24 nov. 2014

Los 10 mejores guiones de la década de los 50

Ah, the 1950's, the decade that gave us the golden age of television, rock and roll, the poodle skirt and post-war prosperity. While most Americans thought life was pretty sunny out in the suburbs there were some screenwriters working to ensure we were still aware that life still had a dark side and not even the house with the most perfectly manicured lawn was completely immune to it.

10. The Killing, Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson, 1956

If you’re thinking about writing a heist screenplay, you must watch this film. The screenplay is based on Lionel White's novel "Clean Break" and it is film noir at the height of the genre’s power. The story is similar to “Ocean’s Eleven," an ex-con gathers a group of guys together to pull off one last heist before the ex-con settles down, but while Ocean’s makes us laugh, this one brings the existential dread. The script shows events from multiple perspectives and jumps around in time, but it’s never confusing and the tension never relents. You’ve probably read about directors who have borrowed from this film, but after watching it you’ll realize how many screenwriters have done the same.
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9. The 400 Blows, François Truffaut, Marcel Moussy, 1959

It’s hard not to think of Boyhood when talking about this film this year. They cover similar ground – how boys grow up – but The 400 Blows is much more Dickensian in its telling – bleaker, more violent, the boy more misunderstood. A French New Wave classic that takes a kid seriously shows his struggles as they are to him, not as they affect the adults surrounding him and ends on with one of the most moving shots ever filmed. The story's semi-autobiographical script is worth studying if you’re writing a script based on personal experiences. Take note of the moments, both loud and quiet, that he selects to tell his story. There isn’t a better guidebook.

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8. Twelve Angry Men, Reginald Rose, 1957

The film opens with a jury getting their final instructions before deliberation begins. In the first five minutes we understand how high the stakes are given that the death sentence in this case is mandatory if the defendant is found guilty. Meant to be a meditation on consensus building, privilege and prejudice, it’s really a lesson in how much a writer can accomplish with little more than one bare set and thoughtful conflicts. Playwrights do this every day, but it’s rare for a screenwriter to be so constrained and to be able to pull off something so completely riveting to watch on the big screen.

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7. On the Waterfront, Budd Schulberg, 1954

This script was born out of a newspaper article, or more specifically a series of them written by Malcolm Johnson for the New York Sun. Schulberg spent two years down on the docks, researching, sitting in on rebel meetings and hanging out in bars. Initially studios didn’t want to make this film because they thought no one would be interested in seeing a bunch of angry longshoremen being angry… and they were probably right. But it’s a testament to the strength of the screenplay that got the film made and had Frank Sinatra throwing a major league fit when the part he thought was his was given to Marlon “I coulda been a contender” Brando. Oh, and it’s also #8 on AFI’s all-time best film list.

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6. Sunset Blvd., Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, D.M. Marshman Jr., 1950

Writing Advice 101: write what you know. So many screenwriters follow that advice. That’s why there are so many movies about screenwriters. Almost all of them are bad. This one is not. This one is great. It may be the greatest movie about movies, period. Surely it has one of the greatest lines about movie stars: “Joe: You used to be big.” Norma: "I am big. It's the pictures that got small.” That line sums up why this movie about movies works where most others fail, it recognizes the dangerous delusion that can come with a career in show business. A smart and dark script elevated by an almost-too-much-crazy-but-actually-just-perfect-amount-of-crazy performance by Gloria Swanson. And the script? Well, there’s a reason Billy Wilder appears here twice.

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5. All About Eve, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950

Rarely has a man written a more complex role for a woman. Bette Davis plays Margo Channing, a greatly respected stage actress who is doing the one thing an actress should never, ever do… she’s aging. In her rearview mirror is the newer model of herself about to pass her by. How should she deal with that? Can she doanything about it or is petering out at forty her only option? Yes, the film is about that, but it’s also about conflicting worlds: art versus commerce, theater versus cinema and of course wisdom versus youth.

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4. Sweet Smell of Success, Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman, 1957

“I'd hate to take a bite outta you. You're a cookie full of arsenic.” Burt Lancaster as gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker, says that to Tony Curtis, press agent, Sidney Falco. It’s a great line even out of context, but in the context of tabloid journalism it packs an even more powerful wallop. Especially in the celebrity obsessed culture we find ourselves in these days. It’s a sharp noir about powerful people, their dirty little secrets and how sometimes people willfully misinterpret facts to get what they want.

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3. Rear Window, John Michael Hayes, 1954

Reading the screenplay makes you realize it’s even more brilliant than you remember it being when you watched it. First, it’s a great whodunit that allows us, the audience, to sit right in the wheelchair with L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies (Jimmy Stewart) and act as amateur detective right alongside him. Second, his reasons for not wanting to marry his girlfriend (Grace Kelly), that she’s too perfect, that she wouldn’t ever let her hair down, crash so beautifully up against the daring moves she makes later in the script. Third, the tension never lets up until the very last second when it absolutely has too. And finally it has the perfect ending that somehow always still manages to come as something of a surprise even when you’ve seen the thing at least fifteen times. Perfect.

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2. Some Like it Hot, Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond, 1959

How did this script not win the Oscar? Seriously. How? Two Chicago musicians witness a mob hit and run off to Florida dressed as women. The logline alone… come on. Of course the film was populated with wonderful performances from Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe, but reading the screenplay is a joy unto itself (and that is not always the case with good movies.) The witty repartee (JERRY: I feel so naked. Like everybody’s looking at me. JOE: With those legs? Are you crazy?), the literary quality action lines, the imaginative character names: Toothpick Charlie, Little Bonaparte, Sugar Kane Kowalczyk and the just plain great storyline make this script a must read for anyone looking to read something that will make them a better writer.

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1. North by Northwest, Ernest Lehman, 1959

The most classic case of mistaken identity of all time. Cary Grant is perfect as an ad man caught up in the nightmare of having dangerous people think you’re someone you’re not. The direction and cinematography are spot on and of course there is the scene that is the arguably Hitchcock’s most famous of all, the vengeful crop duster. While there are a million reasons something becomes a classic this one is helped out largely by a suspenseful script that leaves room for sharp wit and a little romance too. Ernest Lehman was one hell of a writer. He appears here twice and oh yeah, he also wrote a little movie called “The Sound of Music.” Talk about versatile.

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