Everyone loves to quote movie lines, but what makes one great? I think they need to be somewhat unique, while also really flowing off the tounge in a special way, especially when its delivered by a really good actor.
“I am Ripper… Tearer… Slasher… Gouger. I am the Teeth in the Darkness, the Talons in the Night. Mine is Strength… and Lust… and Power! I AM BEOWULF!” Beowulf: Many remember similar lines from 300 but I think this line beat King Leonidas at his own war-cry game. I love how Beowulf calls himself a “tearer,” I don’t know what a tearer goes about tearing, but I’d rather it not happen to me. But one should not forget that this line is important to the plot as Beowulf’s boasting and heroism is subverted in the second half.
“I Drink Your Milkshake” There Will Be Blood: Four words that embody Daniel Plainview’s decent into madness. Out of context this makes very little sense, on their surface it’s simply a metaphor for an oil drilling technicality, but when delivered by Daniel Day-Lewis in the last moments of this great film they mean something bigger and more profound.
“The guy’s either going think ‘here’s another guy with a fake ID’, or here’s McLovin, 25 year old Hawaiian organ donor.” Superbad: Possibly the most memorable element of Superbad was a character officially named Fogell, but who will forever be known as McLovin. This is the line that points out the absurdity of that choice of a name and is possibly the most known line of the movie because it was one of the few lines that could be played in the trailer.
“There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit/and it’s filled with people who are filled with shit!/ And the vermin of the world inhabit it” Sweeney Todd: What really kept the music working in Sweeney Todd was Stephen Sondheim’s the masterful lyrics, and this is a great example of them. It flows well, it rhymes, and it helps tell the story. It also perfectly establishes Todd’s nihilistic mindset.
“This is a pimp I wouldn’t trust to wash my car, but y’all done elected him city official…” Talk to Me: A big part of why Talk to Me is so fun is how Don Cheadle’s character is a rebellious figure, but in a very fun and flamboyant way. This is simply a really fun line to say and when I heard it in the trailer I knew this was a film I had to see.
The Golden Stake goes to… There Will Be Blood
This is a hard category to judge objectively, I’m sure people of a slightly different mindset would come up with five other quotes that work better for them. “I drink your Milkshake” has already caught on in the public conscious, and it will probably continue to spread. By the time the film hits DVD this might be as big as “Show me the money!”
One would think that adapting someone else’s work would be easier than writing an original work, but in fact the process likely brings more challenges than benefits. When adapting, a writer must try to go off in unique directions while also trying to remain true to the original source material.
Atonement: In writing Atonement, Christopher Hampton had the challenge of living up to the legacy of one of the most acclaimed books of this century. While any adaptation has the challenge of pleasing purists of a given work, this book had a particularly large and demanding fan base to deal with, and in spite of this challenge it has still become one of the most acclaimed films of the year.
The Diving Bell and Butterfly: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is interesting in that it is adapting a very unconventional auto-biography. Jean-Dominique Bauby’s book is largely an account of what his life is like with locked-in syndrome. With his screenplay, Ronald Harwood draws from both the book and original research into Bauby’s life in order to tell a story that is inspiring, but never sappy.
Into the Wild: With Into the Wild, Sean Penn had the challenge of adapting a popular non-fiction book by Jon Krakauer. While many would have simply used the book as one of many sources, Penn attempts to adapt it and preserve its basic format. The film uses unusual techniques like writing prose on the screen in order to consistently preserve the link between the film and Krakauer’s book.
No Country for Old Men: Among these nominees, No Country for Old Men is unique in that it is the only one for which I’ve read the original source material. I was shocked when reading the book (after seeing the film) just how little the Coen’s changed from Cormac McCarthy’s novel. This is a nearly word for word translation to screen, which is very unusual.
There Will Be Blood: Unlike No Country, There Will Be Blood has reportedly changed a lot from Upton Sinclair’s novel. Interestingly this is the only nominee that has changed the story’s title from its original source. The title is a good example of how an adaptation can help a film. After all “There Will Be Blood” is a much more enticing title than “Oil!”
The Golden Stake goes to… Into the Wild
There may have been better all around movies in the running this year, but I felt this is probably the movie that most benefitted from its script. Christopher McCandless could have easily come across as a complete douche bag, but this screenplay manages to give an even handed account of this man’s life. The screenplay has an almost perfect use of non-chronological storytelling and voiceover.
This year, most of the really weighty dramas are all adaptations, which is a double edged sword. On one hand it makes the adapted screenplay competition really, really tight. On the other hand, it opens up the original screenplay category to a lot of interesting choices as well as a lot of comedic writing.
Juno: Screenwriters are generally the most anonymous major creative force in cinema. Aside from a few exceptions like Charlie Kaufman and various writer/directors, very few people in the average public could name a screenwriter off the top of their heads. Oddly, Diablo Cody has managed to become a minor celebrity with only one script under her belt. And for good reason, Juno’s charming script has everyone in the country charmed.
Knocked Up: It’s interesting that Knocked Up hasn’t been nominated yet, but Superbad has been nominated for a number of things thus far. The reason this is getting the screenplay and not the other Judd Apatow project, is that that one had a few very funny moments while Knocked Up managed to spread great witticisms throughout. Additionally the story goes somewhere; this is not a comedy that just throws jokes at the screen and hope some of them stick.
Michael Clayton: I was really surprised that this was an original screenplay, as this really feels like it was based on some kind of legal novel. This is a testament to the type of rich screenplay on display here, rarely is cinema the first medium this kind of character study immediately goes to. Most importantly this film probably has the best dramatic dialogue of the year.
Sunshine: Anyone can write a space opera filled with laser fights and alien monsters, well not anyone, but it is a lot easier. It takes real talent to create a story with all of those thrills that is also a complex study of ethics and logic. Sunshine gives us a desperate situation and analyzes how humans would really react to it… and it ain’t pretty.
The Wind That Shakes the Barley: The Wind That Shakes the Barley hasn’t been nominated for a single reward up to this point, and that’s probably because it is the quintessential example of how a film can be greater than the sum of its parts. The film is a testament to how important a script is in the making of a great film. Even if the other elements aren’t quite award worth, a great script can still lead to a great movie.
The Golden Stake goes to…
Michael Clayton was the first film directed by the veteran Hollywood screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who brought us the Bourne films. The film is basically what the Bourne series would have been like if they focused on the politics and espionage of the situation instead of the action. It’s the dialogue here that really shines. This film probably has the best dialogue of the year.
Trailer of the Year
While this is really a work of advertising, there is definitely a real art to cutting a great trailer. One has to get enough good material into a short amount of time to entice people without giving away important plot points. There are so many of these trailers that its really hard to stand out, yet still some manage to do it. Sorry Gindhouse, only real trailers are eligible.
300 (Official Trailer): The 300 trailer was like an onslaught of unique and creative images. Set against a really good Nine Inch Nails instrumental piece, this was the perfect introduction to the great visuals, blistering action, and bombastic acting that would be featured in the film.
American Gangster (Heart of the City): When Ridley Scott teamed up with Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington to make a gangster film, expectations were through the roof, and this trailer set expectations even higher. The trailer cuts with a definite rhythm set by the Blueprint era Jay-Z track Heart of the City (Aint no Love).
Cloverfield (Teaser): Few trailers (or anything else for that matter), had people talking as much as the Cloverfield teaser. What was special about it? Well first of all it wasn’t available online, people needed to go to Transformers to see it. Second, J.J. Abrams was behind it, and he’s the master of watercooler mind fucks. Third, the damn thing didn’t even have a title on it.
Rambo (Preview Footage): All educated guesses suggested that this Rambo film was a shameless cash-in. We are currently living in an era of wimpy, PG-13 action movies. It seemed logical that this film would sell out much the way another fourth installment of an 80s action movie, Live Free or Die Hard, had. That is until this extremely graphic preview footage showed up on the internet. This trailer, which featured a decapitation and a ripped out jugular, promised that Rambo would be a redunculous good time.
Sunshine (Lux Aeterna): Like the film itself, the sunshine trailer starts slow with mystery, before it explodes into a kinetic montage of interesting looking things. The trailer is set to a composition called “Lux Aeterna” which was part of the Requiem for a Dream score and has since been used effectively in a number of trailers. This trailer set us up for an exiting sci-fi epic, but kept from giving too much away.
The Golden Stake goes to… American Gangster
The American Gangster trailer may not have had a viral twist or graphic violence, but it did excel using old school trailer methods. Every edit here seems perfectly placed and the Jay-Z song seems like a perfect match to the visuals. It’s a well chosen song that has a hip-hop rhythm, but a 70s soul music hook that remains period appropriate.
Poster of the Year
Print advertising is a dying art, and in all industries printed media is slowly going the way of the dodo. However, for some reason the tradition of theatrical posters still seems to be thriving. I love film posters and I always like to look them up when I’ve seen a film.
American Gangster: This movie is very much about the meeting of two major actors, and the poster smartly realizes this. Yet, the poster subversively cuts off the faces of both of these movie stars, which is an interesting twist. The poster is largely a homage to the famous Scarface poster, but not in a way that’s obvious to the point of parody. I love the way Denzel’s black jacket blends in with the background.
Black Snake Moan: The Black Snake Moan poster is an interesting piece of work because it emphasizes the film’s exploitation roots a lot more then the film itself does. The piece wisely uses a very accurate drawing technique to make this look like a mad/crazy misogynist piece of 70s goodness, with Christina Ricci in a wicked yet enjoyed sexual pose with Jackson in a strong dominating pose that makes him look very cool when looked at through a subversive 70s lens. Its all topped off with the brilliant tagline: “Everything is hotter down south.”
Eastern Promises: Here’s another poster that revolves around a really strong tagline, “every sin leaves a mark.” This tagline directly ties into the film’s message in many ways, and the image is also very strong. The minimalist image of tattooed hands perfectly accentuates that great tagline, enticing audiences without giving anything away and maintaining a great sense of menace.
There Will Be Blood: This is another example of a great minimalistic approach. This poster had the benefit of a great title: There Will Be Blood. It’s a mysterious, yet menacing title and “menacing” is the perfect word to use to describe the poster. This book, which looks like a bible but has the film’s title in an old English typeface, has a single drop of blood dripping down.
Zodiac: It would have been easy to make a sensationalistic poster for this serial killer film. Instead what they delivered was a poster which perfectly embodies the real threat that presides over the film; a strange, unseen force transforming the city of San Francisco into a place of fear. Additionally the cross in the title’s “O” is a very nice touch.
The Golden Stake goes to… Black Snake Moan
More than any other poster this year, I have really considered putting this poster up on my wall. I think that is a very interesting bit of kitch art that should plaster college dorm room walls for years to come.