So often with the Oscars, the focus is placed upon the actors, directors and the overall film with close to no regard to any of the film’s writers. Writers are grossly under-appreciated, and it’s getting worse as time progresses.
It’s completely without logic too. Without a script, there is no film. A script is the blood coursing through a film’s veins, the fuel that keeps its engine running… yet the focus is almost always on the actors. It’s a focus of superficiality over content.
The screenwriter is the foundation of every film, and it is the purpose of this feature to recognize and highlight instances of scripts that not only changed the scope of filmmaking, but were fortunate enough to win an Oscar for their incredible effort.
This era of filmmaking set the foundation of scriptwriting for future generations.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles were lucky enough to win the Oscar for their script, despite the heavy campaign against Citizen Kane upon its release by newspaper tycoon William Randolf Hearst, who recognized that the script was based off of him. Citizen Kane is still considered to be one of the most thought-provoking scripts ever written.
This script written by Philip G. Epstein, Julius J. Epstein and Howard Koch continues to inspire ambitious screenwriters. This was the first film script to ever mix genres into a single film.
The 1950s going into the 1960s is regarded as “The Golden Age of Hollywood” primarily because of movies that pushed the boundaries of what film could do. Much of this is in thanks to daring scriptwriting.
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Written by Charles Brackett, D.M. Marshman, Jr., and Billy Wilder, Sunset Blvd. was considered uncouth and a blatant Hollywood expose that was uncomfortable to watch, yet it still managed to win.
All About Eve (1950)
Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s script is perhaps one of the wittiest, most remarkable ever written, not to mention evoking some of cinemas’s greatest quotes (“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”)
A Place in the Sun (1951)
Harry Brown and Michael Wilson’s script shocked audiences for its ruthless depiction of someone determined to escape responsibility for the sake of securing a comfortable life with the higher class.
The Apartment (1960)
I.A.L. Diamond and Billy Wilder’s script was an astonishing satire and commentary on marriage and adultery, and still has tremendous relevancy in today’s society.
This is perhaps the greatest decade of screenwriting in the history of cinema
Robert Towne’s script was so groundbreaking and stellar that it is actually still to this day taught in college film writing courses as the primary example of how to properly write a screenplay.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Bo Goldman and Laurence Hauben’s adaption of Ken Kesey’s novel is one of the finest scripts ever written, and Randle McMurphy is still one of Jack Nicholson’s most memorable characters.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Frank Pierson’s writing that captured the true story of John Wojtowicz’s highly peculiar bank heist turned hostage situation is one of the most memorable films ever made. Who could ever forget the famous “Attica! Attica!” scene?
All the President’s Men (1976)
William Goldman’s adaption of the Woodward/Bernstein novel that focused on how The Washington Post uncovered the Watergate scandal has been seen as one of the greatest journalism films ever made, primarily due to its sharp-focused writing.
Paddy Chayefsky’s script for Network is arguably one of the greatest ever written for a film, bringing about one of the most compelling films ever made that still has tremendous relevancy in today’s television-obsessed society.
Ordinary People (1980)
Alvin Sargent’s adaption of Judith Guest’s novel is one of the finest dramas ever written, primarily for its authentic portrayal of the grieving process.
The 80s-90s was another tremendous resurgence of extraordinary scriptwriting that offered audiences some of cinema’s most memorable films.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Woody Allen is perhaps the greatest screenwriter alive, and he continues to provide stellar scripts that occupy his neurotic character motif and his fascination with societal interaction and relationships. Out of his extensive career, no film was able to match his writing achievements more than Hannah and Her Sisters.
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Ted Tally had the arduous task of adapting an already popular novel, but due to his careful writing he was able to balance the novel’s creepy demeanor while also making the film intellectually stimulating. Silence of the Lambs is primarily remembered due to Hannibal Lecter, but more specifically, what he says to Clarice Starling.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s script was so quirky, eccentric, and oddly funny that it immediately evoked a cult following, and very recently has even spawned an anthology series on television.
L.A. Confidential (1997)
Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland took a very difficult novel to adapt and crafted one of the best police and city corruption narratives ever put on film.
American Beauty (1999)
Alan Ball’s script for American Beauty revolutionized the satire genre and offered audiences one of the most hilarious narratives about a grown male reclaiming his youth, which inadvertently shakes up all those around him. Ball’s script perfectly merged drama and comedy genres together in one of the most impactful films of the 1990s.
2001 – Today
While Television is experiencing the latest revolution in writing, film writing still has the capacity to surprise and intrigue audiences.
Gosford Park (2001)
Attention all Downton Abbey fans: Before Julian Fellowes started writing Downton Abbey, this was his big break in writing. His script about the wealthy socialites, their servants, and a murder-mystery makes for a very memorable film and also a wonderful precursor to Downton Abbey.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
One of the most amazing things a screenwriter can do is take the very world we live in and reinvent it completely. That is precisely what Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, and Pierre Bismuth did by introducing the idea of being allowed to erase your memories at will. Not only did this offer a different film experience, but it completely reinvented the romance genre as well. Normally the Oscars do not award creative films like this, opting for the more conventional, but Eternal Sunshine was too spectacular to ignore.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Larry McMurty and Diana Ossana took Annie Proulx’s short story, which is only 30 pages, and adapted one of the most profound LGBT movies ever made. Arguably, Brokeback Mountain changed the social attitude towards LGBT individuals and paved the way for equality, and more recently, marriage rights.