As a group of writers about movies, it's no surprise that the effort that goes into constructing screenplays gets our attention. Whether it's crackling dialogue, a brilliant story structure or intriguing characterization, these films all brought something to the screen through their words.
2016 Calvin Awards: Best Screenplay
By Reagen Sulewski
February 26, 2016
Our champion for this year is The Big Short, written by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay and adapted from Michael Lewis' book of the same name about the financial crisis of 2008, and the people who saw it coming. This screenplay brought together three separate threads of that crisis, weaving between and betwixt them as they either tried to blow the whistle, or at the very least profit off the stupidity and greed of the markets. The Big Short features a motley group of outsiders and misfits and breaks down one of the most calamitous and confusing periods of economics, excelling both in showing what kind of people were able to think beyond the herd to find these opportunities, as well as explaining just what did happen through some of the more inventive scenes we've ever seen. For its clear depiction of how the world hopped into a handbasket and waited to see where it would go, as well as for showing us those that tried to at least warn us about it, it's a very worthy winner for Best Screenplay this year.
A close second spot goes to Spotlight, which untangled the very complicated web of lies and deceit surrounding the cover-up of child abuse by Catholic priests – primarily in Boston – spanning decades. Juggling a cast of dozens of important characters with complex motives, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy's script cuts a through-line across time and distance to detail just what it takes to investigate a scandalous story against an agency that wields near ultimate power and influence. When the subject is religious and involves people fearing for their very souls, so much the harder. It's a term that's fallen into a bit of disfavor, but as perhaps the ultimate procedural, and with echoes of All The President's Men, Spotlight was a vital film brought to life by a tremendous group of characters.
Pixar is one of the most inventive group of filmmakers there has ever been, and all of their best films have started with a great story. In Inside Out, our third-placed screenplay, it's diving into the inner-workings of a young girl's brain, to build the characters of her personality and each facet of her personality. It's remarkable how quickly the film sets its scene, introducing what could be a complex scenario and set of rules in just a couple of minutes, and then we're off to the races. Not only does the film navigate the world its created through an endlessly-fascinating set of metaphors, it creates characters – which exist only in a girl's subconscious, remember – that are endearing and heart-breaking in their humanity.
Fourth spot goes to the adaptation of The Martian, by Drew Goddard. The screenplay for this film pulled the ripping space-adventure yarn from the page onto the screen, cranking up the tension throughout as scores of people worked on solving the monumental problem of bringing a man home from Mars. Bouncing back and forth from Earth to Mars to watch Mark Watney's process in staying alive to be rescued, it's the filmic version of a page turner. One small complaint – a good portion of the book's comedy was lost in the translation, but if the biggest complaint one can have about a script is that you wanted *more* of it, well, then you've done a pretty good job.
Aaron Sorkin's script for Steve Jobs places fifth here, largely on the strength of the patented Sorkinesque dialogue, which piles on dense lines one after the other, and dives into the psychology of its brilliant and slightly monstrous “hero,” the co-founder of Apple computers. As well, its interesting structure, peeking in and out of his life at three different product launches, plays with the well-worn format of biopics to give us a fascinating look at one of the most influential persons of the 20th century.
Sixth place goes to the script for Room, adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own book. A tale of a woman imprisoned in a small backyard shed for seven years along with her son, born in captivity, it's a heartbreaking story of loss and recovery, as well as discovery, thanks to the viewpoint through the eyes of the young child.
Sci-fi thriller Ex Machina finds itself just behind in seventh, with a mind-bending premise about artificial intelligence, which has us contemplate what just a thing would look like, and how incomprehensible its motives might be.
Eighth place goes to Bridge of Spies, partially written by the Coen Brothers, diving into the era of Cold War espionage and its back and forth absurdities. Depicting the rampant paranoia of the time, it also injects a nice amount of humor into the proceedings, popping the bubble of what was a ridiculous time in diplomacy.
Ninth spot goes to Phyllis Nagy's adaptation of Carol, about a romance between two women in the 1950s. Set in a time when such ideas were barely even contemplated, let alone accepted, it's a poignant tale of love dismissed.
Lastly, we wrap up with Quentin Tarantino's hugely theatrical script for The Hateful Eight. A whirling dervish of a script, it keeps the audience constantly guessing about its characters' true motivations, and dazzles with his trademark speechifying.
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music