The Aaron Sorkin Movies Ranked
Aaron Sorkin seems to be a love-him-or-hate-him figure. The screenwriter, TV creator, and playwright has racked up a number of impressive credits over the years, from penning the scripts of A FEW GOOD MEN (1992, based on his 1989 play) and THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) to creating THE WEST WING (1999–2003) and THE NEWSROOM (2012–14). His rapid “walk and talk” dialogue style has earned Sorkin plaudits and criticism over the years, and perhaps now more than ever, he often comes under fire for his apparent centrist political philosophy. Sorkin is perhaps a classic Cadillac (or limousine) liberal, preaching from on high about a straight-and-narrow democratic process while ignoring the immense privilege of white manhood, or only weakly engaging with the ideas behind systematic oppression. THE NEWSROOM was especially a lightning rod for claims of elitist condescension, and I think THE WEST WING has retroactively been as well. I’ve perceived these “problematic” elements of Sorkin before, but it is pretty incredible how vehemently the hate has been turned on for someone who was once a critical darling. But then, Sorkin is still a favorite among his “elite” peers even as he’s entered his cinematic directorial career, reflected by Oscar nominations and relatively positive reviews from the old guard of liberal rags. The formerly cocaine-fueled playwright and screenwriter has turned movie writer-director, beginning with MOLLY’S GAME four years ago. The impetus for this piece, BEING THE RICARDOS, is his third effort, and as I watched it and prepared for this piece, which is only concerned with ranking the movies Sorkin has directed so far, I realized I may be outside the love-him-or-hate-him paradigm. Aaron Sorkin can make some cringe-inducing decisions in both his writing and visual direction, but I also think in this new phase of his movie career, he hasn’t failed or succeeded as tremendously as some would have you believe. It looks like I’m a centrist when it comes to this centrist.
#3 — BEING THE RICARDOS (2021)
I love I LOVE LUCY (1951–57). I hated the trailers for BEING THE RICARDOS. Even after watching the film, I think the casting of Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz was totally wrongheaded, although both of them handled things pretty well. Kidman is admirable as Ball, but as Ball as Lucy Ricardo, she’s terrible. Bardem, on the other hand, actually delivers an impressively tender moment in the movie, nearly bringing a tear to my eye. But then, anything regarding Lucy is kind of a loaded experience for me. My deceased grandma, who I still miss quite often, loved Ball and her groundbreaking show. So watching this movie during the holidays, next to my mom and my grandpa (whose mind is slowly deteriorating but who was still interested in and excited about recalling memories of Lucy), could not be described as a bad experience for me. I actually don’t think BEING THE RICARDOS is quite so cynical about Ball and Arnaz’s personal, creative, and business relationship as Sorkin’s interview comments (he clearly doesn’t even like the show that is at the center of his movie) would imply. I see and recognize the charges that the movie is pretty politically toothless; the same old tired “see, she’s not a Communist!” defense is really missing the point. But I personally had my biggest issues with the bland period piece visual sheen that has defined biopics for years. I’m not claiming a superior opinion with this qualification, but I’ve seen every episode of I LOVE LUCY, and I don’t think BEING THE RICARDOS spits on it or its star’s legacy.
#2 — THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (2020)
Aaron Sorkin did courtroom drama pretty well with A FEW GOOD MEN, didn’t he? Well, he did it a lot worse behind the director’s chair for THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7. The stacked ensemble cast is at the center of the story about the Vietnam War protestors charged with inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. A number of them slip into parodic archetypes, such as Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne (although John Carroll Lynch is the MVP even in his small part). And the whole political lesson of the movie seems to discourage active revolution in favor of liberal intellectualism. But with movies like this, it’s hard for me to resist the thrust of the historical plot and themes. The story behind THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 is naturally dramatic and emotionally compelling to me, so even if it fell down in a number of ways, the general experience of watching the movie was not unpleasant. The film is not a triumphant revocation of conservatism, because it plays into many of the discursive traps about protest. But more than BEING THE RICARDOS, the typical Sorkin dialogue rhythm is satisfying, even as THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 once again proves that Sorkin is a man who understands the written page, not the camera.
#1 — MOLLY’S GAME (2017)
On both counts of page and camera, MOLLY’S GAME, Sorkin’s directorial debut, is the best work he’s done as a movie’s helmer. The camera moves with a greater purpose here (presumably thanks to cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen), and leverages the thrilling aspects of the movie, based on the story of high-stakes and celebrity poker game operator Molly Bloom. Jessica Chastain shows off great stone faces in MOLLY’S GAME, and Idris Elba’s support is strong. The ever-more-dangerous world of illicit gambling is unraveled with skill, and the aspects of the story involving character actor great Bill Camp are satisfyingly tense. The movie is by no means the best project Sorkin has ever worked on, but it’s far and away his best movie as director. MOLLY’S GAME is not without lag, but it’s overall a more consistent and less politically or thematically frustrating story than BEING THE RICARDOS or THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7, and not so flat visually to boot.