2012 Calvin Awards: Best Screenplay

By Tom Houseman

February 17, 2012

We had nothing to do with writing the screenplay but we sure do talk good.

Alexander Payne is no Aaron Sorkin in our books, but we still appreciate his complex stories that explore shades of grey in relationships and conflict. That is why The Descendants is number five on our list of best screenplays. This is Payne's first script not written in collaboration with Jim Taylor, and we have found that he is just as adept at mixing poignant emotions with comic relief no matter who he is paired with. Co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who plays Dean Pelton on Community!!!) helped Payne develop an eclectic group of characters. From family man Matt King, to his uppity father in law Scott, to his dysfunctional daughter and her goofy boyfriend, Payne and co. have successfully created a fascinating and endearing family and plunged them into thoroughly entertaining chaos.

John Logan was nominated for an Oscar this year for his script for Hugo, but we were more impressed by his original screenplay for the unique and hilarious animated film Rango. If Hugo is an homage to French silent cinema, Rango does the same thing for the Western, only in a less obvious way, using a great story about a chameleon who has greatness thrust upon him in a small desert town. Rango is one of our favorite characters of the year, but it is the various characters that populate the town of Dirt that make this film so fun. From Beans to Roadkill to the Mayor (yes, these are all characters' names) to the Greek chorus of owls whose songs punctuate the film, the script for Rango brims with personality, laughs, and surprises.

Two of the biggest hits of the year, and two wildly different films, show up at spots seven and eight. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo set out to make an Apatow comedy for the ladies, but ended up making Bridesmaids, a great, poignant, and hilarious comedy for everybody. Annie Walker is the best Apatow protagonist since The 40 Year-Old Virgin's Andy, as her struggles with both her career and her relationships are completely relatable. Plus, any script that gives us the wild and raunchy Megan, or a scene in which women in beautiful gowns fight over use of a toilet, has to be doing something right.

Steve Kloves might not have realized that behemoth task he was taking on when he agreed to adapt Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to the big screen. Kloves has spent the last decade writing the Harry Potter films, and with Deathly Hallows Part 2 he has given us the best film in the series. Kloves brought his own personal touches to the series, and in the finale we see not only how well he brought J.K. Rowling's vision to the screen, but how subtly and perfectly he put his own fingerprints on the film series. The Harry Potter series, and particularly its finale, was better than anybody could have expected, and much of the credit for that has to be given to Kloves.


Our last two films are two of the biggest surprises of the year, films that were better than anybody would have expected going in. Most people would cringe at the thought of making a comedy about cancer, but Will Reiser brought his own experiences to the page in writing 50/50. Reiser walked a fine line, and the result could have been too slight or too melodramatic had he taken a wrong turn, but he effectively mixed comedy and drama to create a very effective character study that is also a lot of fun to watch.

Sean Durkin gave himself an equally daunting task with Martha Marcy May Marlene. Durkin intentionally kept the story about a girl joining a cult as vague and confusing as possible, doling out information in as small increments as possible. He could have ended up alienating or boring the audience, but instead he created a gripping mystery while at the same time exploring fascinating characters. Martha Marcy May Marlene swings between heartbreaking and terrifying remarkably well. As the only two first-time solo screenwriters, Reiser and Durkin showed maturity, poise, and the promise of even greater things to come. Expect to see these two names higher to the top of this list in the future.

Ten different films came within six points of making the top ten, showing just how much we wanted to spread the love this year. The list of also rans is eclectic in terms of scope and genre. Sci-fi films Source Code, The Adjustment Bureau and Rise of the Planet of the Apes all got votes, as did thrillers The Debt and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and topical dramas A Separation and Margin Call. On the lighter side, a little bit of love was given to comedies Young Adult, Submarine, and The Guard.

The Calvins: An Introduction
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Album
Best Cast
Best Character
Best Director
Best Overlooked Film
Best Picture
Best Scene
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
Best Videogame
Breakthrough Performance
Worst Performance
Worst Picture

Top 10
Position Film Total Points
1 Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian (Moneyball) 81
2 Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) 72
3 Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) 70
4 Hossein Amini (Drive) 36
5 (tie) Payne/Faxon/Rash (The Descendants) 35
5 (tie) Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids0 35
7 Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) 29
8 John Logan (Rango) 27
9 Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) 26
10 J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) 25

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