humorous to anyone that the list is a PDF? An electronic piece of paper (and not as a piece of accessable HTML)?

And it's not even in proper format. That's Arial!
posted by smackfu at 8:37 AM on April 9, 2006


It is available as a regular HTML page. The OP just didn't link to it.

FG, got your email and will answer later.
posted by dobbs at 1:23 PM on April 9, 2006


Thanks dobbs, I didn't see the HTML page when I created the FPP.
posted by soiled cowboy at 1:47 PM on April 9, 2006


Wow. I've seen all but 10 of the top 100.
I was going to say, as long as Sweet Smell of Success is up high, I'm happy, but no Miller's Crossing???
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:49 PM on April 9, 2006


« Older The law vs. vigilante justice vs. ...   |   Rockwell Forgery Uncovered Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments