Here we are once again with my favorite recurring feature of my end-of-year coverage: The best movie dialogue of 2018. Ground rules for all you first-time readers: These exchanges are transcribed from the finished film — I don’t work off shooting scripts, so the stage directions are mine. I don’t mention the actors’ names unless they’re either also credited as screenwriters or in a film with significant room for ad-libbing. If Beale Street Could Talk has a beautiful script, but so much of it is taken directly from James Baldwin’s book that I’m leaving it off this list. (For the same reason, I’ve never put a Shakespeare film in this list.) And A Quiet Place isn’t making this, either. Let’s go:
We start with a scene from near the beginning of A Simple Favor. Introducing us to characters and their backstories tends to be grunt work, but Jessica Sharzer (adapting Darcey Bell’s novel) spins pointedly funny stuff out of this early exchange between the two protagonists at Emily’s mansion in Connecticut.
EMILY: Cute socks.
STEPHANIE: Oh, thanks. Uh, they’re from Target. It’s 10 bucks a pack. So great, Target. They have other animals. These squirrel ones are cute, chipmunks, beavers … (she notices a painting of Emily on the wall, in which her vagina takes up most of the frame) That’s so lifelike.
EMILY: Yeah. Do you like it?
STEPHANIE (forcing out the words): How could you not? It’s, um…
EMILY: Right. I used to dye my hair. I get bored easily.
STEPHANIE: Yeah, um, did you paint that?
EMILY: No, no, no. It’s made by an almost-famous painter from the East Village. (She puts on a French pop song.) Oh, my life is littered with almost somebodies. I did some art modeling in school to pay my way through. Then the pervert got obsessed with me.
STEPHANIE: Oh, well, that happens. Yeah.
EMILY: So I stole the painting, y’know? Thinking it’d be worth something someday. But no, no such luck.
STEPHANIE: This house is incredible.
EMILY: Thanks. It’s a fuckin’ money pit.
STEPHANIE: Oh, sorry, it’s, um, what we say at my house when someone swears. It’s a force of habit. We have an oopsie jar in the pantry. It’s like, y’know, put a quarter in for every bad word.
EMILY: You should smash the oopsie jar. That might change your life.
STEPHANIE: Yeah, uh, sorry.
EMILY: Don’t say you’re sorry. You don’t need to do that. You don’t need to apologize. It’s a fucked-up female habit. You don’t need to be sorry for anything, ever.
STEPHANIE: That’s true. That’s great advice. Thank you. I love this music, by the way.
EMILY: Thanks, yeah. Makes me forget I’m stuck in this shithole. I’m gonna go get booze.
(Emily leaves the room. Stephanie listens to the French song for a while, then starts dancing to it. She stops when Emily comes back.)
STEPHANIE: I was really caught up in the ambience.
EMILY (chuckling): Come on, give me a little more. Oh!
(Stephanie obliges her with some more dance moves.)
EMILY: I liked it. I may join you later.
STEPHANIE: Oh, you must really love cooking in this kitchen.
EMILY: No, not really. Sean does. I think it’s probably just an excuse to avoid writing.
STEPHANIE: Your husband’s a writer?
EMILY: No. He wrote a book 10 years ago. It made him the toast of the town. I actually had to stalk him to make him fall in love with me. But then, nothing. He never wrote anything ever again. It’s the old bait-and-switch.
STEPHANIE: What was the book?
EMILY: It’s called Darkness at Dawn.
STEPHANIE: Oh my gosh! I read that in my book club.
STEPHANIE: Well, this was back when I first became a single mom, and I joined this book club, and that was the first book we read. It’s so impressive.
EMILY: So you’re divorced, then?
STEPHANIE (pause): Widowed.
EMILY: Do you mind if I ask how he died?
STEPHANIE: Car accident.
EMILY: How awful.
STEPHANIE: Yeah. My brother Chris was in the passenger seat, so …
EMILY: You’re kidding.
STEPHANIE: One fell swoop, and the two most important men in my life were gone.
EMILY: Normally, sad stories don’t get to me, but that one, that one did. That was brutal.
STEPHANIE: I don’t talk about it a lot. Especially with people I just met. I’m really sorry. (catching herself) Oh, mmm…
EMILY: Baby, if you apologize again, I’m gonna have to slap the sorry out of you.
STEPHANIE: Yeah, that’s “I’m not sorry.” That’s a hard habit to break, though.
EMILY: It is. So, are you dating anyone?
STEPHANIE: No, slim pickings in Warfield.
EMILY: Well, you are an hour and a half outside the city.
STEPHANIE (chuckling): I’m not gonna date someone from the city. I tried eHarmony for a while, and then that mother of three wound up with her head in a trash can. You remember that? And I, uh, said, “No thank you. Delete.”
EMILY: Come on baby, you’re too sexy to give up.
STEPHANIE (laughing): That’s nice. I don’t know. Uh…
EMILY: If your head’s gonna end up in a trash can, your head’s gonna end up in a trash can.
STEPHANIE: I just didn’t think I would end up a single mom, struggling to make ends meet. I mean, my husband had life insurance, thank goodness, but not a lot. I put half of that away for Miles’ college, and so, with that coming in, the money still runs out in 2020.
EMILY: Thank God for his life insurance.
EMILY: My husband doesn’t have anything, if it makes you feel any better, but he does spend like he’s the man of the hour. I fucking have to pay for everything. We can’t even sell this house. We bought it during the bubble, and… (trails off)
STEPHANIE: I love your house. Don’t dream of selling it. If I were you, I’d just, I’d just bask in this kitchen all day long.
EMILY: Then you should move in.
(Stephanie laughs nervously.)
For a change of pace, here’s an inflection point from Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You. Cassius Green is having a rough time of it as a telemarketer, so the older African-American gentleman in the next cubicle decides to give him a pointer that will change his life, and provide us with some racial commentary.
CASSIUS: Hey, Mr., uh, D. Imits, Cassius Green here. Sorry to bother you, I just…
(He is cut off by the customer hanging up. In the next cubicle, Langston is laughing.)
LANGSTON: Hey, youngblood.
CASSIUS: What up?
LANGSTON: Let me give you a tip: Use your white voice.
CASSIUS: My white voice?
CASSIUS: Man, I ain’t got no white voice.
LANGSTON: Now come on, you know what I mean, youngblood. You have a white voice in there. You can use it. It’s like being pulled over by the police.
CASSIUS: Oh no, I just use my regular voice when that happens. I just say, “Back the fuck up off the car and don’t nobody get hurt.”
LANGSTON: No, I mean, I’m just trying to give you some game. You wanna make some money here? Then read the script with a white voice.
CASSIUS: People say I talk with a white voice anyway, so why it ain’t helpin’ me out?
LANGSTON: Well, you don’t talk white enough. I’m not talkin’ ‘bout Will Smith white. That ain’t white, that’s just proper. I’m talkin’ about the real deal.
CASSIUS: Okay, so like … (pinching his nose) “Hello, Mr. Everett, Cassius Green here. Sorry to bother you.”
LANGSTON: Nah, man. Look, you got it wrong. I’m not talkin’ about sounding all nasal. It’s like sounding like you don’t have a care. Got your bills paid. You’re happy about your future. You ‘bout ready to jump in your Ferrari out there after you get off this call. Put some real breath in there. Breezy like, “I don’t really need this money.” You’ve never been fired. Only laid off. It’s not really a white voice. It’s what they wish they sounded like. So it’s like what they think they’re supposed to sound like. Like this, youngblood. (in Steve Buscemi’s voice) “Hey, Mr. Kramer! This is Langston from RegalView. I didn’t catch you at the wrong time, did I?”
I couldn’t very well leave The Favourite off this list. This brief exchange takes place on the shooting grounds of the royal palace, after Abigail has witnessed Sarah having sex with the queen. She breaches the subject while the two of them are shooting pigeons. Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara were tasked with the job of writing dialogue worthy of the Restoration comedies that theaters were putting on during the movie’s time frame.
ABIGAIL: I must tell you something.
SARAH: Go on.
ABIGAIL: Mr. Harley came to me and asked me to betray your confidence about what goes on between you and the queen and Godolphin.
SARAH (reloading her pistol): I see. And what will you do?
ABIGAIL: I’m not going to, obviously.
SARAH: Not obviously. You may tell me of his approach to encourage my trust and still work both sides of the street.
ABIGAIL (angry): I am a person of honor even if my station is not. Even if I were the last one left in this wretched place, I would still remain a lady.
SARAH (chuckling): You’re pretty when outraged. So my secrets are safe with you?
ABIGAIL: All of them.
ABIGAIL (meaningfully): Even your biggest secret.
SARAH (checking the pistol): Abigail.
(She points the gun at Abigail and fires. There is a loud bang. Abigail falls to the ground.)
SARAH (calmly): If you forget to load the pellet, the gun fires, makes a sound, but releases no shot. It is a great jape, do you agree?
ABIGAIL (breathlessly): Yes.
SARAH: Maybe we will think of a use for it one day. Sometimes it is hard to remember whether you have loaded the pellet or not. I do fear confusion and accidents.
ABIGAIL: I’m sure people will be careful.
One big theatrical coup in Ralph Breaks the Internet was the musical number sending up Disney movies. This scene that gathers together all the Disney princesses from film history in one room is an even better one. Hiding from Star Wars stormtroopers, Vanellope von Schweetz stumbles into the dressing room shared by the other princesses and winds up being befuddled by their backstories. The script is by Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon.
VANELLOPE: Whoa, whoa, ladies, I can explain. I’m a princess, too.
ANNA: Wait, what?
VANELLOPE: Yeah, Princess Vanellope von Schweetz of the, uh, Sugar Rush von Schweetzes. I’m sure you’ve heard of us. It’d be embarrassing if you haven’t.
POCAHONTAS: Huh, what kind of a princess are you?
VANELLOPE: What kind?
RAPUNZEL: Do you have magic hair?
ELSA: Magic hands?
CINDERELLA: Do animals talk to you?
SNOW WHITE: Were you poisoned?
TIANA AND AURORA: Cursed?
RAPUNZEL AND BELLE: Kidnapped or enslaved?
VANELLOPE: No! Are you guys okay? Should I call the police?
ARIEL: Am I to assume that you made a deal with an underwater sea witch and she took your voice in exchange for a pair of human legs?
VANELLOPE: No! Good Lord, who would do that?
SNOW WHITE: Have you ever had true love’s kiss?
VANELLOPE: Ew, barf!
JASMINE: Do you have daddy issues?
VANELLOPE: I don’t even have a mom.
BELLE, POCAHONTAS, ELSA, SNOW WHITE, JASMINE, CINDERELLA, ARIEL, AND ANNA: Neither do we!
RAPUNZEL: And now for the million-dollar question: Do people assume all your problems got solved because a big, strong man showed up?
VANELLOPE: Yes, what is up with that?
OTHERS: She is a princess!
SNOW WHITE (singing): Ah ah ah ah ah!
CINDERELLA: Who made your gown? I’ve never seen anything like it.
VANELLOPE: Oh, this old thing?
CINDERELLA: Oh, I’d so love to have one of my own.
OTHER PRINCESSES (variously): As would I! Me too!
ARIEL: I want one, too, you guys!
CINDERELLA: I’ll get my mice on this.
(After a Disney logo scene transition, the princesses are suddenly wearing comfortable t-shirts and stretch pants.)
CINDERELLA (lying back in beanbag chair): Ah, so this is love! All hail Princess Vanellope, the queen of comfort.
(The other princesses cheer their agreement.)
ARIEL: Of all the thingumabobs in this entire world, I never thought I’d get to wear a real — what’s it called again? — oh yeah, shirt. (singing) I once had a dream that I might wear a shirt …
VANELLOPE (cutting off the song): Whoa, whoa, whoa! Wait, wait! What’s going on?
JASMINE: Uh, she’s singing?
VANELLOPE: Yeah, but there was, like, music and a spotlight and … wait, you all saw it too, right?
TIANA: That’s what happens when a princess sings about her dreams.
VANELLOPE: Well, that’s never happened to me, I mean, not even once.
RAPUNZEL: Why don’t you give it a try. What is it you really want? Sing about that!
VANELLOPE: Um, okay, sure. Um, let’s see. (singing) Oh steering wheel, oh steering wheel. / Oh yes, I want a steering wheel. / Doo doo doo boop bwap.
BELLE (freaked out, like the other princesses): Well, there’s a lot to unpack here. So, this steering wheel you sing of, that’s a metaphor?
VANELLOPE: Oh no, no, no. That’s not a metaphor. I literally want a steering wheel. I think the issue is I was a little pitchy.
MULAN: Maybe a little, but sometimes your song can’t start until you go someplace to reflect.
POCAHONTAS: What works for some of us is finding a form of water and staring at it.
VANELLOPE (confused): What?
SNOW WHITE: Oh, yes. I like to stare at a wishing well.
MOANA: I stare at the ocean.
MULAN: Horse trough.
CINDERELLA: Soap bubbles.
VANELLOPE: Wait, you’re saying if I just stare at some water …
ARIEL: Ah! Important water!
VANELLOPE: Right, of course. Important water. I stare at the important water and somehow magically, I start singing about my dream?
OTHER PRINCESSES (variously): Mmm-hmm. Yeah. Sure.
VANELLOPE: Yeah, I don’t think so, ladies, but thanks.
Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold the Dark was a bit of a comedown from his earlier films, but it did have some great moments like the massive shootout in the snow. Just before it comes this exchange, in which the sheriff brings over at least 20 officers to arrest a Native American named Cheeon in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. In town, a grieving father killed two cops so he would be the one to find his fugitive wife, who’s suspected of murdering their child. Cheeon, who had his own daughter carried off by wolves, is suspected of helping the man escape. After this conversation, a bloodbath ensues.
SHERIFF: Told ‘em I’d come and try to talk to you. See if I could get you to come out without any mess. I’m not saying we’re friends, but we’ve been friendly, Cheeon.
CHEEON: If you say so, guy.
SHERIFF: We got two dead cops in town.
CHEEON: Oh, yeah? Around here, a couple of dead cops is cause for a party.
SHERIFF: And the coroner? Frank was set to retire to San Diego next month.
CHEEON: San Diego, huh? Never heard of it.
SHERIFF: They were shot with a .45 Springfield, Cheeon. You got one of those registered.
CHEEON: I got lots not registered, guy.
SHERIFF: Oh, I know that. But like I’m saying, I told them I’d come and try to talk to you.
CHEEON: Damn sure doin’ that.
SHERIFF: Where’s Vernon?
SHERIFF: Can you at least tell me where the boy’s body is?
CHEEON: That boy’s nothing to your kind anymore. He’s no longer of the earth.
SHERIFF: And Medora?
CHEEON: Oh, she’ll be found. Not by you.
SHERIFF: Is that why this is happening? So nobody interferes with his revenge?
CHEEON: Do I look like I enjoy all these fucking questions from you, guy? Hmm?
SHERIFF: Cheeon, I know wolves took your girl and I know you don’t have a body to bury, and I can’t imagine anything worse than that.
CHEEON: You know, huh? Lot of help from a guy who knows. You drive an hour out here for my sorry ass and won’t do shit for some dead kids in the hills.
SHERIFF: We came.
CHEEON: You came the next day and left. And never came back. Worthless as shit, you city boys.
SHERIFF: We came out here, we helped put you guys on the grid a few years back. We got you plumbing, we got you electric.
CHEEON: Now you want a trophy for letting these folks take a shit in their own houses?
SHERIFF: Okay, you know what? You’re right. You are right, Cheeon. Things are bad here, I admit that, but let’s not make them worse. You got a wife who needs you.
CHEEON: She’s gone. She’ll never be back after what happened. This place’ll be a ghost town by next year. You watch. Those bastards at the morgue, bastards like you and me, when we’re killed, the past is killed. When kids are killed, that’s different. When kids are killed, the future dies. There’s no life without a future.
SHERIFF: Cheeon, please.
CHEEON (looking at the other officers ringing his house): Those boys look like they don’t know whether to shit or piss.
SHERIFF: I’m not gonna lie to you. Most of ‘em are green. They’ve never seen anything like this before. They are scared to death, and that is dangerous for you.
CHEEON: Oh, like what? Come out with your hands up? Like that, guy? Listen here, that’s never gonna happen.
SHERIFF: I promise I’ll make everything fair.
CHEEON (chuckling): That’s good.
Some of the tastiest dialogue of the year was in Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds. This exchange happens as Lily and Amanda are watching a 1940s film on TV, and Lily’s abusive fitness-freak stepdad comes in. I like how Amanda instinctively comes to Lily’s aid, and the two girls team up to keep him from another lecture about how worthless she is. You understand why Lily makes friends with a girl who is so very disturbing company.
LILY: Hi, Mark.
AMANDA (overly sunny): Hi, Mark.
MARK (to Lily): Where’s your mother?
LILY: Some work party thing.
MARK: What work party thing?
LILY: I don’t know. Some work party thing.
AMANDA (to Lily): I didn’t know your mom worked.
MARK (to Lily): Come talk to me upstairs, please.
LILY: Okay, after the next commercial break.
LILY: I don’t want to leave Amanda alone.
MARK: Amanda will be fine here alone.
AMANDA: I’m quite afraid of the dark.
MARK (to Amanda): How long are you here, Amanda?
AMANDA: My mom’s going to pick me up around midnight.
MARK: Hmmm, midnight’s late for us. Lily can give you a ride home now.
LILY: Two teens in one car at night?
AMANDA: That’s an accident waiting to happen.
LILY: Yeah, I mean, we are always turning up the radio super loud.
AMANDA: Texting while driving.
MARK: I’ll call your mom. She can come pick you up now.
AMANDA: She’s busy.
MARK: Doing what?
MARK (pause): ‘Night.
(He leaves the room.)
AMANDA: You ever talk to your mom?
LILY: About what?
LILY: What would I even say?
AMANDA: The way he makes you feel. You’d think that’d matter to her.
LILY: You’d think.
(A sound alerts the girls as Mark stops by the door on his way upstairs.)
MARK: Just grabbing my juice.
AMANDA: His juice?
LILY: It’s a cleanse. Three weeks out of the month, he pounds steak, and the last week he juices exclusively.
AMANDA: Is that healthy?
LILY: I think you’re only supposed to do it once a year. Hopefully one of these days, he’ll just juice himself to death.
(A low, regular droning sound comes from upstairs, getting the girls’ attention.)
AMANDA: What’s that?
LILY: The ergometer.
AMANDA: The what?
LILY: The ergometer. It’s like a rowing machine. He’s on that thing at all hours. I think it’s a deliberate effort to make me lose my fucking mind. Come on, let’s go steal some of his wine.
When it comes to writing his projects, Wes Anderson has often collaborated with other writers, notably Roman Coppola and Owen Wilson. However, he went solo on Isle of Dogs and proved that he doesn’t need a partner to produce the clipped dialogue that distinguishes his movies from the pack. In this early scene, the dogs in the alpha pack have been exiled to Trash Island and find themselves missing the comforts of civilization. Chief, the sole member who has spent little time as a house pet, calls them on the carpet for it.
REX: I don’t think I can stomach any more of this garbage.
KING, DUKE, AND BOSS (variously): Same here. That’s just what I was thinking. Words out of my mouth.
REX: I used to sleep on a lamb’s wool beanbag chair next to an electric space heater. That’s my territory. I’m an indoor dog.
KING: I starred in 22 consecutive Doggy Chop commercials. Look at me now! I couldn’t land an audition.
BOSS: I was the lead mascot for an undefeated high-school baseball team. (sneezes) I lost all my spirit. I’m depressing.
DUKE: I only ask for what I’ve always had: a balanced diet, regular grooming, and a general physical once a year.
REX: I think I might give up.
DUKE: What, right now?
REX: Right now. There’s no future on Trash Island.
DUKE (sneezing): You heard the rumor, right, about Buster?
REX, KING, AND BOSS (variously): Not sure. Can you remind me? Who’s Buster?
DUKE: My brother from another litter.
KING: What happened to him?
DUKE: Suicided. Hanged himself by his own leash.
BOSS (under his breath): Oh, boy.
REX: I want my master.
(Disdainful noises come from Chief.)
CHIEF: You make me sick. (He vomits.) I’ve seen cats with more balls than you dogs. (to Duke, who is literally licking his wounds) Stop licking your wounds! (to Boss) You hungry? Kill something and eat it. (to Duke) You sick? Take a long nap. (to King) You cold? Dig a hole, crawl into it, and bury yourself. (to Rex) But no one’s giving up around here, and don’t you forget it, ever. You’re Rex, you’re King, you’re Duke, you’re Boss. I’m Chief. We’re a pack of scary, indestructible alpha dogs. You’re talking like a bunch of housebroken pets.
REX: You don’t understand. How could you? You’re just a…
CHIEF: Go ahead, say it. I’m a stray, yeah.
(The other dogs stand around awkwardly.)
We’ll end this post with something from Blockers. Kay Cannon wrote the script, but actors Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, and Leslie Mann added many of their own one-liners to it. Here, they play parents who have found out about their daughters’ pact to lose their virginities on the same prom night, and their efforts to stop the sex have got them stranded by the side of the road, with their car precariously perched in a ditch. The personal issues behind their anti-sex quest come spilling out in very funny ways as Lisa gets off a disastrous phone call with her daughter.
LISA: So, she hates me.
MITCHELL: She doesn’t hate you. Kayla’s ignoring me. She’s bringing it to a whole new level of spite.
MITCHELL: That’s a whole new level of pain.
LISA: Yeah, I know. It’s just different for me because I gave birth to her, and I just feel very connected. She was living in my body.
MITCHELL: Kayla grew in me. She did. She grew from my balls and I shot her into Marcie. It’s the same for you and me.
LISA: Not exactly. I mean, you have daily love in your life and I’m probably gonna die alone. I won’t be found for a really long time until one day, someone will be walking by with their golden retriever and the dog is just gonna lose its shit and then they’re gonna call the police and then they’re gonna come in and find me draped over the tub with my feral cats eating away at my hair. ‘Cause cats do that.
MITCHELL: The fuck is wrong with you? That is some dark shit! You’re gonna die alone? (Hunter tries to flag down a passing car.) That’s a fucked-up idea. I call you all the time! Do you ever return my calls? No!
LISA: Because we’re not really friends, you and me.
MITCHELL: We’re not friends?
LISA: I don’t mean it that way. You know what you are? You are like the thing that pops up on Facebook and then it’s like this beautiful picture of your grandma who’s dead. And you’re like “Fuck you, Facebook!” for reminding me of my loss.
MITCHELL: That’s why you’re avoiding me? Because I remind you of loss?
LISA: Yes! I don’t want to be reminded of sweet young Julie and her kids and how that beautiful time in our lives is over!
HUNTER: Oh, God! Boo fucking hoo with you two! You guys completely ignore me, always!
MITCHELL: Yeah, no shit, cheater.
HUNTER: Oh, “cheater”? That’s my designation? That’s what I am, I’m the cheater? Fuck that shit! Did you guys once ever call me when that went down and ask me my side of the story? You didn’t! I would have told you the truth. I would have told you that Brenda had stopped talking to me months before that happened. You know she hooked up with her boss at a company retreat in Wisconsin? Do you know she beat me up? She fucking beat me up at a Romano’s fuckin’ Macaroni Grill! She fuckin’ slapped me in front of the fuckin’ maitre d’!
MITCHELL (quietly): Sorry.
HUNTER: And I fuckin’ embarrassed myself. I embarrassed myself in front of my daughter! And I thought I should pull back a little bit, then fuckin’ Frank showed up, then I pulled back more, and I thought, “One day I’m gonna fix it. One day I’m gonna fuckin’ fix it.” And then I thought if I gave her something awesome like a great night, I could get close with her again, but I can’t. (overwhelmed) Because she’s gone. They’re just, the kids, they just leave.
LISA (to Mitchell): Oh, shit! I know how we can find ‘em. Go to Cathy and Ron’s! Austin’s been texting them all night.
HUNTER: Did you hear anything I said just now?
MITCHELL (to Lisa): That’s a great idea!
HUNTER: Fuck it. It’s just good to say it out loud.
LISA: Let’s go flip that car.
MITCHELL: Hell …
(Without any indications, the car explodes in a fireball.)
Thank you Kristian!
You made my day.
First time I’ve ever had a screenwriter give me a shout-out for one of these. Thanks, Jessica.