Here at the blog, we really like movie lists: Best Action Films of the 80s, Top 10 On-Screen Couples, Greatest Ever One-Liners — they’re always intriguing and never fail to spark an argument with people who disagree with the entries.
Scratch that: we bloody love lists.
But when it comes to the list of Best Films Ever in the history of cinema, the definitive list that’s always quoted is Sight and Sound’s Greatest Films poll. Taken every ten years from nominations made by esteemed directors and film critics, the list is chocked full of all time classics. The only real problem is that the top ten list rarely changes. And the majority of the entries seem to come from a period of time before most of us was born. Renoir’s 1939 film La Règle du jeu is currently at #4 on their list, but is it really better than Knocked Up?
Okay, that might be pushing it too far, but you get our point.
But now, the Writers Guild of America have released their own poll of the 101 Greatest Screenplays ever written. Voted on by industry professionals working in American television and cinema, it’s a list that skews heavily towards films made through the Hollywood system but it’s hard to deny that they’ve put together a pretty compelling list.
Like the Sight and Sound poll, a lot of the top places are taken by older film — perhaps influenced by voter nostalgia or maybe in a strange acknowledgment that the craft of screenwriting has slipped in this era when up to 15 writers will work on the script for Spider-Man.
Hitting the top spot is Casablanca, a choice that’s hard to dispute. We challenge you to name another film that has contributed so many famous lines to the cultural consciousness. There are probably kids these days who can quote lines from movie without even knowing its origin.
Following on from that, there’s The Godfather and Chinatown – two films that are still taught today in film schools around the world. Both of them were also made just years apart by producer Robert Evans, who recounted the experience in his intolerably smug memoir The Kid Stays in the Picture.
But if there’s one person who totally owns the list, it seems to be Billy Wilder who has 4 separate writing credits in the top 30 with Sunset Boulevard (#7), Some Like It Hot (#9), The Apartment (#15) and Double Indemnity (#26). That’s not bad for a man whose first language is German!
Of the younger films on the list, Charlie Kaufman’s script for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes in at #24 closely followed by Groundhog Day at #27. While neither of those films were big hits when they were released, time has been kind to both and they’ve since been acknowledged as modern classics.
The only film that really sticks out in a big way is the screenplay for Tootsie. That 1982 comedy starred Dustin Hoffman as an actor who pretends to be a woman so that he can get a job on a soap opera. Members of the WGA seemed impressed enough with it to place it at #17, beating out On the Waterfront and To Kill a Mockingbird, two films which failed to include enough gay panic jokes to please the voters.
Here’s a run down of the WGA’s Top 50 — are there any miscarriages of justice? Which ones should have been higher? Which ones shouldn’t have been there at all?
|5.||ALL ABOUT EVE|
|9.||SOME LIKE IT HOT|
|10.||THE GODFATHER II|
|11.||BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID|
|14.||LAWRENCE OF ARABIA|
|18.||ON THE WATERFRONT|
|19.||TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD|
|20.||IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE|
|21.||NORTH BY NORTHWEST|
|22.||THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION|
|23.||GONE WITH THE WIND|
|24.||ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND|
|25.||THE WIZARD OF OZ|
|28.||SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE|
|31.||HIS GIRL FRIDAY|
|33.||THE THIRD MAN|
|34.||THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS|
|35.||THE USUAL SUSPECTS|
|37.||THE PHILADELPHIA STORY|
|40.||WHEN HARRY MET SALLY|
|42.||RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK|
|44.||THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES|
|45.||ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST|
|46.||THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE|
|47.||THE MALTESE FALCON|
|48.||THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI|
|50.||THE SIXTH SENSE|