Re: The Best Screenplays In Film
A while back on FB I was making a list of authors who influenced me. I was picking primarily novelists and playwrights. Then I decided to put include Paul Schrader. I thought to myself: do screenwriters count. Yes they do and Schrader's going on the list.
Among recent screenplays that I think are great:Being John Malkovich
. If one had to point to a great American screenwriter (on the level of Towne, Mamet and Schrader) who arrived on the scene in the last 15 years or so, Charlie Kaufman is it. This, in a way, is like Taxi Driver in that it featured a combination of an excellent director and a superb screenwriter. Kaufman and Spike Jonze were what every director/screenwriter team should be.Magnolia
. The interlocking storylines and characters make the fact that PT Anderson was able to juggle so many characters and not lose his footing especially admirable.The Big Lebowski
. I pick this one out of all the Coen Brothers scripts because in theory this could've been an incoherent mess. But it isn't. The Coens manage to make it work and come out as clear as a bell.
Playwright John Patrick Shanley is also a very good screenwriter (he wrote Moonstruck) and director (he wrote and directed Doubt).
As far as whether or not directors should write their own scripts, I'd say that there's no one size fits all answer to that question. It largely depends on the director. The aforementioned PT Anderson and the Coen Brothers could never make the movies they make if they didn't write the screenplays themselves. Danny Boyle is somewhat different in that regard. He doesn't actually write the screenplays for his films himself (until 127 Hours anyway). But you can tell that he actively works with the writers and creates the story himself. That's why his work has such a consistency to it even though the movies he does have all been different from one another. David Dincher is similar. He's not a writer himself. But he takes enough control of the material to make it totally his own. On the other hand, you have guys like Ron Howard, Norman Jewison and Joel Schumacher. These guys can be good directors when they have good scripts. But they don't write. They take pre-existing screenplays and make movies out of them. That in a way explains the inconsistency of their output. They're totally dependent on the scripts they choose.
Admittedly there are certain directors who are at their best with material they write. Spike Lee started out as a writer-director. He doesn't write that much anymore. To me his best non-documentary films (aside from 25th Hour and Inside Man) he wrote himself. Oliver Stone doesn't write anymore. His best films he wrote himself. Robert Zemeckis doesn't write all that much anymore either and his best films were the ones he wrote or co-wrote.
In the book Moviemakers Master Class, Pedro Almodovar pointed out a certain disparity between screenwriting in the early days of Hollywood and screenwriting today. In the early days, who did Hollywood hire to write scripts? Novelists and playwrights. People like William Faulkner, Lillian Hellman and Raymond Chandler.
Today, so much screenwriting is done by committee. That I strongly suspect is part of the reason why so many films feel cold and impersonal (there are other reasons of course). So one could say it is better for directors to write their scripts themselves. However not all directors are writers. In that case, the best solution is for a director to find a writer who can mesh perfectly well with their sensibilities. Some examples of this include:
Scorsese and Schrader on Taxi Driver
Jonze and Kaufman on Being John Malkovich
Fincher and Sorkin on The Social Network
If there was more of that and less of the committee approach to making movies today, things might be better.