From Page to Screen

It’s Oscar day! Tonight the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will celebrate the best films of 2014 with a red carpet entrance, hours-long ceremony, and after-parties that will run into the wee hours of Monday morning.

That means it’s a good time to talk about books!

A number of this year’s nominees are adaptations of novels, biographies, and non-fiction bestsellers—American Sniper, The Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everything among them. Rosamund Pike is nominated for her performance in Gone Girl, the mega-bestselling book by Gillian Flynn that was also a huge hit at the box office last fall. Julianne Moore, heavily favored in the Best Actress category, has already won a number of awards for her portrayal of a woman diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the film based on Lisa Genova’s novel, Still Alice.

Hollywood has been adapting novels for the silver screen for decades. The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, The Godfather, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are classics of both print and film.

Yesterday afternoon, after watching one of my favorite movies based on a novel, Bridget Jones’s Diary, I went online and checked out a list of Oscar-nominated adapted screenplays. A number of the titles on the list I have loved as a viewer and reader: The Age of Innocence, Wonder Boys, and Nobody’s Fool.

A few of the other works on the list I haven’t read but very much enjoyed watching, such as Sideways, The Descendants, and The Constant Gardener. Then there are All the President’s Men, Lincoln, Captain Phillips, 12 Years a Slave, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. So many good films to see, so many good books to read, who has the time for anything else?

Some books are so influential and timeless they have been set to film multiple times: The Great Gatsby, A Christmas Carol (the version starring George C. Scott is my favorite), and Dracula.

Film adaptations of popular books are not always successful movies. Something is lost in the translation from page to celluloid and the film lacks the magic that captured the reader’s imagination. The film based on Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, one of my favorite books of the 1990’s, was a faithful adaptation of the novel, so much so that it seemed to me the filmmakers had a list of plot points that they checked off during filming but didn’t mine them for the emotional depth Smiley masterfully portrayed in her story. At other times, a screenwriter’s artistic license elevates the source material, making the theatrical viewing more rewarding than the reading experience. Forrest Gump and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape come to mind, and debates have been had over the Harry Potter and Twilight books and movies. Not to mention the current Fifty Shades of Grey.

So what are your favorite books that have been adapted to film? Did you enjoy the movie, or was it a disappointment?

And for whom are you rooting tonight? I haven’t seen any of the films. I’m not much of a filmgoer; movies are released on dvd so quickly after their theatrical releases that I wait and borrow what I want to see from the library. I am pulling for Best Supporting Actor favorite J.K. Simmons, whom I have loved since his days on Law and Order, and Michael Keaton. How can you not root for the guy who played Mr. Mom, Beetlejuice, and Batman?

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