Top Screenwriting Achievements of 2003|
Screenwriter’s Monthly editor-in-chief Chris Wehner‘s top screenwriting achievements of 2003 (originally published in Feb 2004)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – Can you picture it? Harvey “scissorhands” Weinstein (they call him scissorhands because he is notorious for re-cutting the films he acquires) screening The Lord of the Rings and demanding that they chop it down “15 minutes” here and “20 minutes” there? Well, it almost happened. Originally Miramax was to co-produce the film with Dimension. The original plan was for two three-hour films, something Peter Jackson was originally going to do. I can’t imagine squeezing this epic story down any more. Thankfully, Miramax and Harvey Weinstein realized they couldn’t make these films, couldn’t afford to make them, and put the thing in turnaround. And thankfully, Bob Shaye snatched it up and expanded it to three movies. Weinstein wanted Peter Jackson to save costs and time, and to make matters worse, he wanted Jackson to off a hobbit. Weinstein said, “Do you really need four hobbits?” I laugh every time I think about that. I read all of the J.R.R. Tolkien books in one enormous publication when I was eleven or twelve, and though I didn’t always follow all aspects of the story, it was a near religious experience for me. After seeing all three of Jackson’s films I can say that euphoria beyond words was experienced by all who truly understand the incredible job Jackson, Philippa Boyens, and Fran Walsh did with their adaptation of a sprawling, dense and at times convoluted story. These films are our generation’s epic contribution that will forever define us as a movie culture, at least I hope. Its stunning visuals and effects, and mostly though, its wondrous storytelling. To sum things up, I have three thoughts: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director.
Lost in Translation – I’m a bit surprised while thinking through this piece that I’m putting this script on my list. It’s well documented that Bill Murray improvised a good deal of his lines and physical comedy. But reading through the script again, it’s also very clear that Sofia Coppola had a clear vision and a designed structure that allowed for Murray’s possible Oscar winning performance. The tone, characterization and mood of the story was all there in the script. Besides, Murray is famous for his adlib-ability every time he steps behind the camera, and here it is a good thing when it’s not always. Coppola shows good anticipation by incorporating some flexibility into her screenplay. The subtly of her story, the intimate nature and richness of the characters, elevates this melancholy tale to something other than just another romantic comedy or drama. It resonates with those who are willing to open up and embrace it. How wise of a storyteller Coppola is for her years. The film stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson who play two foreigners stuck in Tokyo, who form an immediate bond and have a platonic relationship over the course of several days. Murray plays a married actor in Japan shooting a whiskey commercial and Johansson is an intellectual, but relegated to being a homemaker for a celebrity photographer. Coppola’s screenplay was nominated for Best Original, and to wrap things up, the filmmaker received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, making her the first American woman to be so honored. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, how does one family get all the talent?
Whale Rider – Niki Caro’s adaptation of Witi Ihimaera’s novel is a beautiful realization. In a New Zealand village, where the Maori people believe their presence there dates back over a thousand years to a single ancestor (Paikea “the Whale Rider”) who escaped death when his canoe capsized by riding to shore on the back of a whale, the chief’s male heir automatically becomes the tribe’s next leader. Since the current chief has no male heir, his granddaughter Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was a surprise nomination for Best Actress) fights generations of tradition in an attempt to succeed him, an honor for which she believes she is destined. This is a coming-of-age tale with magical realist elements endowing it with poignant humanity, largely by breaking from the book to tell the story from the point of view of Pai, and changing the ending. The book told the story from the P.O.V. of her uncle. Pai is a great character, innocent and vulnerable, tough and determined. Caro has written and directed an aspiring and uplifting movie about the triumph of the human spirit.
Swimming Pool – French writer-director FranE7ois Ozon proved during the 1990s that America did not have a monopoly on young talented directors. His dark, sardonically psychological films played with numerous themes in their explorations of indiscretion and sexuality. In this erotica thriller, Sarah Morton is a popular British mystery author. Tired of London and seeking inspiration for her new novel, the uptight author accepts an offer from her publisher to stay at his home in the South of France. It is the off-season, and Sarah finds that the beautiful country locale and leisurely pace is just the energizer for her writer’s block. That is until late one night, John’s indolent and insouciant French daughter Julie unexpectedly arrives. Julie is a sexual animal,and her carefree and reckless lifestyle at first disrupts Sarah, but then proves to be a source of inspiration for her novel. The dynamics of their relationship are keenly handled and in the end reach a startling finale. The creative forces of Sarah’s mystery novels cannot touch the real life mystery that Julie embodies.
City of God – Based on Paulo Lins’ intense novel “Cidade de Deus” (“City of God”), this movie traces intertwined stories that reveal the real people inside Rio de Janeiro’s drug riddled neighborhoods called “favelas.” This is an extremely powerful interpretation of Lins’ book by screenwriters Braulio Mantovani and Fernando Meirelles. Containing a tremendous amount of visceral impact combined with timely themes that hold relevance in today’s world. The most prominent character is Rocket, an 11 year-old boy. He grows up observing the exploits of the Trio—Shaggy, Clipper and Goose—a group of small-time hoodlums. Lil Dice moves into the neighborhood, a kid the same age who dreams of being Rio de Janeiro’s most notorious criminal. He runs errands for the local outlaws. He admires Shaggy and his gang, who commit armed robberies. The film follows their paths through a series of short stories, as we learn about the violent and often short lives of those caught up in the dangerous world of the favelas.
American Splendor – “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.” Based on the true life story of Harvey Pekar, one of those quirky and brash characters that for some reason you warm up to, American Splendor is one of the more unique adaptations of recent memory.
Pekar is a Cleveland native, who works at a V.A. hospital as a file clerk. But he is best known as a comic book writer who writes about his everyday life as an omnivorous reader, jazz lover, obsessive-compulsive collector, and lousy housekeeper. He somehow came up with the idea to make an autobiographical comic book series titled “American Splendor.” Within the pages of the comic book, Pekar dealt with his feelings of loneliness, depression, and isolation with a puzzling and inquisitive sense of humor and self-reflection. Harvey Pekar expresses what so many of us think and feel, but only dream of saying. This is the story of a hilariously grumpy observer of life’s strange and unpredictable pageant. Documentary filmmakers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini bring Pekar’s story to the screen in their first narrative feature. Harvey is portrayed by Paul Giamatti. The narrative moves on three timelines showing us past and present Harvey Pekar, along with a cartoon caricature, all revealing and illuminating the hilarious, truthful, and cantankerous humanity of this truly unique person. From his appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman” and a stage adaptation of “American Splendor,” to his battle with cancer, the filmmakers bring a vitality and richness to Pekar’s bash and unruly nature. The result is a surprisingly heartwarming story, and one of the year’s best screenplays.
The Station Agent – A dwarf named Fin (played by Peter Dinklage) settles into a rundown train depot in the backwoods of New Jersey. Director Tom McCarthy's film is a delicate, thoughtful and often hilarious take on loneliness. Joe, a relentlessly friendly and talky character who pulls up every day in his food truck to talk with Fin, is yet another interesting creation. Hawking coffee and filling the air with his busy chatter, Joe elbows his way into the Fin's life. Diminutive Dinklage, who at first seems unassailable, until finally ruffled, lets loose and opens up as a character. Fin and Joe's relationship is goofy and enthralling. A movie about a dwarf certainly isn't the easiest of creations to pull off, at least in the abstract, but the writer/director releases a touching film with ease and harmony. The protagonist and his self-imposed resignation with loneliness will move most audience members.
Seabiscuit – This is the true story of Charles Howard, a former bicycle shop owner and repairman who made his fortune helping to introducing the automobile to the American West. After a tragic automobile accident that claims the life of his son, Howard gets divorced, scorns the invention he helped bring to life, and in the end turns his back on everything he thought he understood about the world. Desiring a change in his life, Howard is talked into buying his own race horse. He teams up with a former plainsman and Wild West performer named Tom Smith, who becomes the horse’s trainer, and a half-blind ex-boxing prize fighter, Red Pollard, who becomes the horse’s jockey. Together they found an undersized and broken-down horse named Seabiscuit (a horse who represent what each of them felt they had become) and helped the horse become a champion, along the way healing themselves and the horse.
Cold Mountain – Written and directed by Academy Award-winner Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley) and based on Charles Frazier’s best-selling Civil War novel of the same name, Cold Mountain tells the story of Inman, a wounded confederate soldier who is on a perilous journey home to his mountain community, hoping to reunite with his pre-war sweetheart, Ada. In his absence, Ada struggles to survive, and revive her father’s farm with the help of intrepid young drifter Ruby.
Big Fish - John August's adaptation of Daniel Wallace's children's book is nothing short of excellent, though the ending is predictable, that was not so much the screenwriter's fault as problems within the structure of the novel. The central character is Edward Bloom, who has always been a teller of tall-tales about his life as a young man, when he took unlikely journeys from a small-town in Alabama, around the world, and back again. His mythic exploits dart from the delightful to the delirious as he weaves epic tales about giants, a witch and conjoined-twin lounge singers. With his larger-than-life stories, Bloom charms almost everyone he encounters except for his estranged son Will. When his mother Sandra tries to reunite them, Will learns how to separate fact from fiction as he comes to terms with his father's great feats and great failings.
Narc – Written and directed by Joe Carnahan, this intense and edgy crime thriller exceeded my expectations. One of the best crime dramas to hit the big screen in years, better than Dark Blue, and ranks up with L.A. Confidential and Training Day. The story centers on Nick Tellis, a suspended narcotics officer who is assigned to investigate the murder of fellow officer Michael Calvess, who died while working with his partner Henry Oak. The events surrounded the murder remain a mystery until Tellis begins to suspect Oak as the possible murderer.
The Life of David Gale – I liked this screenplay a lot when I read it a couple years ago. I thought it had a well executed plot twist and the film proved that it did. What seems like a by-the-numbers formulaic murder mystery really unravels exposing some fine craftsmanship by screenwriter Charles Randolph. David Gale was a college professor and anti-death penalty activist who is ultimately convicted for murder, and is set to be executed when a reporter shows up and starts looking into the circumstances of the murder, and unearths a stupefying revelation that is truly shocking. - CW
Chris Wehner is a film critic for the Movie Review & Screenplay Database (www.iscriptdb.com), editor-in-chief (and publisher) of Screenwriters Monthly, author of Screenwriting on the Internet: Researching, Writing, & Selling Your Script on the Web (2000) and Who Wrote That Move? Screenwriting in Review: 2000-2002 (2003), script reviewer, and founder of ScreenwritersUtopia.com. He is also Vice President of Development for MoviePartners, Inc. He is currently developing (and writing) several projects for various companies. He has been involved with screenwriting for nearly 10 years and in many different capacities.
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Published on: 2004-06-04 (6060 reads)[ Go Back ]