Usually when you get a bunch of western writers or readers together and the talk turns to movies it is about classic western movies or maybe the new fare that is coming out. I know the release of the remake of "True Grit" generated a lot of this type dialogue among my western writing friends.
But I have something different in mind today. I'm thinking more as a writer. You see, I collect movies that I think have a particular lesson to teach to writers or that I think contain some good examples for writers. Today I'm going to give you a top ten list in my mind of such movies.
My personal favorite writer movie is "Sixth Sense" with Bruce Willis. It made the list when I was so thoroughly fooled by the plot resolution and had to immediately watch it again to see if I had been fooled all along or if they had simply lied to me. Going back the clues are all there, they simply push me gently to make false assumptions, which I did. This would be an important skill for a writer.
I guess I would give second place to "Deathtrap" with Michael Cain and Christopher Reeves. I got to see it off Broadway and a road show version as well as the movie. In it, an old experienced writer (Cain) is undergoing writers block and is attempting to steal the work of Reeves (and kill him) as he mentors him. The mentoring is great for writers watching, but the amazing constant plot reversals is the real lesson.
3. If we are studying plot reversals and gently misleading the reader or viewer I would submit that the next things to study are virtually any movie by Alfred Hitchcock. He was an absolute master at giving us a minimum of visual clues and engaging our own imaginations. He scared an entire generation to death with a shadow on a shower curtain and a little cake coloring in a bathtub drain in "Psycho" with Janet Leigh.
4. Perhaps his best in my mind is "North by Northwest" with Cary Grant and Eve St Marie. This one has witty dialogue and maintains an absolute breakneck pace. A great study in how to keep the reader/viewer into the story without respite.
5. A close one to that would be "Vertico" with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak. This one is the exact opposite of the above with slow, surreal scenes that nonetheless that shows how to keep the reader/viewer glued to the storyline
6. "Murder 101" with Pierce Brosnen. He was a college professor lecturing on how to write a murder mystery even as the steps he was lecturing on was happening to him in real life. It's an excellent writer's movie as it actually shows story structure plot point by plot point.
7. "Adaptation" with Nicholas Cage and Meryl Streep is a story of a writer hired to adapt a bestselling book to the screen only to find it is absolutely un-filmable. The insights of the writer in the movie is terrific for those struggling with the craft. [storyline]
8, "Delirious" with John Candy is a study in rewrites. It's kind of a goofy thing but it is a good study in plot development.
9. "Stranger than Fiction" with Will Ferrell is a study in narration (that only he can hear) and really shows us what the text we write (as opposed to dialogue and action) really is to the reader. [narration]
10. "Funny Farm" with Chevy Chase shows a writer dealing with writers block (a favorite topic for writers) and how easy he was to distract from his task [writers block].
There are a dozen other Hitchcock movies such as "Rear Window" or "The Birds" that could have just as easily made the list. Some other movies that make various top ten lists for movies for writers include "Finding Neverland," where Johnny Depp plays playwright J.M.Barrie and is a fascinating look how storylines are developed as he comes up with his play Peter Pan. [storyline] "All the Presidents Men," "Almost Famous," "Capote," "Factotum," "Frida," "The Hours," (Saundra and I hosted the author of that bestseller at a conference although we didn't really care for the book and haven't seen the movie) and "Stone Reader". Some of these I have seen (or read the book) and some I haven't.
I spend my day immersed in writing or writing-related tasks. To "turn it off" I have to watch something that can get my mind off it. If I can do that and still learn something about my craft, more the better. I do collect these DVD's and I'm always on the lookout for more. Is there anything you would recommend for the list?