Thursday, January 6, 2011

Best Written Films of 2010

In my opinion, this turned out to be a pretty good year for movies.  I can easily fill my top-10 list with films I enjoyed thoroughly.  Oddly, there’s not a lot of comedy, at least in the live action movies.

I have to give my usual disclaimers:  This is the list of what I think are the best written movies, which is not the same as the movies I liked the best (though this year they line up pretty closely).  Also, though I watch a lot of movies, I haven’t seen everything.  So obviously if I didn’t see something it’s not on this list.  And remember, this is my list… if you don’t like it you can make your own!

10.  RED (screenplay by Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber) – Very enjoyable, tightly plotted, a few good laughs, and reasonably good character work.  Balances a variety of elements perfectly.  Writing good popcorn movies is not as easy as many people think, as evidenced by how few of them were in competition for this list.  So kudos to the Hoebers for a fine piece of entertainment.

9.  True Grit (screenplay by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen) – This one might have been a little higher if my list were favorite movies of the year.  The performances and cinematography elevate the script immensely.  But it is an above average adaptation, well paced, with great dialogue and characterizations.

8.  How to Train Your Dragon (screenplay by William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders) – I felt like I should have enjoyed it a little more than I did, but I blame some of that on a shaky 3D projection at the theater I was in.  It’s got a strong heart and a fun story, with a goodly dose of character driven humor.  It’s really the many clever little touches and the way the writing sets up exciting visuals that makes it stand above most of the other fine animated candidates this year.

7.  The Kids Are All Right (written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg) – Amazing depth of character and great dialogue with a couple of surprising plot twists.  The hook of the premise gives it a strong narrative thrust that is sometimes lacking in these kinds of films.  And the family dynamic, though not “mainstream,” was thoroughly relatable.  This and Please Give were the movies that felt most like real life to me.  Not that movies have to feel like real life, but it’s impressive when they do.

6.  Toy Story 3 (story by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich, screenplay by Michael Arndt) – I didn’t think it was quite up to the level of the first two but those are pretty high standards!  Hilariously funny, emotionally moving, clever, exciting…it’s everything we’ve come to expect from Pixar that is so uncommon in other movies these days.  And to do all that on the third flick in the franchise is especially impressive.

5.  The King’s Speech (screenplay by David Seidler) – What a delightful, absolutely original story.  Though I thought the therapist’s character was a tad cliché, every other character was so fresh and dimensional that it’s a minor quibble.  It’s also an authentic look into a fascinating world we don’t get to see often, which I love in movies.  Plus, it’s just a real crowd pleaser.

4.  The Fighter (story by Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson & Keith Dorrington, screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson) – I have to admit, I wasn’t that enthused to see what sounded like a Rocky knock off.  But man, the interrelations of the family were so well drawn and so dramatic that it absolutely grabbed me.  And even if you can guess the ending, the path to get there is continually surprising.

3.  The Town (screenplay by Peter Craig and Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard) – All genre movies should be this good.  The story isn’t all that original, but the characters are unique and complex, and the tension is intense.  Add in the richly detailed, authentic portrayal of the robberies and the investigation, combined with the powerful sense of place, and you get one of the best scripts of the year.

2.  Inception (written by Christopher Nolan) – Yes, the characters other than Cobb were a little thin.  But there’s more going on here thematically than practically any other movie this year, and the plot is delightfully twisty and inventive.  And what movie generated more intense discussions afterward?  Bonus points for degree of difficulty – a tough story to pull off coherently.

1.  The Social Network (screenplay by Aaron Sorkin) – Who cares if it’s 100% accurate?  This movie works on every level.  Great characters, fascinating plot, amazing dialogue, tense and moving scenes.  Nobody can make wonky banter crackle like Sorkin.  And though the acting, directing and especially the score are all top notch, this really does feel like A Film By Aaron Sorkin.

It’s a lot easier to pick movies I like than to rank them.  When making these lists I am constantly reordering movies and switching other ones in and out.  Ask me next week and my rankings may be different.  So I wanted to mention the movies that almost made this list:  Get Low, Please Give, and Megamind.  All well written and very enjoyable.

There were also several close candidates for worst written movie of 2010.  Dishonorable Mention goes to The Wolfman, Dinner for Schmucks and Sorcerers’ Apprentice.  But the winner (loser?) by a nose was the truly awful Robin Hood.

Some statistics that are not really useful to anyone:  On five of my ten best written films one writer or a single writing team got credit.  On six, the director had a hand in the screenplay.  So there's that.


Sanket said...

Inception is an utter nonsensical gimmick, where Nolan tried to ape Matrix in an imbecilic way. It seemed worse than Insomnia which made me soporific. Anyway, that's just my opinion. Rest of the films are fine.

Doug Eboch said...

I suggest you watch Inception again. I think it's actually a superior movie to The Matrix, at least in terms of theme and complexity. Matrix wins in visual panache, though now that it's been copied so heavily it's a little hard to remember how ground breaking it was.

Ellen Paige said...

Hi Doug! I burst out laughing when I read your post because (I hate to say it) Robin Hood was one of my favourite movies this year!!! Maybe because I went in with no expectations... Why did you rank it as the worst movie of 2010? :P

Ellen Paige said...

Oops, I realised you may not know who I am. I'm Li Yen from Singapore! One of the students from your scriptwriters' class :)

Unknown said...

I'm surprised that The Ghost Writer didn't make your list. It was not only one of my favorite movies of the year, but also my favorite script. Thankfully you left out the disaster that was Black Swan.

Sanket said...

I believe Matrix had a very clear and "universal" theme, i.e. The world we live in is like Matrix, if one has a strong will, he/she can do anything (Movie depicts that in its own sense when Morpheus trains Neo in jumping between two high-rise buildings, doing karate sessions, the climax fight when Neo-Trinity storm the building and riddle it with bullets, etc. etc.) It had several philosophical elements too. It also follows Hero's Journey pattern. Per my limited screenwriting knowledge, it also has strong structure by establishing rules in the first act and following them till the end.

Inception keeps explaining its rules till half-way of the movie. Its structure in a nutshell is, hero assembles a team of people with different expertise for a mission (a la Mission Impossible, Munich, Inglourious Basterds?).
Where Inception mainly mimics Matrix is alternating its characters from reality to another world where they have special and super abilities. Another minor similarity is, Characters were in destitute condition in actuality in Matrix, Inception characters have run-down dilapidated work area.

Film also had cinematic errors. Dream within a dream was supposed to be some three to five times slower than its outer dream. So, the van falls into the river in extremely slow motion (The most outer dream). The snow field was the most inner dream which was shown in regular motion. The error was, there were dreams between these two bookends which were also shown in regular motion.
In another scene, Decaprio was telling Paige(who's in his dream) about his wife; where Paige runs away, takes an elevator, exits, keeps the door open, and meets his wife. While they were talking, DiCaprio appears from the elevator which was never moved.
Another scene, Dicaprio was adjusting his gun (in reality). They never needed any gun in the reality, it was only in the dreams they needed. Why was he shown cocking a gun? (Maybe just to state the theme that he is readying for the mission? In that case, Neo and Morpheus should've been shown tickling their weapons in their ship too.)

I could go on some more, but would rest my case. The only other movie I abhorred this much was Shymalan's Village. But, that was also detested by mostly everyone else. And, Shymalan is still paying for that blunder.

Again, my view is not against anybody except Nolan. :-)

Doug Eboch said...

Jux - I have yet to see Ghost Writer or Black Swan, which is why they make no appearance on my list. As I say, I don't have time to see everything.

Li Yen - I'm actually considering dissecting Robin Hood for this blog and pointing out where it went wrong. So when I do that you'll see why I think it was so badly written. Hopefully I won't ruin it for you!

Will Walker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will Walker said...

The Wolfman was actually a beautifully written movie. It's really depressing that people were too stupid to understand it's depth in characters, story and themes about fatherhood, racism, hope through love, the natural and civilized world and eugenics, because the movie is honestly a masterpiece.