Wednesday, April 6, 2011


JOHNNY CHAZZ: Without a script, how do you really tell a story? Great films always begin with an effective and original screenplay. Even though a film involves a collaborative effort between the director, performers (cast), production and sound crew and editors, the end result will be a function of the original written "outline" that holds the audience’s interest.

You may notice that often times your Academy award winning film or at least 50% of the films nominated for the top honors are generally up for best screenplay as well. The bare fact is that dramas are effective, draw audiences into the story-line and are almost always nominated in virtually every top-category on award night.

Today, the well-written and though out screenplay is few and far between and has basically become a thing of the past. Studios are genre-focused and have lost touch with the element of drama that really “hooks” the audience and casts a spell upon them for nearly two-hours. The screenplay is the tool used by everyone to create a world on screen that causes audiences to reflect, cry, and become emotionally tangled and to react. It is precisely the conflict and inner turmoil of a character or group thereof that encompasses the very foundation of a tremendous screenplay and therein, a viable film.

As my topic this week, I suggest the top 25 screenplays of all-time years beginning with #25 and working our way up to #1.

#25: THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971) - Bogdanovich has 1,000 line of genius in here.
#24: THE VILLAGE (2004) – Shyamalan pieces together suspense and longevity in purity.
#23: THE APARTMENT – (1960) – Something ridiculous and unrealistic made real….
#22: PARIS, TEXAS (1984) – Sam Sheppard writes a phenomenal and overlooked story.
#21: BEFORE SUNSET (2004) – They walk; they talk….and that’s all we really want for them.
#20: THE SHAWSHANK REDEMTION (1994) - A period piece with timing and structure.
#19: CONTEMPT (1963) – Brigitte Bardot and feet in the mirror – tons of messages here.
#18: SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) – Wilder’s work is splendid, charming and witty…it works.
#17: NETWORK (1976) – Chayefsky brilliant on paper and on screen…this one was superb.
#16: CITIZEN KANE (1941) – Every scene is brilliantly written….then a rosebud appears.
#15: LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003) – Lines we could only speak to one another after hours
#14: ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) – Touching, dramatic, tender and enthralling!
#13: CACHE (2005) – Terrorizing playing with words and screen….dreamy and mistrusting.
#12: 8 ½ (1963) – Fellini’s masterpiece showing how to love women and film….tough really
#11: CRASH (2005) – Haggis outdid himself here and the Academy recognized it.
#10: AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999) – Gripping lines and pauses…….an American work of art.
#9: FARGO (1996) – The language and dialect quietly reflected the coldness of bloodshed
#8: PULP FICTION (1994) – Intertwining stories with a true and gritty purpose plus a twist
#7: CHINATOWN (1974) – R. Towne angers the audience in this spell-binding film.
#6: TWELVE ANGRY MEN (1957) - A hot-box of jurors learning life’s lesson of fairness.
#5: IKIRU (1952) – Amazing portrayal of fulfilling one’s life just in time.
#4: SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993) – The screenplay was a device of gut-wrenching devastation.
#3: TAXI DRIVER (1976) – Paul Schrader gives us a moody, intense and climactic script.
#2: SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) – Screenplay about a Screen-writer…a Hollywood mockery and a journey into a hauntingly private world.

#1: ANNIE HALL (1977) - Tremendous structure, balance, realism and wit with all aspects of New York flowing through the soul of the film.

JER: Johnny C, you have selected a number of great films with well defined screenplays. Your list speaks of how well-rounded and educated your background is from both your love of films and attending film school. Mine, on the other hand, is a little less refined, but my overview stems from different, I believe that the 70's marked an era that allowed the expression of its time to help develop characters and stories…when both actually meant something to true cinema. Most of my selections are more contemporary than yours, but I think you will see why…let’s begin to look at my top 25 Best Screenplays of the past 50 years!

25. MOONSTRUCK (1987) Fabulous Italian- American screenwriting with a wonderful blend of humor, fanciful and romantic poetry and every-day gossiping drama.
24. TWICE IN A LIFETIME (1985) Very realistic family talks and arguments streamed through with conversations overlapping and interrupting to make their points heard in this 'middle-age-crazy' drama with Gene Hackman, Ann-Margret and the fabulous Amy Madigan!
23. THE GRIFTERS (1990) Sharp and deceiving…like the story plot. It mixes great street-wise dialog with sassy and dangerous conversational pieces, all to help create the world of small-time hustlers using LA as the backdrop.
22. JFK (1991) Rough, sarcastic and defensive...points of views, objectives and well-groomed conversations presents both sides of the law and either pushes away from fiction or pulls you closer to the perception of 'truth." Historical facts or fables? We're invited to decide...
21. MARATHON MAN (1976) A definite product of 70's screenwriting. Smart and intriguing. This screenplay’s highlight goes to Lawrence Oliver’s “Is it safe?” questionings to Dustin Hoffman as he torches him with dental picks for answers.
20. TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983) Drama, romance, humor and the human spirit…all wrapped up in this highly expressive Academy Award winning screenplay!
19. L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) Witty and sly narration helps ease the tension created by the seedy underbelly of this explosive and explicit screenplay. L.A. lawmen and criminals bantering with explosive 50’s lingo.
18. TRAFFIC (2000) True to form with a no-holds-barred attitude. Arguments, struggles, lies and deception are all presented with a great flowing script!
17. THE GREEN MILE (1999) Director Frank Darabont’s adaption of this tough but heart-warming Stephen King story also plays off as humanistic and touching…yet, intense and poetic in the appropriate moments.
16. BARRY LYNDON (1975) With a brilliantly written narration and period- based dialog mixed in with a great intensity of conversations formatted with an upper- crust sense of nobility.
15. BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997) Director Paul T Anderson’s script is infused with 70’s groovy interactions between film- industry banter, blended with humanistic trials and dramas with a touch of humor to capture the lives, successes and failures of b-rated porn life in Southern California.
14. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975) A fabulous adaption from both the novel and Stage Play script. A concentration into the lives of characters revealing their flaws and humanistic moments while facing the controlled environment of a mental institution and dealing with mean- spirited authority figures.
13. HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) Director Woody Allen’s wonderful screenplay captures eclectic and bohemian lifestyle of an extended family living in New York portrayed through their lives and loves.
12. THE EXORCIST (1973) What is it about this film that holds a timeless field to it after 30 years? Great storyline accompanied with a relentless and delivering screenplay! Excellent and realistic conversations delivered by a highly matched cast… an unheard of concept for horror films.
11. TAXI DRIVER (1976) Like the lid ready to blow off a pressure cooker, this seedy look at the underbelly of 70’s New York is both frank and rough. Delivered with great character, who can ever forget Robert DeNiro’s now classic “improvised” line “You talking to me?” Brilliant!
10. JAWS (1975) Like THE EXORCIST, what is mainly lacking in the capturing of an audience’s interest in any modern horror/ thriller is the lack of character and dialog. Peter Benchley’s best selling novel is reshaped into a building of characters on both a human and caring manner and how the lives of some change when confronted with an uncontrollable being. A highly recognized moment is placed on Robert Shaw’s “Indianapolis” speech delivered on the ‘Orca” to Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider. Plus, who can forget the immortalized “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” line?
9. DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1988) Another Stage to Screenplay adaption done by its originator, Christopher Hampton. Because of its stage roots, the characters all take part in narrating the developing stories and subplots. Delivered with character and explanatory is a profile of high class lifestyles with seedy and damaging results.
8. GOODFELLAS (1990) Based on a true story, the screenplay is touch and intense…like its main characters! There is no fooling around with the mixture of Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill commentating throughout the film while blending rough and tumble interactions and confrontations. The highly intense “What makes me so funny?” sequence between Ray Liotta and Academy Award winner Joe Pesci cannot be missed!
7. SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993) The script adds to the already intense and taboo subject with a huge undertaking. The feelings loom over you as you gasp and await the next lines delivered…who is safe? What will it take to survive and what can be said to be given recognition in an environment that doesn’t appreciate your own life?
6. AMADEUS (1984) Yet another great Stage to Screen adaption as Academy Award winner F. Murray Abrahams’ portrayal of Antonio Salieri offers his point of view, through narration, his discussions of both admiration and detestation of his rival musician counterpart; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
5. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) Thomas Harris’ best selling novel is transferred into a highly suspenseful formulation of words, whether exchanged between FBI agents and local lawmen to the dangerous interactions with the deranged thoughts of the criminal mind.
4. THE GODFATHER (1972) Mario Puzo’s powerful novel was adapted into an extraordinary screenplay by both Puzo and director Francis Ford Coppola. The lives and beliefs held by a tightly knit mafia-based family tells the story of their struggles to remain on top with dignity, honor and respect. The possible double-crossing and back-stabbings play throughout this honorable and explosive story.
3. ANNIE HALL (1977) Possibly the best comedy ever written…period! Humor isn’t as portrayed by today’s standards off of cheap potty jokes and gross-out gags…true comedy is based on sharp wit, being able to laugh at life along with being able to laugh at ourselves…or at the cost of others’ personalities and defaults.
2. PULP FICTION (1994) Director Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay captures a mish-mash of pop culture, human fears, taught humor, realism and drama…all played up to highlight many memorable (and quotable) lines and speeches that have now become a part of pop culture itself!
1. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) Clearly, my favorite film of all time! Profound and intelligent script writing allows the cast to speak prolifically while keeping a high biblical sense in their verbal expressions. Director Cecil B. DeMille’s narration is inspirational and striking. A timeless embodiment of the American written word to create one of the best screenplays ever…in my opinion.

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Well, this is certainly not a challenge in refinement - and really not a duel at all. This is Cinema: Counterpoint, and therefore it allows me to respond to your angle here, Jer. It is our different standpoints that give our audience / readers the full Cinema-Scope, if you will.

Immediately, I can see that we have both placed “Annie Hall” at or near the top of our list and with great justification. We also both used the term "wit" or "witty" and that really is a large part of the film's charm and the backbone of the screenplay. I also see that we have both placed “Schindler's List” at or near the top (me #4, you #7) and that does not surprise me in the least. You also pulled a couple rabbits out of your hat here with "Moonstruck" and "The Grifters" and it is hard to argue with either of those. Would I place them in my top 25? Probably not - well, actually...I didn't - but I can certainly see why someone might.

We also agree on a few other films in here such as the screenplay written for "Taxi Driver" and "Pulp Fiction" which again does not take me by surprise as I know we are both huge fans of those scripts. Overall, I like your list - I really do. Still, I prefer mine......ahem.

What I do find most intriguing is that the majority of your films fall into a 20-year span (1973-1993), but that your #1 Screenplay was written well over 50 years ago....fascinating, but understandable.

This might be the only area where I might offer a "counterpoint" in that I find that the majority of "high quality" screenplays tend to fall in the era of the 1950's thru the 1970's primarily as I felt the 1980's was a terribly weak decade for "screenwriting" - and thus, a so-so decade for film at best (note: I said "film", not movies as I know the love and passion Jer has for the 1980's era).

Structuring a script and then moving right to storyboarding is one of the highlights of film-making and understanding how to place a thought or concept onto a canvas and then film it. Great films should come from screenplays that use tension to create drama and vice-versa while setting the audience up for mini-climaxes and heightened states of consciousness and reaction towards the end of the film - or during, whichever is more effective. The screenplay will dictate almost every aspect of your film: The genre, the pace, the timing, the casting, the motivation, the visuals, the dialogue and ultimately audience sympathy and / or empathy for the character(s).

With that said, join us again next week when Jer takes a shot at a Film-related, until next time....SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY! Thank you for your continued support! Keep those comments coming!
Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!



  1. I read this article on screenplays and enjoyed very much what the two of you had to say about screenplays. I have always thought of this being a very important category at the academy awards night. Keep up the good stuff guys! Lauren *Dallas, TX*

  2. Hi Lauren, we both feel the same way as well! The story and screenplay is key to any great matter the actor or location! The word is 'golden!'

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Hello Cinema Counterpoints,
    I liked your blog topic this week. Big fan of these movies you listed: "Chinatown", "The Last Picture Show", "Fargo", "Goodfellas" and "Pulp Fiction". Great read here - thanks and I hope to continue visiting your blog page every week or two. (William - Fresno, CA)

  4. Heloooo Cinema C:

    I MUST Agree that most of the great screenplays were written back in the 1960s and 1970s. Writing for film & movies today is nowhere near that level and basically nonexistent in most movies. (DAVID: Everett, WA)

  5. Hi everyone. I am a film student at my local university (UTFI, Texas) and am in my first year. I am taking a class studying screenplays writing techniques for the screen and really got a lot out of your topic this week. We are talking about a few of the films on your lists as well as movies such as 'Sideways'; 'North by Northwest'; and 'Midnight Cowboy'. Did you both like the screenplays for those movies also? --GWEN, Austin Texas.

  6. Good articlevthis week! Screenplays are totally a crucial part of a good movie. Thanks! CHEN, Bakersfield, CALIFORNIA

  7. We are so very proud of the site we have created and I see it is benfiting many people in many ways! Let me address our recent comments in order-

    William: Thank you for your comments and for visiting us...please check-in every Wednesday for a new posting...we haven't even begun to start sharing our thoughts on FILM! :)

    David: Very sad but true! Both JC and I (Jer) believe that a great or even passible screenplay is rare these days!Some of the early 90's delivered a brief explosion of great writing..but it fizzled too quickly! Thank you!

    Gwen: What a great career option you have made! Best of luck to you, of course! I am glad you enjoyed our article...have you read our other blogs? What do you think??? SIDEWAYS almost made my was a very tough list to put together because you start thinking about this script and that...I love the classics, but JC has a better appreciation of them! Thank you!

    Chen: agreed! Thank you for your comments...please come by often and drop us a comment!

  8. Hello again Jer and JC - This is Gwen again from UTFI, Texas and thank you because i do feel excited about getting into the movie and film industry but need to set my expectatioons at a reasonable level. I have seen your other blogs and like them so, so much so thanks for the fun site you both created here. You mentioned about the "Classic movies" and we have to watcha lot of them in classes as undergrads and I see one of them on JC's list called 8 1/2 by Fellini who we are studying from the Italian new wavee era which was kinda cool. Thisis a film and this is a director that we have studied a bit for a couple of weeks and I had to write a term paper on. I also really like the contemporary movies that you chose too Jer. Thank you again for all the advices and assistance. - GWEN, Austin Texas.

  9. Hello again, know what they say: birds of a feather, flock together! The site, we hope, will bring friends and fans together to share in the common interest of film and the many branches it offers. Felini is a well respected director...speaking of "8 1/2", if you have late last year's offering of NINE with Daniel Day Lewis, you will see some striking resemblances between both...disgusting!
    JC is more in tune with a larger range of Foreign films than I (jer) am, but I can also throw a curve ball with some I have discovered as well. Please let us know if either of us can make any recommendations for your class-watching or personal tastes. See you in the movies!:)

  10. Good topic this week Cinema Counterpoint - really enjoyed reading your comments and it makes me want to go back and re-watch some of these films. (Jim, San Mateo CA)

  11. HELLO ALL,

  12. Greetings to Jim and Adam...thsnk you for your comments each!

    Jim: It is always great to revisit some of these films, I felt the same way when I was compiling this list from my end!

    Adam: Admittingly true, yes I (Jer) am a little contemporary with my choices as apposed to JC. We are both very much aware of it and I think that what helps with our unique standpoints! Glad you are enjoying the site and we look forward to more visits in the weeks that come!

  13. Hello everyone. I posted a comment a while back on this site and wanted to offer my feedback on the screenplay topic this week. I actually really appreciate the films you have both chosen both contemporary and retrospective. Even though it was a dissapointment a few years ago, I appreciate the screenplay written for 'Little Miss Sunshine'. Also, I thought the 'Untouchables' had a good screenplay as well. Another two that I would like to mention would be 'Sideways' and 'Chinatown' which you both already talked about. Good topic this week from both of you! - Krystal from Santa Ynez, CA

  14. Thanks so much for putting this site together - I love movies and good screenplays. The choices of screenplays are really interesting and your site is fun to read espectiallly for movie fans like me and others. Keep up the good work. (Kyle - New Mexico)

  15. Hi JC and Jer...cinema guys: On a small counterpoint I would like to add that "Forest Gump" and "Silence of the Lambs" were other screenplays that I thought were really good. These are kinda contemporary movies but I still liked them and their screenplays since I felt they were well written. Thank. - Dwight (AZ)

  16. WOW, this is really fabulous! Thank you so much for your support and comments! Let me address these one at a time...

    Krystal, this was an extremely difficult list to piece together...I truly love THE UNTOUCHABLES and the works of director Brian DePalma! That is an excellent screenplay as well! So many scripts, so little to squeeze in 25!

    Hi Kyle! Thanks so JC and I (Jer) are huge movie and film fans ourselves, we wanted a site WE would love t oread as well! I think we did a pretty good job, if I must say!

    Hey Dwight, you'll note I placed SILENCE OF THE LAMBS as my #5 is an incredible script to an incredible story line!I think I may have enjoyed FORREST GUMP more than JC, but I would let him answer that one! ;)

    Thank you all...once again!