By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist April 10, 2014 at 3:12PM
5. "Seven Pounds" by Grant Nieporte (2008)
Black List Appearance: Thirteen votes on the second list in 2006, ahead of films like "Hanna," "The Changeling" and "500 Days Of Summer."
Notable mainly as the last film that Will Smith made before an informal exile of nearly four years, and further proof that the actor in melodrama mode is generally something to be avoided, "Seven Pounds" was the first, and so far only, feature screenplay credit for former "Sabrina The Teenage Witch" writer Grant Nieporte. The high-ranking of the script on the Black List, and that Smith snapped it up to not only star, but also produce, seems to be an attest to the film's high concept, rather than its quality: at least in the way that "Pursuit Of Happyness" director Gabriele Muccino executed it, it's a maudlin, crass weepie whose central twist is cheap and, in places, unintentionally funny. Smith plays a mysterious man who's investigating/interrogating/bugging/falling-in-love-with (in the case of Rosario Dawson's terminally ill greeting card printer) seven strangers for initially unclear reasons. As it turns out, Smith killed seven people, including his fiancee, in a car crash, and is planning to atone for it by killing himself (with a jellyfish! A jellyfish!) and donating his organs to them. The script operates only in tones of black and white (the people Smith interacts with are either saintly, or, once, entirely undeserving of his help), stripping the set-up of any potentially interesting ambiguities, and Muccino gives proceedings such a sappy, manipulative tone that it becomes difficult to feel anything. Some of the performances are decent enough—Smith's committed, while Dawson and Barry Pepper do some good work—but we're inclined to agree with A.O. Scott in the New York Times, who said that the film "may be among the most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made."
4. "A Couple Of Dicks" by Mark and Robb Cullen (2010) (released as "Cop Out")
Black List Appearance: Twelve votes on the 2008 list, a couple of votes behind "The Descendants," and ahead of Will Ferrell vehicle "Everything Must Go" and UFO horror "The Fourth Kind."
Some of these scripts had questionable starting points, some were botched in the execution, but the really toxic ones, like "Cop Out," had both. On the page, "A Couple Of Dicks," as it was originally titled, seemed fairly unexceptional, a pretty dire throwback to 80s/90s buddy action comedy with little to set it apart except how generic it was. But it's hard to think of a more chaotic way that it could have come to the screen than directed by Kevin Smith, and starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, who play long-time cop partners suspended from the job, who set out to retrieve a stolen baseball card that Willis was hoping to use to pay for his daughter's wedding. Even Smith's fans would probably acknowledge that he's a better writer than he is director, so it's truly puzzling that he would come on to make a film like this, let alone with a script as dull, old-fashioned and crudely unfunny as this one. Smith apparently was drawn to the project because he wanted to work with Willis, so it's a sad irony that the two had an immediate personality clash, with Smith later claiming that Willis was a nightmare, and unnamed production sources defending Willis, indicating that the filmmaker was stoned throughout production. Both accusations make sense from the finished product: Willis is clearly and obviously unengaged (and displays almost no chemistry with Morgan), but so too is Smith, whose filmmaking is workmanlike at best, and slack at worst. The combination of dick jokes, uninspired pop culture references and punched-in-the-dick slapstick feels like it could have come from the "Epic Movie" creators, rather than the guy behind "Clerks," so it's no surprise that Smith's enthusiasm for his profession petered out pretty swiftly after this was released.
3. "Lions For Lambs" by Matthew Michael Carnahan (2007)
Black List Appearance: Six mentions in 2006, the same year as the script for "Rendition," making it something of a golden age for hamfisted screenplays about the war on terror featuring Meryl Streep in supporting roles, and the same year that Carnahan's screenplay for the remake of "State Of Play" (rewritten by several others before it reached the screen) came second.
"Lions For Lambs," aka "Explaining: The Motion Picture," had everything right on paper, combining legendary stars Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and, in a rare dramatic role, Tom Cruise, with up-and-comers Andrew Garfield (in his first major Hollywood part), Michael Peña and Derek Luke. Instead, it's a talky, preachy bore that even "Newsroom"-era Aaron Sorkin would probably describe as "a bit much." There are three principal threads: of liberal professor Dr. Malley (Redford) trying to buck an apathetic student (Garfield) into action, of two of Malley's former students (Luke and Pena), now fighting in Afghanistan, and of a journalist (Streep) interviewing a hawkish Republican senator (Cruise) about his new military plan for the region. Carnahan, the brother of "The Grey" director Joe, is a bright guy who's written some decent scripts (his "The Kingdom," released the same year, is pretty good), but not on this evidence: this is mostly dull and smug dialogue, that belies that Carnahan initially conceived it as a stage play by feeling like something produced in a student playwriting class about how, like, war is bad and stuff. The performers have all done far better work elsewhere, and Redford, who even at his best ("Quiz Show") can be a touch dry as a filmmaker, is patently the wrong choice for this material. One can't fault the intentions of him and Carnahan in making the film, but you can have plenty of problems with the execution.
2. "ATM" by Chris Sparling (2012)
Black List Appearance: Six votes on the 2010 Black List, tied with already-forgotten Greta Gerwig rom-com "Lola Versus" and Disney flop "Prom."
Writer Chris Sparling was briefly staking out a claim for being the king of contained space thrillers: he placed on the 2009 list with "Buried," the movie entirely set within Ryan Reynolds' coffin, and the following year was back with "ATM.," a film whose sole purpose seems to be to make "Buried" look like a masterpiece in comparison. Dumber than a bag of particularly dumb hammers, the film sees co-workers Brian Geraghty, Alice Eve and Josh Peck trapped in an ATM kiosk by a hooded killer tormenting them (and the occasional day player who wanders onto set in order to be bludgeoned) for no reason in particular. The actors have all done good work elsewhere, but are stuck with bickering, unlikable characters who behave like morons, and the constraints that Sparling has stuck himself with are so anti-dramatic that you wonder why he bothered. It's rarely tense, totally implausible, and in the end, deeply unsatisfying, delivering no explanation for the film's events, and in a way that, rather than scaring you about the randomness of it all, simply makes you want to drive a car through the screen. And director David Brooks shoots the whole thing fairly indifferently, like he'd rather be doing a D-grade slasher film but had to settle for this. Sparling, fortunately, is yet to complete his trilogy with something like "Vending Machine" or "Newspaper Kiosk," but we live in fear of him trying.
1. “Abduction” by Shawn Christensen (2011)
Black List Appearance: 2010, with 7 mentions, same as “Crazy Stupid Love” and the “Snabba Cash” remake script “Easy Money,” placing it above “Serena” which is to come later this year starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.
The Black List we’d all like to believe in is one in which the little-guy script has a chance, the deeply personal, unusual or offbeat idea that no one has the balls to finance straight off the bat, but that enough people are charmed or intrigued by to warrant them showing it some goodwill. The fact that a script like “Abduction” can end up on it, is proof that that’s not the Black List we have. So gracelessly generic it could have been written by a decently-programmed algorithm, its seven mentions feel more like seven bookmarks made by listless execs who just know that sooner or later there’ll be a young actor who’ll need a starring mid-budgeted vehicle that can test their marketability outside whatever franchise or Disney show they’ve made their name on. And this time it worked like gangbusters, sparking a mini bidding war and eventually selling for $1m to be developed into the 2011 Taylor Lautner vehicle—good news for writer Shawn Christensen (frontman of indie rock band stellastarr*) who, to be fair to him, showed a much more promising side to his filmmaking talents writing and directing 2012 short “Curfew” which won an Oscar. To be even fairer to him, it’s possible that in hands other than John Singleton’s (we’ll never stop asking what happened there) and with a lead less lunkish than Lautner, the teen-Bourne-style story of a boy who discovers his parents are not his parents and he’s a spy baby or something, might not have been quite as turgid as it turned out. After all, terrible third acts and clunky, exposition-heavy dialogue are script issues, but uninspired direction and wooden acting can’t be blamed on the screenplay alone. Even the ringers of the supporting cast—Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs, Sigourney Weaver and Maria Bello—all seem to be phoning it in. Still, at best, this supposedly "hot" script is the generic calm at the centre of a perfect storm of dreadful.
Other Black List graduates that are poor-to-terrible: "The Way Way Back,' "The To-Do List," "The Other Boleyn Girl," "Fanboys," "Horrible Bosses," "Snow White & The Huntsman," "Brothers Solomon," "Dan In Real Life," "Factory Girl," "Meet Dave," "We Are Marshall," "Rendition," "The Changeling" and "Invictus" (Clint Eastwood should maybe stop doing his shopping from it), "The Men Who Stare At Goats," "Love And Other Impossible Pursuits," "All About Steve," "The Devil's Double," "The Bucket List," "Charlie Countryman," "Salt," "The Book Of Eli," "The Divide," "Jennifer's Body," "Blitz," "Blindness," "Dear John," "Dirty Girl," "Clash Of The Titans," "How To Lose Friends And Influence People," "The Oranges," "Butter," "Out Of The Furnace," "No Strings Attached," "Broken City," "Nowhere Boy," "The Fourth Kind," "Bachelorette," "What's Your Number," "Hitchcock," "47 Ronin," "Cedar Rapids," "The Watch," "The Sitter," "Buried," "Restless," "Arthur," "That's My Boy," "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," "Safe House," "Better Living Through Chemistry," "That Awkward Moment," "Gangster Squad," "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," "Fun Size," "One Day," "The Impossible," Oz The Great & Powerful" and "Bad Words."