Over the past three decades, no screenwriter has had a greater impact on filmmaking than Aaron Sorkin — for better or worse. At his best, Sorkin excels beyond all of his peers, crafting heart-wrenching stories of adults fighting for noble causes with intelligence and style. At his worst, Sorkin draws attention to the man behind the curtain, using his characters as mouthpieces for his occasionally narrow-minded, outdated perspectives and bloating a story with his shallow sense of arrogance.
And yet, regardless of his success or failure, a viewer can automatically feel when they’re watching a Sorkin movie. A high-flying trapeze artist of a screenwriter with a style incapable of impersonation, Sorkin manages to separate himself from the rest of Hollywood, acting as a kind of sherpa in a world of perfect and idiosyncratic workers with polished prose and an innate sense of right and wrong. With his new Oscar-hopeful, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” coming to Netflix on Oct. 17, now seems like a good time to reflect on Sorkin’s career. Here are the top five Aaron Sorkin movies:
“The American President” (1995)
Perhaps no figure in the entertainment industry did more to profit off of Clinton-era politics and 1990s American optimism than Sorkin. While Sorkin’s greatest venture into the political realm, “The West Wing,” is a television show, “The American President” provides a solid, charming backdrop for Sorkin’s patented fast-talking do-gooders. Following President Andrew Sheppard (Michael Douglas) as he falls in love with environmental lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Benning), “The American President” plays to Sorkin’s strengths, allowing him to pursue a sense of fairy tale sentimentality and levity.
A clear artifact of its political era, some of the ideas of “The American President” may have aged poorly, but Sorkin knows that. Ultimately, the politics of the movie are beside the point. At its best, “The American President” is a light display of Douglas and Benning’s charm, making it slightly ridiculous but, in the end, remarkably easy to love.
Combining the talents of two of the great screenwriters in recent history, “Moneyball” lists Sorkin as a credited screenwriter along with fellow Oscar-winner Steven Zallian. A beautiful combination of styles, “Moneyball” gives Sorkin the chance to explore his obsession with dialogue-heavy commitment to work and Zallian’s knack for human subtlety. The story follows Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) as he constructs a rag-tag team by relying on analytics.
A brilliant testament to the art of collaboration, “Moneyball” manages to deliver all of the thrills of a classic sports film with an updated, sleeker feel and maximizing what’s arguably the greatest performance of Pitt’s career.
“A Few Good Men” (1992)
Sorkin’s 1992 breakout, “A Few Good Men,” follows military lawyer Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) as he defends two Marines accused of murder. A perfect distillation of 1990s studio movies, “A Few Good Men” makes for the ultimate crowd-pleaser, using star performances from Cruise and Jack Nicholson and creating the best product of the Hollywood legal thriller boom. Concluding with one of the most famous confrontations in movie history, “A Few Good Men” shows Sorkin in his element, crafting monologues about duty and honor and delivering cleverness and intelligence in line after line.
“Steve Jobs” (2015)
The most underrated movie of Sorkin’s catalogue, “Steve Jobs,” is arguably the most impressive project of Sorkin’s career. He ramps up all of his tendencies for mile-a-minute dialogue and momentous energy to the highest possible degree, creating an almost musical portrait of one of the most important global figures of the past 50 years. By contorting chronology and relying on an absolutely incredible performance from Michael Fassbender in the titular role, Sorkin is able to reinvent his approach, creating a more toxic, biting energy than his usual overt sentimentality. Taking place over three product launches over Jobs’ career, “Steve Jobs” gives Sorkin the chance to experiment while lambasting everyone and everything in his path, creating an unrelenting, thrilling take on the traditional biopic.
“The Social Network” (2011)
As many publications have stated over the past year, “The Social Network” may ultimately be the movie that defines the 2010s, largely thanks to the combined genius of Sorkin and acclaimed director David Fincher. As two of the greatest creatives in their fields, Sorkin and Fincher form a near perfect yin and yang, creating a masterful union between sentiment and vitriol, style and substance, commerce and art. In telling the story of Mark Zuckerberg’s (Jesse Eisenberg) rise to power, “The Social Network” feels like a grab bag of influences, holding onto the microcosmic procedural detail of “All The President’s Men” or the debilitating greed of “Citizen Kane,” all while maintaining its own tone and format, seeming to create the dawn of a new era in commercial filmmaking.
In almost every single interview he gives, Sorkin inevitably gives the same quote: “Dialogue is like music to me.” In watching “The Social Network,” it's impossible not to agree, as the movie luxuriates in Sorkin’s lyrical prose and the score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross pulsates through the screen.
For over 25 years, Sorkin has been creating dialogue with music in mind. Now, with “The Trial of the Chicago 7” coming to Netflix on Oct. 17, audiences once again have a chance to see the flawed genius in action, witnessing his mastery for all of its pompous ridiculousness, overt romanticism and inimitable talent.
Contact Chris Carr at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.