Perhaps it still bears significant remnants of its stage bearings, and I don’t know maybe it is an almost direct transference from stage to screen…who knows? Its conceits work for me, though. It is proficiently structured with a progression of bizarre behaviour that’s excellently controlled. And, also, excellent awareness of the awkwardness of people who don’t want to be around each other expertly delineated.
Roman Polanski and Yasmina Reza
The Ides of March
Whatever might happen to Clooney henceforth, I can always be content that he’s done one thing which I consider to be of tremendous worth and this screenplay is that. The film lives and dies by its script and it is something a cliché to say, but I can’t – for the life of me – imagine how this would have worked as a stage piece. Smart, deft and succinct.
George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Far and away the finest work in the field, and that’s nothing to do with the field. The labyrinth of information the two create from that dense novel while all the while managing to make it work without feeling as if plot strands are robbed of attention, or characters are unfairly shoved aside is already worthy of commendation. The thrilling way in which it allows for the information to be dispensed is another.
Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan
We Need to Talk About Kevin
It mixes genres with surprising aplomb while all the time deftly taking a look into this psychologically scarred woman. It’s not responsible for the more base horror tricks the film sometimes comes off as extolling and it is ultimately the saving grace of this somewhat experimentalist drama. Also, it bodes a significant attention to structure – which I always appreciate.
Lynne Ramsay & Rory Kinnear
Winnie the Pooh
It’s so lovely to see an adaptation of a classic children’s tale transferred to the big screen without snark, without props and without any of the alarming winks at pop culture which have flooded the genre recently. It’s beautifully honest, charming, funny and poignant and it’s not just because of the animation – it begins with the writing.
Stephen J. Anderson, Clio Chiang, Don Dougherty, Don Hall, Brian Kesinger, Nicole Mitchell and Jeremy Spears
Honourable Mentions: Coriolanus; A Dangerous Method; Drive; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; Hugo; Moneyball
Upon rewatch the screenplay reveals itself to be more and more the highlight of this one. The way that it’s neither a weepy tearjerky nor an inconsiderate, humorous romp depends on Mill’s ability to jump between ranging moods, timelines and sometimes even genres to deliver on the poignancy and humour and still feel unforced nonetheless.
Its originality and inventiveness is searing and the sheer scope of such a timeless and smart idea is significant in its own rite. The fact that he makes that premise into this beautifully developing relationship between this would-be married couple which teems with fluidity and honesty (or certified fakery?) is worthy of even more accolades.
Probably the most profound character study of the year. Moverman and Ellroy’s view of this deeply troubled and deeply troubling man is never done through a sensational lens, neither is it done through an unnecessarily rose-coloured one. As it navigates through the streams of the characters he comes into contact with it’s always insightful.
Oren Moverman and James Ellroy
It functions as a straightforward drama of a man apart and as a horrific tale of the effect of the supernatural on our consciousness. Within that Nichols manages to evade the potential foibles of the latter story to create a moving production of a family’s attempt to stay together and hold on to each other in the face of overwhelmingly trying times.
It’s been said here and elsewhere, but I’ll opine – nonetheless. The amalgamation of all the varying facets into this legal/familial/relationship drama is astonishingly visceral. It captures the uncertainty of its flawed but deeply moving ensemble and uses familiar cinematic conceits to deliver a scenario that still manages to surprise even as it devastates.
FINALISTS: Contagion for a chilling and timely parable across a wide world scope; Melancholia for using the larger slate of the end of the world to tell a moving character specific tale; Young Adult for taking a look at a small town through jaded eyes, and for a character for the ages, or the year at least/
Honourable Mentions: The Beaver; Griff the Invisible; Midnight in Paris; Sleeping Beauty
Best Written Character (Original Creation)
Georgia from Beginners
There’s a scene early on when her son asks her if she’s having problem with his father. That Mills decides to have her respond with a string of humorous questions to undercut her sadness is a suggestion of a sad woman hiding her pain with humour. A sliver of a character in running time, but a deftly crafted beacon in the film.
played by Mary Page Keller
created by Mike Mills
Hal from Beginners
What makes this man nearing his death so gregarious, so insightful? Or is it the very fact that he’s nearing his death make him so? There are so many interesting facets to Hal all of which we don’t get to uncover, but most of which I’d love to take note of.
played by Christopher Plummer
created by Mike Mills
Alan Krumwiede from Contagion
The only truly ambiguous character in the entire film, and one whose presence I keep on returning to. What are his motivations? What does he stand to gain from the havoc he seems to create around him? Ensemble dramas often come off with certain characters who deserve a closer look, he’s one of them.
played by Jude Law
created by Scott Z. Burns
Dave Brown from Rampart
The film spends the entire running time with him, and yet there’s so much more it seems we must learn about him. One of the most intense characters created this past year. Ellroy and Moverman astutely imbue him with character specific traits and backstory upon backstory. An off-putting man, but a real one.
played by Woody Harrelson
created by Oren Moverman and James Ellroy
Mavis Gary from Young Adult
For all her emotional deficiency Cody succeeds in the creation of this woman whose meanest inclinations and most childish machinations are so indicative of tangible traits of ourselves. Perhaps the focus on her robs the peripheral characters of focus, but so be it. It’s a stellar creation.
played by Charlize Theron
created by Diablo Cody
FINALISTS: Martha from Martha Marcy May Marlene, a woman who we feel the urge to peel to reveal layers upon layers; Rango from Rango, hilarious, original, moving and witty – also, fun idiosyncrasies; Nader and Razieh in A Separation, both of them devoted to their families to a fault, and both of them so real and vibrant
Honourable Mentions: Walter from The Beaver; She from Certified Copy; Patrick from Martha Marcy May Marlene; Justine from Melancholia; Curtis LaForche from Take Shelter; Jack from The Tree of Life;
Best Written Character (Adapted)
Coriolanus from Coriolanus
Not as much a loose cannon as Dave Brown in Rampart, but still an unstable man and one which the screenplay lays out deftly, easily slighted and sometimes unstable. Extra points for making the transformation in the second half work on the page.
played by Ralph Fiennes
adapted by John Logan
Oskar Schell from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Eccentric to a fault, perhaps, but so be it. I can’t deny that Roth’s adaptation of this character remains as one of the most memorable of the year, not just for Horn’s performance but for the interesting tics with which the screenplay presents us with.
played by Thomas Horn
adapted by Eric Roth
Ida Horowicz from The Ides of March
Perhaps, in a way, its existence is something of a throwback to hard-edged journalists everywhere, but the way that Ida is hard-edged seems very specific to this particular story. Extra points for her early appearance in the café, a mass of specificity I’d love to examine.
played by Marisa Tomei
adapted by George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
Billy Beane from Moneyball
Father, boss, coach – but not friend? I’m curious as to the absence of actual friends in this man’s life. Is its Chervin, Zaillian and Sorkin’s intent for this to be a man rooted in his work, so much? It’s an interesting creation of a man either way.
played by Brad Pitt
adapted by Stan Chervin, Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin
George Smiley from Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyThe condensation of this very multi-layered “hero” works is done excellently making him, perhaps, even more interesting in his scarcity. The decisions the screenplay has him make as he responds to situation evinces as a man for the ages, past and present.
played by Gary Oldman
adapted by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan
FINALISTS: Sigmund Freud from A Dangerous Method, a familiar Freud and yet one that’s very much a creation of the film; Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, for yet another take on this bounce-y creature which is as rewarding as his first appearance.
Honourable Mentions: Standard from Drive; Stephen Meyers from The Ides of March; Eva from We Need to Talk About Kevin
Which screenplays were most adeptly created in 2011 for you? Which characters were best written (not necessarily acted)? Which films had the writing that stood out?