Year Of The Screenwriter

Remarkable scripts, the words and deeds of a talented few, created the heart, soul and sizzle of 2004's best films chosen here by our critics

December 31, 2004|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

It has been called the movie year of social-cultural division, of anger, of chaos, of continued independent-film ascendancy.

But artistically, 2004 was the year of the writer. Even mega-buck franchises rose to new aesthetic heights on the shoulders of word-wise artists like Harry Potter's resident screenwriter Steve Kloves and Spider-Man 2's Alvin Sargent (The Sterile Cuckoo, Straight Time, Julia).

"Chinatown it ain't," commented the modest Kloves about his script for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. "But here it is," he said, mailing it off six months after I first requested it. I was curious to read it, partly because the director, Alfonso Cuaron, had won a huge share of the credit for the leap the Potter series took with its third movie.

As soon as I got it, I turned to the scene that had affected me more than any other: a revealing talk between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his rather worn-looking professor of defenses against the dark arts, R.J. Lupin (David Thewliss). Everything I had experienced in the theater that added depth and poignancy to the story was there in dialogue and description on the page.

"The first time I saw you, Harry, I recognized you immediately," confesses Lupin. "Not by your scar. By your eyes. They're your mother Lily's; yes, I knew her. She was there for me at a time when no one else was. She was not only a singularly gifted witch but an uncommonly kind woman. She had a way of seeing the beauty in whoever she met, even - and perhaps most especially - when that person couldn't see it in themselves."

With a writer like Kloves, brilliance doesn't always lie in extraordinary language (though his Wonder Boys script abounded in it). For Harry Potter, he placed plain words in the right order to open up new worlds or closed chapters of history.

Let me now praise the grand tradition of writers such as Kloves, who boast the gift of emotional eloquence. They're at the heart of the best films of 2004.

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