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Best Screenplays of All Time

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Authored by Phil Dotree in Movies and Television
Published on 10-23-2009

Some say that the actors make the movie. This is true in part, but if the actors are just sitting around, that’s not very interesting to watch. A director might be greatly talented, but even the director is at a loss for what to do without a decent screenplay.

Screenplay writers are the unsung heroes of Hollywood. The write most of the famous movie lines that we remember, and they give the stars the characters they’re famous for.

Here’s my take on some of the best movie screenplays ever written.

Adaptation – Charlie Kaufman’s meta-film has an amazing screenplay. It’s based on Charlie Kaufman himself, trying to write an adaptation of a novel for the movie that you’re currently watching. This allows some great moments, such as his use of Deus Ex Machina in the film’s last third. This comes, of course, right after the characters are discussing what a cop out it would be. Adaptation was a tremendous screenplay, and the movie features a competent performance from a neurotic Nicholas Cage. It feels like Adaptation was made just for its author, which makes it a triumphant success for any movie viewer.

Annie Hall – Nobody used to take Woody Allen seriously. Up until Annie Hall, his movies had been light comedies. He’d re-dub a film’s sound track or write simply physical humor and quick one liners. Annie Hall was surprising, to say the least. Allen stars as himself in a brilliant neurotic comedy that owes more to dramas. The background characters step out to give him advice, and the narrative shifts constantly. The screenplay for Annie Hall featured some really unique devices that Allen would go on to use again, but never as successfully. Annie Hall is a well rounded, beautiful movie, and its screenplay is genuine and rich.

Casablanca – The acting of Casablanca certainly made the movie. Bogart and Bergman are intense, to say the least. However, it all would have fallen flat if it weren’t for the screenplay. It’s packed with famous lines and a delicate yet hard story of crime and love. Make no mistake about it, Casablanca’s screenplay is one of the greatest of all time. Not bad for a movie which was originally considered to be a toss-off, even by its own studio. It’s based on a play, and about five writers worked on what ended up being the final script.

Chinatown – Written by Robert Towne, this is one of Polanski’s best films. It’s rooted in gritty noir, with Jack Nicholson as a tough but heavily faulted detective. When the film’s shocking conclusion rolls around, you’re left almost numb. It’s a great credit to the writing that so much is unexpected. Even when Chinatown is intensely violent, its dialog stays strong and its characters are richly fleshed out. Chinatown’s screenplay is certainly one of the greatest noirs ever written.

If you’ve got a pick for the best screenplay of all time, we want to hear from you. Post your thoughts in the comments section at the end of this article.

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