Hollywood has never met an old idea that it didn’t try to make new again, but this past year they’ve managed to do it surprisingly well. A good number of the 2015 Oscar nominated films were based on books, and what is shocking is that the movie adaptations were often as good, if not better, than the original formats. As a librarian it is my duty to provide reading assignments so that you may decide for yourself how the books compare to the nominated movies (some in technical categories):
Alan Turing: The Enigma, by Andrew Hodges - The Imitation Game is based on this nonfiction account of how Alan Turing eseentially invented the computer and helped the Allies win WWII by breaking the Enigma Cipher codes. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance is amazing as he portrays a man tragically destroyed by the country he saved.
American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in American History by Chris Kyle, Scott McKewen, and Jim Felice – It’s impossible not to watch this film and not be impacted by the real death of Chris Kyle during the movie's production. There have been numerous disputes concerning the accuracy of some of Kyle’s stateside activities in his memoir, but Kyle's skills and kills were well-documented. The film itself is a rather apolitical presentation of the war and mirrors Kyle’s unquestioning dedication to his duties as a soldier, as well as the challenges he faced when coming home. Bradley Cooper is quiet but physically huge in his immersive performance, and the conclusion showing real footage of Kyle’s funeral destroyed me.
Sunfire & Big Hero 6 by Scott Lobdell, Gus Vazquez, & Bud Larosa – This was an adult Marvel X-men spinoff that included their Asian characters, Sunfire and the Silver Samurai. Apparently Marvel wanted to cash in on the Asian market and would later combine them with their other minority characters…Canadians. Big Hero 6 would go on to appear in a team-up with Alpha Flight. Disney's film version is very entertaining for a younger audience, but be warned, there is a lotof death for a children's film.
Captain America: Civil War by Ed Brubaker – The movie Winter Soldier was not based on a specific graphic novel, but if you want a preview of where the franchise is going read Captain America: Civil War. This is an outstanding graphic novel that brings modern-day politics into the superhero arena.
Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother's Murder, John du Pont's Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold by Mark Schultz and David Thomas. Mark Schultz has had a few issues with the movie and possibly been a little quick to react on social media, but this is a moving memoir of two brothers’ complex relationship and the sociopathic man who both mentored and destroyed them.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Spoilers! But seriously, you've been hiding in a cave if you haven't yet heard of the "twist" in the film and book. Flynn had the rare opportunity to also write the screenplay, so it’s interesting that the film seems to present a far more sympathetic view of the husband. This is one of the rare cases where seeing the movie before reading the book makes for a better film experience. It also makes me so glad that I’m not married.
Guardians of the Galaxy – There is a reason that when Marvel announced this new franchise everybody said, “Who?” This is a very weird comic series and will appeal to those who like...the unique. The orginial comic was published in 1969, but good luck finding that one. There was a reissue in 2008 that has the action still taking place in space but with fewer interactions with the Defenders and The Avengers.
The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien – The final in the film trilogy was this year's The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (the Eagles were an army). We did not need three movies from what was essentially a children’s book. Despite being intended for a younger audience, be prepared for an impressively high body count. Peter Jackson added characters and subplots that are barely mentioned or not mentioned at all in The Hobbit to stretch out the films (and make up for the lack of females in the book). While I loved the book and the many confusing names that I may have I bleeped over, I remember seeing the original animated 1977 movie and thinking that they really should have just sent the Eagles in first.
How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Crowell - For children ages 7 and up, this is a delightful series of books about young Viking Hiccup and his dragon Toothless. The books are full of humor and lessons on how to be a hero, and while the movies are a serious departure both are equally wonderful.
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon – I have to admit, I’ve never read Pynchon. But this is his extremely unique twist on the detective novel that takes place in the 60s, so I assume a lot of drugs and sex are involved. Joaquin Phoenix is weird enough to capture the tone of the book.
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – As the series went on it never matched the quality of the first Hunger Games, and frankly, I found the books rather depressing. Be prepared to know that things do not get more upbeat in the last half of the book that will become the next movie, Mockingjay Part Two.
Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking – This memoir by Stephen Hawking’s first wife was adapted into the film The Theory of Everything and is a tale of a marriage that was challenged as much by Stephen Hawking’s success as his illnesses. And then the dude leaves her for his nurse.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand – The incredible true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who survived 47 days at sea and was rescued by the Japanese; who tortured him as a Prisoner of War for another year and a half. Director Angelina Jolie said that she cut out real parts of his life from the movie because she didn’t think an audience would be able to believe they actually happened. When was the last time you punched a shark?
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed – Author Cheryl Strayed worked closely with Reece Witherspoon, keeping the sentiment and tone of the novel. The mother-daughter relationship is outstanding in both.
X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson – The movie title was changed to X-Men: Days of Future Past, with the much more marketable Wolverine time-traveling instead of Kitty Pryde. This 1990 graphic novel is truly haunting for its Terminator-looking cover and Holocaust/Internment Camp themes.
They was robbed and just because:
Snowpiercer by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette – I loved this insane movie based on a graphic novel. The movie itself was beautiful, Tilda Swinton was whackadoodle, Chris Evans was both stoic and desperate, and there was an ax battle scene. In the future the entire surviving population lives on a train that circles Earth, with the poorest barely surviving in the back and the absurdly rich relaxing in the front. Can we say, revolution?
In the past, I don’t think that I ever enjoyed a movie after reading the book first. When I read a book I visualize characters in my head, and seeing a film's translation afterwards is just too jarring . Happily, that changed this past year. Looking at this list of great films, there’s very little chance that there will be a shortage of future movie adaptations from books. I can only hope that they continue this trend of respecting the content of the book, even as they improve and refine the presentation.