10 Movies Screenwriters Should See

By David Trottier

Round out your education by viewing these movies about writers and/or the movie industry. Here are ten worth seeing. They are not listed in any particular order.

The Player. Director Robert Altman likes to make movies that recreate a place or time. MASH, Nashville, and Gosford Park are a few. Although much of what happens in The Player is exaggerated, it provides a sense of Hollywood and how it operates. The pitching sessions in particular are a ton of fun.

Sunset Boulevard. This is the Billy Wilder classic about a hack screenwriter who finds work writing for a has-been silent film star. Watch this one for the wonderful writing.

Bowfinger. Most screenwriters come in contact with an independent producer at one time or another. This movie is the story of one such producer. Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy provide hilarious performances. My question is: did the screenwriter actually get paid?

The Purple Rose of Cairo and Bullets over Broadway—a Woody Allen double feature! “Cairo” deals with the effect of movies on our lives. We escape to the fantasy of movies, but must return to reality after the movie ends. “Bullets” asks this question (among others): how do you tread the line between art and commerce? If you can only pick one of these two movies to view, my choice would be Bullets over Broadway.

Barton Fink. This is the ultimate flick about the hell of writer’s block brought to you by the Coen Brothers. During the days of the studio system, Hollywood brought in novelists (such as William Faulkner) and playwrights to write screenplays. Barton Fink is one of them. The story itself is…well…incomprehensible. Or is it? You decide.

Adaptation. This is another film about writer’s block, but with a twist. The writer is trying to adapt a book with no dramatic premise or plot. The movie purposely breaks some of Hollywood’s screenwriting “rules” as presented by guru Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox). You can decide if this movie “works” or not.

Finding Forester. At last, a plot I can follow. Sean Connery plays a famous novelist turned recluse who mentors a young man and helps him find his writing passion. “You’re the man now, dog.”

Shakespeare in Love. I wanted to find a film devoted to Shakespeare, and this literate Academy Award winner is my pick mainly because of its presentation of the creative process and how it affects everything.

The Singing Detective. I refer to the British TV series, not the movie. The TV series scripts are adept at layering reality, fiction, and imagination in this story about a detective story writer with a debilitating disease.

The Producers. This old Mel Brooks comedy (1968) is just for fun. It stars Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. What if you need to create the most tasteless play ever to avoid paying investors, and that play becomes a hit?

Movies You Recommended

There were three movies in particular that many of you named.

The Big Picture (1989 film starring Kevin Bacon). Film school grad with a dream and a script learns about the process of producing his script into a movie.

Stranger Than Fiction. A man is “haunted” by a Narrator.

The Seven Psychopaths. A struggling screenwriter gets involved with the L.A. criminal underworld.

Here are your remaining picks, listed in alphabetical order:

Anonymous. Set in Elizabethan England, this movie, according to one of you, will inspire any writer.

Artist, The. The recent classic about the silent era. See as a double feature with Singing in the Rain, the old classic about the silent era.

Bad and the Beautiful, The. An actress, a director, and a writer try to revive a studio executive.

Castle (TV pilot). A detective gets stuck carting around a famous writer who’s totally blocked and looking for new inspiration.

Cinema Paradiso. Celebrates the magic of movies.

Ed Wood. True story about the world’s worst director.

Festival in Cannes. An actress wants to direct an indie picture. According to the contributor of this entry, “you have to see it three times to get it.”

For Your Consideration. Three actors learn that their performances are generating awards buzz.

Funny Farm. Chevy Chase tries to write a novel in the country.

Hearts of the West (1975). A dime novel writer dreams of becoming a cowboy.

Limitless. Writer finds a pill that gives him superhuman abilities.

Living in Oblivion. A film about filmmaking.

Madhouse. A horror movie star returns to his famous role after years in a mental institution.

Majestic, The. A blacklisted Hollywood writer gets in a car wreck and loses his memory.

Muse, The. Albert Brooks stars as a neurotic screenwriter.

Paris When It Sizzles. A blocked writer gets Audreny Hepburn as a typist and sparks fly.

Romancing the Stone. Romance writer goes to South America to save her sister and finds romance.

Secret Window, The (2004). A writer is accused of plagiarism.

Singing in the Rain. The old classic about the silent era.

Soapdish. A comedy about the world of soap operas.

Sophie’s Choice. Narrated by a writer.

Spinal Tap. A mock documentary of a rock group.

State and Main. A big shoot in a small town.

Swimming with Sharks. A young naïve Hollywood studio assistant turns the tables on his abusive producer boss. (Kevin Spacey.)

Truman Show, The. The Adam and Eve story produced as a TV show.

What Just Happened? Two weeks in the life of a fading Hollywood producer.

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