Okay now for those of you who read the site every day, these choices probably won’t be that surprising to you. But if you’re only an occasional stop-buyer of Scriptshadow (and if you are, shame on you), then there may be a few succulent chunks of screenplay goodness for you to munch on. Now unlike The Black List, my list isn’t time sensitive. The scripts don’t have to have been written in the year 2010 to qualify. They could’ve been written in 2005, 1997, during the Bubonic Plauge, doesn’t matter, as long as I read it this year. And what may surprise you is that these rankings might not necessarily reflect my Top 25. I’m not even going to look at that list. I’m simply going to choose which scripts affected me and stayed with me the most. That’s the sign of a good script. Not one that masters all the rules of screenwriting. But one that hits you on a gut level. Let’s stop screwing around and get to the list!
Premise: A paranoid delusional ex-convict is placed on house arrest out in the middle of the woods.
Writer: Adam Alleca
Here’s why I loved Home. The contained thriller may be the most spec-friendly genre format there is, and for that reason, a smart avenue for any screenwriter to take. But 99 times out of 100, writers don’t know what to do once they hit page 30. They’ve created a cool situation, but they haven’t created a deep enough universe, a full enough backstory, to make that situation last for an entire feature-length film. Without fault this always results in the writer relying on cheap gimmicks. Spooky people with mysterious pasts. Scary dream sequences. Jump scares (lots of jump scares!). They believe that if they string enough of these moments together, they can get to the finish line. The problem is that’s all they do – make it to a finish line. Alleca’s created a real backstory to this house as well as all of the characters involved. Therefore whenever anything happens, you know there’s a reason for it. And when it’s all said and done, you’re rewarded with a great script.
9) SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN
Premise: An eccentric billionaire Sheikh tries to buck conventional wisdom and transfer 10,000 salmon to a river in the Middle East in order to achieve his dream – to salmon fish in his own country.
Writer: Simon Beaufoy
Salmon Fishing is one of those scripts that sneaks up on you like a curious cat. You don’t know it’s there until it’s rubbing on your leg and purring louder than a helicopter. After that, you have to have it. What I loved about this script was each character’s unique motivation. The Sheik and his eccentric idea to transfer salmon to his own country. Our hero and his desperate attempts to prevent this from happening, despite being hired to do so. Everybody had such a particular interest, such a particular focus in this story, that they all stood out in their own way. A great reminder to read things that don’t sound like they’re for you. What a nice surprise!
8) THE ESCORT
Premise: A flight attendant who refuses to grow up gets stuck escorting an uptight 14 year old boy cross-country.
Writer: Justin Adler
I remember reviewing this script. I felt like the monkey at the beginning of The Lion King who walks up to the edge of the cliff and holds up the lion cub so that all the animals of the land could marvel at it. Except instead of marveling, you all began throwing rocks at me. Well, I still think this is a great comedy and the second best I’ve read all year. Granted I’ve never seen its doppelganger, Dutch, so I can’t comment on their likeness. All I know is that the road trip movie is so played out and I loved the dynamic of an adult and a kid being stuck together. It felt fresh, it felt new, and it led to a lot of situations which, while not completely different, were different enough to make this story its own. Not to mention it’s a great script to study for developing conflict in buddy movies.
7) THE DARK FIELDS
Premise: A New York novelist gets hold of a rare underground wonder-drug that turns his life upside-down.
Writer: Leslie Dixon
Before I comment on this script, let me say that I just saw the trailer for it (I see they’ve renamed it “Limitless”) and it looks….not like I imagined it at all. I imagined a dark gritty David Fincher film. They went more the colorful vibrant route. I guess the look is supposed to represent the newfound “clear” way in which he sees the world but it just comes off as cheap-looking. Anyway, I don’t care about that. This was a damn good script. The thing I remember most is that it got right three important phases necessary for a good thriller. An active character (his pursuit of wealth), a mystery (all the uncertainty about the drug) and the chase (there was always someone right behind our hero – which kept the script moving at a breakneck pace). Lots of other things I loved about this too but too many to mention in a mini-review. I’m still interested in seeing how this film ended up. Can’t wait to watch it.
6) THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Premise: After her 18th birthday, a young girl and her brother go looking for their sperm-donating biological father, who subsequently becomes a part of their lives.
Writer: Lisa Cholodenko
One of the best character pieces I’ve read in a long time. Usually when you read character pieces, three of the characters are wonderfully deep and the other three are thinner than tracing paper. If a character has three or more scenes in your screenplay, give them the full treatment. A backstory, needs, desires, secrets, flaws. Don’t ever settle for cliché. I remember thinking that if needed, any one of these characters could’ve starred in their own movie. That’s when you know you’ve created deep characters. If you want to study character development, check out this script over on Focus’ site.
5) CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE
Premise: (from IMDB) A father’s life unravels while he deals with a marital crisis and tries to manage his relationship with his children.
Writer: Dan Fogelman
Execution execution execution. Crazy, Stupid, Love is not the most original idea in the world but man did Fogelman execute the shit out of it. Because I’m a lazy bastard, I’ll just use an excerpt from my review to explain why I loved it so much. This is in reaction to the script’s fantastic climax: “Here, not only do we get that scene, but we get the reason why this script sold for 2 million dollars. It’s the climax of the story, a huge sequence where all of these relationships finally collide with one another in this glorious wacky explosion. It’s executed so perfectly and with such skill that for a brief moment, you sit up and think, “This is what screenwriting is all about.” And it really is. It’s that moment where all of the variables in your story come together in that perfect harmonic climax. It’s really good stuff.”
Premise: A stunt driver moonlighting as a getaway driver gets caught up in a job that’s over his head.
Writer: Hossein Amini
Vroom vroom. Look at Ryan Gosling go. Two slots in the Top 10! If that doesn’t prove this man knows how to pick material, I don’t know what does (with one notable exception of course). This is a great script to read to study character dynamics. I’m not talking about what goes on individually with your characters, but how each character relates to one another, so that when something happens to one person, it has a ripple effect on everyone else. That’s what sticks out to me most about Drive. There are scenes where five characters are in a room, and every person has different things going on with everyone else. This adds a load of conflict, a load of subtext, and just makes each scene infinitely more interesting. Top notch stuff.
3) THE GREY
Premise: A group of oil drillers on a plane ride home, crash in the arctic tundra, where they become hunted by a vicious pack of wolves.
Writers: Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers (based on the short story ‘Ghost Walkers’ by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers)
This script is just low down dirty fun. Guys vs. Wolves. But not just any guys. The most badass of the badasses. Bonafied scary-ass motherfuckers. And our leader? The most badass of them all. It’s the closest experience that you’re going to get to watching Aliens that you’ve had since that film. I know that’s a huge statement, but this little script about survival is captivating stuff.
2) WATER FOR ELEPHANTS
Genre: Period Drama/Love Story
Premise: (from IMDB) A veterinary student abandons his studies after his parents are killed and joins a traveling circus as their vet.
You know, this is one of those scripts that shouldn’t have roped me in the way it did. It’s basically a love story. But the great thing about Elephants is that it’s a love story wrapped in a loony dangerous unpredictable package – the Bizarro World version of Titanic. Not to mention it has the best villain I’ve read all year hands down (can’t wait to see what Waltz does with it). You’re not going to read anything like this again for a long time.
1) UNTITLED CHEF PROJECT
Premise: A selfish workaholic chef tries to get back into the restaurant game after a much publicized meltdown years ago.
This script grabs you by the adam’s apple and never lets go. Even if you’re a girl. It will find your adam’s apple. Trust me. If Water For Elephants had the best antagonist of the year, Untitled Chef Project has the best protagonist. Our lunatic lead Adam is what would happen if you stuffed a powder keg inside of Christian Bale. Since Bale is already a powder keg without you having to stuff anything into him, you can imagine what that combination might create. In fact, I think Bale would be perfect for this role, a role it seems Hollywood has cooled on. WHY GOD WHY??? Although I’ve never done peyote and I’ve never hung out with Gary Busey, I’d imagine hanging out with Gary Busey while on peyote is the closest experience you’re going to have to reading this script. I still remember reading “Chef” like it was yesterday, and I read it ten months ago.
And there you have it. So, is there a common thread between all of these scripts, something we can take away for our next screenplay? It’s tough to say. However I did notice that almost all the scripts had at least one really memorable character, especially the Top 4. The biggest surprises for me were scripts like Water For Elephants, Untitled Chef Project, and Drive, all of which I was reluctant to pick up because the subject matter didn’t interest me. Yet once I opened them, the characters drew me in like a champagne sunset on a 70 degree July night. So work on those characters people. The concept will get your reader past the title page but once they’re there, it’s the characters that will keep them reading.
Enough about me. What were your favorite scripts of the year?