by Melissa Sagendorph
So many novels are made into movies, but it’s rare that we get to look at them in comparison with each other, to judge the transition from book to film as an achievement in its own right. So for persnickety readers, movie fans and those who are just happy to see their favorite book turned into a movie, here’s a chance to geek out over this year’s batch of book-to-movie adaptions. And though we’re literary fans first and foremost, we’re wiling to admit that the movie is sometimes even as good as the book. We’ve had our top-secret meetings, evaluated this year’s crop of films and the Academy at Literary Traveler are almost ready to announce the winners of this year’s 2016 Literary Fauxscars for Best Literary Adaption. Without further ado, here are the nominees:
Best “Period Piece” Historical Adaptation
The Danish Girl
The Danish Girl, David Ebershoff
David Ebershoff’s The Danish Girl is a historical fiction piece novelizing the story of Lili Elbe, one of the first individuals to undergo sexual reassignment surgery. Ebershoff stressed when writing and releasing the book that although Lili was a real and inspirational figure, his story is purely imagined. Among other details, Ebershoff inserted a complicated romantic bond between Lili and an American wife named Greta. The movie, starring Eddie Redmayne, relies on the story provided by Ebershoff rather than the accurate historical events.
Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín
This period piece set in the early 1950s follows a young woman’s migration from southeast Ireland to Brooklyn and the ensuing relationship she begins with an Italian man named Tony. Ellis Lacey’s burgeoning romance with Tony and the sudden death of her sister Rose, who is still in Ireland, create unbearable pressure for Ellis to choose between her two homes. As much a love story as a historical portrait, Brooklyn offers a window into the difficult and sometimes impossible decisions facing immigrants during the 1950s. Except for some minor character differences, the movie provides a fairly faithful portrayal of the story told in Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name.
The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, Michael Punke
The Widely anticipated survivalist film The Revenant was only partially adapted from Michael Punke’s novel. A personal passion for fishing, backcountry hiking, and camping inspired Punke to novelize the real-life story of Hugh Glass, an American frontiersman. Punke’s own dedication to wildlife and the outdoors served him favorably in creating vivid, natural imagery, and while some felt the technical execution of the book fell flat, the novel was praised by others for its local color. In the same spirit, the movie adaptation retains the heavy focus on wilderness survival and the dangers of the harsh climate. The movie differs from the book by presenting a more straightforward story of vengeance; in Punke’s novel, Glass’ quest for revenge was somewhat downplayed.
Dalton Trumbo, Bruce Alexander Cook
Dalton Trumbo was a prolific Hollywood screenwriter, responsible for several enduring classics in the film industry. A self-pronounced communist during the Red Scare, however, Trumbo was forced to appear in front of the notorious Mccarthy Committees. Trumbo and his colleagues were jailed and blackballed, but continued to fuel the Hollywood film industry by writing under pseudonyms or ghostwriting for other writers. The film, which is based on a biography of Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Alexander Cook, offers an expansive view on Trumbo’s career and the physical and mental toll of the disastrous blacklist. By narrowing its focus to Trumbo, however, the movie struggled to convey the scope of the Red Scare and the enormity of its reach.
The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins, John Pearson
Legend is an adaptation of John Pearson’s The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins, a nonfiction work that details the criminal history and eventual imprisonment of identical twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray. The two were notoriously violent, somewhat unstable, and were intimately involved in the underground crime movement of 1950s London. Though the film ends prior to the brothers’ incarceration, both were sentenced to lengthy prison sentenced and died in custody.
In the Heart of the Sea
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, Nathaniel Philbrick
In the Heart of the Sea is billed as a “historical adventure drama,” focusing on a real-life tragedy aboard the Essex whaling ship in 1820. In the film, author Herman Melville visits a surviving member of the Essex crew named Thomas Nickerson and offers him money in exchange for his story. Nickerson describes how a whaling operation was uprooted after a violent encounter with an albino bull sperm whale, killing much of the crew. Those who survived were forced to resort to cannibalism in order to survive until rescue was available. The story that Herman Melville hears from Nickerson is eventually reworked into Moby Dick, his most famous novel. In the Heart of the Sea is based on a nonfiction book of the same name, which relates the historical account of the Essex and its disastrous voyage.
Best Contemporary History Adaptation
Chi-Raq, directed by Spike Lee, is a modern retelling of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. In the Greek satirical drama, the wives of Greek soldiers withhold sex from their husbands until they agree to end the Peloponnesian War. In Spike Lee’s adaptation, the violence stems from a different kind of warfare: gang violence in Chicago. Due to the controversial subject matter, the film is surrounded by critique on all fronts. For one thing, some feel that that the film’s format, a musical drama, makes light of the serious nature of Chicago’s violence. At the same time, some felt the films title Chi-Raq, a portmanteau of Chicago and Iraq, unfairly compares Chicago to an Iraqi war zone. The comparison has been considered crass, and Spike Lee was asked to change the name prior to release.
The Big Short
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Michael Lewis
The Big Short provides one the most mainstream motion picture representations of the 2008 financial crisis since the Wall Street sequel. Told through the lens of several key players, the movie shows the shady investment deals, oversight failures, and lack of foresight that allowed corrupt investors to game the system and ultimately facilitate the economic collapse. The novel of the same name forgoes the usual lengthy analysis of the crisis, and instead focuses on the role of a handful of important figures. Michael Lewis tells their story from inside the “doomsday machine,” the interwoven system of flawed policies that made the exploitation of the subprime mortgage lenders possible. Through the characters’ direct involvement in the scheme, Lewis is able to trace the roots of the crisis all the way back to the 1980s.
Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
The most recent in a string of Steve Jobs biopics, the 2015 film Steve Jobs differentiates itself from past movies by adhering to a unique structure. The movie is split into three distinct acts, each one taking place just before the launch of a new and iconic Apple project. The audience is able to use these windows to gauge and infer the changes that Jobs undergoes over a period of 14 years. The script was based in part on Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs, but screenplay writer Aaron Sorkin also conducted extended interviews with members of the late Steve Jobs’ family.
Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob, Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill
Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill were Boston Globe reporters when the largest informant scandal ever to plague the FBI broke. Decades after covering the crimes, the two released in hard copy their book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob. The story, which has been adapted into a film with the abbreviated title Black Mass, establishes the foundation between Whitey Bulgar, a heinously brutal Boston drug kingpin, and Joe Connolly, his childhood friend turned FBI man. The latter offered Bulgar protection from the agency in exchange for information to help bring down the city’s Italian mob presence, but Bulger instead used the connections to establish himself as the leader of the drug scene. Many books have been written on the subject, but Black Mass is authored by two seasoned reporters who covered the story from the start.
“Game Brain,” Jeanne Marie Laskas
The film Concussion was released during a controversial time for the National Football League; medical practitioners are paying more and more attention to the detrimental effects that football has on health, particularly the long-term effects of repeated concussions. The movie is based on an expose called “Game Brain” that was published in GQ magazine. Will Smith stars as a Nigerian forensic pathologist whose work was suppressed by the NFL.
True Story, Michael Finkel
True Story is based on an eerie memoir of the same name, written by the former New York Times reporter Michael Finkel. Reminiscent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, True Story details the developing relationship between Michael Finkel and Christian Longo, an alleged murderer obsessed with Finkel’s work. While Longo is awaiting trial, Finkel tutors him in writing and style, in exchange for Longo’s account of the crimes for which he’s been accused. Though Finkel believes his subject and now friend Longo has been falsely accused, he later discovers Longo has been using his tutelage and storytelling expertise to feign innocence. The film differs from the source material in scope; just as the 2005 biopic Capote captured the author’s relationship to his subject matter rather than the work produced, True Story expands its focus to include Michael Finkel’s involvement with Longo after the publication of his book and their enduring relationship.
Beasts of No Nation
Beasts of No Nation, Uzodinma Iweala
Idris Elba stars in this adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s novel, which deals with child soldiers in West Africa. Though Iweala himself is Nigerian, he never explicitly names the country in which his story is set. Iweala was praised for writing the novel so graphically, providing an immersive look at the experiences and traumas of child soldiers in Africa. The film attempted to translate this effect visually, though critics agree that the movie’s real power emanates from the actors’ performances.
Best Young Adult Adaptation
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay Part 2 closes out Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular Hunger Games series. In this final film, which deals with the second part of the third Hunger Games novel, Katniss and her group of fellow Victors find themselves once again in a version of the games. Along the way, she discovers the lines between “good guys” and “bad guys” aren’t always clear cut, and in fact are sometimes indistinguishable. For the most part, the movie stays true to the book, though the film does downplay some of Katniss’s trauma, including her drug addiction and PTSD-like symptoms.
Insurgent, Veronica Roth
The sequel to Divergent, Insurgent is the second film – and book – in Veronica Roth’s dystopian young adult trilogy. Insurgent picks up less than a week after the events of the previous movie, in post-apocalyptic Chicago. The main character, Tris, is part of a group of soldiers from the Dauntless faction. She and her Dauntless instructor Four are on the run from the political powers currently fighting to take control of the city. Reviews for the film were mixed, and the book series continues to lie in the shadow of the other popular dystopian YA series The Hunger Games.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
The Scorch Trials, James Dashner
The Scorch Trials is the second book in James Dashner’s dystopian young adult series Maze Runner. It continues the story of Thomas and the other Gladers , who have been saved by a team of rescuers only to discover they’ve been infected with a plague called “The Flare.” To secure a cure for themselves, they must cross a barren wasteland known as The Scorch. On the other side of the Scorch supposedly lies a research facility and a cure for The Flare. There are three more books left in the series, The Death Cure, The Kill Order, and The Fever Code.
Best Portrayal of a Literary Love Story
“In Another Country”, David Constantine
45 Years received universally positive reviews from critics and fans. Based on David Constantine’s short story “In Another Country,” 45 Years follows an older couple preparing to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. Their relationship is thrown into turmoil, however, when Geoff learns that the body of an old girlfriend, who had fallen nearly 50 years ago into an ice crevice, was becoming visible as the ice thawed. Flooded with memories and old regrets, Geoff has difficulty reconciling the course his life has taken with the hopes he once had. Meanwhile, his wife Kate attempts to learn more about the bond her husband and his old girlfriend shared. Constantine’s story is made all the more moving by the fact that the author’s inspiration came from a similar real-life event: while vacationing in France, Constantine became aware of the discovery of a mountaineer who had fallen to his death 70 years prior. Because he had fallen into a glacial crevasse, his body wasn’t discovered until the ice melted decades later.
The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith
Another period piece, Carol is set in early 1950s Manhattan. A shopgirl named Therese becomes enamored with Carol, an aristocratic older woman. When the two begin a tentative relationship, Therese learns that Carol is going through a bitter divorce. Carol’s husband threatens to invoke a “morality clause” during the divorce proceedings, using Carol’s homosexuality as an excuse to seize full custody of their daughter. What should have been a happy romance becomes a legal and cultural quagmire as the two attempt to navigate their feelings in a bigoted world. The novel, written by Patricia Highsmith, was momentous in its time. The Price of Salt was published in 1952, at a time when homosexual romance stories were highly controversial. Fearing backlash, Highsmith originally published her book under a pseudonym.
The Longest Ride
The Longest Ride, Nicholas Sparks
The Longest Ride traces two love stories, one unfolding in real time between an injured bull rider and an artist, and another told in flashbacks of a young WWII soldier and his kindergarten teacher bride. The soldier, now very old, befriends the younger couple and uses his own experiences with a rocky marriage to help them make their relationship work. The movie is based on a novel of the same name by acclaimed romance writer Nicholas Sparks.
The Danish Girl
Best Character Portrayal by an Actress
Brie Larson, Room
Room, Emma Donaghue
A beautiful and ambitious story, Room follows a mother and her five-year-old son during and after a harrowing captivity. After being abducted, Joy is imprisoned with her son Jack in a small, one-room shed for the entirety of Jack’s life. To help her child cope with their squalid circumstances, Joy raises Jack to believe that the room in which they live is the only part of the world that is real; the scenes and stories they see on their small television is a magical fiction that does not exist. When Joy is finally able to orchestrate an escape for Jack, the two struggle to adapt to life outside of their room. Emma Donaghue wrote both the novel and the screenplay for the movie, and her script is nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award.
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Best Character Portrayal by Actor
Matt Damon, The Martian
The Martian, Andy Weir
The Martian, starring Matt Damon, follows astronaut Mark Watney’s measured attempts to survive alone for an extended period on Mars. As part of an experimental expedition to the planet, Watney is inadvertently left behind during his crew’s emergency evacuation. He uses his NASA training and his knowledge as a botanist to both survive on the planet and coordinate his own rescue. While writing the novel on which the movie is based, Andy Weir crowdsourced scientific knowledge from astrophysicists and other members of the scientific community to ensure that his story was as theoretically accurate as possible. Though praised and acclaimed by many, the novel’s leading criticism was that the abundance of scientific information made the book cumbersome and inaccessible to the general audience. Moviegoers were treated to a watered-down version of the story that retained its scientific accuracy, but cut down on the confusing jargon and overly technical details.
Michael Fassbender, Macbeth
Macbeth, William Shakespeare
The 2015 iteration of Macbeth is the most recent in a rich history of adaptations. In this version, William Shakespeare’s classic play starred versatile actor Michael Fassbender in the title role, joined by Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. Fassbender has been praised for his role in the film since it’s release, and many consider his performance compelling enough to distinguish the film among the scores of Macbeth films preceding it.
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Best Comic Series Adaptation
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers, Marvel Comics
Age of Ultron is the second film in the Avengers series, and the eleventh Marvel Universe film overall. The story picks up in the aftermath of the first Avengers film; the team hunts down an old hydra facility where a new villain named Strucker has been using Loki’s scepter to experiment on humans. Two of Strucker’s creations, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch, have a vendetta to carry out against Tony Stark. The pair later become instrumental in defeating “Ultron,” an unintended consequence of Tony Stark’s experiments in sentient global security. The story is lifted out of the Marvel Comics Avengers series.
Ant-Man, Marvel Comics
Ant-Man is another Marvel Universe adaptation. Starring Paul Rudd, the film underwhelmed at the box office but was praised by critics. It offers a light-hearted alternative to some of the heavy-handed X-Men and Avengers series from the same franchise. In Ant-Man, newly released convict Scott Lang struggles to make enough money to pay the child support costs necessary to reconnect with his young daughter. After another botched burglary, he is approached by former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist Hank Pym. Pym has developed a suit with shrinking and hyper-strength technology, along with a telepathy component that only affects ants. With Pym’s help, Lang is able to overtake the corrupt successor of Pym’s work.
Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics
The latest Fantastic Four adaptation did no better than previous attempts, and the series remains one of the least popular cinematic representations in the Marvel Universe. Fantastic Four essentially serves as an origin story for a team of exploratory scientists who find themselves imbued with special powers after a failed transgression into a parallel universe known as “Planet Zero.” Though Fantastic Four characters remain integral to Marvel Comics, the films have never been able to gain traction at the box office.
Most Original Interpretation
Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman
Anomalisa has broken new territory as the first R-rated animated film to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. It uses stop-motion animation to portray a lonely self-help author whose deep depression is undone by a charming, timid stranger he meets in a hotel. The stop-motion animation provides an interesting storytelling device; in his despair, the protagonist sees all other people, including his own family, as identical figures. It’s only when he encounters something unique or extraordinary about other individuals that their features appear in detail. The movie is based on a theatrical play by Charlie Kauffman, who co-wrote the film’s screenplay.
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy star in the latest interpretation of Mary Shelley’s novel. The film departs significantly from the source material; Victor Frankenstein encounters a young hunchback enslaved by a circus ringleader. After Frankenstein cures the hunchback by draining a large cyst on his back, Frankenstein renames him Igor and invites him to join his research in reanimation. The pair are approached by a wealthy classmate of Frankensteins and petitioned to create an artificial being dubbed “Prometheus.” Much of the drama in the movie is propelled by a contentious love triangle between Frankenstein, Igor, and another circus performer named Lorelei.
Goosebumps, R.L. Stine
Goosebumps is a reimagining of R. L. Stine’s popular children’s series. Though not directly adapted from an R. L. Stine story, the movie presents a fiction version of the author and a trio of neighborhood kids. While the teens are searching the mysterious man’s house, they uncover a series of locked Goosebumps manuscripts. The manuscripts are opened, releasing R. L. Stine’s collection of fictional monsters. The creatures in the movie are all based on the villains and characters from the Goosebumps source material.
When Marnie Was There
When Marnie Was There, Joan G. Robinson
When Marnie Was There is a Japanese Anime adaptation of a Joan G. Robinson novel. In the story, a young girl named Anna encounters the spirit of another youth named Marnie while exploring an abandoned mansion. Anna is being raised by foster parents at the time, and when she meets Marnie she finds in the girl a companion with whom she can confide. While Anna attempts to uncover the truth behind her spectral friend, she also struggles to come to terms with her identity and origins, having never known her biological family. The mystery and supernatural elements of Robinson’s novel are served well by the platform Anime provides.