Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch's "Casablanca" script, adapted from the play "Everybody Comes to Rick's" by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, has been saluted as the greatest screenplay ever by the members of the Writers Guild of America.
The WGA list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays was unveiled on Thursday (April 6). The compilation was the result of a poll that began in the summer of the 2005. Members were asked to list their 10 favorite produced screenplays, past or present, English or otherwise.
"101 Greatest Screenplays will finally set the record straight by celebrating the best in film writing and bringing recognition to the wizards behind the curtain: the men and women who wrote the greatest films of all time," declares a statement on the guild's website.
It the kind of list that organizations put out when they're desperate to stir up discussion and publicity and controversy. Thus, we say to the WGA, "Mission Accomplished."
Few will quibble with the films at the top of the list. "Casablanca" won the Oscar for best screenplay and the film remains endlessly quotable, with dialogue so timeless it's become a part of the culture entirely unconnected to Rick or Ilsa or Sam or Captain Renault.
Coming in at No. 2 is the script for "The Godfather," with Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola adapting Puzo's novel. The same pair also pops up at No. 10 with the script for "The Godfather II." Don't bother scanning the list for "The Godfather III."
Robert Towne's "Chinatown" work, which beat "The Godfather II" in the screenplay category at the 1975 Academy Awards is No. 3, followed closely by "Citizen Kane," which has sparked decades of authorship debates involving co-writers Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz's splendidly catty "All About Eve" is No. 5, followed by "Annie Hall" (Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman), "Sunset Blvd." (Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman, Jr.), "Network" (Paddy Chayefsky) and "Some Like It Hot" (Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond).
That seems like a pretty fair Top 10 list.
Allen ("Annie Hall," "Manhattan," "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Hannah and Her Sisters") and Coppola (the "Godfather" films plus "Apocalypse Now" and "Patton") make four appearances on the list, as does Wilder ("Double Indemnity" and "The Apartment" join his two Top 10 collaborations). The group with three credits includes William Goldman, John Huston and, the relative newcomer of the group, Charlie Kaufman.
This particular writer and Billy Wilder fan would also have found room for "Ace in the Hole," "Stalag 17" and the eternally undervalued "One, Two, Three."
As always, with a list like this, the greatest debate will arise over scripts that somehow failed to make the cut and which films were deemed unworthy so that "American Beauty," "Forrest Gump," "The Sixth Sense" and "Sideways" could be honored.
Well, despite the fact that any writer worth his or her salt still applauds "The Lubitsch Touch," Ernst couldn't make the list for "Trouble in Paradise," "Ninotchka," "The Shop Around the Corner," "To Be or Not to Be" or "Heaven Can Wait." Actually, the fact that the Writers Guild is lacking in Lubitsch mans might also explain why you can count the well-written romantic comedies from the past 25 years on one hand.
Although half of the Top 10 is composed of films from the 1970s, the absence of Robert Altman films, particularly "Nashville" (written by Joan Tewkesbury), "MASH" (Ring Lardner Jr.) or "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (Altman with Brian McKay) is glaring. Other dissed films from that Maverick Golden Age include "Bonnie and Clyde" (David Newman and Robert Benton), "The Conversation" (Coppola) and "The Last Detail" (Towne).
Lawrence Kasdan was mentioned for his part in the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" script, but his work on "The Big Chill," "Body Heat" and "The Empire Strikes Back" ("Star Wars" is No. 68) was left off. Oliver Stone has a WGA award on his shelf for "Midnight Express," but neither that script nor the blueprints for "Platoon," "Wall Street," "Born on the Fourth of July" or "JFK" are on the list.
Family films found it difficult to make the cut. Where are the Disney animated scripts? Thinking more recently, where are "Babe" or "Big"?
The list's most obvious flaw, though, is the disregard for foreign language cinema. It's possible, I guess, that Jean Renoir and Charles Spaak's "Le Grande Illusion" is the best non-English script ever written. It comes in at No. 85, two places ahead of "8 1/2" (Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano and Brunello Rond). Who are those members of the Writers Guild who want to suggest that "The Sixth Sense" is better written than any non-English film ever made in the history of cinema? And what can be done to prevent those writers from ever going near a keyboard again? Once the Writers Guild looked at the results and realized that the 101 Greatest Screenplays list was going to feature 99 scripts in English, it would have been less insulting to just throw out the two deviant foreign films and just called the list the 101 Greatest English Language Screenplays.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun