The release of one of the year's best films, True Grit, brings to mind films loaded with great dialogue and the directors who make it happen. Here are some of our favorites.
The Coen brothers
Without a doubt, the modern masters of dialogue, Ethan and Joel Coen, excel at taking ordinary, mundane dialogue and moments and spinning them into hilariously absurd discussions. Reading the script for True Grit, one might not give so much as a giggle, but after the Coens have worked their magic you find yourself suffering from fits of laughter that cause you to occasionally miss the next line. So great is their mastery of the spoken word that they can take that side-splitting laughter and swerve deftly into the realm of the dark and macabre before you even know what is happening. Say what you will about the accessibility of most of their stories -- it is their dialogue that makes their films what they are.
The master of making one for Hollywood and one for himself, Steven Soderbergh oscillates between big-budget Hollywood films like Ocean's Eleven and far less mainstream fare like The Girlfriend Experience. The one thing both flavors of Soderbergh share, however, is his flair for the spoken word. The Ocean's series is so rapid-fire that each film requires several viewings just to catch all of the jokes, and films like The Good German and Solaris require subtlety in the way each line is delivered in order to nail the emotion roiling just beneath the surface of each character.
The reigning king of the new character-driven thriller, his films Duplicity and Michael Clayton involve intense bits of dialogue and, in the case of Duplicity, involve using the same piece of dialogue over and over again to different effect each time. Even with only a few films under his belt, Gilroy has shown himself to be a master craftsman of wordplay.
The man who singlehandedly changed the way movies in the '90s sounded, Tarantino pioneered the art of characters talking about useless, unrelated details to not only comedic effect, but to reveal hints about characters that might not have been available otherwise. He often takes what would ordinarily be detestable characters and makes them relatable through stories about hamburgers, comic book characters, or their favorite cartoon show. And he does so in a manner that, like the Coens', keeps you laughing before the story turns violent and disturbing.
It is easy to see why many people at first thought him to be just another Tarantino knock-off, but he has long since moved away from that misnomer and proven time and again that he can turn a phrase like no other. His British humor mixes deftly with his slick style to create memorable characters and wonderful exchanges of dialogue that, like in the case of Sherlock Holmes, can redefine the way we perceive even classic characters.
An underrated master, Linklater has done everything from long, philosophical discussions about heartbreak to long-winded Orson Welles monologues to the immortal Matthew McConaughey "Alright, alright, alright." He's directed films that never leave a single location and he's captured both the angst of youth and the bitterness of old age. Whether it be science fiction or comedy, the thing that always stands out is the dialogue -- and yet, unlike everyone else on this list, he has no single, discernible style that one can imitate. It is just always good, no matter what.