2007: Best Original Screenplay

1. THE LIVES OF OTHERS by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
The script’s talkiness defines the characters as much as the words they say. The subject under surveillance is a playwright. Words are the tools of his trade. The man spying on him, by contrast, has relatively few lines. Most of what we learn about him we learn by watching. Both men (and those around them) are tainted by fear and self-interest. The script challenges these men to see if they have the courage to make the right decision when it counts, which allows the story to work on both a moral and emotional level.

Watching the weak, insecure everyman at the center of this film make choices that change lives (including his own) is a study in human behavior. While acquiring the breathless momentum of a thriller, the focus is not a monumental struggle, although it may have very serious consequences, but the struggle for one ordinary human soul.

The complexity and intelligence of the screenplay, offers multiple valid interpretations for certain actions but never insults us by insisting on one. We understand this spy as we accompany him on a journey that leads to unexpected destinations. The final turns of the screw offers the most rewarding ending of the year.

2. HOT FUZZ by Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg
Murder mystery, buddy action, spoof, horror comedy...any way you look at it, this film satisfies. Try writing all those elements at once with memorable characters, jokes both silly and complex, inspired murders and a genuine respect for overdone action films.

3. RATATOUILLE by Brad Bird
Perhaps the trickiest tightrope walk of the year, a sophisticated family film that presents something that could never happen on very realistic terms. (How many of you were delightfully surprised by the decision to not have the rats speak human?) The honest approach offers some emotional surprises, such as the climactic final decision by the fellow cooks or Remy and his dad outside the pest control store. I wanted to memorize Ego’s review the moment I heard it.

4. BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON by Scott Glosserman and David J. Stieve
Never heard of it, you say? While the end result is merely a buried treasure, an inspired idea hampered by obvious budget constraints, the screenplay is the most inspired horror concept since SCREAM. (Yeah, I went there.)

The story is a pseudo-documentary following Leslie Vernon as he prepares to join the ranks of slashers like Jason and Mike Myers. (Maybe you heard of them?) The conceit is these guys are real, and Leslie explains how they perform their illogical tricks. These iconic killers are presented as a sort of brotherhood. (The inspired script includes a mentor who retired when he fell in love with his prey.)

Like SCREAM, the script gets to have it both ways. For the first two-thirds, BEHIND THE MASK is a humorous satire with scattered scares. Then in the final section it throws in some great twists evolving into a true slasher film. Vernon is one of the year’s most original and inspired characters.

5. JUNO by Diablo Cody
The script you either love or hate. Attackers acknowledge the strong characters while slamming the hipper than hip dialogue while defenders apologize for the opening scenes while praising its refreshing attitude and big heart. If not for the opening bits, this would be much higher on my list, but I admire how the script breaks the rules (such as not leaving when the main character leaves), and manages to make it work. Plus, there are some really well written situations.

6. THIS IS ENGLAND by Shane Meadows
THIS IS ENGLAND is a personal story. However, the opening and closing images reveal that the film is also a very political story, marking an important shift in the mindset of dissatisfied Brits. And that’s all the context you need. The film can be seen as allegory, but much like DO THE RIGHT THING, it plays on a grounded, real level. The writer makes his points through behavior rather than speeches.

7. DEATH PROOF by Quinten Tarantino
Ah, Quinten…even when you’re love for your words hurts the overall film, you still write one heck of a script. He’s an American original, and while this is one of his lesser scripts, it still contains scenes and moments that just make me want to uninstall my Final Draft.

Pulp sleaze noir told with Greek tragedy style characters. I enjoyed how the script is told in information order rather than chronological. Like MEMENTO, each scene reveals something we didn’t know about a past scene.

9. ALPHA DOG by Nick Cassavetes
Interesting docu-drama script that manages to play it both ways. The film mixes regular drama with police evidence, documentary style recreation of scenes. The teens here are real characters and not just all of a type, and the script finds a moral center for an event that was sorely lacking one.

10. STEPHANIE DALEY by Hilary Brougher
Overlooked, difficult film about two women, a 16-year-old girl accused of murdering her premature baby and a pregnant psychologist trying to get to the truth of what happened. Each gets her own story while making a deep emotional impact on the other.


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