5. "The Wolf Of Wall Street" by Terence Winter (2013)
Black List Appearance: This made the list all the way back in 2007, with six votes. That might seem low, but it must have been some comfort that it tied with Simon Beaufoy's script for "Slumdog Millionaire," which won an Oscar a year later.
With one of the longer gestation periods on this list—Warner Bros. picked up the movie initially before dropping it, and Ridley Scott and Michael Mann were both linked before Martin Scorsese, who'd originally been attached, returned—it's impressive that "The Wolf Of Wall Street" got made at all. But the film was a real passion project for star/producer Leonardo DiCaprio, and it finally made it to theaters on Christmas Day last year, to rave reviews, much moral hand-wringing, huge box-office and a brace of Oscar nominations. A much more raucous take on the financial world than the sober, realistic "Margin Call," the script (from "Boardwalk Empire" showrunner/writer Winter) followed real-life scumbag Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), who goes from flogging penny stocks to enormous wealth and success to prison, putting half of Colombia up his nose in the process. The film's POV proved confusing to less imaginative critics (perhaps because it was a more wildly comic film than anything Scorsese had made since "After Hours"), but to most, the satirical tone of events is obvious, with Winter and the director luring you into the material appeal of Belfort's lifestyle while reminding you, fairly continuously, of what a terrible human being he is. Though he's past 70, Scorsese directs with the flair of someone a third of his age, and though the ensemble is a miracle of casting, DiCaprio carries the whole thing on his shoulders, delivering by a huge distance his greatest performance.
4. "Never Let Me Go" by Alex Garland (2010)
Black List Appearance: This appeared on the 2007 Black List (the first to get substantial attention in the industry), with seven votes, the same number as post-apocalyptic blockbuster "The Book Of Eli."
Confession: even I didn't like "Never Let Me Go" at first. Mark Romanek's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's best-seller isn't a film that you immediately warm to—the music video veteran simply isn't that kind of filmmaker. But it's one that implanted itself in my brain, and the brains of many who saw it, and its deep melancholy has lingered long past other films released around the same time. Penned by "Sunshine"/"28 Days Later"/"Dredd" writer Alex Garland from the acclaimed novel by "The Remains Of The Day" author, it's about Kathy, Ruth and Tommy (played in their younger years by Isobel Meikle-Small, Ella Purnell and Charlie Rowe, who appear to be themselves eerily talented clones of their older counterparts), children at a strange school in the English countryside. As they grew older (and turn into Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield), they realize that they're clones, created so they can donate organs for transplants. It's a film of desperate, wrenching sadness, thanks in part to the three perfectly naive performances by Mulligan, Knightley and Garfield, and Romanek's chilly style gives it a very English repression that's true to the source material while being capable of bursting open a torrent of emotion. Garland's a very good writer who can't always stick the landing (see: "28 Days Later," "Sunshine"), but he really excelled himself with this script, and Romanek absolutely nailed the execution.
3. "Looper" by Rian Johnson (2012)
Black List Appearance: 2010, with ten votes, one behind the script for "The Butler," and tied with "One Day" and a will-never-get-made biopic of Rupert Murdoch by "Veep" writer Jesse Armstrong.
Writer/director Rian Johnson has the kind of immediately distinctive screenwriting voice that the Black List has appreciated—his second film, the underrated "Brothers Bloom," cropped up on the second Black List in 2006. "Looper" was more ambitious and bigger-budget than either that or his breakthrough "Brick," but thankfully just as well written and executed, proving to be a bit of a sleeper mainstream hit back in the fall of 2012. A fiendishly complex (but simply-described) setup involved, in the shortest possible description, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's drug-addled low-level mob hitman trying to track down his future self (Bruce Willis), who'd been sent back in time to be murdered. It's an immediately strong concept, and Johnson places it in a distinctive future world that, for once, isn't completely indebted to "Blade Runner" or something similar, and there are sci-fi action thrills to be had, but more fascinating is the way that the film changes gears entirely in its second half, becoming a closed-location thriller involving Emily Blunt's tough single-mother and her psychic son (Pierce Gagnon). Deftly hopping between genres, mixing genre with character drama, and building a truly compelling world, Johnson takes myriad influences and comes out the other end with something truly new. It's four years since his last script started doing the rounds: we're more than overdue for a new one by now.
2. “The Social Network” by Aaron Sorkin (2010)
Black List Appearance: 2009, with a whopping 42 mentions, second only that year to the currently-in-development “Muppet Man” biopic of Jim Henson, and just ahead of oddball then-future Ryan Reynolds vehicle “The Voices.”
So we’re kind of ambivalent about the Black List overall, but occasionally it gets things absolutely right, as it did with this Aaron Sorkin entry. The idea behind “The Social Network” may have been topical, but it still wasn’t the sexiest of topics (snore, Facebook, snore, startup geeks, snore, legal proceedings) and yet couched in Sorkin’s snappy dialogue and with his uncanny power for getting to the human heart of potentially alienating stories, the script is nearly as entertaining on paper as the finished film is. Sorkin himself had been Black Listed before, with “Charlie Wilson’s War” getting 13 mentions in 2005 before being made into the 2007 Tom Hanks movie, and of course had serious prestige built up as an in-demand TV writer (and one more than usually adept at political intrigue and workplace drama) but parts of “The West Wing” aside, this script may have been his finest hour to that point. Of course, Sorkin shares some of the credit with the writer of the book, Ben Mezrich, but does claim that while he did attach himself based on Mezrich’s proposal, the actual book was being written at the same time as the script and so much of the screenplay was shaped in isolation from it. Whatever the case, the only potential issue with the script was its talkiness, necessitating a director who’d have a feel for its intelligence but also be able to make it look more cinematic. Thankfully, a certain David Fincher was free.
1. "The Wrestler" by Robert Siegel (2008)
Black List Appearance: 5 mentions on the 2007 list, tied with Diablo Cody's "Jennifer's Body," Christopher McQuarrie's "Valkyrie," future comedy hit "Zombieland" and an early draft of "World War Z" by J. Michael Straczynski.
A tough pick for the top slot, but as all-encompassing as the love for "The Social Network" is, we went for more of an underdog: a smaller, character-based drama that was relatively lowly ranked on the Black List the year it featured. The first major screenplay credit from Robert Siegel, the former editor-in-chief of satirical favorite The Onion (whose only previous credit was from the disastrous and long-delayed "Onion Movie," shot in 2003 and finally buried on DVD in 2008), it's, on paper, a fairly standard sports movie, about former pro-wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke), now reduced to working at a supermarket deli counter, before being drawn back to the sport for a big rematch against his former nemesis, The Ayatollah, despite the wishes of his stripper friend (Marisa Tomei), and estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). It's pretty much the stuff of a "Rocky" sequel, but it's all about the execution. Siegel's script (and a career-defining performance from Rourke) really get under the skin of Randy, making an archetype into something distinctive, and beautifully sad. The other performers match Rourke's commitment, and the whole thing is beautifully directed in an atypically low-key, Dardennes-aping style by Darren Aronofsky, the film one of his finest to date. Maybe it's just our thing for dumb pig-headed heroism in the face of certain doom, but we can't think of many recent film moments more moving than Randy climbing the ropes for the last time.
Other Black List graduates worth a damn to varying degrees include: "Things We Lost In The Fire," "Lars And The Real Girl," "Hanna," "The Queen," "Stop-Loss," "Black Snake Moan," "Charlie Bartlett," "Babel," "State Of Play," "500 Days Of Summer," "A Mighty Heart," "The Fighter," "Superbad," "The Messenger," "3:10 To Yuma, ""Brothers Bloom," "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," "Adventureland," "Recount," "The Ides Of March," "The Road," "Source Code," "Orphan," "Doubt," "The Wackness," "50/50," "Up In The Air," "Inglourious Basterds," "Easy A," "Sleeping Beauty," "The Debt," "Prisoners," "The King's Speech," "Due Date," "The Last Stand," "The Spectacular Now," "Stoker," "American Hustle," "Argo," "Chronicle," "The Hunger Games," "Crazy Stupid Love" and "Django Unchained."