Monday, September 3, 2012

Top 10 films based on books

It has happened so often in my life time, each time more painful than the last - some crackpot director takes a work of art, waters down the plot line until it is almost unrecognisable and then makes an even worse film.

And when faced with criticism, the defence comes back with the same reasoning: it was not meant to be a copy of the book, the film needs to be viewed in its own right. To that I say, CRAP. The only reason a person would consider making a film out of a book is because the book was freaking amazing and successful - in which case why wouldn't you want to follow the book as best you could?

*pauses to calm down*

But this is not always the case and in light of the fact that some of my favourite novels are due to be released in film version in the upcoming months, I thought I would make a list of the success stories so far.

There have been many books that directors have done an amazing job of translating into film. I don't deny that directors have a tough job of pleasing thousands of people who have read the book and each imagined it differently - majority of the beauty of a novel is its ability to be translated and interpreted in so many different ways. Directors face the challenge of representing the novel in its entirety in about two hours. An almost insurmountable task but here are my top ten films. These films exist beautifully both in relation to their respective novels and independently. It was much harder to pick these ten that I thought it would be and there are so many others... and so, here they are in no particular order...

1. Girl, Interrupted (1999) by Susanna Kaysen & directed by James Mangold.
The film adaptation was based on Kaysen's memoir written after her 18-month stay in a mental institution. It starred Winona Ryder as Kaysen and Angelina Jolie, Brittany Murphy and Whoopi Goldberg in supporting roles. Ryder and Jolie meet in the institution and form a tense, strange friendship. The author ultimately accused Mangold of fictionalising aspects of his film and this coupled with the fact that the film was "polished for an audience more familiar with gloss than grit", meant that the film was met with mixed reviews. However, what really cemented the film for me as one of the best film adaptations was Jolie's peformance. She received an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a SAG award. If for nothing else, you should watch the film for her performance.

2. Pride & Prejudice (2005) by Jane Austen & directed by Joe Wright.

I will declare upfront that this is my favourite film of all time. It stars Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden in leading roles. Wright's mind works in a wondrous way and he has the tremendous ability to portray things as grand and elegant without being flamboyant and obnoxious. (cough, cough, Baz Luhrmann, cough cough!) The cast, the costume design, the filming, absolutely every little detail is beautifully thought out and executed. Wright did take some creative liberties - changing the period and some of the Bennett family dynamics - but ultimately managed to create one of the best adaptations I've ever watched. I especially appreciated that he set the film in two worlds: first, the muddy, middle class world of Jane Bennett and secondly, Mr. Darcy's perfect, posed world. This juxtaposition makes it easier for a younger audience to understand why their relationship would have been so outlandish.

If I had my way with Hollywood, Wright would be directing Gatsby as this very moment.

3. The Reader (2008) by Bernhard Schlink & directed by Stephen Daldry

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Kate Winslet (...I might have initially typed 'Rose'...) and the young actor, David Kross. This film earned Winslet her well deserved first Oscar. That should tell you what an amazing film this was. The film covers a 30 year span and Winslet portrays her role from seductress to war criminal with no less conviction than she has in every other role. The film contains sexually explicit scenes that are sometimes hard to watch (Winslet has an affair with a 15 year old boy played by Kross) and others in which the character recounts her role in the Holocaust which are even harder to watch.

Overall, this is a film that I believe surpassed any impact the novel had.

4. The Notebook (2004) by Nicholas Sparks & directed by Nick Cassavetes

Ryan Gosling. Rachel McAdams. Love story. Rip your heart out and stomp on it emotion. IT'S NOT A CHICK FLICK. I really can't say anything else. Sparks is an amazing writer and the director and crew did an amazing job of turning his book into one of the most loved films of the century.

Also, that kiss in the rain. Even if it was a horrible film, that would have made it brilliant all on its own. Gentlemen, watch The Notebook and take notes!

5. Primal Fear (1996) by William Diehl & directed by Gregory Hoblit

The film adaptation stars Richard Gere and Edward Norton (in his first feature film). Norton's role gave him an Academy Award nomination and many other accolades. The plot line of the book is carefully constructed and thrilling and exciting in all the right places but what brings the film home are the performances of Gere and Norton. Gere plays an attorney representing Norton's character who has been accused of murder. Do yourself a favour and watch this film. It is one of the only times that I will break my 'book first, then film' rule. It is mind blowing to say the least.

5. We need to talk about Kevin (2011) by Lionel Shriver & directed by Lynne Ramsay

The novel is narrated by Kevin's mother, Eva, who is played by Tilda Swinton. I have never been a fan of Swinton's but in many ways she was perfect for this role. The book is written as a series of letters to Kevin's nonchalant father and is the mother's way of dealing with her son and his crimes. Kevin is in prison for committing a massacre at his high school.

I won't say any more about the actual plot line but the film deals with emotions and issues that are very pertinent. Mass shootings seem to occur almost every other day and almost never do we consider the family behind the shooter. Swinton received numerous nominations for her role. The film is ground breaking in dealing with such a raw, delicate topic. A must see.

6. The Boy in Striped Pyjamas (2008) by John Boyne & directed by Mark Herman

The film follows two little boys - one the son of a Nazi SS officer and the other a Jewish boy in a concentration - and the unlikely friendship between them. It is a Holocaust horror story told by 8 year olds. This is one of the most painful films I have ever watched. Heart stopping pain. I don't remember crying watching it because I couldn't bring myself to believe it. The two little boys (Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon) do a magnificent job of telling the story. They are to be commended for telling a story from a different century about things that they should never have to come face to face with at so young an age.

7. Coraline (2009) by Neil Gaiman & directed by Henry Selick

This is a 3D stop-motion fantasy horror film. I'll say straight away that it isn't for everyone and certainly, I think, too dark for kids. It is creepy, wonderfully strange and absolutely in character for Neil Gaiman. The film is exquisitely crafted and with Dakota Fanning as the voice of Coraline, makes for a slightly unnerving, powerful story.

The film was met with positive reviews and picked up nominations and awards across the board, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Animation Feature. This is one of the best animation films I have ever watched - more about the storyline than the fluff and stuff and sparkle of other animations.

8. American Psycho (2000) by Bret Easton & directed by Mary Harron

I never worked up the courage to actually finish this novel so I don't know if I can put it on the list. But I did watch the whole film and it was engaging and horrifying at the same time. Viewers are torn between gouging out their eyes from sheer horror and watching intently to try and understand the demented character, Patrick Bateman. Played by Christian Bale, Bateman is a Wall Street up and coming business man with a dark, twisted side. Bale manages to capture the emptiness and eerie qualities of Bateman perfectly. If you have a strong stomach and can handle horror films, then give this one a go. But you might have a couple sleepless days... or months...

9. Shutter Island (2010) by Dennis Lehane & directed by Martin Scorsese

The director's reputation should be enough incentive to watch this film. But when working with Lehane's plot, the film becomes something you never imagined. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as US marshal Edward 'Teddy' Daniels who is investigating a psychiatric facility on an island. (It's always the crazy ones isn't it?) I can't tell you too much without giving away the plot line but this film is one of those roles that really proved that DiCaprio had moved out of his pretty boy lover stereotype.  It might give you a little fright now and again but is manageable and definitely worth watching all the way through.

10. The Bourne Trilogy (2002/4/7) by Robert Ludlum & directed by Doug Liman (first film) and Paul Greengrass (second and third films)

I thought I would include at least one pop culture blockbuster type film since I have left off the obvious ones. (Harry Potter and LOTR fans are probably lighting their torches and finding their pitchforks as we speak..) The films follow Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), a former CIA assassin who is suffering from extreme memory loss and attempting to discover who he is - except that the more he learns, the more he doesn't want to know. The film was commended for its realism especially in the face of all the computer generated action films in its genre. Damon does a good job of playing the analytical, fierce, albeit ethically confused assassin. To be honest, I watched the films first and only for Matt Damon. There is a fourth film called The Bourne Legacy but this has no connection to Ludlum and doesn't star Damon.

There are so many others that made fantastic films but this post has already reached monumental proportions so I shall stop now.

I have high hopes for The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina, Les Miserables, The Perks of being a Wallflower, The Guernesy Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (all due to be released soon) and some which have been released but I have not got around to watching...The Rum Diary, One Day, Jane Eyre (yes, they made a new one) and many others. When I do watch them, the list might change.

Do you have any favourite films based on books? What film adaptations do you think have been most disappointing? 



  1. The Notebook is one of the few movies I watched before reading the book, and I enjoyed both tremendously. I'm not sure what I would have thought if it had been the other way around.

    1. @Brittany: Yes, it was the same for me. I don't usually read soppy love stories so I didn't even give The Notebook a chance. But the film was amazing so I had to. I think it was like that for a lot of people.


  2. The latest "Jane Eyre" is definitely worth a look...not perfect, but a great adaptation of the novel. I would also have included the latest feature film of Thackeray's "Vanity Fair", with Reece Witherspoon as Becky Sharpe, on the list. Also, "GREAT EXPECTATIONS" is coming out with HELENA BONHAM CARTER as MISS HAVISHAM!!!!!! Literally can't wait... (Can you tell I'm into Romantic literature?)

    1. @Cameron: I am quite keen for Jane Eyre, though I have to admit not the easiest book in the world to read. I actually forgot about Vanity Fair, you're right that is a goodie. And don't worry, romantic lit is a weakness for both of us. I am so excited for 'Great Expectations'! :D


  3. Have you seen the 4 hour BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, starring the oh so sexy Colin Firth!!!!???
    It's truly one to add to the collection of classics! :D ;)

    1. @Vandana :) I have seen it and it is definitely a classic. But it's actually a TV mini-series and not a film, which is part of the reason I didn't consider it for the list. But I definitely prefer the Joe Wright version, I feel like it's so much grander and beautiful.. And the score and cinematography are much better. (admittedly this is because it was made a decade later):P


  4. Great choices! I love pride and prejudice!! However, Coraline scared the bejeezus out of me, lol. Anywho, I found you through 20somethings bloggers, I'm a book blogger and your newest follower!
    Have a great day,
    Here's my link, if you wanna check mine out!

    1. Hi Amanda! :)

      Great to have you. Hope you enjoy my other posts. I will definitely take a look at your blog. :)

      Have a good week,