mfa thesis reading promotional poster


She’s just holding a clarinet. A harmless, woodwind instrument. This girl doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Right? Designed by Cody Knapp and Molly Laich. April, 2011. These are the moments, everyone.



Best Adapted Screenplay

Back, baby. Back to not wanting to read all of these student stories and so blogging instead. I couldn’t help but feel a bruising of my ego when everyone’s comments on the last post amounted to, “you should see this film,” as though I were a cinematic idiot. There are 100 films on both of these lists. I’ve seen 79% of the best original screenplays from the last 20 years, and 72% of best adapted. Yeah. I guess that is only a C. But with grade inflation/a curve I give myself an A-. Anyway, feel free to comment and tell me which of the films in asterisks I must see.

One last thing. I’ve streamlined the listing process. I neglected to include author’s names this time, because this shit takes forever to type out. Forgive. Secondly, the winner is always listed first, my choices are in bold, and as before, films I have not seen are thus.*

Dances with Wolves
The Grifters*
Reversal of Fortune

The Silence of the Lambs
Europa Europa*
Fried Green Tomatoes
The Prince of Tides*

Howards End*
Enchanted April*
The Player
A River Runs Through It
Scent of a Woman*

Sorry, Montana! I thought A River Runs Through It was way boring.

Schindler’s List
The Age of Innocence
In the Name of the Father*
The Remains of the Day*

Forrest Gump
The Madness of King George
Nobody’s Fool*
Quiz Show
The Shawshank Redemption

See also the Murder by Death song, “Holy Lord, Shawshank Redemption is such a good movie!”

Sense and Sensibility*
Apollo 13
Leaving Las Vegas
Il Postino*

RIP Nicholas Cage.

Sling Blade
The Crucible
The English Patient

Um… don’t get me wrong, I love this version of Hamlet, but you shouldn’t get a fucking Oscar nomination for adapting a Shakespeare play for the screen. “Look at all the artful cuts I made.” Wow. Not.

L.A. Confidential
Donnie Brasco
The Sweet Hereafter
Wag the Dog
The Wings of the Dove*

This was tough. All these movies were wonderful, except the one I haven’t seen, which I’m sure sucks.

Gods and Monsters
Out of Sight
Primary Colors*
A Simple Plan
The Thin Red Line

Elmore Leonard = Detroit hero.

The Cider House Rules*
The Green Mile
The Insider
The Talented Mr. Ripley

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Wonder Boys

There’s no such thing as a writing program student who doesn’t love the film Wonderboys. It would be like being an 80′s guy who doesn’t love Wall Street.

A Beautiful Mind
Ghost World
In the Bedroom
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Enid in Ghost World is one of my favorite literary/film characters of all time. Although I will say that the book version of A Beautiful Mind is wonderful and graceful and nothing at all like the film. Nash is much more fascinating and complicated IRL. Also give me a break, schizophrenia doesn’t work that way.

The Pianist*
About a Boy
The Hours

I always go with Kaufman as a general policy.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
American Splendor
City of God
Mystic River

Before Sunset
Finding Neverland*
Million Dollar Baby
The Motorcycle Diaries*

Brokeback Mountain
The Constant Gardener*
A History of Violence

I couldn’t choose just one; both these films are devastating. Capote is even better than you remember it being. Rent it today!

The Departed
Children of Men
Little Children
Notes on a Scandal*

The first time I went off on a buddhist retreat, I had a two hour session where I watched the entirety of “The Departed” in my mind, with crystal focus, and it was surreal. Also it’s just a really good movie.

No Country for Old Men
Away from Her*
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly*
There Will Be Blood

Again, I can’t choose. Both of these films are stuck in my brain. Atonement is so lame and shut up, I know the Divine Bell movie is supposed to be good but I’m afraid of it; it looks depressing.

Slumdog Millionare
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader

Most of these movies suck. 2008 was the worst year on record, both for the cinema and life. Seriously, check your records and think about it. The year of the mortgage crisis, the year the banks failed, the year GM went under, the year The Detroit Lions failed to win a single game, the year I graduated college, the year of personal domestic horrors I can’t go into right now, the year Benjamin Button was made…

District 9
An Education*
In the Loop*
Up in the Air

The Social Network
127 Hours*
Toy Story 3*
True Grit
Winter’s Bone



Best Original Screenplay.

I’m afraid of failure and so pathologically engage in distractions from doing schoolwork. Here’s a list of all the best original screenplay academy award nominations from when I was in first grade to the present.

You’ll need a legend:
Bold indicates winner.
Italics denotes my preference.
Asterisks* means I have not seen this film.

Ghost – Bruce Joel Rubin
Alice – Woody Allen
Avalon – Barry Levinson*
Green Card – Peter Weir
Metropolitan – Whit Stilman*

Ghost isn’t actually that good but I can’t deny the fact that I loved it as a kid.

Thelma & Louise – Callie Khouri
Boyz n the Hood – John Singleton
The Fisher King – Richard LaGravenese
Grand Canyon – Lawrence Kasdan, Meg Kasdan

I feel racist not choosing BntH. On the other hand, girl power.

The Crying Game – Neil Jordan
Husbands and Wives – Woody Allen
Lorenzo’s Oil – Nick Enright, George Miller
Passion Fish – John Sayles*
Unforgiven – David Webb Peoples

This is my favorite of all of Woody Allen’s films.

The Piano – Jane Campion
Dave – Gary Ross
In the Line of Fire – Jeff Maguire*
Philadelphia – Ron Nyswaner
Sleepless in Seattle – Jeff Arch, Nora Ephron, David S Ward

Harvey Keitel’s dick. Not in the script but nevertheless.

Pulp Fiction – Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary
Bullets Over Broadway – Woody Allen, Douglas McGrath
Four Weddings and a Funeral – Richard Curtis*
Heavenly Creatures – Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh
Three Colours: Red – Krysztof Kieslowski, Kryzstof Pieslewicz

All of the movies that I have seen in this category are great. Also this is the year I became cool.

The Usual Suspects – Christopher McQuarrie
Braveheart – Randall Wallace
Mighty Aphrodite – Woody Allen
Nixon – Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, Oliver Stone
Toy Story – Joss Whedon, et al

Fargo – Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Jerry Maguire – Cameron Crowe
Lone Star – John Sayles*
Secrets & Lies – Mike Leight*
Shine – Jan Sardi, Scott Hicks*

I really like Jerry Maguire too. Otherwise, looks like I was all “fuck movies” this year.

Good Will Hunting – Ben Affleck, Matt Damon
As Good as it Gets – Mark Andrus, James L. Brooks
Boogie Nights – Paul Thomas Anderson
Deconstructing Harry – Woody Allen
The Full Monty – Simon Beaufoy

I just rewatched this and it holds up. Boogie Nights and Deconstructing Harry are also good.

Shakespeare in Love – Marc Norman, Tom Stoppard
Bulworth – Warren Beatty, Jeremy Pikser*
Life is Beautiful – Roberto Benigni, Vinzeno Cerami
Saving Private Ryan Robert Rodat
The Truman Show – Andrew Niccol

American Beauty – Alan Ball
Being John Malkovich – Charlie Kaufman
Magnolia Paul Thomas Anderson
The Sixth Sense – M. Night Shyamalan
Topsy-Turvy – Mike Leigh

Senior year of High school. What a happy time. Not. Thank God for Charlie Kaufman.

Almost Famous – Cameron Crowe
Billy Elliot – Susannah Grant*
Erin Brockovich – Susannah Grant
Gladiator – David Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson
You Can Count on Me – Kenneth Lonergan*

Gosford Park – Julian Fellowes
Amelie – Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant
Memento – Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Monster’s Ball – Milo Addica, Wil Rokos
The Royal Tenenbaums – Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson

Talk to Her – Pedro Almodovar*
Far From Heaven – Todd Haynes
Gangs of New York – Jay Cocks, Kenneth Lonergan, Steven Zailian
My Big Fat Greek Wedding – Nia Vardalos
Y tu mama también – Alfonso Cuaron, Carlos Cuaron

Lost in Translation – Sofia Coppola
The Barbarian Invasions – Denys Arcand*
Dirty Pretty Things – Steven Knight*
Finding Nemo – Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, David Reynolds
In America – Jim Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Pierre Bismuth, Michel Gondry, Charlie Kaufman
The Aviator – John Logan
Hotel Rwanda – Terry George, Keir Pearson*
The Incredibles – Brad Bird
Vera Drake – Mike Leigh

Crash – Paul Haggis, Bobby Moresco
Good Night, and Good Luck – George Clooney, Grant Hesloy*
Match Point – Woody Allen
The Squid and the Whale – Noah Baumbach
Syriana – Noah Baumbach, Stephen Gaghan*

Little Miss Sunshine – Michael Arndt
Babel – Guillermo Arriago
Letters from Iwo Jima – Paul Haggis, Iris Yamashite*
Pan’s Labyrinth – Guillermo del Toro
The Queen – Peter Morgan

Juno – Diablo Cody
Lars and the Real Girl – Nancy Oliver
Michael Clayton – Tony Gilroy
Ratatouille – Brad Bird
The Savages – Tamara Jenkins

A three-way tie between the top contenders. 2007. Senior in college. Best year for films ever.

Milk – Dustin Lance Black
Frozen River – Courtney Hunt
Happy-Go-Lucky – Mike Leigh
In Bruges – Martin McDonagh
WALL-E – Andrew Stanton, Jim Readon, Pete Docter

Here’s an idea. Remove “Happy-Go-Lucky” and give Synechdoche, New York an Oscar for breaking my heart.

The Hurt Locker – Mark Boal
Inglorious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino*
The Messenger – Alessandro Camon, Oren Moyeman
A Serious Man – Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Up – Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Tom McCarthy

Another tie! Not to be controversial, but I seriously hated Up. I hated a beautiful film about a house that floats through the world holding an old man who comes to know real values. I know, I’m a monster.

The King’s Speech – David Seidler
Another Year – Mike Leigh*
The Fighter, Scott Silver, et al
Inception – Christopher Nolan
The Kids are All Right – Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg*

I can’t choose a winner, I need to see the one about kids first. I heard it was good.

So there you have it. If later, I’m still trying to avoid the crushing weight of my thesis, maybe I’ll come back and do best adapted screenplay. What a blast.


remember when we were young?

Up at 4am again. waking up at 4am is the stupidest time to wake up. Why does this keep happening? Let’s not dwell I guess. I have a stack of papers in a box that follows me everywhere and I found a few yellowed pages I’ve been meaning to share. This is stuff I wrote when I was 18, 19, 20? 8-10 years ago. I was heavily influenced by Franz Kafka and this guy Stanley Donwood, who did Radiohead’s cover art. Good to see I was a weirdo even then. Here’s a couple little pieces and there are tons more. I was cute, eh? I haven’t changed much, really.

I Might Be Wrong

A man is chasing me down the street, armed with a deep rumbling voice and a small slip of paper. He screams that he's sure he's seen me somewhere before and would I please take a look at the bit of information contained on the slip. I scream back that he's a madman and press on. The man yells back that the information contained on this piece of paper is of the utmost importance and he's sure that I can confirm its meaning. His voice is so deep it makes the sidewalk shake in front of me and I begin to panic I won't be able to outrun the lunatic. I manage to duck into my building and seal the door shut just moments before the man catches up with me. Once safe inside my apartment, I collect my breath and puzzle over the inertia of my life and my uncanny ability to entangle myself in such ridiculous situations. Eventually I disrobe and settle in for an evening bath, fairly certain the incident won't someday return to haunt me.


The Habits of Vultures

I woke up one morning and noticed a vulture waiting at the edge of my bed. I was, naturally, rent with terror. The vulture shifted from foot to foot in a kind of bored anticipation. I dare not move. After several moments of getting to know each other, the vulture began waddling toward me with a hungry disposition and a ferocious will. I considered my options, and finding my limbs were inoperative, employed the "frozen in horror" strategy. (Perhaps his vision is dependent on motion sensory, I reasoned.) The vulture descended upon me with lightning fast reflexes, ripping apart the flesh on my face and hands with his sharp pointy beak. I began cursing myself for my ignorance on the habits of vultures. Next, he went for my eyes. I found I had a lot of regrets.


April 15th.

Dear Diary,

Haven’t written you in weeks. Can’t sleep. Afraid of the sun.

Sure I’m probably busy with the end of the semester and editing my thesis and teaching my class, but not really. I’m afraid to write because the stakes are high and I’m paralyzed. Graduating from college blows. I hated it when I was an undergrad and I hate it as an MFA candidate. I’m going to miss my friends and I don’t know how I’ll make a living or where I’ll live. These are both problems and opportunities. I try to be brave; I think it’s a pivotal but overlooked virtue, and it’s not that I fear change. Often its exhilarating, but things can get worse and remember advice like, “don’t rock the boat” and “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it?” In Montana, boat rocks you!

Not to mention the writing. I want it to be good, but the truth is that takes work; it means rewriting pages that I’ve fallen in love with again and again, and spending a lot of time with the material, and have you met my latest characters? They are not fun to be around. Sometimes I’ll look at what I’ve written and all the things that I’ve put us through (the character and me) and I’m creeped out by the person who wrote this shit, and I can’t believe I’ve made this terrible life choice of being a writer, and then I remember that it’s not a choice, and it never was, and it’s back to the grindstone.

I cross a footbridge over the river on my morning commute to campus. It’s not uncommon to see a person stop walking, drop their bags and stare out over the railing. In the winter the river looks different every time. You might see big chunks of ice floating and the next day they’re gone. The water gets deep in the spring. Even deep water is interesting to look at. Or there’s the sky, or the mountains. Pretty with or without snow, and no one is embarrassed about marveling at beauty, and no one passing them wonders what they’re looking at or why.

April 15th feels important, eh? Deadlines for everything. Dead ends. Embrace. It will all be over soon.