March 19, 2010

My Five: Favorite Movies Based on Books

Since I'm not one to run out to the theater on opening night to see a movie, and nowadays wait for the DVD to come out, I've gotten into the habit of trying to read the book on which the movie is based. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

And if you paid attention to the Oscar buzz this year, quite a few of the films vying for the big prize were adapted from books--Precious, An Education, Up in the Air to name three. It's good practice for Hollywood to keep up, because the sequels and video-game adaptations aren't exactly providing a lot of substance. Who am I kidding? When did Hollywood care about substance?

So, this time around I thought I'd offer a list of my five favorite movies based on books. If you've got a list of your own, feel free to leave a comment or blog your five and send me a link. For mine, I restricted it to movies that I've seen based on books that I've read. And they are:

#5: Psycho - I, of course, refer to the Alfred Hitchcock classic--not the remake. It's a movie I loved even though I knew the twist long before I ever saw it for myself. I can only imagine how it would have impacted me if I'd seen the film with no preconceptions at all. Some movies are ingrained in our psyche without ever seeing them, and this is one of those films. And the book is equal to the task. Robert Bloch really hit upon something here and Hitchcock made it all the more immortal on the silver screen.

#4: Out of Sight - This is one of those instances where I think I love the movie even more than the book. Elmore Leonard tells very good stories through the sheer gravitas of the characters he creates. And out of all the film adaptations of his novels, I think this is the one that takes what's on the page and expounds upon it to make it even more tangible. George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez don't spring to mind as the actors to tackle the lead roles, but it works very well, due in no small part to the director, Steven Soderbergh.

#3: The Wizard of Oz - To this day, I can still channel surf and stop in my tracks if I come across this gem. Regardless of whatever creative license that was taken, I just love this movie. Of the five films I've listed here, this one probably cuts the most from the source material. It's condensed when compared to the story told in L. Frank Baum's words, yet the characters are fleshed out with much more vibrancy. Maybe it's just the technique of showing Kansas in monochrome and Oz in technicolor. Maybe it's the music. Maybe it's Burt Larr as the Cowardly Lion. Whatever it is, I'll be an old fossil of a man and still love this movie.

#2: No Country for Old Men - A grim, relentless novel inspired a grim, relentless movie. When Cormac McCarthy wrote the scenes with the villain, "Sugar," he intentionally avoided using any description. The violence he inflicted was all the description needed. Then the Coen brothers took that book and created what I dare say is one of the most iconic villains in decades. Javier Bardem and that oddball haircut will be forever burned in my mind as what remorseless evil looks like. Then Josh Brolin did a heck of a job as the doomed cowboy, Moss. Plus, Tommy Lee Jones did his gritty seen-it-all-done-it-all hero routine as well as he's ever done it. If you didn't read the book or see the movie, step away from your computer and do it now.

#1: The Shining - I'm not sure if Stephen King ever came around to appreciate Stanley Kubrick's interpretation of his work, but I'm a fan. I think that's because I saw the movie first. Kubrick's style of camera work turned that hotel into a bright, bottomless abyss. While The Wizard of Oz film may have cut away the most from its source material, Kubrick's version of The Shining probably diverges from the author's intent the most from the five films listed. As amazing as Jack Nicholson is as a movie star, as soon as you see him you are left with zero doubt that he is going to go batshit insane. The mallet is traded in for an ax, and the topiary zoo on the front lawn is omitted. And the endings of the book and film are so dissimilar, the two are practically two separate stories. I love both stories, regardless. Some people will laud one and bemoan the other, but I choose to enjoy each for what they are.

Well, that's my list. I imagine you can come up with a list of your own that doesn't even include one of the movies I've mentioned. I could think of a couple movies off the top of my head that deserve honorable mention, but I'll leave that ball in your court.

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