Before anything unfolds on-screen, every movie begins with a script. That script is its foundation, and to truly captivate us it must showcase a distinct, fresh voice and tell an original story. Join Fandor as we honor excellence in screenwriting with the films in this Spotlight: Whether acknowledged by the Academy or by a prestigious festival, these dramas and comedies all boast nominations or accolades for “Best Screenplay.”

Top 5 Staff Picks

In the Heat of the Night is a crime mystery directed by Norman Jewison, starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. It was also the winner of Best Adapted Screenplay along with Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound at the 1968 Academy Awards. Set in the racially prejudiced southern town of Sparta, Mississippi, it follows African-American Detective Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) as he bcomes entangled in a case after being racially profiled and accused of murder. Tibbs, visiting from Philadelphia where he is an expert in the homicide division, is quickly released, and local police chief Gillespie requests his help with the homicide case. The screenplay is by Stirling Silliphant, adapted from the novel by John Ball.

The Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at the 2009 Berlinale Film Festival was awarded to co-writers Oren Moverman and Alessandro Camon for this powerful story of a U.S. Army officer’s return home from Iraq. War hero Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) now works alongside officer Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), delivering news to families of soldiers who have passed. When Will is faced with telling a wife (played exquisitely by Samantha Morton) that her husband was killed in combat, her loss ignites in him the drive to endure. The Messenger was also nominated for two Academy awards, including Best Original Screenplay. 

Cult Canadian mockumentary Hard Core Logo, directed by Bruce McDonald, took home the 1996 Best Canadian Screenplay at the Vancouver International Film Festival, in addition to a Genie Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Screenwriter Noel S. Baker adapted the novel by Michael Turner about a legendary punk band from yesteryear, Hard Core Logo, reuniting and returning to the stage to play a benefit concert. In the vein of This is Spinal Tap, a faux camera crew follows the bandmates, documenting their tour and the hijinks that ensue.

4. Ida

An Academy Award-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, Ida tells the story of Anna, a nun in 1960s Poland who discovers a family secret just as she is about to take her vows. Orphaned and raised in a convent, her emotional sojourn manifests in a trip to the countryside, where she meets her last living relative. There she finds out what happened to her parents, that she is Jewish, and that her real name is Ida. Powerfully moving, Ida speaks to both heritage and self-discovery. A festival favorite, it also won Best Screenplay at the the Gijon International Film Festival.

Director Jan Ole Gerster’s debut feature follows a law school dropout named Niko as he aimlessly wanders Berlin — until a series of events forces him to re-examine his choices. Winner of Best Screenplay at the 2013 German Film Awards and the 2013 Bavarian Film Awards, A Coffee in Berlin evokes the hilarity of everyday banality with the bittersweet melancholy of a drifter looking for something to hold on to.

Now that you know what a great script means for a movie, watch the full Spotlight: Script to Screen!

Summers are for swimming, sunning — and streaming! Don’t miss our recent curated collections: Block Party, Summer DazeDate Night, and MIXTAPE. And for more on great screenwriting, check out our video on writing duo Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij and our article on collaborators Mike White and Miguel Arteta.