Forget about original or adapted. I'm once again condensing categories for 2012. A good screenplay is a good screenplay regardless of the source material. The only use in considering the source material when looking at the film is either for a critical/scholarly article on the physical adaptation or as a post-mortem on how such a good source turned into such a bad film (or, vice versa). So let's celebrate the best in narrative feature writing altogether rather than separate the categories because of tradition. The Best Screenplays of 2012. Six honorable mentions followed by a ranked Top 6.
- The Avengers, Joss Whedon, Story by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon
- Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg, From the Novel by Don DeLillo
- The Grey, Joe Carnahan & Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, From the Short Story by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
- Magic Mike, Reid Carolin
- Les Miserables, William Nicholson, From the Musical by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, and Kerbert Kretzmer
- Sinister, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill
6: Brave, Mark Andrews & Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman & Irene Mecchi, Story by Brenda Chapman
Brave is a really beautifully structured screenplay about mother/daughter relationships, tradition, and magic. Princess Merida, determined to hold off a suitor, makes a horrible, hateful choice that forever changes her life. Films like Brave do not get made very often because, simply put, studios believe that female-driven adventure stories don't sell. Yet is is the actual focus on the female characters in a traditional fantasy/princess universe that makes the story so compelling. Brave is the kind of film that is only going to go up in appreciation as the years go by because the screenplay is so strong and compelling.
5: Safety Not Guaranteed, Derek Connolly
Safety Not Guarnateed is smart, funny, and very sincere. The story of a strange man trying to travel back in time to rescue his own life is strange. There's no denying that. The screenplay is very clever and unexpected, merging the structure of a romantic comedy with the content of a sci-fi epic for a film shot on a shoestring budget. The biggest strength is how well defined the characters are. We never laugh at them, stopping the film from becoming a cruel joke at the expense of an eccentric character.
4: The Hunger Games, Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray, From the Novel by Suzanne Collins
It's no small task to adapt a blockbuster novel into a critically acclaimed film. It's an even harder task when the novel is very insular, trapped in the mind of a strong protagonist with no outside perspective. Director Gary Ross teamed up with novelist Suzanne Collins and screenwriter Billy Ray to find the best way to expand upon the first person narrative of The Hunger Games. It's still clearly Katniss' story, but it goes well beyond what Katniss herself could know. The addition of the game headquarters and color commentary during the games themselves made all the difference in telling this story in a wildly cinematic way.
3: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlan, From the Play by Lucy Alibar
The beauty of Beasts of the Southern Wild is the rich, believable culture of The Bathtub. It really feels like a real community celebrating real holidays and surviving against real odds. Hushpuppy is the central figure of the town by chance, not by choice, and the narration from the mind of a child that young is what defines the world of the film. It's a very bold screenplay because it is so willing to commit to a very limited perspective on how the world works.
2: Seven Psychopaths, Martin McDonagh
Seven Psychopaths is a film that refuses to play to your expectations. Martin McDonagh is a master of wielding violence for literary and satirical effect and this is no exception. The driving point of the narrative is a screenplay written by a jaded Hollywood screenwriter about a group of psychopaths who ultimately do not act out on their violent instincts. Yet, in the real world, a serial killer is running loose killing anyone and everyone with a connection to the mob. The mob boss is chaining people up and executing witnesses for the theft of his dog. And the screenwriter's best friend literally invites murderous psychopaths to come tell their stories for the screenplay. Seven Psychopaths is a deconstruction of action/revenge films set within the framework of multiple levels of action/revenge films happening onscreen.
1: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Lorene Scafaria
It takes a brave writer to tell a story about the end of the world that refuses to focus on sensationalism. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is all about the small strokes and emotions of the end of our lives. The two central figures reject vice at every corner, laser-focused on finding resolution for their own lifelong struggles. At the same time, there is an undercurrent of violence and recklessness that bubbles over again and again because the world has all but given up on compassion. Why shouldn't they? Everyone will be dead in three weeks. Yet the two leading characters soldier on, always choosing kindness and comfort over violence and destruction. It's an unexpected approach to the apocalypse that pays off huge dividends.
Those are my top screenplays of 2012. What do you think? Sound off with your thoughts below.