Well, it's official. The Writers Guild of America is going on strike tomorrow. Here's hoping the strike ends quickly and that all parties come away happy. And writers? Use this time off to study my choices for the seven best screenplays of the 2000's:
The 40 Year Old Virgin by Judd Apatow & Steve Carell
The blending of improvisation and the written word gives Apatow's two classic comedies -- Knocked Up would be the other -- a feeling of authenticity that is all too rare in today's film world. Apatow takes the strategy of writing for specific performers and their strengths, and it really pays off. Scoff if you want at a sex comedy making the list, but for a movie to be this incredibly funny -- while keeping an oddly touching romance and a spot-on character study afloat -- the screenwriters deserve high praise.
About Schmidt by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
One of the saddest comedies ever made, and one of the most truthful and painful portraits of old age. Payne and Taylor specialize in scripts about people on the verge of cracking, depressed souls who tend to find the smallest redemption possible. Payne/Taylor characters never go from Point A to Point B over the course of the screenplay, they go from Point A to Point A.1. The small, gradual changes in their characters are reflective of the way actual humans (as opposed to movie humans) work. Warren Schmidt's personal growth is so minor that it is confined to the last thirty seconds of the film, but when it comes it's an emotional punch in the gut.
The Departed by William Monahan
A rare instance when the remake far outshines the original, Monahan pumped up the Infernal Affairs screenplay to operatic levels. You've got a lot of amazing actors at the top of their game here, and the temptation is always to throw praise on the beautiful faces saying the words. But they wouldn't have had those brilliant, foul-mouthed dialogue blasts without Monahan's near-perfect script. It touches on fathers and sons, on loyalty, on morality, on trust, on identity, on intimacy, on relationships, on commitment, on Catholicism, on being Irish, on and on and on. And it does it all within the confines of a crackling, blood-soaked genre picture.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Charlie Kaufman
Charlie Kaufman is an off-the-charts genius screenwriter, and with Eternal Sunshine he showed he had a heart as big as his brain. At last, a romantic movie with something, lots of things, big things to say about love, memory, and loss.
High Fidelity by D.V. DeVincentis & Steve Pink & John Cusack & Scott Rosenberg
A fantastic double feature with Eternal Sunshine is High Fidelity, another modern classic about breaking up. John Cusack and his team did a hell of a job adapting Nick Hornby's A+ novel into an A+ film. Capturing Chicago just as well as the book captured London, the writers knew that attention to the specifics and details of human flaws were going to resonate with a lot of people. The film certainly resonated with me -- a lot of watching it felt like looking in a mirror, and that genuinely scared me and woke me up. High Fidelity is one of the finest depictions of male insecurity and emotional retardation ever put on film.
Mulholland Drive by David Lynch
Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko was considered for this list, but that excellent film is really just Lynch-lite. And all due respect to Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive is Lynch's masterpiece. Everyone who goes into this movie will see it differently, process it differently, understand (or not understand) it differently. There are those who claim Lynch is just "weird for weird's sake," and while I can see their point with something like Inland Empire, I don't think there is any question that Lynch knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote Mulholland. It's a deeply unsettling script, full of inexplicable humor, horrific moments, unexpected emotion, and hot lesbian sex.
The Royal Tenenbaums by Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson
The Royal Tenenbaums is the dysfunctional family comedy/drama blown up to an epic scale. Anderson and Wilson set up an amazing assortment of oddballs here, each of them badly damaged and each trying to connect with anyone or anything. The laughs all come from character, not in-your-face gags, which makes them sting and stick. It's the closest film has gotten to a J.D. Salinger novel. Judging by the disastrous Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson needs to return to writing with Owen Wilson, and fast.