Nightcrawler – Watch this movie to understand the power of minimalism. The story here is extremely simple. A guy wants to be good at his job. Everyone’s always trying to write Citizen Kane. You need to learn to write Nightcrawler first. Give us an interesting character and an easy-to-understand story and you can write a great script.

Glengarry Glen Ross – Watch this movie for the way it uses tension to create charged dialogue. After Alec Baldwin gives his famous Always Be Closing speech, the tension in the room is palpable. That tension creates conflict between the characters, a sense of fear, a sense of urgency. All of that comes out in the interactions between the characters, resulting in great dialogue. If you’re looking to turbo-charge your dialogue, build a concept around tension.

American Beauty – Watch this movie to learn how to make characters OTHER THAN YOUR HERO rich and complex. One of the quickest ways to spot a newbie is weak supporting characters. Notice how all the characters in American Beauty have something going on underneath the surface.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – Watch this movie to learn how to write great set pieces. The fallacy behind great set pieces is that they have to be big and elaborate. Raiders proves that the opposite is true. They’re often simple and direct, like running down a tunnel with a giant boulder trailing you. Or being dragged behind a moving car. Or a showdown in the middle of town with a big baddie. One of my favorite set pieces ever is the trash compactor scene in Star Wars. That scene is four characters in a room. Simplicity is your best friend with set pieces.

Taken – For GSU (goal, stakes, urgency). As yesterday’s script taught us, you have to learn to crawl before you can fly. Learn the basics. And there’s nothing more basic than the foundation of this screenplay. Goal – find his daughter. Stakes – The loss of his daughter. Urgency – She’ll be shipped into oblivion within 48 hours.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Watch this movie to learn how to create out-of-the-box concepts that allow for unique storytelling experiences. Anything that explores time and memory creates opportunities to jump around in time in interesting ways. But you never want to do this arbitrarily. You need to come up with a concept that allows for you to do so organically. Eternal Sunshine, Memento, Groundhog Day. Find the concept and these weird funky movies will write themselves.

Sideways – Watch this movie to learn how to build conflict into a relationship. Lots of movies are two-handers – two characters going on the same journey. It’s essential that you build conflict into that relationship so that the interactions between these characters stay entertaining. If you have NO CONFLICT AT ALL, I guarantee you, your characters will be boring. What I like about Sideways is it doesn’t use the on-the-nose “characters hate each other” approach to conflict, but rather the “world-view” approach. One character sees the world as a fun exciting positive place. The other as a nasty untrustworthy shithole out to get him. That worldview difference allows two friends who otherwise love each other to have lively interesting conversations throughout the movie’s running time.

Back to the Future – Watch this movie to learn how to create setups and payoffs! There are more setups and payoffs in Back to the Future than in any other film. The idea is that a big moment always lands more powerfully if it’s been set up beforehand. It’s a lot cooler to learn that the dance is going to be Marty’s savior if we already heard his mom and dad talking about that dance in the first act. Never underestimate the “Oh yeah! I remember that from earlier” factor.

Juno – Watch this movie to learn how to write a flashy likable main character. A big-personality main character is one of the easiest ways to write a memorable screenplay and can also cover for your plot if it ends up stinking. A good way to determine if you’ve written a super-memorable big personality character is if the character’s name could double as the movie’s title (Juno, Jerry Maguire, Good Will Hunting, Forrest Gump).

The Big Short – Watch this movie to learn how to spice up boring subject matter. This will be more important once you break in and start adapting material. You’ll be surprised at how dull some of the material you get pitched is. The Big Short had to figure out how to make sub-prime mortgages fun. In that respect, it’s the gold standard for how to do this right. Before anything, start by writing big memorable characters. From there, you can begin to play with form, breaking convention, that kind of thing. But as we discussed yesterday, this is a lot harder than it looks. Never make any choice to look “cool.” All choices should feel organic and right for the story.

Before you attack me for all the movies I left out, I did that for a reason. So you can tell us what your favorite “screenwriting lesson” movie is! Not to mention there are movies that are so good, they didn’t seem right for this article. How do you highlight just one lesson in Pulp Fiction, Chinatown, or The Godfather. And then there are movies, particularly ones before my time, that I don’t know as well. So I’d be doing a disservice to try and break those down from memory. Anyway, I’d love to throw a couple of new movies in the queue that I could watch with a purpose, so go ahead and share your screenwriting lesson flicks below.

  • Poe_Serling

    Great list, C!

  • James Michael

    Great post

    I also wouldn’t mind seeing the complete opposite post actually:

    ‘Movie you shouldn’t watch if you’re trying to be a screenwriter’

    There are so many films that are the exception to the rule that turned out to be great even when all the odds were against it working. Although these movies rock, their counter-productive to up coming screenwriters because they use these as examples for why their own crappy ideas are fine.

    I can’t think of any at the moment… but you get what I’m saying

    • brenkilco

      2001. Wooden dialogue. Characters so bland a computer can steal scenes. And one set of characters get ditched for another every thirty minutes. Throw in a WTF Rorshach ending and you have the perfect recipe to lead young screenwriters astray.

    • Scott Serradell

      “Pulp Fiction”.

      Amateur screenwriters should steer clear of it; like Eve with the apple. It will fuck you up for a long time coming (I’m not joking.)

      • Wijnand Krabman

        Agree but what a great story it is!

  • Scott Serradell

    Actually…

    Not a bad list at all. I’m particularly happy for the inclusion of “Sideways” — one of my favs.

    IF you want an addition maybe consider “Michael Clayton”. An amazing screenplay … And the movie holds up well too. The whole movie is actually like how you kill a frog: You don’t throw it in boiling water … You throw it in cold water and raise the temperature slowly, so the frog DOESN’T KNOW it’s being cooked … THAT is “Michael Clayton”.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Heard Clayton is being taught at UCLA.

    • klmn

      Has anyone ever tried that? I know people say it, but–

      • Scott Serradell

        I honestly couldn’t tell you. Seems a bit cruel to me — Personally there’s nothing wrong with just severing the brain stem, sticking a skewer through it, and throwing it on the barbecue.

  • LostAndConfused

    The Raid – For those that want to get into writing action thrillers, this is the quintessential movie to be studying.

    • Lucid Walk

      Make the third one already!

  • brenkilco

    Pleasantly surprised to see Glen Garry listed. It’s all good. But the bullshit philosophical spiel that Mamet wrote and Pacino delivers all to hypnotize some poor schnook into buying a worthless swamp parcel in Florida takes the cake. The sort of next level stuff you don’t get in ordinary H’wood product. ‘It might mean nothing to you and it might not’. Alas, it takes more than tension to write like Mamet.

    ROMA
    I don’t know. For me, I’m saying,
    what is is, it’s probably not the
    orgasm. Some broads, forearms on
    your neck, something her eyes did.
    There was a sound she made…or,
    me, lying, in the, I’ll tell you:
    me lying in bed; the next day she
    brought me café au lait. She gives
    me a cigarette, my balls feel like
    concrete. Eh? What I’m saying,
    what is our life?
    (pause)
    It’s looking forward or it’s
    looking back. And that’s our life.
    That’s it. Where is the moment?
    (pause)
    And what is it that we’re afraid of?
    Loss. What else?
    (pause)
    The bank closes. We get sick, my
    wife died on a plane, the stock
    market collapsed…the house burnt
    down…what of these happen…?
    None on ‘em. We worry anyway.
    What does this mean? I’m not
    secure. How can I be secure?
    (pause)
    Through amassing wealth beyond all
    measure? No. And what’s beyond
    all measure? That’s a sickness.
    That’s a trap. There is no measure.
    Only greed. How can we act?
    (MORE)

    35.

    ROMA (CONT’D)
    The right way, we would say, to
    deal with this: “There is a one-in-
    a-million chance that so and so
    will happen…Fuck it, it won’t
    happen to me…” No. We know
    that’s not the right way I think.
    (pause)
    We say the correct way to deal with
    this is “There is a one-in-so-and-
    so chance this will happen…God
    protect me. I am powerless, let it
    not happen to me…” But no to that.
    I say. There’s something else.
    What is it? “If it happens, AS IT
    MAY for that is not within our
    powers, I will deal with it, just
    as I do today with what draws my
    concern today.” I say this is how
    we must act. I do those things
    which seem correct to me today. I
    trust myself. And if security
    concerns me, I do that which today
    I think will make me secure. And
    every day I do that, when that day
    arrives that I need a reserve, [a]
    odds are that I have it, and [b]
    the true reserve that I have is the
    strength that I have of acting each
    day without fear.
    (pause)
    According to the dictates of my
    mind.
    (pause)
    Stocks, bonds, objects of art, real
    estate. Now: what are they?
    (pause)
    An opportunity. To what? To make
    money? Perhaps. To lose money?
    Perhaps. To “indulge” and to
    “learn” about ourselves? Perhaps.
    So fucking what? What isn’t?
    They’re an opportunity. That’s all.
    They’re an event. A guy comes up
    to you, you make a call, you send
    in a brochure, it doesn’t matter,
    “There’re these properties I’d like
    for you to see.” What does it mean?
    What you want it to mean.
    (MORE)

    36.

    ROMA (CONT’D)
    (pause)
    Money?
    (pause)
    If that’s what it signifies to you.
    Security?
    (pause)
    Comfort?
    (pause)
    All it is is THINGS THAT HAPPEN TO
    YOU.
    (pause)
    That’s all it is. How are they
    different?
    (pause)
    Some poor newly married guy gets
    run down by a cab. Some busboy
    wins the lottery.
    (pause)
    All it is, it’s a carnival. What’s
    special…what draws us?
    (pause)
    We’re all different.
    (pause)
    We’re not the same.
    (pause)
    We are not the same.
    (pause)
    Hmmm.
    (pause, sighs)
    It’s been a long day.
    (pause)
    What are you drinking?

    LINGK
    Gimlet.

    ROMA
    Well, let’s have a couple more. My
    name is Richard Roma, what’s yours?

    LINGK
    Lingk. James Lingk.

    ROMA
    James. I’m glad to meet you.
    (they shake hands)
    I’m glad to meet you, James.
    (pause)
    I want to show you something.
    (pause)
    It might mean nothing to you…and
    it might not.
    (MORE)

    37.

    ROMA (CONT’D)
    I don’t know. I don’t know anymore.
    (pause. He takes out
    a small map and
    spreads it on a table)
    What is that? Florida. Glengarry
    Highlands. Florida. “Florida.
    Bullshit.” And maybe that’s true;
    and that’s what I said: but look
    here: what is this? This is a
    piece of land. Listen to what I’m
    going to tell you now:

  • Adam McCulloch

    Watch Lars and the Real Girl to learn how to make people care about characters they think they shouldn’t. The premise of Lars falling in love with a sex doll is so ridiculous that, as a viewer, you are firmly on the side of the townsfolk. Lars wins both them and the viewer over in the end and the real girl becomes a surrogate for anyone you ever loved.

    • jaehkim

      Carson hates that movie from what I recall.

      • Adam McCulloch

        I found the premise ridiculous so I hate-watched it but, much like the townsfolk in the movie, I was won over in the end. What did you think of it?

        • Stephjones

          There was so much I liked about it. That dreary setting was like the moon and the hope created by the story was like a tiny shoot of green sprouting on it’s surface. The relationships felt so authentic. The explanation for his delusion and the kindness of the town willing to help him work through his issue rather than ostracize him was such a positive, life affirming message. Great message.

          • Adam McCulloch

            Yes indeed! Everything works together to make it work. They did so much with so little. Impressive stuff.

  • Doug

    I’d add Whiplash – an intense study of a toxic master-student relationship. Few locations and few characters means such a script can be produced cheaply.

    Alien & Aliens – the best space-horror and the best sequel of all time. Both are symmetrical four-act structures with a midpoint. The buildup to the action may seem old-fashioned, but that’s how suspense is supposed to work. None of this modern wham-bam-thankyou-mam crap that passes for blockbusters nowadays. And the characters in both Alien and Aliens have real depth.

    Star Wars – the original and still the best. Remember when blockbusters used to be FUN? Remember the time before they became a smorgasbord of wooden acting (I’m looking at you Daisy Ridley) and humorlessness? Remember when characters used to be BIG and memorable? Remember when writers used to write proper dialogue? Remember the time before shitty CGI took over? Remember the time before random incoherent set-pieces took over? Remember when movies had proper endings? Remember the time before the shitty Teal & Orange colour palette took over? Star Wars reminds us of what’s possible.

    • ShiroKabocha

      Someone had too many member berries…

  • Midnight Luck

    CABLE
    Your time’s up you dumb fuck
    DEADPOOL
    Well, that’s just lazy writing

  • GoIrish

    OT: Not to be outdone (much) by those folks at Disney with their Han Solo trailer, I’ve decided to release my own teaser trailer for the movie I’m currently animating (think a really, really poor man’s South Park-like animation skills). I mentioned this previously, but you can get a free license for some of Moby’s songs, including the one I used in the teaser trailer, at http://www.mobygratis.com.

    Currently targeting 2029 for an official release…

    • Malibo Jackk

      Won’t they all be deported by then??

  • brenkilco

    Good post. A few, admittedly older alternatives.

    Minimalism- Deliverance. Four suburbanites, two homicidal hillbillies and an unfriendly river.

    Tension filled dialogue Twelve Angry Men. Not just the basic life or death decision they’re making but the subordinate conflicts created by the assorted personalities

    Rich supporting characters – The Maltese Falcon, Out Of The Past, The Rules of The Game, Lawrence of Arabia. Movies where it’s possible to think you could have ditched your protagonist and focused on some other character and still wound up with an interesting story.

    Out of The Box Concepts- La Jetee. A fifteen minute long scifi drama told almost entirely with still photos. With a cosmic twist. Maybe the most bang for the nearly non existent buck movie ever. A million miles from Hollywood. Actually closer than you might think.

    Great set pieces- Goldfinger. Set pieces are first and foremost scenes. And like a superior scene a set piece ought to have a beginning, a middle, and end. Rising action, reversals and a climax. Those Fort Knox fisticuffs with Oddjob definitely qualify.

    Relationship conflicts – Some Like It Hot. Tortoise and hare pairings generally work. Friends who can get into it about everything from finances to romance to issues of basic survival.

    GSU- Spartan. Taken with brains and political ramifications.

    • Scott Serradell

      As usual bren: You’re hired.

    • Andy Meyers

      Wasn’t La Jetee turned into 12 Monkeys? Maybe look at both for ways to expand a tight concept or hook into a feature length movie.

      • brenkilco

        Yes. And it took somebody as crazy as Gilliam.

  • Erica

    I think one of my movies you need to watch as a screenwriter is:

    The Mosquito Coast with Harrison Ford.

    It’s how to write a character who slowly destroys everything around himself and almost looses his family over his ego. He is the protagonist at the start of the movie but then becomes the antagonist.

  • Frankie Hollywood

    Two days in a row with pictures of Jake Gyllenhaal front and center. Someone’s got a man crush. C’s gonna be collecting Batman figurines soon.

    One movie that’s always stuck with me is Requiem for a Dream. Mesmerizing and gut-wrenching to watch how low someone fill go for a fix.

    Darren Aronofsky’s Pi is pretty trippy too. Bet I’ve seen that one 10X.

  • RBradley

    Saw Altered Carbon ep. 1 and wonder why you spend all the money and hire bad actors to deliver a shitty script.
    Good book, though.

  • Scott Crawford

    This comment boards gonna fill up pretty fast and I’ve got to get back to sleep. So I’ll just reserve a space… I think for James Bond… The Spy Who loved Me, The Licing Daylights, Skyfall.

    First of all, everyone else has seen them (almost a seperate post but worth noting) so you should know what people are talking about when they bring it up in meetings.

    Second, Bond movies (also Raiders and some others) are simple setpiece based movies, whammies every ten pages… all that good stuff.

    Sleeeeep!

    • Buddy

      The spy who loved me is my favorite JB movie. It’s really fun, great set-pieces and Barbara Bach is…

      • brenkilco

        She definitely is. But SWLM is basically just You Only Live Twice, which I prefer, with subs instead of space ships. And of course I prefer Connery to Moore.

    • Lucid Walk

      I loved Skyfall. Dare I say it was better than Casino Royale.

    • Doug

      The Licing Daylights – that movie really *bugged* me…

    • brenkilco

      The Bonds are tricky because as you say they are basically picaresques. One damn thing after another.The plots, even in the best of them excepting perhaps FRWL, are pretty flimsy. They could all have one additional set piece or one less setpiece without changing anything. And the plot points that get us from one place to another often don’t bear much scrutiny. The best manage it all with humor, speed and style. The others, and sorry I’d include the Craigs, can be clunky, heavy on tedious exposition and short on imaginative action. I’d stick with the earlier ones, particularly Goldfinger, if you’re looking for useful screenwriting tips.

      • Scott Crawford

        Exactly… I haven’t got time (at work) for a lengthy breakdown, but the point is these movies – plus Indian Jones and, I don’t know, Eraser – are examples of one damned thing after another, or bunch of stuff happening.

        But at least SOMETHING is happening.

        We’ve all seen scripts where NOTHING happens, least of all something every ten pages (a “whammie”). So it’s a good place to START from.

        Of course, with Bond you already have the hero, but if you’re writin* your own thing, you need your own hero. You also won’t have the budget or running time of a Bond movie. If I’m honest, I could lose a few setpieces from some Bond movies (like the last one) if it made them shorter and faster.

        For example, in Spectre, Bond goes to:

        Mexico City
        Rome
        Austria
        Morocco
        London

        Most NORMAL actioner could do maybe three of those, say Austria, Morocco and London, if that. Mexico City and Rome, apart from the action opportunities, are more about Bond finding clues that lead him to the next place.

        You could start the story with Bond in Austria looking for Mr. White’s daughter, fill us in later on why.

        Anyway, back to work.

  • Malibo Jackk

    Wow.
    Was going to mention screenwriting tricks.
    As was typing – started watching FX’s ASSASSINATION OF VERSACE
    and up pops a wonderful misdirection-death scene.

    Loved tv’s FARGO, MADOFF, and VERSACE appears to be well made too.

  • carsonreeves1

    I’ve been watching Cloverfield Paradox over the last couple of nights. This might be a movie I put up as, “What to watch to learn what not to do.” As in, what not to do on every level. Wow is this movie bad.

    • Poe_Serling

      At the beginning of the flick…

      There’s the book author guy waxing on about the dangers of messing around with the particle accelerator – warning that it might unleash creatures from different dimensions and causing ripples in time that could alter the earth’s PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE.

      It sorta opens the gate for the producers to attach the Cloverfield tag to almost
      any sci-fi/horror story now – no matter the time period.

      • Levres de Sang

        “Creatures showing up in an Alpine Melodrama set in the ’70s – blame it on
        the particle accelerator.”

        Oh, God! Now you’re just giving them ideas! ;)

        • Poe_Serling

          Playing by the new set of rules established by the Cloverfield universe of cinema…

          Even dialogue-heavy projects could have an unfriendly visitor or two popping in from another dimension to stir up a bit of trouble.

          ;-)

          • brenkilco

            As Chandler said, when in doubt have somebody come through a trans-dimensional portal with a gun.

      • brenkilco

        Great now everybody from Hannnibal Lector to Norman Bates to Michael Myers to The Alien has a fresh excuse and maybe new grounds for an appeal.

    • DB Stevens

      It was a mish-mash Monday article turned into a movie. It was such a hodgepodge that it managed to make monsters, time travel, alternate dimensions, space, surreal horror, and future global conflicts leading to WW3, and make them all boring. Any one of those things would be cool on it’s own. Together a collective meh.

      • Erica

        I’ve watched it and I’m still waiting for the Paradox. I think they forgot that part. Traveling to alternate dimension is not a Paradox, meeting yourself in the current timeline can cause a Paradox.

        I still don’t know why they kept cutting to the earth for that story-line.

        Spoilers:

        And that arm was the stupidest thing going, in the end fight they showed a shot of the arm and I thought, oh, set-up/pay-off, she will use the arm to distract Jensen, but nope. They showed the arm and then nothing.

        • DB Stevens

          Yep. It was element soup instead of a structured story with set ups and pay offs.

    • DB Stevens

      Hmmm. Maybe another article on “The Different Types of Bad Movie Decisions” would be a good idea. There so many different ways that script decisions can make bad movies. And of course, plenty of ways that production choices can make good scripts bad movies.

  • Lucid Walk

    Love this post. Who else has seen all 10? A couple of my own mentions.

    Casablanca/Manchester by the Sea — Flashbacks can have an annoying tendency to reduce the film’s momentum. But these two avoided that pitfall, even with their flashbacks smack-dabbed in the middle/midpoint.

    The Princess Bride — So many twists and turns. Hero dies, villain lives, bad guys become good guys, etc. The dialogue is crisp, the humor is organic, and it’s all structured by a unique framing device of a man reading his grandson a storybook.

    The Matrix — A melting pot of genres and tropes, from kung fu to sci-fi to religion, yet still grounded by the tried-and-true Hero’s Journey so as to avoid losing the audience.

    Seven Samurai — For anyone crazy enough to write a three-hour epic, treat it like a novel. Give the richest backstories and personalities to your characters. Set up the story with a huge, life-or-death conflict. But above all else, keep the plot simple.

    Last but not least, almost everything Pixar has done.

    • scriptfeels

      I haven’t seen sideways, but the rest I’ve watched. I’d be interested in reading more articles targeted towards simple stories and developing them into compelling films. Seven Samurai would be a great starting place.

    • Andy Meyers

      Pixar storytelling reference below. There are several on the Internet that give some Pixar insight.
      https://nofilmschool.com/2012/06/22-rules-storytelling-pixar

  • klmn

    I’d add Shogun Assassin if only for the ball or the sword scene.

    • brenkilco

      I’m a sucker for touching tales of childhood.

  • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

    I LA-OVE Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs”. I love how the story jumps around in time. Teaches me how to deal with a non-linear plot, which E.C. Henry did in a screenplay that he wrote a while back entitled, “The Judas Project”.

    I LA-OVE Quilermo Del Torro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth. Teaches me how to fuse fantasy with real life history.

    I LA-OVE “Dan in Real Life”. Teaches me that family can be an interesting backdrop in a romantic comedy setting.

    I LA-OVE “Birdman (or the Virtue of Ignorance)” teaches me how to deal with a flawed protagonist and how to surround that charter with a bevy of challenging personalities.

    I LA-OVE “Slumdog Millionaire”. Teaches me that a GOOD writer can make me care about a place that otherwise I don’t give a fuck about. Gives me an appreciation for other cultures, when that’s not really part of my dna. Teaches me the power of fusion: a compelling game show, mixes with romantic tragedy to bring out the truth of those living in desperate poverty.

    I LA-OVE “Back to School”. Teaches me the value of a total wild man character in contemporary setting to find the humor on experiences that are common to us all.

    I LA-OVE “Prometheus”. Teaches me that if you can get your material to right director he can make even a flawed story quite memorable with his visual imagination.

  • scriptfeels

    Screenwriting lesson: Dialogue
    Look no further than Star Wars Episode II to write a fantasy love story. Juggling the dark side of the force with the love of your life is tough to establish on screen, but George Lucas does a fantastic job of realistically portraying this inner conflict our protagonist Anakin Skywalker faces as he is on a mission to protect Senator Padme, a princess he’s fallen in love with since childhood.

    He uses Anakin’s backstory of tattooine to establish how Padme is different because her skin isn’t rough like sand, but is smooth.

    He does a great job showing him ease to the dark side through using the force for pleasure through passing padme apples with the force and cutting them for her. It’s a small action, but shows that Anakin is willing to break his jedi vows to be with the one he loves.

    Overall, it’s amazing what is accomplished through so little to connect these two characters who are worlds apart, but part of an epic space opera.

  • Citizen M

    The original King Kong, on how to feel sorry for the monster.

  • ShiroKabocha

    Aladdin and Tangled are my favourite and the best written Disney of the past 25 years. Clean, lean, great balance between action, emotion and levity, worth doing a scene-by-scene deconstruction.

  • Wijnand Krabman

    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I can watch that over and over again. The hero tries to f*ck the system but looses in the end. This is about loyalty, friendship, humiliation, abuse of power, imagination, herd behaviour, freedom, everything is in!

    • Malibo Jackk

      What’s interesting about the book — the story is told by the American Indian.
      Including the way he would tell it.

      Could be why the book was so popular, which helped attract the attention of Hollywood.

  • Andy Meyers

    Tootsie – Writing subplots while keeping the same theme. Best example ever of using different side characters to provide different takes on the same central conflict. It’s all about Michael pretending to be a woman, but the conflict shows up differently with his love interest, her father, his director, his friend who’s a girl, his friend who’s a guy, his agent, his co-stars, his fans.

    The Sting – A great example of hiding your set-ups. Every single part of the final scam is there, but it’s all hidden by the screenwriter. Every payoff in the final conflict has a fake payoff or false conflict that lets us say “that’s why the filmmakers did that scene”. Then, we mentally check it off the list as satisfied. When the big reveal comes at the end, we’re surprised because we thought everything else had a different reason for being in the story.

    • brenkilco

      The sting is textbook. I personally would have cut the hitwoman subplot. Maybe one whammy too many. Otherwise great. The script is so straightforward in letting us see the mechanics of the various sub-cons that we’re doubly bowled over- at least we were back in the day- when we realize that we’ve been hustled, just like Shaw.

  • DB Stevens

    The new Alien movies could learn that lesson.

  • DB Stevens

    The first ten minutes of Up. You can learn how to tell a truly moving life long love story in the most efficient way ever.

  • DB Stevens

    MR. AND MRS. SMITH is a good one to learn how to let your action set pieces tell a story instead of being just perfunctory and plugged in like a Transformer movie.

  • RO

    I’d swap out Juno with Charlie Wilson’s War. First, it’s a better cast (not to diminish Juno’s cast but Michael Cera is one note). Second it’s a great example of a simple plot with great dialogue that covers a long stretch of time and makes a really complicated subject matter very accessible. All the characters are interesting with their own wants. The main character has a profound change. Oh and the main character doesn’t solve their problem in the first 10 minutes and forces us to wait the rest of the movie for the kid to be born.

  • BMCHB

    I’ll recommend COMMANDO instead of TAKEN.

    GSU up the wazoo. ALL of it’s quotable. Great set-pieces and a superb soundtrack.

    No fat on this. All muscle. Always moving forward.

    • RO

      I want a sequel to this with Alyssa Milano saving Schwarzenegger. Shot for shot re-make gender swap! Even the bit with the ice-cream at the beginning re-done.

      • BMCHB

        COMMANDO 2: JENNY MATRIX

      • Scott Crawford

        There was a sequel script. Fing awesome. Want Carso to review it some day.

    • Scott Crawford

      Prepare to have your mind blown… the man Matrix is ordered to kill in Commando is (probably) General Esperanza from Die Hard 2.

      Kaboom! Splat!

      • BMCHB

        So Matrix helped install a dictator in Val Verde?

        • Scott Crawford

          No, Esperanza (called Valesquez in Commando) was a good guy, like Noriega, an anti-communist (this used to be v. Important) before turning drug lord.

          Die Hard is a good lesson in how a tiny bit of information might have helped. A lot of people complained about how coincidental it is that Esperanza is arriving at Dulles just as a huge (rare) storm arrives that leaves Dulles (and nearby airports) vulnerable to attack.

          Well… it was Stuart, the main villain, who stalled Esperanza’s extradition UNTIL the storm was due. Not a comincidence. But the movie downplays this, I only noticed like the last time I watched it, when Sadler switches the tv off.

  • Stephjones

    As Good As It Gets — best example of how to make a despicable character likable
    High Fidelity — best example of how to have a character break the fourth wall

    • brenkilco

      High Fidelity is good, but I think some would put Alfie first.

      • Stephjones

        Oh, yeah. I forgot about Alfie. I love that movie but Cusack’s unrelenting torment won me over. Plus, huge Nick Hornby fan.

  • http://dlambertson.wix.com/scripts Eldave1

    Good list, most notably for what is missing. No Star Wars, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, Spider-Man, Thor, etc. etc, etc.

  • Justin

    That scene in the homeless shelter (I think it was) was damn emotional.

  • Justin

    Films that are an example of how not to write a script: Jason Bourne.