Undefended: The Best Scripts of the Decade

As the decade comes to a close, FilmFisher’s writers will be spending the next few months looking back at the cinema of the 2010s and compiling “Best of the Decade” lists in various categories. This month, they selected the best screenplays of the decade.

Royce Benson

  1. The Social Network
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  3. Inside Llewyn Davis
  4. The Master
  5. Her

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Travis Kyker

  1. Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)
  2. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)
  3. The LEGO Movie (Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord, & Christopher Miller)
  4. Hail, Caesar! (Joel & Ethan Coen)
  5. The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, & Ian Martin)

Tom Upjohn

  1. The Florida Project (Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch, 2017)
  2. 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley, 2013)
  3. Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2014)
  4. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014)
  5. Locke (Steven Knight, 2013)

P.S. The Social Network is amazing.

A.C. Gleason

In no particular order:

  1. Captain America: Civil War
  2. End of Watch
  3. The Witch
  4. I, Tonya
  5. Wind River & Sicario (well, everything by Taylor Sheridan… except Sicario 2… which was still pretty good)

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Timothy Lawrence

  1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, 2011) – A robust and muscular adaptation; condensing a novel this complicated into a screenplay is no small feat. (Fun fact: I assumed many of the best lines were Le Carré’s, but apparently “The fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt” is an invention of the film.)
  2. The World’s End (Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, 2013) – Wright and Pegg’s collaborations are always admirably densely packed with parallels and recurring jokes, but this one is layered with a melancholy that makes it their most mature and involving to date.
  3. Steve Jobs (Aaron Sorkin, 2015) – It would feel wrong not to include a Sorkin script. The Social Network has already been taken, but I’m not too broken up about it, because I like this one almost as much. Someone else will have to take Moneyball.
  4. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017) – PTA is a fine writer, but I’m usually more struck by the way he plays with images than the way he plays with words. That’s not the case here; the caustic cadence of his dialogue is just as sumptuous as any of the dresses (or breakfasts) on display. “Do you have a gun? Show me your gun.”
  5. Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, 2019) – At first glance, this film seems too lackadaisical and meandering for the writing to be one of its strong suits, but upon closer inspection, I’m amazed that something so intricately constructed could feel so organic. Also, it’s full of lines that have already made their way into my personal lexicon.

HONORABLE MENTION: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Noah Baumbach, 2017) – Baumbach’s direction is assured, but unshowy, which lets his gift for anatomizing his characters through dialogue really shine. I’ve only seen the film once, but now, two years later, stray lines keep echoing through my head at random times. “I should’ve said something more cutting. I let him get away with being a prick.”

Joel Bourgeois

  1. Macbeth (2015, William Shakespeare, dir. Justin Kurzel)
  2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
  3. Anomalisa (2015, Charlie Kaufman)
  4. Hail, Caesar! (2016, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
  5. Inside Llewyn Davis (2014, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)

If you think #1 is cheating, put The LEGO Movie down at #5 and move everything else up.

Robert Brown

  1. True Grit (2010). Screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen, based on a novel by Charles Portis.
  2. Moneyball (2011). Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin and story by Stan Chervin, based on a book Michael Lewis.
  3. Locke (2013). Screenplay by Steven Knight.
  4. The Wind Rises (2013). Screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki.
  5. Arrival (2016)Screenplay by Eric Heisserer, based on a short story by Ted Chiang.
Tied Honorable Mentions:
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Screenplay by Joss Whedon, based on comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017). Screenplay by Rian Johnson, based on characters created by George Lucas.
Timothy Lawrence

A graduate of the Torrey Honors Institute at BIOLA University, Timothy Lawrence teaches great books through Torrey Academy in Southern California. He writes essays and fiction and counts the Coen Brothers and George Lucas among his personal heroes.

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