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All Aaron Sorkin Screenplays Ranked

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The New York-born screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, is one of the most prolific of his time. His penmanship is marked by a shrewd feel and sense for real-time scenes and zany, rapid-flowing dialogue exchanges between characters. Mr. Sorkin’s trademark has come to the fore most famously in ‘The Social Network’, which has become a mantlepiece for modern-day writers. He started off his career with theater, gradually making the jump, first to television with hits like The West Wing, and then to the big screen with A Few Good Men. In many interviews, Mr. Sorkin has revealed his obsession with getting every inflection of his dialogues correct with the actors as he does in his head when he writes.

The detailing in his scripts often demands a near-strict translation to the screen, pushing for common creative ground with the director. It is no coincidence then, that he has collaborated on many projects with filmmakers like Thomas Chlamme and David Fincher. Mr. Sorkin has emphasized his focus on bringing out different rhythms in his scenes when acted out to give them varying moods. This list ranks the best works of his life. So here is a list of Mr. Aaron Sorkin’s best screenplays, ranked. Happy reading!

10. Malice (1993)

Aaron Sorkin 01 Malice

‘Malice’ occasions unsuspecting audiences to a standard, run-of-the-mill effort that is an extremely disappointing derivative product, unable to escape the expectations fastened to it by years of genre experimentations. The archetypical setting is a small, comfortable town terrorized by murders left and right. The story plays out as you expect it to, watching it after years of seeing the same kind of stories. Mr. Sorkin’s loose plotting gives way to a lot of bagginess in the film. He comes across as indecisive in many aspects of detailing his universe, something that is unlike him. Although it released art at the same time as ‘A Few Good Men’, ‘Malice’ does not inspire confidence in the man we know Mr. Sorkin to be today: a master storyteller. His sequences feel drawn out and bereft of the magnetic pull we have come to expect of him today. Any attempts to break out from the idyll lull are strangulated by a strong desire to keep the melodramatic tone intact.

The weakness follows various aspects of the production all over, leaving a bitter taste in your mouth as a viewer. His effort can best be classified as serviceable that will put people in seats but will find it hard for them to stay there. ‘Malice’ can be turned down as a “black swan” event – a one-off – in Mr. Sorkin’s studded filmography. Do not go into this expecting the usual. 

9. Being the Ricardos (2021)

Aaron Sorkin 02 being the ricardos

I did not enjoy the movie as much as the general audience and critics. This again felt like a weak effort by Mr. Sorkin. And uncharacteristically, the writing is to blame again. Though, it must be said, not as much as the casting that kills off any chances for the film to take off. Javier Bardem is nowhere close to matching Kidman’s guile, ethic, and sensational transformation. She delivers, yet again, a top-notch performance adorned with her signature dramatic heft and penetrative hustle to get deep into her characters’ hearts (you bad children. Where did you think it was going?). I kept wondering what drew Mr. Sorkin to the story. Despite the many hours wasted on the thought, I couldn’t come up with a sound reason. Having an insightful vantage point of having access to all of Lucille and Desi’s stories – especially their daughter – does not seem to accentuate Mr. Sokrin’s narrative.

Related to Aaron Sorkin: Being the Ricardos (2021) Review

The richness we come to expect of him in the characters, and the flow of the story felt missing to me. His supposed “taking the gloves off” approach does present some moments of surprise about their lives. The one tangent that struck me the most of all was that of Lucille being powerless to dictate her own choices on television, despite being the most powerful personality on it during the time. “I navigate male egos for a living” is a testament to the difficulties women faced to be recognized as being capable of thinking and not just following orders. ‘Being the Ricardos’ creates a textured dynamic between the cultural contours of manhood that Desi experienced and grew up with, and Lucille’s indomitable spirit and character that set her apart.

 

8. The American President (1995)

Aaron Sorkin 03 The American President

Against all his primal instincts, Mr. Sorkin sets up ‘The American President‘ with an uncanny pace and temperament. The optimist inside him takes over to magnify the lonely life that America’s top man lives in probably the biggest house on the street. Michael Douglas’ pairing with Annette Benning is inspiring and strikes the perfect emotional chord from a viewer’s perspective. Without getting too soft, the screenplay is aware of the character’s obligation to his own conscience. It makes a hard attempt to intricately present a polished viewpoint with too much political vernacular but still maintaining a semblance of it to set up an interesting contrast with the overall theme of the film The newer ‘Longshot’ starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen is another similar movie you can check out if you like this one.

 

7. Molly’s Game (2017)

Aaron Sorkin 04 Molly's Game

Mr. Sorkin’s foray into the role of director is a happening affair. With Jessica Chastain at the center of his web of underground, high-stakes, posh gambling rings, he comes up with an original effort that is deeply satisfying and wears off at a palatable pace. Mr. Sorkin uncovers this hidden world, untouched by any semblance of morality but sternly guided by tightly-wound scruples like of a devout faith. His characteristic style makes the experience a very light one, despite the grainy and complex nature of the subject matter. ‘Molly’s Game’ is never short of juice. Its relentless pace keeps up with the lofty aspirations of its writer and creator, whose triumphant moment comes when Molly Bloom has the most skin in the cat and mouse game.

 

6. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Aaron Sorkin 05 The trial of the chicago 7

We do not often see writers pull off politics without coming across as dull, redundant, or voyeuristic. Very few – a coveted class – have been able to break down the thick wall of challenges of perception and exactness to make it a rousing affair as Mr. Sorkin does in ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7‘. He more or less negates the controversy that comes inherently attached to such projects to leave his stamp on the winning story.  The historical significance of the events that unfold in the film’s cinematic universe is, at the surface, given a social color; a characterization that feels inadequate. A work of such quality and passion can never be limited. When you actually see the characters and their lives beyond press coverage and books, you discover a strange joy and envy in seeing these men be truly free. Mr. Sorkin brings out this immensely powerful language and way of description of his notorious seven that is at once overwhelming. For the uninitiated in the details of the plot, ‘The Trial’ rolls out like an electric faux pas capable of taking down entire governments.

 

Related to Aaron Sorkin: How Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) Proved the Unprecedented Power of Political Filmmaking

Mr. Sorkin’s poetic license in reimagining the incidents never offers a dull moment. His electric cast, led by Sacha Baron Cohen, churns riveting performances. They take the mantle from him to create the perfectly populist emotion that audiences can get behind. ‘The Trial’ is one of his best works for the astounding craftsmanship and energy that stays with you after you have seen it. 

5. Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

Aaron Sorkin 06 Charlie Wilson's War

Not many will doubt Mike Nichols when it comes to laying his expertise on morally ambivalent stories. Those, where you are not told how to feel. It is no surprise, then, that ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ finds him at his best. The dictum, like all war movies, seems to be that war is not good. For anyone. But in this case, Mr. Sorkin’s observant writing makes the film a raging riot of laughs. For such a serious topic, his script finds a lot of space for audiences to enjoy the baffling reality of what actually happened. He adapted the screenplay from a book written by George Crile. The setting of the plot is indoors and that, most importantly, gives Mr. Sorkin the license to play around with this heightened environment. He refrains from making the story too heady. It is not his intention to preach and use his pen to spread peace. He instead wants to use the very compelling quality of the premise to create an experience worth remembering.

 

4. Steve Jobs (2015)

I did not feel the 2013 film ‘Jobs’, where the tech genius was brought to life very capably by Ashton Kutcher, got too much wrong about his journey from a man with a vision to a visionary changing the world. At least, it stood the test of my expectations from a film about Steve Jobs. That is until I saw the 2015 version directed by Danny Boyle. It would probably be a bit crass to call it a “version” but for convenience, let’s call it that. So what was missing, or rather, what was new in ‘Steve Jobs’ that made it so much better? I’d say it was the more menacing attempt to reconcile the public perception and the actual substance of Jobs. The strict three-act consistency that Mr. Sorkin brings to the table is full of bite. It is almost as if we’re watching the exciting behind-the-scenes bit that is captured with a rawness that is instantly infectious.

The writer-director places you right in the line of fire; exploring and probing the common ground that Jobs and his team had to find to make things work after a lifetime of struggle. Mr. Sorkin’s wonderful ability to communicate his studious understanding of Job’s creative process differentiates this from the 2013 version. Michael Fassbender fits in rather well in the movie’s scheme and temperament. His typification is, in equal parts, of a morbid man that is difficult to work with, as of an incredible marketing strategist having unparalleled skills to emulsify a product as an appendage. Kate Winslet is similarly brilliant, in fact, overshadowing Fassbender on many occasions.

 

3. A Few Good Men (1992)

This was one of the first films that I saw studiously to soak in the art of cross-examination. For me, it remained a mantlepiece pick to watch with my friends and imagine ourselves standing in Cruise’s coveted place, being all smart and wort. It does present a very compelling legal problem that is complex at its heart. The beautiful representation of facts benefits from Mr. Sorkin’s organized writing ethos. The sharp focus on story progression without diluting his observant and succinct commentary about female standing in the army and male entitlement to abuse of power is commendable. Mr. Sorkin craftily and utterly denounces any melodrama to avoid spoiling the work of a lifetime. ‘A Few Good Men’ is a rare achievement in a world of show business where selling oneself short has proved to be a fruitful exercise. It manages not only to maintain the semblance of drama that it positively reflects upon but also engage your reason and intellect like few other court dramas have.

 

2. Moneyball (2011)

‘Moneyball’ is my favorite sports drama. It is a movie I often fall back to relive the wonderful journey of an underdog going against the big guns without too much money but data on their side. The film creates a fairytale for manager-oriented simulation gamers like me. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are the two unknowns who take their sports team from the bottom to the top, going through various tough phases and a lot of heart. Mr. Sorkin’s heavily fact-based script is understood to be a darling of those who love baseball. ‘Moneyball’ has all the feelers of a documentary – its detailing, precision, and neutrality – but the emotional rawness of a big-budget, star-studded drama. The wonderful combination of relaxed and edgy that Mr. Sorkin creates encapsulates what sport is all about. Everything about the process is so low-key that it really allows the chaos to remain still beneath the surface for one moment, and in its own time, just like it happens in real life, emerges from underneath to sweep you off your feet in the next.

 

1. The Social Network (2010)

‘The Social Network’ was the very first screenplay I read out of curiosity. Watching the film for the first time all those years back without too much exposure to such relentless cinema was magical. I was glued to the screen for the entire runtime, refusing to do anything in between. Mr. Sorkin’s best work to date translates into one of the best films of this century. It is high-octane and deeply perceptive at the same time, emerging as a triumphant success both as an astute character study of a modern-day tech legend, and a remarkable story in corporate America that still haunts the corridors of Silicon Valley. Its mention might be in hushed tones and dimly lit corners, but Zuckerberg’s story remains on everyone’s lips.

Related to Aaron Sorkin: All David Fincher Movies Ranked

I talked about how Mr. Sorkin’s understanding of rhythm in scenes and dialogues always differentiates his written words and ‘The Social Network’s screenplay has it in abundance. He writes the story like an Italian opera meets a Greek tragedy with the opportunistic tunes of capitalism benefiting from the colliding worlds. Every different part of the film has a life of its own and a structure that is so iron-clad, that even bad acting couldn’t have made it ineffective. Albeit, the amazing performances elevate the script – or rather, the other way around. 

Aaron Sorkin Links: IMDb, Wikipedia

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