The Best Movie Dialogue of 2011
I’ve done this before, and it’s rapidly becoming my favorite blog post of the year: I’ve compiled this list sampling the best dialogue I heard in the past year’s movies. I had access to the published shooting script for one of the entries below, but I decided to reproduce the actual words said on the screen rather than what was written for the actors. As in years past, the stage directions are mine, not the writer’s. WARNING: Lots of strong language ahead. Oh, and The Artist is not making this list.
I had an unusual amount of trouble finding something from Bridesmaids; most of the movie’s funny scenes depend at least a little bit on visual gags that don’t come across. However, I did find this early exchange, when Annie meets her fellow bridesmaid Megan. The script is by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, but much of this was undoubtedly improvised by the actors, Wiig and Melissa McCarthy.
ANNIE: Hey, how’s it goin’?
MEGAN: It’s goin’ great, it’s goin’ great. I’m on the mend. I just got some pins in my legs, believe it or not. Pins in my legs, I can still do this. (She dips to the music.) Right? I fell off a cruise ship, but I’m back.
ANNIE (alarmed and concerned): Oh, shit!
MEGAN: Yeah, “oh, shit.” Yeah, “oh, shit!” Took a hard, hard, violent fall. Kind of pinballed down. Hit a lot of railings, broke a lot of shit. I’m not going to say I survived, I’m going to say I thrived. (deadly serious) I met a dolphin down there, and I swear to God, he looked not at me, but into my soul. Into my goddamn soul, Annie. And he said, “I’m savin’ you, Megan.” Not with his mouth, but he said it… I’m assuming he said it telepathically. We had a connection that I don’t even know if I can… Jesus! Blah blah blah, hey Annie, shut my mouth. Look at… unbelievable! You must be Annie’s fella! I’m Megan! It’s a pleasure!
(Megan extends her hand toward a very tall man who has materialized at Annie’s shoulder.)
ANNIE (embarrassed): He’s not… I’m not… he’s not… I’m not with him.
MEGAN: All right.
(The man walks off.)
MEGAN (deadly serious again): I’m glad he’s single, ’cause I’m gonna climb that like a tree.
Just because a science-fiction movie relies on action sequences and tricks with the time-space continuum doesn’t mean it can’t have good dialogue, too. This is from the beginning of Source Code, as Capt. Colter Stevens regains consciousness in a mysterious chamber and has his first communication with Col. Carol Goodwin. Their conversation is laden with military jargon, but the memory-jogging exercise injects a distinctive note. It’s probably why this exchange has lodged itself in my memory. The script is by Ben Ripley.
COLTER: Where am I?
GOODWIN (on speaker): You’re with Beleaguered Castle. Are you functional?
COLTER: I’m dizzy. Did I just A-lock?
GOODWIN: Adjusting your rotation.
(The chamber holding Colter is rotated so that he is now rightside-up.)
GOODWIN: Can you report at this time?
COLTER (noticing that he is strapped into his chair): What is this? What is this? Where… who am I talking to?
GOODWIN: Captain, report what you saw.
COLTER: What? I don’t understand.
GOODWIN: Where were you before you were talking to me?
COLTER (remembering): There was an explosion.
GOODWIN: Coming from where?
(Colter grimaces in pain.)
GOODWIN: Some confusion is perfectly normal at this stage, Captain. Do you have a visual signal?
(A monitor comes on in Colter’s chamber, showing Goodwin’s face.)
COLTER (seeing it): Who are you?
GOODWIN: You already have that information, Captain.
COLTER: I do?
GOODWIN: Recall my name.
(She leans forward, placing her face close to the camera. Colter is silent, unable to remember.)
GOODWIN: We’ll rebuild the pattern. Try to focus.
COLTER: I…I was on a mission. I was flying, and then I woke up on a train. And now I’m here. I need to be briefed. What unit is this?
GOODWIN: You’re with Beleaguered Castle.
GOODWIN: Stand by for thread one of alpha memory pattern.
COLTER: What is Beleaguered Castle?
GOODWIN: The exercises will assist you.
(Colter tries to undo the seat belt.)
GOODWIN: Memory thread one. Listen to the following passage. “Lilly awoke in an evening dress and an opera cloak. In her hand were five playing cards.”
COLTER (struggling with the belt): Is this a joke?
GOODWIN: “They were the queen of spades, four of clubs, nine of clubs, three of hearts, nine of hearts.”
COLTER: Is this a Red Flag exercise?
GOODWIN: End of thread one. Thread two. The following is a recording of a western screech owl.
(The recording plays.)
GOODWIN: End of thread two. End of pattern. Acknowledge.
COLTER (suddenly altered): Acknowledge end of pattern.
GOODWIN: Stand by to initiate pattern recall.
COLTER: Go for pattern recall.
GOODWIN: Arrange the five playing cards in order of descending value, irrespective of suit.
COLTER: A queen, two nines, a four, and a three.
GOODWIN: That is correct. The passage that I read contained mention of a woman’s name. What was that name?
COLTER: Her name was Lilly.
GOODWIN: That is correct. Recall my name.
COLTER: Goodwin. You’re name’s Goodwin.
GOODWIN: That is correct. Welcome back, Captain.
I wanted to be sure to list one of the year’s best written films, The Guard, which came out on DVD last week. In this telephone exchange, Connemara police officer Gerry Boyle takes an anonymous phone call from someone with a tip on a murder case he has just taken. The tipster comes up with his own way of calling a cop a pig, which is just one element that makes this scene is a fine example of writer-director John Michael McDonagh’s peppery Irish wit.
GERRY (answering the phone): Sergeant Gerry Boyle, cop shop.
FRANCIS (on the phone): Hi there, little piggy. I’ve got some information about that murder last night.
GERRY: What murder?
FRANCIS: How many fuckin’ murders have you had in the last twenty-four hours?
GERRY: That’s for us to know and you to find out.
FRANCIS: That doesn’t make any sense!
GERRY: Have you any information, or are you just sittin’ there playin’ with yourself?
FRANCIS: What did you say your name was? Boyle?
GERRY: Sergeant Gerry Boyle, the last of the independents.
FRANCIS: The murder in Lettermore, if I have to be specific. The one with… (pause) …occult overtones.
GERRY (writing down): “Occult overtones,” yeah.
FRANCIS: Do you even know what I mean when I use the term “occult”?
GERRY (considering): Aleister Crowley. Anton LaVey. Simon Magus, that kind of thing?
FRANCIS: Oh, well done. Round of applause, bouquet of red roses for the blue meanie. Anyways, it was Billy Devaney did for him. He’s into all that black magick. That’s “magick” with a K. Yeah, he told me last night when he was locked.
GERRY: Little Billy Devaney? He wouldn’t hurt a fly.
FRANCIS: He didn’t hurt a fly, did he? He put a bullet in the brain of your man.
GERRY: Good point. Could I have your name?
FRANCIS: Yeah, Bozo the fuckin’ clown!
(He hangs up.)
GERRY (writing down): “Bozo… the… fucking… clown.” I didn’t know the circus was in town.
Well, you knew Moneyball would be here. Adapting Michael Lewis’ book, Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin pay tribute not just to the guys who made a baseball team competitive on a budget, but to the innovators who changed a system by thinking more efficiently. In this early scene in a parking garage, A’s general manager Billy Beane gives Cleveland Indians’ assistant to the GM Peter Brand a chance to wax about his theories on how to run a baseball team. He gets this, and soon thereafter hires Peter.
PETER: There is an epidemic failure within the game to understand what is really happening. And this leads people who run major league baseball teams to misjudge their players and mismanage their teams. (a pause as he realizes who he’s talking to) I apologize.
BILLY (not offended): Go on.
PETER (after a beat): Okay. People who run ball clubs, they, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins, and in order to do that, you need to buy runs. You’re trying to replace Johnny Damon. The Boston Red Sox see Johnny Damon and they see a star who’s worth seven and a half million dollars a year. When I see Johnny Damon, what I see is, is… an imperfect understanding of where runs come from. The guy’s got a great glove. He’s a decent leadoff hitter. He can steal bases, but is he worth the seven and a half million dollars a year that the Boston Red Sox are paying him? No! No. Baseball thinking is medieval. They are asking all the wrong questions, and if I say it to anybody, I’m, I’m ostracized. I’m a leper, so that’s why I’m, I’m cagey about this with you, and I respect you, Mr. Beane. If you want full disclosure, I think it’s a good thing you got Damon off your payroll. I think it opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities.
BILLY (going to push the elevator button): Where you from, Pete?
BILLY: Where’d you go to school?
PETER: Yale. I went to Yale.
BILLY: What’d you study?
PETER: Economics. I studied economics.
(The elevator arrives.)
BILLY (getting in): Yale. Economics. Baseball. You’re funny, Pete.
The Descendants is an easy pick for this list, too. In this scene, Matt King has just learned that his comatose wife was cheating on him, and he runs over to the house of his married friends Mark and Kai, figuring that they know about it. The scene is taken from Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel, but Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash find a delicate balance here between the humor of this situation — a very unique and dramatic one, as Mark says — and the pain Matt feels at his friends’ betrayal as well as his wife’s.
MATT: Is this a bad time?
KAI (upstairs): No, no, we were just fighting. Come on in. You want some coffee? You want something to drink?
MATT: No, thanks.
MARK (to Kai): Stupid!
KAI: It’s not stupid. (to Matt) He wants us to throw parties and have people over, which we do, of course, but who ends up doing all the work? Me.
MARK: You don’t have to do anything. That’s the point.
KAI: I do!
(They come downstairs.)
MARK: It doesn’t have to be work. You don’t have to clean and buy a new outfit…
KAI (over him): Oh, I’m supposed to be disgusting?
MARK: …and think of a new goddamn theme cocktail for every party. We could just invite people over to hang out and drink whatever we have. Let’s talk about it later.
KAI (sees the expression on Matt’s face): Oh shit, Matt, is everything okay? Is there any news?
MATT: In fact, there is. I’ll tell you about it in a minute. Who is he? (pause) Does she love him? Who is he?
(Kai and Mark both look guilty.)
MATT: I’m sorry to put you in that position, but then, I’m not the one who put you there, am I? I’d like to know who the guy is that my wife was … seeing.
KAI: Matt, you’re angry.
MATT: You have very keen powers of observation.
KAI (walking away): Wow, okay. You know what? I think we need to talk about this later. I think you need to cool it.
MATT: Is it Troy? Fucking Neanderthal!
MARK (softly): You don’t know him.
KAI: Mark, don’t you even! Shame on you! You’re supposed to be her friend!
MARK (to Kai): Yeah, well, guess what? I’m Matt’s friend, too, okay? And this is a very unique and dramatic situation. And I would want to know.
KAI: Well, don’t betray her when she’s not even here to defend herself. (to Matt) Matt, you might not be able to hear this right now, but it’s not her fault. Your marriage was not … (pause) She was lonely.
MATT: So you’re going to talk to me in clichés about women? Nothing is ever a woman’s fault. (to Mark) Was it still going on when she had the accident?
(Mark sits down and nods.)
MARK: But I stayed out of it. Any time Kai would bring it up, I would walk away.
MATT (looks disgusted with Mark, then turns to Kai): And you what? Probably egged her on. Add a little drama to your life without any actual risk. Well, who are you protecting, Kai? She doesn’t need your protection. It’s over. She’s gonna die.
KAI: Don’t say that!
MATT: It’s true. I was gonna tell you yesterday. She’s never gonna wake up. You hear me? Do you understand what I’m saying? She’s gone! We’re pulling the plug! You were putting lipstick on a corpse!
(Kai bursts into tears and sits down.)
MARK: Come on, Matt. That’s a little intense.
(Matt sits down, too.)
MATT (quietly): Does she love him?
KAI (loudly, through tears): How can you ask about him when she’s gonna die? Who cares? Yes, she loves him! Loved him, whatever! She was crazy about him! She was gonna … she was gonna ask you for a divorce!
(A long pause as Matt absorbs this.)
MATT: You still haven’t told me who he is. I guess it doesn’t matter.
There are too many male writers on this list, so let’s have some Diablo Cody. In this scene from Young Adult, Mavis Gary is drinking at a bar in her hometown with Matt, a guy from her school whom she fails to recognize until this scene. This is for everyone who thinks Cody can only write dialogue for precocious teenagers.
MATT (as Mavis drinks): Take that, liver!
MAVIS (seeing his crutch): Aren’t you that hate-crime guy?
MATT: Excuse me?
MAVIS: You totally were! You’re the hate-crime guy! Oh my God! Why didn’t you just say that? Now I know who you are! Matt the hate-crime guy!
MATT (embarrassed): Yes, Mavis. When I was a senior… when we were seniors, a bunch of jocks who thought I was gay jumped me in the woods…
MAVIS: That’s right!
MATT: …And hit me on the legs and dick with a crowbar.
MAVIS: With a crowbar! I totally remember that!
MATT: It was national news. I mean, until people found out that I wasn’t really gay. Then it wasn’t a hate crime anymore. It was a fat guy getting his ass beat.
MAVIS: Didn’t you get to miss a bunch of school?
MATT: Yes, I got to miss about six months. It was awesome.
MAVIS: Fuck! How’s your dick?
MATT (laughing): Not good.
MAVIS: Does it work?
MATT: Yeah, it works. Just kinda does… (he makes a slanting gesture with his hand)
MAVIS (taking a drink): Hard Jacks. D’you know drinks these?
MAVIS: Buddy Slade.
MATT: Buddy Slade. There’s an interesting fact.
MAVIS (whispering cosnpiratorially): Come here.
(He leans in closer.)
MAVIS: Do you want to know why I’m really in town?
MAVIS: I can’t tell you in here.
(They walk out the rear entrance of the bar.)
MATT: Okay, you got me out here.
MAVIS: All right. Here’s the deal. Buddy Slade and I are meant to be together, and I’m here to get him back.
MATT: Buddy Slade? All right. I’m pretty sure he’s married with a kid on the way.
MAVIS: No, kid’s here. He already had it, you know? I’m cool with it. I’ve got baggage, too.
MATT: You’re not joking?
MAVIS: Oh God, Matt, I get it. People won’t understand. But you know, these things happen. In real life, they actually happen. They just tend to happen in slow motion. They get divorced, they reconfigure, and society is, like, fine with that. If you take your time. Like an emotional glacier. I’m thirty-seven!
MATT: Mavis, I would keep all of this to yourself. I would find a therapist, talk to a professional.
MAVIS (snorting with laughter): Matt, don’t you get it? Love conquers all.
MATT: Oh boy.
MAVIS: Have you not seen The Graduate, Or, I don’t know, like, anything? Oh look, a taxi!
(She goes over to it and gets in.)
MATT: Yes, you called it. Mavis! Hey, Buddy Slade has a life.
MAVIS (laughing): Buddy Slade has a life! No, he has a baby. And babies are boring!
(The taxi drives off.)
When was the last time you heard a really good movie monologue? J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call has one near its end, as Sam, a Wall Street firm middle manager, is ordered by his bosses to sell off all their holdings. As Sam notes, this move will torch the careers of all Sam’s employees, the traders who must do the selling. In this speech to the traders in a conference room, Sam levels with them. Even though he clearly doesn’t believe what he’s saying about the traders’ talents not being wasted, his candor helps win them over to do a dirty job. By the way, MBS stands for mortgage-backed securities.
SAM: Thank you all for coming in a little early this morning. I know yesterday was pretty bad, and I wish I could say that today’s gonna be less so, but that isn’t going to be the case. (waving a piece of paper) Now I’m supposed to read this statement to you all here, but why don’t you just read it on your own time, and I’ll just tell you what the fuck’s going on here? I’ve been here all night meeting with the executive committee, and the decision has been made to unwind a considerable portion of the firm’s holdings and several key asset classes. The crux of it is: In the firm’s thinking, the party’s over as of this morning. There’s gonna be considerable turmoil in the markets for the foreseeable future. And they believe it is better that this turmoil begin with us. As a result, the firm has decided to liquidate its majority position of fixed-income MBS today. (points down at the table) These are your packets. You will see what accounts you are responsible for today. I’m sure it hasn’t taken you long to understand the implications of this sale on your relationships with your counterparties, and as a result, your careers. I have expressed this reality to the executive committee, and they understand. As a result, if you achieve a ninety-three percent sale of your assets, you will receive a one-point-four-million-dollar one-off bonus. If the floor as a whole achieves a ninety-three percent sale, you will get an additional one point three million dollars apiece. For those of you who have never been through this before, this is what the beginning of a fire sale looks like. I cannot begin to tell you how important the first hour and a half is gonna be. I want you to hit every bite you can find. Dealers, brokers, clients, your mother if she’s buying. And no swaps. It’s outgoing only today. (pause) Obviously, this is not going down the way that any of us would have hoped, but the ground is shifting below our feet. And apparently, there’s no other way out. (sits down at the table, removes his glasses, sighs) Guys, this is obviously a very, very unique situation. If we are successful today, we will have been successful in destroying our own jobs. I cannot promise that any of you, all of you, some of you will be repositioned within the firm. But I can tell you that I’m very proud of the work that we have done here today. I have been at this place thirty-four years, and I can tell you from experience that people are gonna say some very nasty things about what we do here today. About what you’ve dedicated a portion of your lives to. (puts his glasses back on, stands up) But have faith that, in the bigger picture, our skills have not been wasted. We have accomplished much, and our talents have been used for the greater good. (points down again) There’s your packets. Get to work.
This is from Andrew Haigh’s Weekend. Having already had sex just after meeting, Russell and Glen have this conversation as they walk through an amusement park a few hours later. Haigh drops us into the middle of this scene, and even though the anecdote is extremely graphic (in a British slang-filled sort of way), it’s still charming.
GLEN: Remember, this was pre-Internet, so it’s like, there wasn’t any “straight boy goes gay for pay” websites or StickAMonsterCockUpYourAss.com. (Russell laughs.) But my mum had this VHS of A Room With a View. You see it?
RUSSELL: Yeah. I think I have. Is that the one with all the pussies in all the houses?
GLEN: Yes, well, they’ve got that, but also they’ve got this scene where all the boys go running naked around the lake.
RUSSELL: Oh, I see.
GLEN: And I’ve frozen the video just on the moment where you can see Rupert Graves’ cock and you know how it is when you pause a video? It’s shuddering. And I’m tanking away and there it was, and I spaffed up a huge spider web of juvenile semen, just as my mate walked in!
RUSSELL (laughing): Oh my God!
GLEN: And he looked at me, and he looked at the TV screen and saw Rupert Graves’ shuddering cock, and he knew.
RUSSELL: What did he say?
GLEN: He called me a faggot, he called me a queer. But the weird thing was, in that moment, I could see myself through his eyes. You know? I could see what I looked like. And you know what?
RUSSELL: You didn’t care.
GLEN: I didn’t care! If he wants to see me as some horny little faggot-y angry child, then that’s fine with me. It doesn’t make any difference.
RUSSELL: You still friends with him?
GLEN: Nah. I wasn’t friends with anyone else after he told the rest of the school.
RUSSELL (seriously): That’s awful, Glen.
GLEN: It is what it is.
Some people thought Evan Glodell’s Bellflower was a terrific dissection of male machismo and vulnerability, while others thought it was self-indulgent and meandering. I tend toward the latter camp myself, but his SoCal-set indie film does have its moments, like this speech at the very end. Woodrow has either a) brutally beaten and raped his unfaithful girlfriend and caused another woman to take her own life, or b) imagined it all. His overly loyal best friend Aiden, having collaborated with Woodrow on building a tricked-out car armed with weapons, gives this insane and amazing pep talk that references a character in The Road Warrior. Even divorced from their meaning, the rhythm of the words and the repetition give it a hypnotic power. I must confess I laughed when he mentioned the jackrabbits. More seriously, this encapsulates the pain and misguided friendship that has led them down a poisonously misogynistic blind alley. What a speech coming from this blind alley, though.
AIDEN: I’ve been thinking. We pretty much moved all the way out here for no reason except for that we thought it would be cool, like in the movies. I mean, we never even go to the beach.
AIDEN: We could just leave. I mean, you’re the only reason I’m here. And it’s like nothing’s even changed.
WOODROW (after taking a drink): Nothing ever changes, dude.
AIDEN: That’s what I’m saying. But I feel like things could change, you know? I’m serious. Like, … (pause) …your car is really badass, dude.
WOODROW: Yeah, it’s not really my car, though.
AIDEN: Yes, it is. I built it for you.
WOODROW: Thank you.
AIDEN: We could just get in the car, put the flamethrower in the trunk, leave town. Do you know how awesome it would be if we, like, went to some small town and went to one of the local bars? Pulled up in that car? People would be like, “Holy shit! Who are these guys?” And we’d be like, “Come outside and take a look at our flamethrower!” Dude, I don’t think you realize how cool your car is. (pause) I’m fucking serious, though, dude. We could take the flamethrower and guns and get a shitload of drugs and liquor and put them all in the trunk and just fucking go.
WOODROW: Oh, fuck, dude. I really feel like I’m having an anxiety attack right now.
AIDEN: Dude, it’s ‘cause you’re thinking about the wrong shit. You just need some better images in your mind. Can you imagine two sweet-ass dudes like us in that car traveling through the desert across America? We would look so fucking cool. We would go places and park the car in places where we know we’d look cool. Hang out smokin’ cigarettes, leaning against the car looking cool, and let people look at us. We could get fuckin’ trashed on drugs in the middle of nowhere and drive a hundred and fifty miles an hour naked down the freeway, hanging out the windows shooting shotguns at freeway signs and fuckin’ historical landmarks and fuckin’ jackrabbits. Dude, we could make some jackrabbit jerky and jackrabbit shoulder pads for our new leather jackets. (a pause as he realizes) Dude, you are Lord Humongous! Dude, you are fucking Lord Humongous! You are Lord fuckin’ Humongous! The master of fire! The lord of the wasteland! Lord Humongous doesn’t get cheated on by some stupid bitch. Lord Humongous doesn’t say, “Was it good for you?” He doesn’t say, “Who called?” or “Where were you last night?” He doesn’t leave the fucking game when he falls in love. Nobody fucking tells Lord Humongous what to do. Lord Humongous fights when he wants to fight and fucks when he wants to fuck and when all else fails, he drives straight into the fucking tanker. The thing is, is that Lord Humongous dominates his women, and they fuckin’ love him for it. (pause) Seriously, we should get outta here. We should get away from all this shit. Make new friends and meet people and stuff, and like… (he trails off)
WOODROW (whispering, almost in tears): I…I fucked up. I fucked up. Fuck!
(Aiden puts an arm around him.)
AIDEN (gently): It’s okay that it hurts. You’re not the only one who fucked up. Okay? You’re getting ready to start your new life as Lord Humongous.