Having scoured the ranks of actors to draw up a shortlist of the best of them and then a selection of their best work, we now move on to consider the best work by the greatest writers. This can be a harder thing to judge, given that there will often be a team of writers, or polishing work is done on a script that is otherwise someone else’s work. Quentin Tarantino did some polishing on Crimson Tide, but by contrast his script for Natural Born Killers is much less distinctively his, bearing as it does a lot of Oliver Stone’s fingerprints. What we will (try to) focus on are those writers who rather than being hacks for hire have instead crafted something all their own and seen it transition relatively unmolested to the screen.
As with the Best of the Best of the Actors, we are looking here at consistently excellent work, rather than a one-hit wonder. Feel free to debate below and offer your own nominees.
Aaron Sorkin – The American President
Sorkin is certainly not an especially naturalistic writer. That’s not to say his writing is at all stilted – on the contrary, he is as smooth and rhythmic a writer as you could hope for – but he certainly doesn’t write the way people talk. Very few people are genuinely as smart and eloquent as the words he puts in their mouths. But nonetheless Sorkin crafts brilliant screenplays and they always bear the distinctiveness of his penmanship. After A Few Good Men, Malice and The American President, Sorkin stuck with TV for three excellent shows, but has since returned to big screen work to acclaim, success and awards. His turn of phrase very much is of the “I wish I could speak/write/etc like that” ilk, but rather than getting irked, it is better to just sit back and enjoy it.
And so we turn to The American President. Yes it is self-identifying Capra-esque wish-fulfillment. No, this and The West Wing are not how Presidential politics actually works, but it is how we wish it would be and it is phenomenally entertaining. Any number of exchanges would warrant special mention here, but President Andy Shepherd’s final speech, when he finally confronts Senator Bob Rumson and sticks his flag in the ground regarding his desired legislative reforms, resonates down the years and never more so than in the light and the wake of this year’s Presidential election cycle. Sorkin’s strengths may lie more squarely in dialogue than in story and structure, but he is a genuine artist.