Before a retrospective of his work at Lincoln Center a couple years ago, Judd Apatow told the audience "When I write, I feel like I am facing a mirror and it’s telling me of my unworthiness." Well, apparently many of his colleagues find him quite worthy, as he is one of the only screenwriters to appear both on the latest list of The 100 Best Screenwriters of All Time and on the list of writers who were invited to create the list.
We love listicles as much as the rest of the internet does, and so we were excited to see Vulture's publication of this one, compiled not by critics, but by 40 of the top screenwriters working today. The "choosers" have written some of our favorite recent projects, among them Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani of The Big Sick, and Jordan Peele of Get Out. The list of voters also includes esteemed industry vets like Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Affliction) and Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Munich).
Now, on to their choices. The list is ranked, so it matters that Billy Wilder is number one. Of the Sunset Boulevard scribe, film critic David Edelstein says, "Wilder’s mix of poetry and pulp, elegance and vulgarity, moral judgment with a deep understanding of the attraction of sleaze, makes him an apt standard-bearer for the art of crafting great popular entertainment."
The rest of the choices range from the creators of universally beloved (Melissa Mathison, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) to universally admired (Francis Ford Coppola,The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) to universally provocative (Lars von Trier, Dancer in the Dark, Melancholia) scripts. Interesting to note that a large percentage of those chosen are writer-directors.
Overall, we think it's a very strong assembly. Granted, it perhaps should have been called "The 100 Best Writers of English Screenplays" for its very heavy Western lean. Though the rankings are diverse in terms of style, tone, and genre, Vulture acknowledges the list's general lack of cultural diversity by stating that "acknowledging today’s urgent need for more inclusive storytelling doesn’t negate the contributions of these 100 pioneers." That being said, here are the top ten, and they are tops indeed.
1. Billy Wilder
Notable Scripts: Double Indemnity (1944), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960)
2. Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Notable Scripts: Fargo (1996) - Academy Award, The Big Lebowski (1998), No Country for Old Men (2007) - Academy Award, True Grit (2010)
3. Robert Towne
Notable Scripts: Chinatown (1974) - Academy Award, Shampoo (1975), Days of Thunder (1990), Mission: Impossible(1996)
4. Quentin Tarantino
Notable Scripts: Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994) - Academy Award, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), Inglourious Basterds (2009)
5. Francis Ford Coppola
Notable Scripts: Patton (1970), The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979) - Academy Award
'The Princess Bride', screenplay by William Goldman
6. William Goldman
Notable Scripts: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) - Academy Award, All the President’s Men (1976) - Academy Award, The Princess Bride (1987), Misery (1990)
7. Charlie Kaufman
Notable Scripts: Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) -Academy Award, Anomalisa (2015)
8. Woody Allen
Notable Scripts: Annie Hall (1977) - Academy Award, Manhattan (1979), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), Midnight in Paris(2011) - Academy Award
9. Nora Ephron
Notable Scripts: Silkwood (1983), When Harry Met Sally… (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), You’ve Got Mail (1998)
10. Ernest Lehman
Notable Scripts: Sweet Smell of Success (1957), North by Northwest (1959), West Side Story (1961), The Sound of Music (1965)
The best part of a list created by writers is that their reasoning is particularly well articulated. See all 100 choices, and their excellent descriptions, here.
Who do you think was scandalously left off the list? Or would you reorder it? Let us know in the comments.