A little back story - the Black List is not a “best of” list by any regard. Instead it is referred to as a “most liked” list. Each year Franklin Leonard asks several members of the entertainment industry elite - top agents, managers, executives, people like that - to vote for their favorite unproduced screenplays and each year he publishes the resulting list. Several of your favorite unique movies of the past few years (Juno, 500 Days of Summer, Lars and The Real Girl) appeared on the list and it has helped launch quite a few careers.
Having said that, there is a caveat. While the criteria calls for the screenplay to be “unproduced” several of these works have either been optioned and/or are in production. In fact, a few have already been made. And there have been whispers that some agencies and managers stack the list for their own clients so this is by no means a fair or accurate list. But alas, that’s Hollywood baby.
Anyway, on to the most promising sounding scripts!
College Republicans - Wes Jones. Taking the top spot this year is the true story of Karl Rove running for the presidency of the College Of Republicans under the guidance of Lee Atwater. Rove is one of the most devious little bastards of the American political system in the past two decades. It’ll be interesting to see this story translated to screen. Shia LaBeouf and Paul Dano are loosely attached to the project.
Jackie - Noah Oppenheim. The second place script follows Jackie Kennedy in the immediate week following JFK’s assassination. While the nation mourned the loss of its leader, she mourned the death of her husband...intriguing to say the least. Sounds heartwrenching. Steven Spielberg is on board to executive produce through Amblin, with Rachel Weisz in talks to star.
All You Need is Kill - Dante Harper. Third place goes to the first skeptical inclusion, an adaptation of a graphic novel. Its high ranking somewhat ensures that it is indeed good, but still the fact that it isn’t original isn’t promising. The story follows a soldier in the future who finds himself caught in a time loop after dying on the battlefield. His tactical skills become more concise after each "death". Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) to direct.
999 - Matt Cook. A group of corrupt cops have to shoot a fellow officer in order to get away. How can you not like the sound of that? John Hillcoat to direct, Chris Pine in talks to star.
Margin Call - JC Chandor. Our first produced screenplay! This one stars Kevin Spacey and a gaggle of gifted performers. You’ll be able to see it next year as it premieres at Sundance.
American Bullshit - Eric Warren Singer. Another true story of an FBI sting in the US Congress. This is a perfect example of the unwritten rule of the Black List: if you want your film on it, give its title a little dirty word.
The Last Son of Isaac Lemay - Greg Johnson. An aging outlaw is convinced his children are evil and sets off to kill him. However, his worst fears come to life when he meets his last remaining son. Sounds a lot like Dexter and I’m completely okay with that.
Die in a Gun Fight - Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari. A contemporary take on the Romeo & Juliet tale. This one just had Zac Efron attached to it and has a good chance of getting made.
Imagine - Dan Fogelman. You’ll be seeing this one soon enough with Steve Carell as the son of an aging rockstar discovers the life of his father he never knew existed.
Chronicle - Max Landis. Three teens discovers they have gained superpowers after contact with a mysterious substance in the woods. Things start off all fun and games until they start to turn on each other. Finally! Something not involving politics!
Your Bridesmaid is a Bitch - Brian Duffeld. A guy agrees to be a groomsman for his sister’s wedding only to discover the woman who broke his heart is also a part of the wedding. Why the guy (or the sister for that matter) didn’t see this coming remains to be seen. But again, put a dirty word in your title = recognition.
What Happened To Monday? - Max Botkin. A group of identical septuplets has to investigate the disappearance of one their siblings when the government forces families to only conceive one child due to population overcrowding. The possibilities of this seem amazing and due to the title it seems likely each sibling is named after a day of the week. Go me.
The Butler - Danny Strong. A black butler in the White House services eight US Presidents. Could be Forrest Gump. Could be TMZ. Either way, I’m there.
One Day - David Nicholls. Here’s the official Black List summary, “Dexter and Emma meet for the first time on college graduation day in 1988 and proceed to reunite one day a year for the next 20 years.” Here’s my official reactiong, “Bluuuuurgh.” This one is in post-production with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess starring. Lone Scherfig (An Education) directs.
Murder of a Cat - Christian Magalhars & Robert Snow. A dark comedy about a guy investigating his cat’s death? Why hasn’t this been made sooner?
Can You Keep A Secret - Megan Martin. A woman spills all of her secrets to the stranger on a rough plane ride. Turns out the stranger is the CEO of her company. This logline actually made me laugh out loud. I really hope it gets made.
Cinema Verite - David Seltzer. “Based on the PBS series ‘An American Family,’ cameras follow a family as they go about their daily life.” I’m sorry, I couldn’t make it through that sentence. I had to copy and paste.
The Girl With Something Extra - Terrence Michael. A girl enters high school and suddenly realizes she’s a boy who has been raised his whole life to believe he is a girl? Talk about an awkward first day of gym class.
Ricky Stanicky - Jeff Bushell. Three childhood friends invent someone to take the blame for all of their shenanigans. Eventually their wives demand to meet this person and they hire and actor to play him. Sounds like a Farrelly Brothers movie and I mean that in the most sincere way possible. James Franco is attached.
Zombie Baby - Andy Jones. You don’t need to know anything other than the title. Trust me.
Boy Scouts Vs. Zombies - Carrie Evans & Emi Mochizuko. Again, no other information necessary.
Prom - Katie Wech. “High school students prepare for their prom.” No, seriously. That is all there is to it.
Fucking Jane Austen - Blake Bruns. Again, use a dirty word, get Black Listed. But this one actually lives up to its title. Two men are pissed at Austen for creating unrealistic expectations about love among women (preach it brothers!) so they get sent back in time. Unfortunately the only way for them to get back is to have Jane Austen fall in love and sleep with one of them.
Paint - Brit McAdams. From the list, “A Bob Ross-esque PBS painting show host must fight for his career when his station brings in a rival painting host.” Stop, you had me a Bob Ross-esque.
Caroline (Hudson) is a hospice nurse who goes from one terminally ill patient to another. The Devereauxs--stroke victim Ben (John Hurt) and his supposedly caring but overprotective wife Violet (Gena Rowlands)--are her next case. It all starts off innocently enough with Caroline seeing Ben's misfortune as a means to pay for her nursing school tuition. But once she arrives at the foreboding house a manse set on a bayou in the boondocks surrounding New Orleans (as if N'awlins isn't inherently spooky enough we have to contend with the city's desolate outskirts?) it's clear that this place comes with history. Seems the former owners' black servants used to practice "hoodoo"--a local folk magic--way back when in the attic and were strung up for it. Now their spirits could still be up there. So when Caroline hears noises emanating from above the (conveniently) curious houseguest investigates. Ben too seems spooked. Despite being deemed bedridden by Mrs. Devereaux he's escaping out of windows. Caroline believes someone--or something--may be tormenting him (you think?) and she searches for the answer which may or may not be lurking in the attic.
How The Skeleton Key does at the box office is pretty important for Hudson. Coming off her stellar Oscar-nominated turn as the groupie with a soul in Almost Famous the young actress hasn't been able to pull off the same magic since. Each of her last three films --Alex & Emma Le Divorce and Raising Helen--have been under-performers. So she needs Skeleton to work and thankfully as the doggedly inquisitive Caroline she holds up her end of the deal. Hudson refreshingly doesn't scream or over-emote like so many horror heroines have done before her--but her cutesy demeanor does rear its pretty head on occasion. Oh well can't win them all. Film veteran Rowlands puts on a fine show as the matriarch with something malevolent brewing behind the fading Southern belle routine. And poor John Hurt who is relegated to being tormented one way or the other as Ben. You can't help but feel badly for his character whose plight takes on a cartoonish form at times made even worse by the fact the esteemed actor has virtually no coherent dialogue throughout the film. And then there's the indie darling Peter Sarsgaard who plays the Devereauxs hands-on lawyer who's maybe a little too hands on. Although his screen time is limited he still adds a nice element to the proceedings.
Director Iain Softley's films up to and including this point are as disparate as can be: the underrated Beatles dramatization Backbeat; Hackers computer-lovers' cult favorite that gave Angelina Jolie her first big role; the critically acclaimed period drama The Wings of the Dove; and finally 2001's other-worldly K-PAX. Now with Skeleton Key it's ghost stories and Softley makes a critical decision not to reveal any sort of monster. The decision to only hint at something wicked without showing it in a summer full of the same tired gory special effects is a gutsy choice that pays off for the most part. It unequivocally leaves room for the audience to use their imagination--and Softley wants our collective imagination to run rampant. But even with this technique the scare factor still seems to be lacking. It's only at the very end do we feel any tangible danger--and that's a long time to wait.
Our friends over at Eon Magazine (www.mothership.com) scored a major scoop this week, publishing the first-ever interview with director Sam Raimi on the subject of the wall-crawling, web-shooting "Spider-Man" movie. Of course, Raimi wouldn't talk about plot details, but he waxed about his love of Marvel Comics' marquee character, a pulp teen icon of the post-atomic age. "What I hope to put into the movie is what I found so attractive about the comic books," Raimi said in the interview. "[Peter Parker, Spidey's true identity] is not pretending to be somebody, like Superman pretends to be Clark Kent. Superman is really cool and unstoppable and he winks at us with the glasses and says, 'I'm just pretending to be a nerd.' But Peter really is. He never loses sight of who he is and that's what's great about him. He's still us in that costume."
The other, equally interesting "Spider-Man" news this week is selection of John Dykstra as the film's visual-effects supervisor. Dykstra's illustrious career includes old-school masterpieces like "Star Wars" and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and new-school, digital-minded stuff like "Batman Forever" and "Stuart Little," so we can (hopefully) expect a pastiche of digital cityscapes and traditional effects. "It certainly won't be in any way pedestrian," Dykstra promised.
George Lucas LUCAS LAMPOONED: Go figure. The famed underground parody short, "George Lucas in Love," just went on sale at Amazon.com, and it's out selling copies of the real Lucas' own "Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace."
The flick, directed by Joe Nussbaum, depicts a nerdy young Lucas (circa 1967) suffering from writer's block during his film school days at USC. As of this afternoon, "George Lucas in Love" was Amazon's third-best video seller; "Phantom Menace," it's number-four best performer.
Famous Monsters of Filmland DR. ACULA LIVES! Horror-movie guru Forrest J. Ackerman has won his battle to defend his good name. Not his real name, but his pen name, "Dr. Acula," which Ackerman claimed that his ex-business partner, Ray Ferry, had surreptitiously stolen from him.
Ackerman, founder and former publisher of the iconic Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, was awarded $724,000 by a jury this week, ending a lawsuit in which horror and sci-fi notables like Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison and John Landis testified. The defendants, of course, say they will appeal.
(SCI-FI GEEK is a roundup of genre movie news, appearing weekly on Hollywood.com.)
It's shaping up as one of the greatest battles in the history of monster movies, right up there with "Frankenstein vs. the Wolf Man," "King Kong vs. Godzilla" and even the yet-unfilmed "Freddy vs. Jason." Coming soon to a courtroom near you (via Court TV, natch): "Forry vs. Ferry," with cameos by Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Hugh Hefner and others.
The "Forry" in question is Forrest J. Ackerman, founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and a guru to sci-fi and horror movie geeks all over the world (including Hollywood directors Joe Dante, Sam Raimi and Frank Darabont). "Ferry" is one Ray Ferry, the magazine's current publisher, and the target of a $1 million lawsuit in which Ackerman seeks to regain control of his creature-feature legacy.
"I hope future generations of fans will remember me as the preserver and promoter of the imagi-movie genre, and the original Famous Monsters of Filmland as the bible according to Saint Forry," the 83-year-old Ackerman tells Hollywood.com.
Famous Monsters of Filmland Ackerman produced Famous Monsters (or "FM" as readers know it) from 1958 to 1982. FM was the first magazine of its kind, a ritual read for lovers of horror galore -- from the good stuff (Karloff, Lugosi, Christopher Lee) to the bad (like "Reptilicus" and "The Hideous Sun Demon"). Every issue overflowed with huge photographs, and there was lots of cool stuff to buy (like monster masks and model kits) via old-school mail order. But what made it unique was Ackerman's inimitable, pun-prone prose. ("Hello boils and ghouls! I'm looking forryward to Mummorial Day! Hope your horrordays are everything you scream of!" Etc.)
Ferry, a filmmaker, photographer and Forry fan, revived the mag in 1993 and retained Ackerman as editor. The two men parted ways around 1995, with Ackerman exiting the magazine and Ferry continuing to publish it.
Now Ackerman says Ferry drove a Dracula-sized stake through his heart. Not only does Ackerman's suit say that he wasn't paid for work he did on the mag, it alleges that Ferry stole the monstermeister's vernacular, downplayed his role in producing the magazine and publicly demeaned his abilities as a writer and editor.
Forrest J. Ackerman (right) with Vincent Price To help defend his rightful place in horrordom, Ackerman plans to summon a few friends to the witness stand when the case goes to trial April 11 in a San Fernando Valley, Calif., court. Among them are authors King and Bradbury (both former clients from Ackerman's days as a literary agent), director John Landis ("Twilight Zone: The Movie"), Playboy mogul Hefner, Sara Karloff (daughter of Boris) and Gene Simmons, the blood-spitting, fire-breathing rocker from KISS.
A point of contention for the Ackerman camp is that, after all these years, FM still looks and reads pretty much the same as it did 30 years ago. The horror mogul says that his pen name ("Dr. Acula") and all the catchphrases he created -- like "Fang Mail," "You Axed For It!" and "Beast Witches" -- belong to him. But Ferry and his lawyer say it's a matter of intellectual property rights; since Ackerman created his "Forryisms" for FM, they remain property of the magazine and, therefore, they have the right to them -- and Ackerman doesn't.
"We think the complaint is preposterous," says Ferry's attorney, Thomas Brackey. "We try a lot of cases, and this one is really from left field."
As in any decent monster vs. monster movie, it's not always easy to tell the "good" creature from the "evil" one.
Brackey says his client never ripped off Ackerman, and there are canceled checks to prove it. Moreover, Ferry has filed a $25 million countersuit, alleging that Ackerman issued death threats, harassed him by posting a stir-up-the-fans message on the Internet and sent him hundreds of faxes at all hours. Ferry also says the windows of his home have been shot out.
"I don't think we're worried so much about Mr. Ackerman coming out and doing something [to Ferry], but he has a lot of supporters who are dedicated to his cause, and some of these guys are going around shooting out windows," Brackey says. "There's a little bit of a mob mentality out there in monster fandom."
Ackerman retorts: "I have never threatened Ferry over the Internet or anywhere, even verbally or mentally."
At the trial, Ferry plans to summon iconic science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison as his star witness. Ellison went to court last year seeking a restraining order against Ackerman, saying he was similarly harassed with faxes.
Ackerman, who coined the term "sci-fi" in the 1950s, is also one of the world's biggest collectors of sci-fi books, movie props and other memorabilia. He has an estimated 300,000 items (such as Lon Chaney's teeth and hat from 1927's "London After Midnight" and a vampire cape worn by Bela Lugosi), all housed at his creepy home, "The Ackermansion," in the Hollywood Hills.
The collection is also at issue in the lawsuit. Ackerman once gave Ferry the right to purchase part of it for a mere $2,500 after his own death, but now Ackerman wants to rescind that agreement so he'll be free to sell or donate his memorabilia.
Ackerman, who gives his version of events on his Web site (http://www.best.com/~4forry/), has solicited contributions from friends to help pay his legal bills, and some high-profile sci-fi aficionados have reportedly answered the call.
As John Landis once said: "It's amazing how many lives [Ackerman has] touched in his weird, bizarre way. He's a touchstone for all those crazy people out there."