The Black List, a list of the best unshot scripts of any given year, as picked by a group of almost 300 film executives, came out yesterday afternoon. Reading through it, I was struck by some trends—lots of scripts by guys, lots of bank robberies, lots of science fiction but almost almost no fantasy. But I was intrigued by a lot of the projects on the list, and these ten which most caught my eye are just a few of the scripts that seek out political resonance, or have settings like the Dust Bowl or Bleeding Kansas.
Author: Young Il Kim
Description: “During the height of the Watergate scandal, rising star Hillary Rodham is the youngest lawyer chosen for the House Judiciary Committee to Impeach Nixon, but she soon finds herself forced to choose between a destined path to the White House and her unresolved feelings for Bill Clinton, her former boyfriend who now teaches law in Arkansas.”
Why I’m Curious: Hillary Rodham Clinton is a fascinating figure. And people have asked for years why she chose to stay with Bill Clinton, it’s an intriguing question how she chose him, and life in Arkansas, in the first place. There are a lot of movies that attempt to capture election zeitgeists, and I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see Harvey Weinstein snap this one up for a 2016 release. But this is a smarter-than-usual way to approach a figure about whom so much has written that it seems like nothing new could be revealed.
Script: Story Of Your Life
Author: Eric Heisserer
Description: “Based on the short story by Ted Chiang. When alien crafts land around the world, a linguistics expert is recruited by the military to determine whether they come in peace or are a threat. As she learns to communicate with the aliens, she begins experiencing vivid flashbacks that become the key to unlocking the greater mystery about the true purpose of their visit.”
Why I’m Curious: I’ve written about my obsessions with smart, alternative alien invasion scenarios over and over again. It’s been fifteen years since Contact, the last great movie about trying to talk to aliens instead of immediately going to war with them, and three years since District 9. We are long overdue.
Script: Shut In
Author: Christina Hodson
Description: “A woman who tries to raise her catatonic son on her own suddenly discovers a shocking secret about him.”
Why I’m Curious: Since Adam Lanza shot his mother, Nancy, before heading off to massacre students and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary, there’s been renewed attention to mothers raising difficult children by themselves face, and what kind of support we could give them. I’m curious to see a strong psychological portrait that examines those kinds of challenges.
Script: Man Of Tomorrow
Author: Jeremy Slater
Description: “In an alternate 1940s reality, the US Government makes a deal with an indestructible gangster to kill Hilter in exchange for the city of Chicago, which he will build into his own utopia. Unfortunately his model city never comes to fruition and both he and his Bureau liaison get much of the slack for destroying one of America’s greatest cities and now the government wants him dead.”
Why I’m Curious: Urban planning, alternate history, and killing Hitler? I’m so game.
Script: The Broken
Author: John Glosser
Description: “In 1967 Oklahoma, a war vet/farmer investigates the suspicious death of his estranged son in the next county. When he discovers his son’s brutal murder was a covered-up gay bashing, he goes on a one-man mission to take down the corrupt sheriff responsible.”
Why I’m Curious: Period dramas about gay people and gay rights have tended to focus on the experiences of those people coming out, staying closeted, and finding love in whatever time those stories take place. I’m curious to see a movie about how a straight person confronts their own homophobia, the reality of anti-gay violence, and what level of social disapproval they’re willing to confront to fight for justice. Gay people deserve to see their own stories on screen. But straight ones need to be nudged about the impact of their own complacency as well.
Author: Ashleigh Powell
Description: “A female prison guard in the future, where prisoners are rehabilitated with virtual reality, discovers a conspiracy that puts her loyalty into question.”
Why I’m Curious: I love me some Judge Anderson, and I think the role women play in the prison system in the present day is both fascinating and under-discussed. And pop culture doesn’t spend nearly enough time discussing how we treat prisoners—even today, we spend a lot of money locking people in solitary confinement with access to fairly limited streams of information. I’d be curious to see a crisis of conscience around prisons in any circumstances.
Script: Titans of Park Row
Author: Mitch Akselrad
Description: “Young William Randolph Hearst goes to war against an aging Joseph Pulitzer as each tries to monopolize coverage of a mysterious homicide capturing New York’s imagination, birthing the modern concept of sensationalist media coverage.”
Why I’m Curious: The real period movie I’d love to see someone do about crime and journalism in New York is an adaptation of Howe & Hummel: Their True And Scandalous History. But in the absence of that, a war between New York press barons with resonance for today’s media environment sounds juicy and fun. And Lincoln should set a high standard for that kind of project that, even if you can’t shoot for it without a Tony Kushner script and a Daniel Day-Lewis performance, could provide some valuable inspiration.
Author: Matt Ackley
Description: “A dangerous love affair between a photojournalist and a black market smuggler set against the June 2001 massacre of the Royal Family in Nepal.”
Why I’m Curious: I’m always wary of stories about non-Western countries in which the experiences of white people are foregrounded. But I’m a bit of a sucker for photojournalist stories. And I’d rather that stories like this one, where the royal family was massacred by a disgruntled heir, get told even by round-about means than not at all.
Author: Ben Poole
Description: “In a China-dominated near future, a former LAPD officer attempts to save his family from destitution in Los Angeles by working for a crime lord in the American ghetto within a thriving Hong Kong.”
Why I’m Curious: There’s a lot of discussion about Asian tigers and a future where, say, Mandarin is the dominant language. While there are a lot of reasons that seems unlikely to come to pass, at least in the near term, pop culture hasn’t done nearly enough to play with that possibility. Plus, anything that gets down from Hong Kong’s skyline into the street will be visually fun.
Script: The Lighthouse
Author: Erik Kristen
Description: “William Van Alen’s building of the Chrysler building and the competition to be the first to complete the world’s tallest building.”
Why I’m Curious: Industrial competition is fascinating, and underdone in period movies, which tend to prefer war and politics. It’s exciting to me that both The Lighthouse and Titans of Park Row are on the list this year. The Koch Brothers may not have won a presidential election this year, but they certainly managed to spark a lot of interest in how the very wealthy build their empires. Hopefully this movie will tackle some of the human cost of reaching for the sky as well.