“And now all that is over, and that’s the hardest part.  Today everything is very different.  No more action.  I have to wait around like everyone else.  I’m an average nobody.  I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.”  (p 284)

My Top 10

  1. GoodFellas
  2. The Grifters
  3. Dances with Wolves
  4. Presumed Innocent
  5. The Hunt for Red October
  6. Reversal of Fortune
  7. White Hunter Black Heart
  8. Misery
  9. Mr. & Mrs. Bridge
  10. Awakenings

note:  Once you get past the top two, it’s not nearly as strong as 1989 but it would hard to be that good.  There is, however, a large number of films on my list outside of the Top 10 (barely making the list but making it nonetheless) which are all listed down at the bottom.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. GoodFellas  (264 pts)
  2. Dances with Wolves  (264 pts)
  3. Reversal of Fortune  (264 pts)
  4. Awakenings  (80 pts)
  5. The Grifters  (80 pts)
  6. Mr. & Mrs. Bridge  (80 pts)

note:  We get the only three-way tie in history.  Then a very distant three-way tie for the next place as well.

Oscar Nominees  (Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium):

  • Dances with Wolves
  • Awakenings
  • GoodFellas
  • The Grifters
  • Reversal of Fortune

WGA:

  • Dances with Wolves
  • Awakenings
  • GoodFellas
  • The Grifters
  • Reversal of Fortune

note:  The Oscars and WGA aligned their categories and number of nominees starting in 1984 but this is the first time the five nominees have aligned in both groups.  It won’t happen again until 2017 (as opposed to Original where it wouldn’t happen until 1991 but would happen again in 1992 and 1993).

Golden Globes:

  • Dances with Wolves
  • The Godfather Part III
  • GoodFellas
  • Reversal of Fortune

Nominees that are Original:  Avalon

BAFTA:

  • GoodFellas
  • Postcards from the Edge
  • Dances with Wolves  (1991)
  • Cyrano de Bergerac  (1991)

NYFC:

  • Mr. & Mrs. Bridge

LAFC:

  • Reversal of Fortune

BSFC:

  • Reversal of Fortune

CFC:

  • GoodFellas

My Top 10

GoodFellas

The Film:

I have actually reviewed this film twice already, once as my representative film for Scorsese in the Top 100 Directors post and then again for my Best Picture project.  Of course, both reviews are beyond laudatory because I consider this film to be the single greatest film of the decade, the only 99 film made between Princess Bride and Crouching Tiger.  It is brilliantly conceived and made in every single way (acting, directing, writing, editing, cinematography, sets, sound) and has not one but two of the most brilliant uses of rock and roll in the history of film with the Copacabana scene (“Then He Kissed Me”) and the “Layla” piano exit montage.

The Source:

Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by Nicholas Pileggi  (1985)

I was in a bookstore I had never been in before (or since) at The City Shopping Center (a mall in Orange that has been completely remade into The Outlets at Orange) and I noticed this book called Wiseguy.  Even though it said nothing on the cover (because it wasn’t a new printing), I knew this was the book that GoodFellas was based on.  True Crime wasn’t and has never been my thing (I have less than a handful of books that could be classified as such) but the film had been so brilliant, that I bought the book and the book is so well-written, so fascinating in the way it tells the tale of the modern Mafia from someone who saw it all that I have never gotten rid of it.

Pileggi was set up with Henry Hill by Hill’s lawyer because he knew Pileggi was a True Crime writer and Hill spilled everything.  In many books like this, the credit would have gone to Hill with Pileggi doing the writing, but Pileggi is able to perfectly frame the story while consistently giving Hill (and occasionally his wife Karen) his own voice through long monologues.  It provides for an authentic voice while also keeping the book crisp and clear which is why I have held on to it for so long and do continue to reread it even though I have never been interested in crime and don’t buy into the romanticizing of the life.

The Adaptation:

While the film would change names (except for the Hills almost every person in the film has their name changed from their real life counterpart) and do some combinations of characters (namely Tommy, who is combined with Paulie’s two sons since Tommy was actually almost a decade younger than Henry rather than about the same age), the main thing that is done is actually cutting.  The main thing cut is Henry’s stint in the army, a cut down on his time in prison and the complete elimination of the Boston College point shaving scandal that was actually occupying Henry’s time at the moment of the actual Lufthansa heist.  A considerable amount of the action and even the dialogue (especially the voiceovers) come from the book itself.  It’s an excellent adaptation of a book, keeping what they needed for the story and dropping what would have been extraneous.  What’s especially well done is that final day of Henry being free, when he is being followed by the helicopter and trying to juggle numerous things at once – almost everything in that day, every line of dialogue and especially every line of Henry’s voiceover is straight from the book.

The most famous scene that isn’t in the actual book – the “you think I’m a clown” scene – was actually mostly improvised (as Scorsese explains in Martin Scorsese Interviews, p 156) and actually came from a real incident in Joe Pesci’s life that was really kind of terrifying for him (not knowing if the person might actually kill him).

The Credits:

Directed by Martin Scorsese.  Based on the book “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi.  Screenplay by Nicholas Pileggi & Martin Scorsese.

The Grifters

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best films of the year in my Nighthawk Awards.  I really should have reviewed it back for my Best Picture post but the idiotic Oscar voters placed Ghost among the nominees instead of this film.  That anyone could think Ghost is a better film or that Whoopi Goldberg gave a better performance than Annette Bening just depresses me.  Every time I watch this film I am more and more impressed and it has been continually been moving up in my ratings.  It’s a brilliant modern noir film, based on a novel from 1963 but perfectly placed in the present with magnificent direction, writing and especially acting.

The Source:

the grifters by jim thompson  (1963)

A brilliant example of later pulp.  Thompson picked up precisely where Dash Hammett and Raymond Chandler left off (complete in Los Angeles for picking up where Chandler left off) except where Hammett and Chandler wrote about detectives who were solving crimes, Thompson focused on those who were committing them.  Here we have three grifters, Roy, his mother, Lilly and his girlfriend, Moira.  In less than 200 pages we’ll meet them, discover just how messed up all of them are and follow all of them to their destinies, riveted on every page.  I had read this once before, years ago, and this time, realizing that neither of my local library systems had a copy, rather than try to get one from another library, I simply bought the book, knowing how good Thompson is, knowing how masterfully he subsumes us into this life of corruption and decay and knowing full well I would be reading it again and again, never content to get enough of these characters.

The Adaptation:

Well, you first might notice that Bening’s character is Moira in the book and Myra in the film.  There are a lot of small changes like that (the novel is set when it was written in 1963 but the film is set when it was filmed in 1990).  There is information we get in the book that we don’t get in the film (the background on Roy and Lilly and some comments between the two that really ratchet up the venom in their relationship that would have been difficult to put in the film).  There are a few small changes from the book (in the book both women are brunettes but once the filmmakers decided that a platinum blonde wig was the perfect thing to make Huston look the part, they had to make Myra blonde as well and with it we get Bening as the living embodiment of Gloria Grahame so no wonder she would later play Grahame because she is probably the only other femme fatale I would be okay with shooting me) and Myra’s background is much expanded upon in the film (she was a grifter, but nothing like the operation she describes in the film).  The film is very thematically faithful and even faithful in a lot of details while feeling that it could change and adapt where necessary like the best adaptations do (which is appropriate since Donald E. Westlake, the screenwriter, is also Richard Stark, the writer of similar books).

The Credits:

directed by stephen frears.  based on the novel “the grifters” by jim thompson.  screenplay by donald e. westlake.

Dances with Wolves

The Film:

I have reviewed this film once already.  Actually, I also reviewed the film when it was originally released, the very first movie review I ever wrote in full.  It was a pathetic review that mostly summed up the plot (and not very succinctly) and was trimmed down by my editor, Koko Ozaki (who had been on the paper for three years while this was my first semester on it) and kind of taught me how to write a film review.  But I thought it was a great film then (my #1 film of the year from the day it opened until the summer of 91 when I saw GoodFellas) and still think so today, with epic scope, magnificent technical aspects (most notably the score and the cinematography, but really, all of it), very good acting, directing and writing and just a beautiful Western.  Of all the great Westerns, there really isn’t any other one that’s similar to this one which kind of speaks to why it is great.

The Source:

Dances with Wolves by Michael Blake  (1988)

This would have been a screenplay originally except that Kevin Costner, who had become friends with Blake while working on a film together during the years that Blake had been engrossed in the research that would become the novel advised him to write a novel instead.  Even then, it struggled to find a publisher, but once it did, Costner snatched up the movie rights (by then he had made The Untouchables and Bull Durham and was a star) for his directorial debut.

Blake’s book is decent enough, a New Age Western about a soldier who wants to see the frontier before it disappears.  He ends up befriending a local group of Comanche and when the Army turns against him (his order posting him to the fort was lost and the Army didn’t know he was there when they arrived to reinforce the fort), he essentially “turns native”.  In essence, it was really always meant to be on screen and that, of course, was where it ended up.

The Adaptation:

Plotwise, almost everything in the book ends up on-screen, but of course, that was Blake’s goal in the first place.  There is a lot of narrative prose that is easily discarded or even given to Dunbar as voiceover narration.  Really, aside from the beginning (the Civil War scenes are a flashback in the book rather than the actual opening) and the ending (the final scenes of Dances with Wolves and Stands with A Fist leaving aren’t in the novel nor the Army finding the remains of the camp), the only significant difference between the book and the film is that in the book, the natives that Dunbar befriends are Comanche and in the film they are Lakota Sioux.  That was actually done for two specific reasons, as Blake notes in the Q&A in the back of the edition I read: “The Sioux (they call themselves Lakota) are one of the most numerous tribes today, and the Comanche pool would have been too small to utilize in terms of leading roles and extras.  A bigger reason for the change is that the largest buffalo herd on earth is kept near Pierre, South Dakota, where the film was ultimately shot, on territory the Sioux had formerly inhabited.”  It’s never explicitly stated in the book where Fort Sedgewick is located but it’s implied, because of the Comanche, to be in Texas.

The Credits:

directed by Kevin Costner.  screenplay by Michael Blake based on his novel.

Presumed Innocent

The Film:

This film is a rare film.  It was made by a major Hollywood studio with a major star and was a solid hit and yet, in spite of not receiving a single nomination from any awards group that I track, it is one of my top five films of the year (which is why this is a paragraph and not a full review).  I have been a big fan of it since the day the film debuted in theaters, not just because it has one of Harrison Ford’s best performances but because it is so good across the board, a taut legal thriller and mystery with a first-rate script and an absolutely masterful cast.  Ford may be the star but the film wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is without the superb supporting performances from Bonnie Bedelia, John Spencer, Raul Julia, Greta Scachi, Paul Winfield and Brian Dennehy.

The Source:

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow  (1987)

As I mentioned in the Nighthawk Awards for the year, I saw this film with my mother as a (belated) birthday present.  She had read the book and I had not which meant that she knew who the killer was and I did not.  It was great for both of us because she could see how the film worked and I could wait and see what was going to happen and I must admit I was floored.

It wasn’t long afterwards that I bought and read the book (my copy isn’t a movie cover but does say at the top “Now a major motion picture”) and discovered that it was a first-rate book of its genre.  Just like with True Crime books, I’m not a fan of legal thrillers but Turow really nailed it, with great characters and an in-depth look at the process (he’s a former lawyer and this was his first novel).  I liked it enough that I still own it all these years later (though I don’t still own my other Turow books – The Burden of Proof which I remember as enjoyable and Pleading Guilty which wasn’t very good and I’m not certain I ever finished).  It’s a little disappointing to learn that several years ago, Turow wrote a sequel in which Rusty Sabich is accused of killing his wife because I didn’t need to go there (in The Burden of Proof he returns to Sandy Stern, the fascinating defense lawyer played so well on screen by Raul Julia and deals with his wife’s suicide but I didn’t need to have more things happen to Rusty).  But Turow does a good job of creating a fictional version of Chicago, its politics and its legal system.  I don’t know whether to say it’s better to have read the book first or seen the film first though if you haven’t seen the film, you reach a point where you definitely have the wrong idea of who committed the murder (which is deliberate) and it’s really well done, though if you have seen the movie, you know what’s going on and that it’s a bit of a red herring.

The Adaptation:

Until the end of the book, the film does a first-rate job of simply cutting some material and some peripheral characters (namely a racist cop) but changing almost nothing.  Most of the dialogue from the film is straight from the page and we follow everything quite closely.  There are a couple of things that are changed in time (like finding Leon before the outcome of the trial instead of after) but it is quite faithful.  At the end, though, not only is the discovery of the glass handled slightly differently, the book has a rather depressing final bit that changes the course of the Sabich family.  The film doesn’t so much change that as end the film before it would get to that point and really it would depressing and anti-climactic to have put it in and it was the right move to excise it.  But it probably does change how you feel about everything has played out.

The Credits:

Directed by Alan J. Pakula.  Based upon the novel by Scott Turow.  Screenplay by Frank Pierson and Alan J. Pakula.

The Hunt for Red October

The Film:

This is one of the most memorable times I ever had at a movie.  It opened on a Friday, but Academic Decathlon was the next day and we really couldn’t afford to go out to a movie the night before.  So we went to Decathlon and then John, Jay and I headed to the sold out 8:00 show that night filled with several hundred people.  Given that I had just been at a competition with students from all the county’s 48 public high schools, I had basically been near someone from pretty much every corner of a county that had close to three million people.  All of that was an interesting background that night when I came home and told my parents I didn’t feel well and we discovered I had chicken pox and I was infectious had probably just infected all of Orange County.  Good times!

But who cares about spreading an infectious disease to three million people when you could be at opening weekend of The Hunt for Red October.  First of all, the film had an intriguing cast.  There was James Earl Jones, who of course, was Darth Vader and Sean Connery who was James Bond.  There was Scott Glenn who was the star of Silverado, one of the first films I ever recorded on video-tape off HBO.  There was Tim Curry, who I knew from his hilarious performance in Clue.  There was Richard Jordan in a small but snarky role who I had loved in a similar role in The Secret of My Success.  Then there was the star of the film, Alec Baldwin, who I remembered as the nerdy man in Beetlejuice.  Could he hold up his end of the film?  And would it matter when he would be surrounded by such a cast?

This was a hell of a film that kept me riveted from the opening scenes straight through to the end of the film.  Yes, the Berlin Wall had fallen just a few months before the film was released but the Cold War didn’t quite seem like it was really over and I had grown up in the 80’s so the idea of the Soviets coming up with a submarine that couldn’t be tracked but the sub being captained by a man who actually wanted to defect was a hell of an idea.  What’s more, it had so many thrilling scenes that you weren’t ever quite sure where it was going to go.  You’ve got a torpedo that the sub has to outmaneuver in the middle of a deep-sea trench.  There is another torpedo that looks like it will destroy the sub only to have the most memorable moment in the film when James Earl Jones shows just how much he is in charge.  Then there is yet another torpedo and the brilliant strategy from Connery’s Captain Ramius knowing exactly how to deal with it.  Then there is that brilliant final torpedo and the great line that the theater went nuts over: “You arrogant us.  You’ve killed us.”

Two years before making this film, John McTiernan had directed Die Hard.  It showed that he could take masterful cinematography, sound and editing and make them work together to really heighten the suspense and keep you on the edge of your seat.  It made him the perfect director for the film and if the rest of his career came nowhere near living up to these two films, well that’s no reflection on what McTiernan did manage to do in these two films.  It had also put together a perfect cast, not just in the cast itself but in finding the right roles for all of them to play.  It actually had a considerable sense of humor (see the Adaptation section below for more on that).  It has some of the best use of sound in any film ever made.  It is crisply edited and directed and it always keep you on the edge.  I’d like to think that if the Academy had instituted their idiotic “Popular Film” idea in 1990, this, one of the best (my #6) and most entertaining films of the year would have been nominated.

The Source:

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy  (1984)

This may sound surprising for a couple of reasons, but I used to devour the Tom Clancy books.  I blame two things: first, the magnificent adaptation of The Hunt for Red October that sent me to read the book and my friend John Ramirez, who was always much more into the Navy (he was in NROTC for a stretch) than I was and was already deep into Clancy (he had read all five of Clancy’s book at that point).  So I started reading him and found his books entertaining (although Red Storm Rising was just too dense and not interesting enough, partially probably because it didn’t star Jack Ryan).  I would keep reading them through the mediocre Without Remorse and the stupid Debt of Honor which ended with Jack Ryan becoming president, thinking that it was so insanely stupid that I just didn’t care any more (and I didn’t have Clancy’s politics which wasn’t helping by that point).  I wasn’t familiar yet with the term “Mary Sue” if it even existed by that point but reading the book for the first time in years (the book was thrilling and it was nice to read it again after so long because I sold my Clancy books a long time ago but my favorite of the books was always The Cardinal of the Kremlin, the one of those early solid books that wasn’t made into a film), I was a bit disappointed.  Perhaps it’s because I so love the film and so much of what I love about the film is only in the film (see below).  Perhaps because Ryan is such a Mary Sue, always knowing exactly what to do and always being right with pretty much every guess he comes up with.  It is still a fairly enjoyable read and it really kick-started the whole “techno-thriller” that Michael Crichton had been a master of into another gear and inspired a lot of imitators.

The Adaptation:

The plot as given in the book is fairly close to what we get on film, though there are a lot of extraneous details that are excised from the film (such as the submarine accident that confuses people and has a horrific description of the destruction of a nuclear submarine).  There are a number of plot details that are changed in the film (it’s a British carrier that Jack lands on, he doesn’t drop in the ocean, the Red October is hit by a torpedo from the Soviet sub but that happens after the crew thinks the Red October has sunk and that battle is a totally separate action).  But the real difference between the novel and the film is the dialogue.  The dialogue in the film is so memorable that it actually gave me something I call the Red October Test (“Could you launch an ICBM horizontally?”  “Sure.  Why would you want to?”) – the test that you ask about the development of a new technology in a Sci-Fi novel or film.  Or there is Jones’ brilliant line: “Now, understand, Commander, that torpedo did not self-destruct.  You heard it hit the hull.  And I was never here.”  There is almost any line spoken by Richard Jordan like “Listen, I’m a politician which means I’m a cheat and a liar, and when I’m not kissing babies, I’m stealing their lollipops.” or “Your aircraft has dropped enough sonar buoys so that a man could walk from Greenland to Iceland to Scotland without getting his feet wet.” or Jack’s imitation of Ramius “Ryan, some things in here don’t react well to bullets.” or the immortal “I would like to have seen Montana” which became hilarious three years later when that same actor, Sam Neill, opened Jurassic Park in Montana.  Not a single one of those lines is in the book.  They were all written for the film.

The Credits:

Directed by John McTiernan.  Based on the novel by Tom Clancy.  Screenplay by Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart.

Reversal of Fortune

The Film:

In my review of A Cry in the Dark I commented on the inanity of a “trivia” item on the film on the IMDb about how Meryl Streep has never said whether she thought Lindy Chamberlain was innocent.  Of course, Chamberlain was innocent and nothing was ever proven otherwise and it’s absurd to think Streep would have taken the film if she thought otherwise.  But now we get to Reversal of Fortune, the Oscar-winning film made about the Claus von Bülow case, a man who was first convicted of trying to kill his wife and then had the conviction overturned on appeal and when he was tried again, was found not guilty.  In his original book about the case, Dershowitz talks about how he often thinks his clients are guilty but that by the end of this case, he was convinced that von Bülow actually was innocent.  What’s interesting here is that I don’t think that the film itself thinks that von Bülow is innocent.  Most films about cases like this are usually about how justice was carried out in the end in spite of the problems in the way.  But, even though, when it came to the actual court case, there was very little to make von Bülow seem guilty (certainly not enough to overcome the presumption of innocence), the film never really acts that way.  You walk away from the film possibly convinced that he was guilty and he was smart enough to get Dershowitz involved to get him off.  And the film seems to revel in that.  What that makes clear is that Roger Ebert was right in his review when he said the filmmakers “have not made a docudrama or a sermon, but a film about personalities.”

First of all, unlike a lot of films about famous court cases, this one had not been settled.  Indeed, other than von Bülow being found not guilty at the second trial, there has been no conclusion at all.  You can believe Dershowitz although one of his own students at the time, Jim Cramer (yes, before he was a jackass about stocks, he was a Harvard law student) firmly believed that von Bülow was guilty.  All that is truly known is that Sunny von Bülow, an entertaining (very) rich woman with some drug issues fell into a coma just after Christmas in 1980 (after a similar coma the year before), was still in it when the first trial came back with a guilty verdict in 1982, when he was found not guilty in 1985, when the book was published in 1986 and when the film was released in 1990.  Indeed, she stayed in a coma until her eventual death in 2008 (in an odd coincidence, her first husband, the father of the two older children that were convinced that their stepfather had tried to murder their mother fell into a coma after a car accident in 1983 and for nine years, until he died, both of their parents were in comas).  Claus is actually still alive as I write this at the age of 92 (actually, he would die about a week after I wrote that sentence in May of 2019).  No one knows what caused her to fall into the coma, but the film takes the interesting approach of having her narrate the film even though she’s really kind of the one person in the film (and the book) who doesn’t have any sort of voice, being in a persistent vegetative state and all.

The film works though, for a variety of reasons.  First of all, Jeremy Irons is magnificent as Claus (he doesn’t win my Best Actor award but that’s not a knock on his performance but rather that I feel the Oscars didn’t fully appreciate the performances in the year).  He’s charming, smart, witty and damned insistent that he is completely innocent.  But when told by his attorney, Alan Dershowitz, that he is a very strange man, with a brilliant look, he replies “You have no idea.”  But Irons’ performance alone wouldn’t make the film as good as it is.  Even coupled with Glenn Close (I’ll get to her in a minute), it still wouldn’t be enough.

So bring in Barbet Schroeder.  Schroeder, for the most part, was utterly wasted in Hollywood and that’s part of the reason why when I ranked all the Oscar nominated directors, he came in way down at #184.  But Schroeder’s real strength was as a documentary filmmaker and I don’t count those so, as I said at the time, it wasn’t a real testament to his worth as a filmmaker.  Indeed, perhaps it’s his documentary filmmaking that prepared him for this.  He understood the power of a personality over a sort of look at “truth” and he allowed the von Bülow personalities to rise to the fore, not only in Irons’ performance but in the rather oddly inspired decision by screenwriter Nicholas Kazan to have the film narrated by Sunny, allowing Glenn Close to really shine through in a performance that otherwise might have made much too limited a use of such a talent (though there are numerous flashbacks as we try to get to a sense of truth that not only isn’t possible given that no one knows what happened but isn’t even something the filmmakers are striving for, given their approach to the material).

So what we get in the end is a film that is less interested in courtroom abilities (in fact the film almost never sees the inside of a courtroom, focusing mostly on possible explanations of what could have happened coupled with Dershowitz working with his team).  We hear a lot about the case and we understand what turns the tide and allows for the overturning of the original verdict as well as the second verdict but it’s not about seeing lawyers argue.  It’s about watching personalities interact.

The Source:

Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow Case by Alan M. Dershowitz  (1986)

I wasn’t really interested in reading this book because I find Dershowitz personally to be unbearable and unlikable (and that was before the recent New Yorker article).  Granted, those can be things that can be useful in an attorney but since he’s not my attorney, it doesn’t really make me want to read him.  But he definitely knows the law, which is why he tends to work more on appeals than actual court cases and look for things that were done wrong or overlooked.  He found the things that had definitely been done wrong in the original trial (with some very disturbing issues about how the rich can basically hire their own police and those people are not beholden to actual laws).  He makes a very good case that von Bulow was actually innocent of the crime of which he was accused.

The Adaptation:

The filmmakers use the title and they use the material that Dershowitz writes about gathering a team around him and working with them to gather all the evidence and figure out where the problems in the case were.  But almost nothing else comes from the book.  Certainly none of the stuff of Sunny’s narration comes from the book.  And like I wrote above, Dershowitz comes away convinced that von Bülow is innocent and the film doesn’t seem to agree with that.  Also, some of the actual personal life of Dershowitz is changed to streamline things in the film (that he has two sons, for instance, or the relationship with Sarah).  The basic gist of the legalities used in the film, however, do come from the book and from the work that Dershowitz did and the film makes good (and faithful) use of those.

The Credits:

Directed by Barbet Schroeder.  Based on the book by Alan Dershowitz.  Screenplay by Nicholas Kazan.

White Hunter Black Heart

The Film:

I wonder what John Huston would have thought of the film.  According to his obit in the Washington Post, Peter Viertel himself, who worked on the script of The African Queen and on the script of this film, based on his own experiences (see below) thought that Huston would have given the film more of a sarcastic edge.  But then again, there is a level of sarcasm present in much of Huston’s work that you don’t really see in Eastwood’s work as a director, so Viertel is probably right.  But I think Huston would have been pleased with the results even if he doesn’t come off looking good.

John Wilson is a man who rather wishes he was Hemingway, but that’s appropriate because Hemingway himself often wished he were doing the things he was writing about (this notion of the director as the Hemingway type he-man plays directly into The Other Side of the Wind as well).  He’s a film director but he wants to be a macho man who can beat up a racist (when he tries he fails quite spectacularly) and shoot an elephant.  In fact, it seems like he’s only making this movie in Africa so that he can shoot an elephant, and if something comes of the film, well, then, huzzah.

If there’s any man right to play that part it’s Clint Eastwood.  Eastwood himself was known as a macho man (according to the trivia on the IMDb the fight with the racist is the only time in his acting career that Eastwood loses a one-on-one fight that he’s trying to win) and he was already a great director by this point even if it would be another two years before he would start winning Oscars.  In fact, this film would be the film that would make me realize that he was a great director (ironically, one of the first films I saw that he directed).  He understands this man that he’s playing, what he wants, what his weaknesses are, what he feels he has to do and why he is incapable of doing it.

On the outskirts of the story, of course, is the film that he’s making.  But as I said, that becomes almost an afterthought to Wilson, much less important than the chance to kill an elephant, something which Wilson himself describes as a crime in a speech that seems like it would be a reference to To Kill a Mockingbird if not for the fact that it’s straight from the book which was published almost a decade earlier than Lee’s book.

There are other members of the cast, of course, but they hardly matter.  There is great cinematography out on the African plains as Wilson strives to get the beast that he is after and there is some dark humor at the core of the story.  But mostly what this is, is a portrait of an obsession and Eastwood knows how to direct and star in that kind of film.

The Source:

White Hunter, Black Heart by Peter Viertel

I am not a fan of autobiographical criticism, of looking at a work and trying to determine if any of it is based on real events.  But I am also critical of the act of writing about a real event and crouching it in fictional terms.  I definitely object to it in a book like Compulsion or Schindler’s List where it seems rooted in the desire not to do the proper work necessary to call it non-fiction.  But this is different.  In this case, Viertel lived through some events (although Katharine Hepburn disputed quite a bit of it) and then wrote a novel where he barely bothered to hide anything.  He becomes Peter Verrill, John Huston becomes John Wilson and The African Queen becomes The African Trader.  Pauline Kael apparently called it the best novel she ever read about Hollywood except not only is it not set in Hollywood, it’s not really about the film industry at all but about one man’s singular obsession.  It’s a solid book, a fascinating portrait.  I just wish Viertel had either written more fiction or a memoir and stopped being so completely unsubtle in the slight changes he would make from real life.

The Adaptation:

“The only radical change from the novel to the film was Clint’s prescribed ending.  The book was predicated on the narrator’s disgust with John Wilson’s obsessive desire to stalk and kill an elephant, which is carried through to a sorry conclusion.  In Africa, Clint began to rethink the ending, discussing it with author Viertel. … To Viertel, Clint confided his hesitation about shooting one of Africa’s tuskers, even for pretend purposes.”  (Clint: The Life and Legend by Patrick McGilligan, p 454)

It’s interesting that would be an issue because Eastwood never struck me as the type who would be concerned by that.  But he doesn’t actually shoot it (unlike in the book) and that really is the only drastic change.  There are other changes, of course, like how the first third of the book takes place in London while, proportional to running time, the film gets to Africa much faster because that’s where the action is.  But a lot of it is quite faithful to the book, including the memorable scene with the anti-semitic woman which is word-for-word straight from the book.

The Credits:

Directed and Produced by Clint Eastwood.  Screenplay by Peter Viertel & James Bridges and Burt Kennedy.  Based on the Novel by Peter Viertel.
note:  The only thing in the opening credits is the title.

Misery

The Film:

When Misery was released in 1990 there was a big question over how good it would be.  Since the release of The Shining, there had been 10 Horror adaptations of King books and they average a 46.5.  Fans were right to be concerned because after Misery there would be 13 more King adaptations until the next one that was even good (1408 in 2007) and it would take until 2017 until there would another one this good.  And this had a good chance from the start.  As mentioned below, it was one of King’s best books in a while.  Plus, it had Rob Reiner while he was still riding high from his streak of initial great films that marked the start of his directing career and he was teaming again with William Goldman.

Poor Paul Sheldon is a best-selling novelist but he would like to return to being a good novelist.  To that end, he’s killed off the character he’s been getting rich with, Misery Chastain and returned to writing a book closer to his roots.  But when he crashes in a blizzard and is saved by his number one fan, Annie Wilkes, he ends up in more danger than he realizes.  Annie, it will become apparent before too long, is insane.  She used to be a nurse but she had a disturbing history of having her patients end up dying in her care, even if it couldn’t be proved in court.

The film is a masterwork in claustrophobia and rising tension.  It takes a bit before Paul (and the audience) realize just how demented Annie is and how much of a danger she poses.  At the same time, we have a smart and determined sheriff who starts to realize that something is wrong and begins his own investigation.  We start to wonder, can Paul keep Annie going and manage to survive long enough to be found?  Or will Annie’s craziness carry her over the edge.

In 1990 when this film was released, Kathy Bates was almost unknown in film (both Goldman and Reiner knew her from the stage, especially ‘night Mother and thought she would be perfect) but everyone knew her after the film came out.  James Caan, meanwhile, hadn’t had a really good role in a long time and his need to break out of the bed is evident in his face in every scene.  The film works so well because they got the casting right even if no one could have expected it from this casting.

I feel a little bad in that Bates finishes third at the Nighthawk Awards.  She’s a hell of a talented actress and this was the breakthrough role for her, winning the Oscar.  That I have her in third behind the magnificent performances from Huston and Woodward (both also covered in this post) is no slight on Bates’ terrifying performance.

The Source:

Misery by Stephen King  (1987)

This perhaps says what I need to say about this book: King is a writer whose books I have almost all read but I often haven’t kept.  After he became rich and famous and hit the 80’s, I have kept almost none of King’s novels that aren’t connected to The Dark Tower but I have always held on to this book.  It isn’t at the top of his list (The Stand, The Dark Tower series, It, The Shining) but it is that next tier along with Salem’s Lot and The Dead Zone.  It captures the helplessness of poor Paul Sheldon, stuck in the bed (or in the chair), trying to escape from this crazed fan who has kept him alive but also flies off the handle without notice.

The novel is interesting because it sticks with Paul (a limited third person narrative) and we don’t know what’s going on in the outside world – we’re just stuck alongside him.  For King, it’s also a fairly short book (my paperback – because I’ve never once owned a King hardback because they take up way too damn much room – runs 338 pages and 40 of those pages are actually the manuscript from Misery’s Return, the book that Annie makes Paul write) which helps to keep the tension high.

The Adaptation:

Though the film does stick reasonably close to the book, there are still some notable changes.  The main one, of course, is the changing of the amputation of Paul’s foot (and the torching of the stump to keep him from bleeding to death) is changed to a hobbling of him with a sledgehammer.  William Goldman, on pages 37-40 of Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventure in the Screen Trade explains precisely how he lost George Roy Hill as a potential director because he wouldn’t drop the scene but how the scene was changed (without his input) after suggestions from Warren Beatty (who was considering playing Paul) against his will but he acknowledged that the change was the right one to make.

There are other changes as well, some very minor (in the book Paul drives a Camaro while in the film it’s a Mustang which is a good choice because, as a matter of pure objectivity, the classic Mustang is the coolest car ever created and far better than a Camaro), some much more important (in the book, Annie also cuts off Paul’s thumb) and some key to the story-telling in the film.  The last one is about the sheriff.  In the book, we only know things from Paul’s point-of-view, without any idea of what is happening outside his view while in the film it presents us with the sheriff (whose final scene conflates a couple of different scenes and characters in the book) who has slowly been figuring out what has been going on.  Also, by going that route, it gives Paul some finality in his final battle with Annie and there is no feeling that he has suddenly been rescued.  What worked in the book would have made the film feel a bit too claustrophobic and would have made it feel more like a filmed play than a film.  It was definitely the right move to make, aside from giving Richard Farnsworth a nice part that he does a good job with.

The Credits:

Directed by Rob Reiner.  Based on the Novel Misery by Stephen King.  Screenplay by William Goldman.

Mr. & Mrs. Bridge

The Film:

A middle-aged couple deals with a changing world.  That sounds like it could be the formula for a very boring film and if you are someone pre-inclined to dismiss Merchant/Ivory films as boring, then you probably will find it so.  But it’s an interesting departure for the team because, after years of approaching British society (or Indian, or Brits in India), they would move over to America, adapting two parallel novels that tell the tale of this couple quite well and get a couple of actors who could not be more perfect for the parts.

This film provided a wealth of awards and nominations for Joanne Woodward as she was heading into the twilight of her career but not the same for her husband (both on and off-screen), Paul Newman.  Is it because she is demonstrably better in the film than he is?  (no)  Is it because she is a given a role that has more nuance to it? (at least partially)  She plays a woman, India Bridge, who looks at the world around her and sees possibilities unfolding without quite understanding or ever reaching for them.  She is the type of woman who votes the way her husband tells her to (sadly, this type of woman still exists – I remember V slamming her head in agony over an idiot at our work during the 2000 election who was just like this) but she also takes art classes and finds interesting things about the world.  Her husband, on the other hand, is closed off, prejudiced against much of society, unimaginative, conservative in almost every way (“I see nothing amusing about smut” he says in response to a dirty joke).  Newman plays him very well but there is less for him to play because that is the way that Walter Bridge is in the world.  But then there is the third part of the question.  Is it because Hollywood doesn’t really do a good job of writing roles for women in the way that they do for men so that Woodward’s performance, though better than Newman’s, became one of the three major award contenders (going against Kathy Bates in Misery and Anjelica Huston in The Grifters) while Newman was pretty much completely overlooked.  It probably also had something to do with it that Newman had just finally won an Oscar four years before and Woodward hadn’t been nominated in nearly 20 years.

The Bridges live in Kansas City and though in the book we get the full history of their marriage (see below), what we mostly get in this film is a brief glimpse of the early 30’s and then on into the late 30’s and the 40’s.  We get a daughter who wants to rebel by moving to New York City, a daughter who just wants to settle down and get married even though that will come back to bite her (after a scene in which her fiancee stands up to her father and ensures the marriage happens – a scene that made me look at the actor and go, okay, clearly Paul Giamatti has a brother) and a son who has his own urges (his father might see nothing funny about smut but the son has an awkward conversation when his mother finds his own smut hidden in his room).  Most of all, what we get is a genuine portrait of a conservative marriage and how it stands up to changing times as acted out by the premier married couple in Hollywood history.  It just makes you, once again, wish that they had done more films together.  But maybe they needed not to and that was why they were so long-lasting as an actual married couple.

The Source:

Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell  (1959)

Reading this novel I was reminded somewhat of About Schmidt, which was also a film made out of two books, also taking place in the Midwest and also making use of a great actor’s golden age to get another great performance.  I thought this novel was actually a set up from the Schmidt books though because I was surprised at how invested I found myself in the novel in spite of finding the characters themselves to be totally foreign to my experience.  They’re an upper-middle class couple in Kansas City of all places, the smack center of the country, conservative in their outlook and beliefs, safe and rather boring (except for when Walter refuses to go the basement of their country club during a tornado – that at least wasn’t boring).  Yet, somehow I found myself fascinated by the characters and what they would do.  It’s a tribute to Connell’s writing and his ability to fully infuse his characters with a sense of reality.

Mr. Bridge by Evan S. Connell  (1969)

I’ve known for a long time that the film was made from two books (in theory, I’ve known it since I saw the film but I doubt I thought about it back in 1991).  I simply assumed that this book was a sequel to the first book.  Imagine my surprise when I got close to the end of the first book only to experience Mr. Bridge’s fatal heart attack.  After finishing the first book, I picked up the second and realized that they were actually parallel books which made perfect sense given that the first book focused on Mrs. Bridge and we only saw her husband during the rare times when he was at home.  It really takes this second book to get a better measure of him and his personality.

The Adaptation:

The films do a good job of combining the books, taking a few elements from Walter’s work life and bringing them into the film (including the dirty joke scene) but focusing more on the first book because that’s the one that really gives the family life.  The books give much more of the marriage’s history from when they first meet until after Walter’s death while the film just provides a brief glimpse into about a decade of their lives as their children are reaching young adulthood and finding their own way.

The Credits:

Directed by James Ivory.  Based on the novels “Mrs. Bridge” and “Mr. Bridge” by Evan S. Connell.  Screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

Awakenings

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the Best Picture nominees in 1990.  Had I not re-watched the film for that project, I think it would have not been sitting in the Top 10 for this list before I went to re-watch it again this time, but I think watching it again would have pushed it there.  I had long thought of it as an inspirational, sentimental type film (think Patch Adams) but it is so much more honest than that.  Yes, it has a lot of Hollywood flourishes (see below) but it is solidly directed, very well written and has two very different, powerful performances from Robin Williams and Robert De Niro that anchor it to reality.

The Source:

Awakenings by Oliver Sacks  (1973)

Now, this book was originally published (in the U.K. because he was having trouble getting it published at all and it wouldn’t see U.S. publication until the next year) in 1973 but it has had several different editions.  I highly recommend the 1990 edition, not only because it has the most follow-up as well as a detailed introduction about what it took to get the book published and what was changed, added and excised in all the subsequent editions after the original publication but also the important essay mentioned just below.

My mind groups Oliver Sacks together with Atul Gawande for a few different reasons even if you might think, at first glance, that they don’t belong together.  First of all, both of them write about the things they have encountered in the medical profession.  Second, both of them are fantastically human writers; their core of humanity makes them both better doctors and better writers.  Third, they are both very good writers and they have gotten me interested in their subjects when I normally wouldn’t have much of an interest.  I also read much of their works around the same time.

If you have never read Sacks, he has written some really fascinating books about the people he has met over his career, including (highly recommended but not limited to) The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars and Musicophilia.  This was an early book (though not his first) that compiled his time working with a group of patients who had been affected by the sleeping sickness outbreak in the post-World War I Era and the success (and failure) he had with the drug L-DOPA in bringing them out of their states and back into an awakened state of life.  It’s not as interesting (to me) as the other books I list because it is far more of a case study but it is still fascinating to see what he was able to do.

The Adaptation:

I’m not going to bother to put much here.  That’s because in the 1990 edition of his book, Sacks included an essay “Awakenings on Stage and Screen” which detailed the history of the making of the film (which was still being made when the edition was published) and talks about the various ways in which the filmmakers decided to approach the film, what changes they made from reality, how it worked (and sometimes how it didn’t) and how much it reflected what actually happened.  It’s a detailed and fascinating essay from someone who lived with these patients and then watched them portrayed on screen, having worked closely with the writers, director and two stars.  I highly recommend it, just like all of his writing.

The Credits:

Directed by Penny Marshall.  Based Upon the Book by Oliver Sacks, M.D..  Screenplay by Steven Zaillian.

Consensus Nominee


Cyrano de Bergerac

The Film:

When I first saw this film, back when it was first released on video, sometime in 1991 (but, I’m fairly certain, after I had to read the play for my summer reading in August of that year), I didn’t rate it above *** (actually, it would have been **** back then when I had a five point scale).  I have never had it rated high enough to be considered for Best Foreign Film (***.5 or higher) but thinking back upon it, I’m not certain that I have seen it since it was first released on video.  And I think my feelings on the film were influenced, first, on my fondness for Roxanne, a film that I still think is superior in both the writing and the lead performance (and I liked the way they made it much more of a comedy while this, like the stage play, in spite of the description, really is more of a tragedy), and because I have never been a fan of Gerard Depardieu.  He can be quite a good actor at times and he is quite solid in this film even if he didn’t belong in the Oscar race (I have five performances just from the Best Picture nominees ranked above his).

So what is this film?  It was the #2 film in the Consensus race for Best Foreign Film winning the Globe and NBR and earning Oscar and BAFTA noms, finishing behind The Nasty Girl because I give lower weight to the NBR and Globe.  But I realize now that it is a very good film, a low ***.5 that at least belongs on my list even if it still can’t reach my Top 5 (ironically my #5 is The Nasty Girl which I rate several points higher).  I still don’t think it deserved its Oscar for Best Costume Design, especially not with Dances with Wolves and Dick Tracy among the nominees.  And, in the end, the film can’t rise above low ***.5 because while Depardieu is good and the script, of course, is basically following a really good play that has thrived on stage for over a century, it is weakened by a lack of support for Depardieu.

The main two characters aside from poor Cyrano, are his cousin Roxane (played by the very alluring Anne Brochet but her performance isn’t very good) that he is in love with who falls for Christian (played by Vincent Perez who became a big star much to my mystification because I’ve never thought he was particularly good in anything).  Of course, Cyrano believes that his nose is the obstacle to his love and somehow that makeup got Oscar nominated when it really isn’t all that impressive and is definitely weaker than what was done in Roxanne.

However it works, the film is quite good, even if it still can’t match Roxanne.  It earned its place in the Foreign Film race even if it doesn’t make my Top 5 and Depardieu really gives the role his all, playing the tragic character right to the hilt.

The Source:

Cyrano de Bergerac: A Heroic Comedy in Five Acts by Edmond Rostand  (1897)

I have already reviewed this play once when I wrote about Roxanne in the 1987 post.  It’s a bit strange to write about it here because this is a faithful adaptation of a play that was written in French in the first place but because I don’t read or understand French, I am forced to rely on a translated copy of the play and subtitles in the film.  It’s a really good play and you should read it if you get a chance because it’s a verse play and has a great sense of rhythm to it.  It also, of course, provides a great lead role which is why it’s been filmed and produced so many times.

The Adaptation:

This is a really close and faithful adaptation of the play, extending all the way to the ending which is anything but happy.

The Credits:

mise en scene: Jean-Paul Rappeneau.  d’apres l’oeuvre de Edmond Rostand.  adaptation de Jean-Paul Rappeneau et Jean-Claude Carriere.

BAFTA Nominee


Postcards from the Edge

The Film:

Suzanne Vale is a mess.  She’s a well-known actress, the daughter of an even more famous actress.  But she can’t control her life and the amount of drugs she is taking to try and cope with whatever is going on, whether it’s her career, her love life or even her family issues, just aren’t enough.  So one day she overdoses and her latest lover (who she won’t remember) dumps her at the emergency room and while she’s still unconscious from the overdose her mother has her placed in a rehab center.  She has to try and find something other than the drugs that can make her go on with life.

Getting through rehab is hard enough and when she winds up back outside again, she’s trying to kick her career back into gear.  She owes some voiceover for a friendly director who acts more like a father than anyone in her own family, she gets work on a new film, meets a producer (who is the lover who dumped her at the emergency room and also a world class cad) and even gets flowers from the doctor who pumped her stomach.

But the real issue in her life is her mother.  This is the kind of mother who, at her daughter’s 17th birthday party will swing around and lift her skirt in the air (“It twirled up!” she insists though it’s clear to both of them what happened all those years ago) and wasn’t wearing any underwear (“Well,,” she replies to that in a brilliant manner as only Shirley MacLaine can do).  It is the mother-daughter relationship that is at the heart of the film and is played brilliantly by Meryl Streep as the daughter and MacLaine as the mother.  MacLaine must deal with her own issues (she drinks, a lot) about no longer being as famous as she used to be and her own failures as a mother, especially when Suzanne, as part of the insurance requirement for her next film, is forced to go back and live with her during the course of the film.

The film isn’t great.  It’s not Mike Nichols’ most sure-handed directing job and the book didn’t originally have a real story and one has kind of been pushed on the film.  But between the performances of Streep and MacLaine and the clear understanding that the film has of a relationship of this sort, it’s a strong film, an enjoyable comedy that gets at the heart, not only of Hollywood, but at relationships as well.

The Source:

Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher  (1987)

“Maybe I shouldn’t have given the guy who pumped my stomach my phone number, but who cares?”  When you’ve got a novel coming in with a line like that, it’s easy to see how funny it can be.  Poor Suzanne is in rehab and she’s not liking it there: “I called my friend Wallis today, and I tried to get the operator to say, ‘Collect call from hell, will you accept the charges?'”  Suzanne’s time there is bitter but also darkly funny: “Wanda told me she likes to be tied up and have her clothes torn off before sex.  She said it really makes her happy.  I don’t know what makes me happy, but that doesn’t ring a bell.”

The rest of the book doesn’t hold up quite as well after Suzanne leaves therapy 1/3 of the way through the book but it’s still funny and worth reading and helped give Carrie Fisher a brand new career as a writer (first as a novelist, then a scriptwriter with this film, then also a script doctor as well as a memoirist).

The Adaptation:

Not only does the book not really have that much in the way of a plot, but the book also doesn’t actually deal that much with Suzanne’s mother.  Needing more of a plot to hang the film around, Fisher decided to greatly expand the role of the mother and to have the mother-daughter relationship be the key to the film (and she was right – it’s the best move).  There are a few bits, first in rehab and then a few things later that do come straight from the book (like Suzanne talking to her lover about his cheating but he’s the one who mentions it, not her and she doesn’t pretend to shoot at him at the end – a scene that would have been more effective in the film had they not used it in the credits).

The Credits:

Directed by Mike Nichols.  Screenplay by Carrie Fisher, Based on her novel.
note:  There are no opening credits other than the title.

Globe Nominee

The Godfather Part III

The Film:

I got Veronica to watch The Godfather.  She was more than willing to watch the second film.  I offered her the choice of watching the third and she decided that she would.  She agreed with my assessment (in my original review, here) that this film is comparable to The Phantom Menace in that, if you could see it, divorced of the expectations, it is a perfectly good example of its genre but you can’t do that.  She did spend much of the movie complaining about Sofia’s performance, however, even though she already knew what to expect.

The Source:

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

Nothing in this film comes from the original novel.  In fact, one of the things that is added into this film, the character of Vincent, specifically contradicts the fate of his mother as she is written about in the original novel (she is part of the Johnny Fontane sections of the novel that didn’t make it into the original film and we get her story down through the entire timeline of the original novel).  The real source of this film are the characters that were created by Puzo for his novel and were introduced on film by Coppola and furthered along by Coppola in the second film.  That’s why, instead of showing the novel again, I went with the poster from the second film; because it’s really there, where Coppola makes the characters completely his own, that we get the source material for what would become this film.

The Adaptation:

“The theme of Godfather III, [Coppola] decided, would be very similar to the theme of King Lear, with Michael seen in his twilight years, and his nephew, Vincent Mancini, mirroring Edmund, the illegitimate son in Lear.”  (Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker’s Life, Michael Schumacher, p 417)

Other than that, there isn’t much to adapt, other than allowing us to know what happens to the characters from the original two films a generation later.  As I said, the character of Vincent does contradict something from the original novel, but it doesn’t contradict anything from the films and really it’s a reasonable character to bring along based on what we had seen on film (not to mention that Garcia’s performance is the best thing in the film).

The Credits:

directed by Francis Ford Coppola.  written by Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10

(in descending order of how I rank the script)

  • Q & A  –  Sidney Lumet starts the decade strong with this adaptation of Edwin Torres’ novel (whose Carlito’s Way will be here in a few years) but sadly he won’t have a really strong film again until his last in 2007.
  • Quick Change  –  Jay Conley’s novel had already been filmed in France but after a mediocre adaptation of one of his novels in 1988 (Funny Farm) and a bad one in 1989 (Let it Ride), he gets the best film of the bunch with this Crime Comedy starring Bill Murray.
  • Last Exit to Brooklyn  –  The adaptation of Harold Selby’s gritty novel provides a plum (and critics winning) role for Jennifer Jason Leigh that still fails to earn her an Oscar nom (and a 7th place finish at the Nighthawks).
  • Black Rain  –  Not for a day when you’re already down, the original novel (by Masuji Ibuse) and the film deal with Hiroshima and its after-effects on the people.  Very good but depressing Japanese film, the best film from director Shohei Imamura.
  • Texasville  –  A box office bomb and not a hit with critics, I avoided this film until I did the Oscar Director project but Peter Bogdanovich’s follow-up to The Last Picture Show, based on the novel by Larry McMurtry who loves writing sequel novels, is actually pretty good even without the two best performances from the first film.
  • Mermaids  –  Well-written with solid performances from Cher and Winona Ryder based on the novel by Patty Dann.  But I mainly remember it for Cher’s cover of “The Shoop Shoop Song”.
  • Back to the Future Part III  –  I often feel like I’m the only one who likes the second film while the third one was well-liked (this was certainly the case among my friends) but the second one actually made a lot more money (possibly because the second one disappointed people and they skipped the third one in the theater).  Strong finish to the trilogy.
  • The Russia House  –  I don’t know what’s stranger – that I have never read the book (I have only read Le Carre’s books that I own which is all his books through Smiley’s People) or that I have never seen the film again after watching it when it first hit video sometime in 1991.  I remember the script as being strong and Connery and Pfeiffer being solid.  I imagine at some point I’ll get and read the book and then watch the film again.

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)

  • Total Recall  –  This film, on the other hand, I owned on video and have seen numerous times.  Kind of surprising to realize it had the biggest opening weekend of the year ($25 mil – how times have changed) but only was the 7th biggest film of the year.  A very good film, a high ***.5 (though the script isn’t good enough to make my list) with a full review here.  Oh and it’s based on the brilliant Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”.
  • The Vanishing  –  The original 1988 Dutch Suspense film was based on the novel The Golden Egg (though it was given the movie title in the States) and is quite good (a 75 – the highest ***) but George Sluizer would then remake it in the States and it would suck.  The Dutch submission at the Oscars in 1988, it was rejected for having too much French dialogue.
  • Monsieur Hire  –  A 1989 French adaptation of the Georges Simenon Suspense novel which had made before in 1947 as Panique.
  • The Sheltering Sky  –  Blanked at the Oscars in spite of a BAFTA, two critics wins and a Globe rewarding the Cinematography and Score and a Globe nom for director Bernardo Bertolucci.  Based on the novel by Paul Bowles.  Appealing to me at the time because of Debra Winger’s nude scenes but the film is quite good though I think the script prevents it from getting higher than *** (which makes sense since the book is quite meandering and not really written to be filmed).
  • Time of Violence  –  As a 1988 film (played at Cannes and released in the home country of Bulgaria) it shouldn’t have been eligible for the 1989 Foreign Film award but Bulgaria submitted it (it wasn’t nominated).  Based on the novel by Anton Donchev this is a good historical Drama.
  • Young Guns II  –  Fully reviewed here as my Bonus Review.  Better than the first film and it at least tells the story through Billy’s death (maybe).  Very good music.  The Oscar nominated song “Blaze of Glory” ranked at #135 on my Top 250 list for the decade.
  • Wild at Heart  –  Placing this film here is probably against the grain of people who either love the film or hate it.  I think it’s quite good but also quite flawed.  Unlike “Blaze of Glory”, it took me a very long time to get into “Wicked Game” and then it turned out it was actually released the year before and wasn’t from the film (or even the decade).  Based on a novel by Barry Gifford (who then turned it into a series of novels after the success of the film) who Lynch later brought on-board to co-write Lost Highway, a film I rate at almost the same (this is a 71, that’s a 74).
  • After Dark, My Sweet  –  Good modern noir film based on the novel by Jim Thompson.
  • Hamlet  –  Mel Gibson proved he could take on a serious role even if Glenn Close was way too young to play his mother.  Solid supporting cast but would have been better with a better director than Franco Zeffirelli (if the recently dead don’t want me to speak ill of them then they shouldn’t have been such creeps when they were alive).
  • Mountains of the Moon  –  Not certain why I originally saw this since I think it was before I knew much about Sir Richard Burton (who really was the most interesting man in the world) and most of the cast I wasn’t familiar with (Iain Glen, Richard E. Grant, Bernard Hill, Peter Vaughan), certainly not to the extent that I am familiar with them now.  So I decided writing this to watch it again and it still stands up – a solid historical Adventure story about Burton and John Henning Speke’s quest to find the source of the Nile (based on the novel Burton and Speke by William Harrison).
  • The Sting of Death  –  Japanese Oscar submission is a Drama based on the novel by Toshio Shimao.
  • Dick Tracy  –  Both because of my tastes and my older brothers, I trend older than I am.  As a result, I was a fan of Dick Tracy, not because the strip was any good by the 80’s but because for my whole life, I have had a copy of The Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy 1931-1951 which covered the first 20 years of the strip that introduced all the classic villains (the book used to be my brother’s).  As a result, I was excited to see this film and disappointed that it wasn’t better (though visually it really came to life).
  • Miami Blues  –  The other Jennifer Jason Leigh performance that pushed her to two critics wins was from this Crime film based on the novel by Charles Willeford.
  • The Field  –  Richard Harris earned a surprise Oscar nomination for this melancholy Jim Sheridan Drama based on the play by John B. Keane (you know, if my last name was also an adjective and my middle initial were B. I wouldn’t use it that way).
  • Rouge  –  Jackie Chan may have produced this Hong Kong Drama based on the novel by Lilian Lee but it’s serious and has no action so he’s not actually in it.
  • Gremlins 2: The New Batch  –  I actually saw this before I saw the first one because it looked more obviously comedic.  Actually as a result of that, it’s a fairly solid follow-up.  Actually, mostly what I remember is that Phoebe Cates looked super-cute.
  • Akira  –  The highly acclaimed Anime film based on the highly acclaimed Manga series has some convoluted story-telling which actually keeps it down in the mid *** range for me.  I want to think it’s great but I just don’t much like Fist of the North Star.
  • Evenings  –  Dutch film based on the novel by Gerard Reve was their Oscar submission.
  • Die Hard 2  –  I may be giving this too much credit because I enjoyed it quite a bit in the theater with lines like “Guess I was wrong about you.  You’re not such an asshole after all.”  “Oh, you were right.  I’m just your kind of asshole.”  Not nearly as good as the original.  The main characters came from the first film but the plot came from the novel 58 Minutes which was unrelated to the first film or the novel it was based on.
  • Letters from the Park  –  The Cuban Oscar submission from 1988.  Based on a “story” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez but I think that’s just a screen story and not one of his actual short stories.  Part of a six film collection all based on his work.
  • A Better Tomorrow II  –  John Woo still hadn’t hit the stride with this sequel that he would hit with The Killer and Hard-Boiled.
  • A Chinese Ghost Story  –  This 1987 Hong Kong supernatural Horror film is loosely based on a short story from 1740.
  • The Mahabharata  –  Peter Brook reduces his 9 hour stage play for a theatrical release (via a six hour television version).
  • Torrents of Spring  –  We’re down to low *** with this Jerzy Skolimowski adaptation of Turgenev’s novel.
  • My Uncle’s Legacy  –  The Yugoslavian Oscar submission for 1988 is based on the novel by Ivan Aralica.
  • Verónico Cruz  –  Argentine Drama set during the Falklands War is based on the book by Fortunato Ramos.
  • Lord of the Flies  –  This second film adaptation of the brilliant novel (I ranked it #32 all-time) is okay but pales in comparison to the book which is perhaps why I still hadn’t seen it when I wrote that post in 2011.
  • Miracle of Rome  –  Another GGM adaptation, this one based on his story “The Long Happy Life of Margito Duarte”.
  • The Rescuers Down Under  –  Did anyone need a Rescuers sequel set in Australia?  There’s a reason no one remembers this when they talk about the Disney Renaissance.
  • A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings  –  Based nominally on one of GGM’s best stories (which was also the basis for one of the greatest videos ever made), this feature length adaptation really drags.
  • The Summer of Miss Forbes  –  More GGM but I believe this is another case where he just provided the idea rather than it actually being based on his work.
  • I’m the One You’re Looking For  –  Wikipedia claims this is based on the GGM novel of the same name but since he doesn’t have a novel by that name, that writer is clearly full of shit.  More GGM providing a story and may not technically be adapted.
  • DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp  –  I never watched the original DuckTales show (which still would have been adapted since Scrooge and the nephews were pre-existing characters) but I have seen the film since it’s an animated feature film (and I watch the new show since David Tennant voices Scrooge).  Not bad but at low *** not all that good either.
  • Agneepath  –  An Indian Crime film based on the poem of the same name.
  • The Two Jakes  –  I saw this in the theater because even by then I knew Chinatown was one of the greatest films ever made and because I lived in L.A. and was fascinated by the story.  A disappointment and I haven’t seen it since mostly because I fear it would drop even lower than the high **.5 it has been sitting at for so long.
  • Henry & June  –  Loosely based on Anais Nin’s book.  Good Cinematography and good sensuality but I just couldn’t take to the film.  Then again, I liked it a hell of a lot better than I like Henry Miller’s actual writing.
  • The Witches  –  Apparently there are many who love this film, as became apparent when the remake, due for next year, was announced.  But this film, based on the book by Roald Dahl just isn’t that good outside of Anjelica Huston’s performance and Dahl himself wasn’t a fan thanks to the changed ending.
  • White Palace  –  Susan Sarandon is good (and earned a Globe nom in a weak year) but the film, based on the novel by Glenn Savan, isn’t all that good.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale  –  In this case the book is brilliant and in my Top 200 (it’s sadly appropriate that it was the book I was reading when I went to the doctor for my ultrasound that revealed my cancer given the kind of cancer) but the film is quite bland.  I haven’t watched the show because I don’t have Hulu and I don’t need to be that depressed – the news itself does that.
  • Lensman  –  Animated Japanese film based on the series of novels by E. E. Smith.
  • A Shock to the System  –  One of those movies I remember from it airing on Cinemax after its theatrical run rather than when it was in theaters.  Michael Caine in a black Comedy Crime film about a man who kills those he feels has wronged him.  Based on the novel by Simon Brett.
  • The Nutcracker Prince  –  Mediocre animated adaptation of the classic ballet.
  • Inocência  –  A 1983 Brazilian Drama based on the novel by Visconde de Taunay.  Down to mid **.
  • Fable of the Beautiful Pigeon Fancier  –  More of the GGM “adaptations”.
  • Jetsons: The Movie  –  Down to low ** with this feature length animated film of the beloved show.  Made complicated in that two of the key voice actors (including Mel Blanc) died during production.
  • Frankenstein Unbound  –  It’s got a solid cast (John Hurt, Raul Julia, Bridget Fonda) and is directed by Roger Corman but this adaptation of the Horror novel by Brian Aldiss doesn’t click all that well.
  • Stanley & Iris  –  It had De Niro in the same year as GoodFellas and Awakenings and had Jane Fonda and was the last film directed by Martin Ritt but this Drama is still pretty dull.  Based on the novel Union Street by Pat Barker.  The last Fonda film for 15 years.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  –  Surprisingly enough, this was a bigger hit than Total Recall or Hunt for Red October and was the #5 film for the year.  I still fondly think of the comic which was rather dark but it was already an animated television show and a toy franchise before this film was released.
  • Tales from the Darkside: The Movie  –  The show was fascinating and fun but the film was just another Horror anthology film with one story based on a Conan Doyle story and another on a Stephen King story so weak he kept passing it over for his collections for 30 years.
  • Mack the Knife  –  This version of The Threepenny Opera also has Raul Julia but it also not all that good.
  • Another 48 Hours  –  We’ve dropped to ** with this sequel that I probably haven’t seen since it first hit video.
  • Air America  –  It’s been even longer since I’ve seen this – not since it opened in theaters.  Action Comedy based on the non-fiction book by Christopher Robbins.
  • A Show of Force  –  Down to mid ** with this Suspense film based on real murders in Puerto Rico that had been written about in the book Murder Under Two Flags by Anne Nelson.
  • The Kill-Off  –  I haven’t read this Jim Thompson novel but given his other novels it’s got to be better than this film version directed by Maggie Greenwald.
  • Everybody Wins  –  A talented director (Karel Reisz), one of America’s Trinity of playwrights (Arthur Miller) and one of my favorite actresses (Debra Winger) and it’s still just dull as can be.
  • Night of the Living Dead  –  Down to low ** with this pointless remake of Romero’s original classic.
  • Stella  –  Did we need a third version of this?  Clearly not.  Bette Midler this time in a role that earned Barbara Stanwyck an Oscar nomination back in 1937.  The original novel is by Olive Higgins Prouty but you’re better off sticking with her Now Voyager.
  • Men Don’t Leave  –  Years and years ago I had this guide to great films released by Blockbuster Video in 1991 and I checked off films as I watched them.  This film was on the list for some reason which is strange since it was fairly new, not very good and a box office flop.  It’s a remake of the French film La vie continue which, in my limited French, I would translate as Life Goes On.
  • The Misadventures of Mr. Wilt  –  Bad British Comedy based on the novel Wilt by Tom Sharpe.
  • Hardware  –  Released as an “original” film, this shitty Sci-Fi film (*.5) was then sued for plagiarism because it’s really based on an issue of Judge Dredd (a story that was drawn by Kevin O’Neill who would later team with Alan Moore on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).
  • Nightbreed  –  I’ve got to give Clive Barker credit for writing a novel (Cabal) and then moving into film and both writing and directing the adaptation.  That’s all the credit he gets though because his film sucks.
  • Desperate Hours  –  Mickey Rourke is no Bogie and Michael Cimino is no William Wyler in this remake of the 1955 film (based on the novel by Joseph Hayes).
  • Revenge  –  Before Legends of the Fall, I was disinclined to like Jim Harrison because of this terrible adaptation of his novella (which I haven’t read but I’ve read and disliked other things by Harrison).  I let Charles Kipps in his terrible book on the Puttnam era at Columbia (see the book list at the bottom here) get away with criticizing Puttnam for not giving this the green-light because the book was published in 1989 but it’s all that I let Kipps get away with.
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities  –  If I don’t like Harrison, that’s nothing on my dislike of Tom Wolfe.  I knew the movie before I ever touched the book as a massive commercial and critical flop but still read the book (in 2000 or so) years before I saw the film (2015 or so).  I absolutely loathed the book and every character in it.  When I finally saw the film, I agreed that it just sucked.  The best thing about it is the book The Devil’s Candy by Julie Salamon which is absolutely worth reading and is a nice portrait of a film in which everything went wrong.
  • The Hot Spot  –  Attempt at noir based on the novel Hell Hath No Fury by Charles Williams.  Its fame (and really the only reason to see it) is a magnificent topless scene from a 19 year old Jennifer Connelly.
  • Predator 2  –  Even though I wasn’t a fan of the first one, my friends talked me into seeing this in the theater and I’ve never seen it since.
  • The Gods Must Be Crazy II  –  My friend Jay walked out of the theater on this one but I didn’t finally see it until I did that Columbia post last year.  A far cry from the original.  We drop to * with this film.
  • The Haunting of Morella  –  Roger Corman produces this adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s story “Morella” but it’s a far cry from his own Corman/Poe cycle.
  • The Exorcist III  –  With William Friedkin directing The Guardian instead (a bad move – see below), William Peter Blatty directs this shitty sequel himself.  The only actor back from the original film is Jason Miller who, if you recall, died in that film.
  • Three Men and a Little Lady  –  To be fair, the original was the #1 film of 1987 and thanks to the upcoming Top Gun sequel, the only #1 films of the 80’s that don’t have sequels are E.T. and Rain Man.  On the other hand, Guttenberg, Danson and Selleck again and it made less half what the first one did.
  • Graveyard Shift  –  A fascinating and eerie short story (“Graveyard Shift”) becomes a terrible film which should come as no surprise to anyone.
  • Look Who’s Talking Too  –  The original had been the #4 film of the year before so this sequel came faster but also did worse, making just 1/3 of the original.  Travolta sinks again after his first big comeback.
  • RoboCop 2  –  This film, on the other hand, did almost as much box office as the first one but is far worse.  Low *.
  • Rocky V  –  I avoided this for a long time (over 20 years) even though I had seen the first four multiple times.  So did everyone else as it made less than 1/2 what any of the previous films had made and less than 1/3 what the previous two had done.  And we were right because it’s awful.  It would drag the franchise to a half and would be another 16 years before it finally got another film.
  • The Adventures of Ford Fairlane  –  I was stunned to realize this is adapted but the character was apparently created by Rex Weiner and ran as serials in a couple of alternative papers in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  I avoided the film until I started watching Razzie nominees to prepare for Nighthawk Awards posts a few years ago because I don’t find Clay amusing.  Now we’ve hit the .5 films.
  • Delta Force 2: The Columbian Connection  –  Chuck Norris is back doing the same kind of stuff that Stallone and Arnold do except without their star power.
  • The Guardian  –  William Friedkin returns to Horror for the first time since The Exorcist and it’s the nadir for him.  Based on The Nanny by Dan Greenburg.
  • Ernest Goes to Jail  –  If I’m going to suffer through crap like this I better manage to see all the Disney films like I’m trying to.  The fourth Ernest film.  This film earned more than The Russie House, The Freshman or Hamlet.
  • Child’s Play 2  –  The second Chucky film.
  • Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III  –  The third film but just to be annoying a 2017 prequel will also be called Leatherface.  I think it’s awful (low .5) but I think all the films in the franchise are awful.
  • Troll 2  –  A film I didn’t bother to review as my Worst Film of the Year for the Nighthawk Awards because there’s a whole documentary about it.  It’s a zero star film and if you are really interested in knowing more watch Best Worst Movie.  Arguably not adapted since it was originally called Goblins and they changed the title to connect it to Troll even though there are no connections.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • Strike it Rich  –  Looking at the poster you might think there’s no way it’s based on a Graham Greene novel but it is (Loser Takes All).

The highest grossing adapted film of 1990 I haven’t seen is Funny About Love down at #107 for the year ($8.14 mil) while the highest grossing sequel I haven’t seen seems to be Bloodfist 2 (#179 – $1.29 mil).  The only film in the Top 100 I haven’t seen (Crazy People) is original.

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