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Have Special Effects Gone Too Far? (5 movies that show the importance of scriptwriting)

Updated on August 16, 2013

How could the studio allow that!?

There is truly no substitute for a well-crafted movie. Millions of people flock to the nearest theater during opening weekend to be transported into new fantasy worlds. When the serial killer pops out of the bushes with a glistening knife, we jump in our seats because the fear is tangible. When the alien creature bounds through a sun-lit forest clearing, it's as if we are there in the forest with him. Whatever the genre of the movie, a believable environment can leave the audience feeling charmed and delighted.

But what about the movies that force special effects in place of narrative? We have all seen a movie where green screen effects, flashy gimmicks, and flat characters make us question, "What was the studio thinking when they green-lit that piece of garbage?!"

The following list of movies is meant to comfort us in light of those calamities. It is focused solely on well-written dialogue. Each of them is bare-boned, stripping away all ornamentation until the only thing remaining is brilliant acting and an engaging script. Please leave comments below but it is with great excitement that I share these gems of screenwriting with my fellow squidoo movie-lovers:

The movie: Sleuth

Cat and Mouse

If you love witty exchanges full of deception and mind-games, you will absolutely love the movie Sleuth. The movie synopsis says it all, "Locked in a high-tech English manor, bound in a deadly duel of wits, Andrew Wyke [Michael Caine] and Milo Tindle [Jude Law] come together as English gentlemen to discuss the matter of Wyke's wife: the woman both are sleeping with. But as wit becomes wicked and clever becomes cutthroat, Wyke and Tindle's game of one-upmanship spirals out of control in an escalating chess match that can have only one outcome: murder."

Every word of this script is dripping with double-entendre, power struggle, and passion. And while the script itself is brilliant, the real energy of the plot comes from the performances of Caine and Law. Both are at the top of their game, weaving subtle nuance into their delivery and leaving even the sharpest of moviegoers wondering how the tension will resolve.

Interestingly, this 2007 release is actually a reboot of the 1972 version which stars Michael Caine playing opposite of Laurence Olivier. That means Caine was able to play both roles of the story, 35 years apart.

The movie: Tape

A Reunion of Friends Leads to a Shocking Confession

While Sleuth relied on wit and double-entendre to drive the psychological twists, Tape relies on the careful unfolding of a confession. The all-star cast of this 2001 independent film is Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Uma Thurman. In the same way 12 Angry Men takes place primarily in a single room, the entire story of Tape takes place in a single motel room.

*To find out more great single-location movies, check out:

WARNING: You may have to watch this movie more than once to pick up on all the different ways the characters are revealed over the span of the story.

The movie: Waking Life

Are we sleep-walking through our waking state or wake-walking through our dreams?

Waking Life is like no other film you’ve ever seen. The art style is completely original, taking live-action footage and animating every aspect of it frame-by-frame. The end result is as creative and vibrant as the plot, which wanders through a cast of characters almost as an exercise in stream-of-consciousness. Each conversation reveals a new perspective or philosophy about lucid dreaming (a dream in which the dreamer is aware of the dream-state and can consequently control certain aspects of the dream).

Some people enjoy Waking life for the depth of philosophy, others enjoy Waking Life for the stunning art style. Either way, this is definitely a film worth checking out.

The movie: Before Sunrise

Young Love Forever

Two twentysomethings meet on a train heading for Vienna. One is Jesse [played by Ethan Hawke], an American who recently broke up with his girlfriend and is now on his way back to America, and Celine [played by Julie Delpy], a French woman soon persuaded to join Jesse in walking around Vienna til sunrise. The countdown for when Jesse must catch a plane is on, but that doesn’t stop the two from sharing stories, exploring the city, and ultimately finding love. Until the morning comes, every moment must count.

The movie: Before Sunset - The Lovers, Nine Years Later

This movie is the sequel to Before Sunrise and takes place 9 years after Before Sunrise was released. The actors are 9 years older in real life and their characters are 9 years older in the story. Also, the events of the movie happen in real time so the length of the movie is how long the characters spend with each other.

A synopsis of the plot would essentially wreck the ending of Before Sunrise so feel encouraged to watch the first before watching this, the sequel. The director and actors would like to film more in the series so time will tell how many years pass for the actors/characters before we see the next part of the story. When it was released, Before Sunset won an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Amazon links to the movies

What other movies spotlight the art of well-written dialogue? Are their films that should be added to this list? Please leave comments/critiques/questions below, thank you.

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