Can We Still Talk About Great Movie Dialogue?

We all know the “great lines”:

Here’s looking at you, kid.

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.

You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.

To be fair, nobody ever accused Hollywood of losing its knack for coming up with memorable sentences. After all, who can’t instantly name the films in which these relatively more recent one-liners appeared?:

Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.

You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Go ahead: Make my day.

I’ll be back.

No, here, we’re talking about dialogue. The back and forth. The wit, the banter. The snappy elegance with which movie characters spoke generally back in the day. It might be fair to say that great movie dialogue has become something of a rarity, though you may not want to follow your first instinct and blame the screenwriters, because it’s “the suits” who are first not exactly prizing the word on par with the image (or the “device,” or the “cliché”…or “Saving the Cat.”).

Or is that all a bunch of hooey? Is it really more like the evolution of acting in the movies, where the dialogue of classics past, if spoken today, would come off to modern viewers sounding like so much florid foolishness? Irv now waxes eloquent on the talking pictures of past and present:

Come to think of it, didn’t Norma Desmond also say:

We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!

Let me guess. We’re gonna hear a lot of “They don’t make ‘em like they used to” here. How about making the case for having enjoyed some smart, sharp writing in a modern-day movie? I could. Easily. Can you?