2013 Calvin Awards: Best Screenplay

By Reagen Sulewski

February 22, 2013

Yes, it really is a lot more uncomfortable laying on rocks than I thought it would be.

This year's top screenplays, as voted by us, run the gamut of crackerjack storytelling, historical dramas loaded with symbolic meaning, riveting dialog, to quirky personal stories that really came alive thanks to the care invested in the writing. While flash and style may rule the box office today, it's still nothing without the words to start it off.

Which isn't to say that good writing can't have style. Our champion this year, Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained, is a rather specific example of that. This is Tarantino's first win from us, though the majority of his most acclaimed work predates this site. The story weaves a tremendous number of cinematic and literary tropes together, including westerns, blacksploitation and German opera, of all things, into a coherent whole is nothing short of miraculous. Tarantino not only did that, but made it meaningful commentary on both the power of cinema and some dark periods in American history. This alternatively hyper-verbal and hyper-active film epitomized greatness in screenwriting this year, and was an astounding example of both the sizzle and the steak.

Way back when in 2002, in the first edition of the Calvins on this site, Wes Anderson finished in second place by the closest margin possible in this category for The Royal Tenenbaums. After what you might call a decade-long slump, he's back to (nearly) the top of our charts with Moonrise Kingdom, an almost fairy-tale story of two starcrossed, well, not lovers, but young romantic partners on a remote island in the 1950s. Although loaded with the by-now trademark Andersonian quirks, it's a wonderful story about how while kids are immensely puzzled by this new notion of love, the adults all around them don't necessarily have anything figured out much better.

Todd Kushner's script for Lincoln comes in third for us. Not your typical biopic, instead of taking in the entirety of Abraham Lincoln's life, it focuses in on just one crucial period, which came to define his legacy. And really, did we need to see Young Lincoln learning that slavery was bad? It's a nice change of pace to be treated like adults at a movie. As well, its treatment of the actual issue of slavery and how this was solved made for gripping drama, making what often seems like sepia-toned history come alive like antebellum CSPAN, except with actual principles and stuff.

Fourth spot here belongs to Mark Boal's script for Zero Dark Thirty. In contrast to Lincoln, this script had to deal with a decade of time and a story that is in large part based on false starts, frustration and inaction. He was also handicapped by working with bare ciphers of characters who he couldn't reveal too much about without breaching national security, making this an even harder task. Boal brought all this together into a devastating story about a quest for justice at the expense of self.


Fifth spot goes to Silver Linings Playbook, from David O. Russell. His story of broken and breaking obsessive people finding each other to heal themselves succeeds through excellent characterization and finding the comedic and romantic potential in all these offbeat individuals. I mean, we knew he had an absurd streak, but who knew he was actually funny?

Sixth place has Chris Terrio's script for Argo, which harkens back to some of the best international thriller scripts of all time for its tightly paced story of Americans attempting to escape Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. Interweaving stories happening in three separate locations simultaneously, it drove the crisis home on a personal level as well as being exhilarating storytelling.

Look, we don't wanna hear about it, Okay? The Avengers is *so* great scripting, from its witty dialog, logically progressing action scenes and brilliant characterization. Call us Joss Whedon fanboys if you must (and honestly, how could we consider it an insult?) but The Avengers had enough script for four movies (hear that Peter Jackson?) and used it to perfection.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower probably suffered a bit from not being seen by all of our voters, but those that did recognized the brilliance of Stephen Chobsky's script, which elevated above the typical teen angst drama, pulling together separate strands of heartbreak and friendship into a devastating reveal. This is one of the year's undiscovered gems.

Sometimes we just want to laugh hysterically and not stop for 90 minutes. Seth McFarlane's script for Ted delivered that, with laughs coming so quickly that we barely had time to process them. Was it kind of his shtick? Sure. But it's great shtick.

Finally, tenth spot gives us John Gatins' script for Flight. Dealing with the aftermath of a plane crash and the condition of its pilot, it was an unflinching look into the darkness of alcoholism and hero worship.

View other awards
Calvins Intro
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 Person Total Points
1 Django Unchained Quentin Tarantino 84
2 Moonrise Kingdom Wes Anderson/Roman Coppola 67
3 Lincoln Todd Kushner 55
4 Zero Dark Thirty Mark Boal 54
5 Silver Linings Playbook David O. Russell 50
6 Argo Chris Terrio 48
7 Avengers, The Joss Whedon 36
8 Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Stephen Chbosky 30
9 Ted Seth MacFarlane 28
10 Flight John Gatins 22



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