Aaron Sorkin: His best screenplays to date

Hot on the heels of discussing the best work of Danny Boyle’s career, in honor of this week’s release of Steve Jobs, I want to do the same today with scribe Aaron Sorkin. Considered one of the very best, if not the absolute best, writers in the business, Sorkin is one of the most distinctive creators of dialogue that this generation has. A star both on television and in the movies, Sorkin is an undeniable genius. As such, it’s a distinct pleasure to rank his screenplays, as I’ll be doing below. It’s basically just ranking things from good to great, so everything listed is well worth checking out if you’ve yet to see something. Enjoy, and as always, remember that this is only how I would rank things, not the absolute final word on the matter…

First as a bonus, here’s how I would rank his TV writing, which I find to be uniformly excellent:

4. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
3. The Newsroom
2. Sports Night
1. The West Wing

Here now is how I would rank Sorkin’s screenplays so far:

7. Malice – On the surface Sorkin’s least obvious work, considering the plot developments, but the characters are still acting like the ones he writes in more overtly “Sorkin” type projects. A mystery/thriller starring Alec Baldwin that he co-wrote, it’s hardly the best example of his talents, but it hints at what was to come. Not his best, but still some quality writing for sure.

6. Charlie Wilson’s War – A very clever script, there’s just a small bit of something missing from making this the classic it could have been. Getting to hear Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Julia Roberts spout his dialogue in a film made by Mike Nichols is basically mana from cinema heaven, and while it’s really good, it’s just shy of the greatness he’d be able to capture afterwards in the title (coming up later in this list) that won him his Oscar.

5. Moneyball – Sorkin came on late in the game and helped rewrite this sports flick, so in some ways his voice feels tacked on, but it’s part of what makes this movie succeed. He’s able to elevate an already compelling story of underdog success by making the dialogue crack with intelligence. Having read the script prior to his involvement as well as after he came on, I can vouch for both being real good, but his added voice (especially for Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt) making it great. The Academy Award nomination was well deserved.

4. The American President – You don’t normally think of romantic comedy when you think of Sorkin, but by wedding that genre to politics he made a lighthearted classic. Discarded plot points from this one would become The West Wing, his masterpiece of a television show, so the initial idea was great here, obviously. Michael Douglas is one of the great film Presidents, so Sorkin is who to thank for this underrated gem from Rob Reiner. It’s as likable as anything he’s ever done.

3. Steve Jobs – His newest work, I could easily see it continuing to move up in these rankings as the years go by. I’ve praised it quite a bit already, but I’ll just remind you how compelling he makes the title character for Michael Fassbender to play. Jobs is hardly a likable character, but Sorkin makes it so that you can never even think of looking away. With Danny Boyle adding a visual element to his writing, Sorkin is able to enthrall like few others can. He’s going to be nominated for another Academy Award this year, and may very well win again too.

2. A Few Good Men – An adaptation of the play, it feels very stage like (also directed by Reiner, FYI), but in all the right ways. Obviously, we all know the iconic scene between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, but every scene sings here. Both inside of the courtroom and out, Sorkin is firing on all cylinders. As quotable as anything he’s ever written, it’s just outstanding work.

1. The Social Network – Part of the genius of this film is how unlikely it was to be as good as it turned out to be in the first place. The Facebook guy gets a movie? Then we saw it and realized that it was Sorkin’s masterpiece. Having David Fincher direct this all time great screenplay, as well as having Jesse Eisenberg in the lead, well…it was all just perfect. It’s a script, and a movie, for the ages. It won Sorkin his first Oscar, and it was one of the most deserving wins ever in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

Be sure to check out Sorkin’s script for Steve Jobs, which is in theaters starting tomorrow!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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