“The air was white, and when they alighted it tasted like cold pennies.  At times they passed through a clot of grey.  Mrs. Wilcox’s vitality was low that morning, and it was Margaret who decided on a horse for this little girl, a golliwog for that, for the rector’s wife a copper warming-tray.”  (p 60, Norton Critical Edition)

My Top 10

  1. Howards End
  2. The Player
  3. The Last of the Mohicans
  4. A Few Good Men
  5. Flirting
  6. Glengarry Glen Ross
  7. Raise the Red Lantern
  8. Enchanted April
  9. Aladdin
  10. A River Runs Through It

note:  The list goes well past 10 as listed below though none of the other films on my list earned nominations (so they’re all in the top list at the bottom) and the rest of the list is all fairly weak.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. The Player  (296 pts)
  2. Howards End  (192 pts)
  3. Scent of a Woman  (184 pts)
  4. Enchanted April  (80 pts)
  5. Glengarry Glenn Ross  (40 pts)
  6. A River Runs Through It  (40 pts)

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

  • Howards End
  • Enchanted April
  • The Player
  • A River Runs Through It
  • Scent of a Woman

WGA:

  • The Player
  • Enchanted April
  • Glengarry Glen Ross
  • Howards End
  • Scent of a Woman

Golden Globes:

  • Scent of a Woman
  • A Few Good Men
  • Howards End
  • The Player

Nominees that are Original:  Unforgiven

BAFTA:

  • Howards End
  • The Player
  • Scent of a Woman  (1993)

note:  The other two BAFTA nominees in 1992 were a 1991 eligible film (JFK) and a 1993 eligible film (Strictly Ballroom).

CFC:

  • The Player

My Top 10

Howards End

The Film:

I have reviewed this film actually twice already, once when I reviewed it as part of the novel (see below) and the second time as part of the Best Picture project.  I could have even reviewed it a third time for the Nighthawk Awards as it is one of the five best films of 1992.  It is at once a magnificent film and a magnificent adaptation.  There are only six examples in which both the original novel and the film version are ranked higher than this combination.  It was also the film where Emma Thompson stopped being known as Kenneth Branagh’s wife and started being known for her tremendous talent as an actress.

The Source:

Howards End by E.M. Forster  (1910)

I ranked this at #45 all-time, the highest of E.M. Forster’s novels and that is saying quite a bit.  As I mentioned in my original review, “Only connect…” is the epigraph to the novel and that theme runs straight through the book but it is perhaps a quote late in the book that sums up, not only the novel itself, but almost everything that Forster writes about in all of his works: “They had nothing in common but the English language, and tried by its help to express what neither of them understood.”

The Adaptation:

This is a first-rate faithful adaptation and Jhabvala had to write barely any dialogue for the film (most of what we hear on screen is straight from the novel) and more deciding what to cut (for instance, the eight month separation between the sisters in which Helen is away hiding the fact that she is pregnant is quite compressed).  There are a few other things that are cut, mostly scenes that cut away from the ongoing story between the two sisters and their relationships with the Wilcoxes and poor Leonard Bast.  But most of the novel is onscreen and almost everything we see onscreen came straight from the novel.

The Credits:

Director: James Ivory.  Based upon the novel by E.M. Forster.  Screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

The Player

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best films of the year.  Sadly, of course, I couldn’t review it for my Best Picture post because the Oscar voters insanely decided that Scent of a Woman was a better film because, and there is no other way to put this, they are complete fucking idiots.  At least the directors and writers knew some quality when they saw it, nominating it for both awards.  One of the most brilliant satires on Hollywood ever made.

The Source:

The Player by Michael Tolkin  (1988)

This is a smart, short little novel.  What is has to say about Hollywood isn’t particularly pleasant.  It’s the story of Griffin Mill, an executive at a major Hollywood studio.  He’s been getting threatening postcards from a writer he never called back, which limits it to just about every writer in Hollywood.  In desperation, Griffin decides which writer it is and then ends up killing him.  Now he’s trying to hold on to his job and hold off the police.  Tolkin’s novel is not very nice about the people in Hollywood or the movies they make and everything is part of a pretty bitter satire.  In the end, things work out for Griffin, a kind of Hollywood ending he would like, but also a really nasty point of view.  But it is smart about what is about and is pretty entertaining and a definitely quick read.

The Adaptation:

Most of the book ends up in the film, but things get expanded.  With Altman’s connections he manages to really bring more and more people and take the satire of Hollywood to another novel.  This is especially apparent in the way he makes use of Cynthia Stevenson’s character.  Bonnie is a character in the novel, but a much less important one and the way she is discarded both personally and professionally by Griffin really help heighten the satire of Hollywood.  And there are other things, of course, that come from it being a film (like the masterful opening shot) that couldn’t be thought of for a novel.  But the ending also has a considerably different ring to it – yes, in some ways it is the same, but in the conversation on the phone (not in the original novel), it really adds one final level of satire in the film’s cynical look at Hollywood.

The fact that it was similar to the book is amazing given the reaction to it from Tolkin himself: “The writer, Michael Tolkin, complained that he went to the dailies and he didn’t recognize any of the dialogue,” says David Brown the producer in Robert Altman: The Oral Biography by Mitchell Zuckoff (p 410).  As for the ending?  Well you can thank Altman, Robbins and some marijuana for that.  They were getting high and trying to come up with an ending and Robbins asked how they ended M*A*S*H “and he goes, ‘Well, Radar comes on the loudspeaker and says, ‘This is a movie directed by Robert Altman and blah, blah, blah.’  And that’s what tipped it for me.  I said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa.  What if the writer pitches to Griffin the story you just saw of the movie?  And that is a totally stoned thought.”  (Robbins quoted in Zuckoff, p 419)

The Credits:

Directed by Robert Altman.  Screenplay by Michael Tolkin based on his novel.

The Last of the Mohicans

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film, years ago, for my piece on Michael Mann as one of my Top 100 Directors (a position he currently doesn’t hold any longer and given the films he’s made since then, is unlikely to get back on the list).  I also placed it on my Top 100 Favorite Films.  It is a favorite and I do watch it a lot, but it’s really the end that I watch a lot.  Any time it’s on television I will keep watching until it’s over, until we’ve gotten through the brilliant piece of editing, cinematography and score that concludes the film in a scene as well made and constructed as anything else in film history.  This is one of the great Adventure films of all-time with brilliant elements of romance and tragedy brought in as well.  Kudos to the Academy for recognizing its Sound but how on earth did everyone miss out on rewarding its Cinematography and Score?

The Source:

The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 by James Fenimore Cooper (1826)

As I have said before, when I listed it among other such books, while the film is fantastic, the book, to me, is basically unreadable.  While there are many who admire the book (Melville, Conrad and Lawrence are among its most notable admirers), I am certainly not alone in finding it unreadable (just try looking up Mark Twain and Cooper and you can see what Twain thinks of Cooper’s writing in general and this book in particular).  I’ll give you one particular paragraph so you can decide for yourself, first, what is actually happening, and second, if you would want to read 400 pages of this:

“The Huron sprang like a tiger on his offending and already retreating countryman, but the falling form of Uncas separated the unnatural combatants.  Diverted from his object by this interruption, and maddened by the murder he had just witnessed, Magua buried his weapon in the back of the prostrate Delaware, uttering an unearthly shout, as he committed the dastardly deed.  But Uncus arose from the blow, as the wounded panther turns upon his foe, and stuck the murderer of Cora to his feet, by an effort, in which the last of his failing strength was expended.  Then, with a stern and steady look, he turned to le Subtil, and indicated, by the expression of his eye, all that he would do, had not the power deserted him.  The latter seized the nerveless arm of the unresisting Delaware, and passed his knife into his bosom three several times, before his victim, still keeping his gaze riveted on his enemy with a look of inextinguishable scorn, fell dead at his feet.”

The Adaptation:

So, first of all, if you manage to penetrate that paragraph enough to understand what has happened and second, if you have seen this film but not read the original novel then you are probably pretty confused.  Cora is dead, not at the hands of Magua, but from another tribesman and then Uncas is killed after that.  Well, all of that just shows how different this film is from the original novel.  In fact, this film bears more similarities with the 1936 version (which was the first to add a romance between Hawkeye and one of the daughters) than the original novel and even acknowledges that in the credits.  It is that film version that also offers the idea of Hawkeye and Heywood both offering to sacrifice themselves for the woman they love.  Of course, in that version, it is Alice that they love as opposed to Cora.  For this version, among many other changes, Uncas loves Alice and dies for her and she makes the choice after he is dead to kill herself (actually, that came in the 1936 version though it was badly done not artfully done and it was Cora there and Alice here).  There are trappings from the original novel in the film – the whole basic plot, of course, and the main characters themselves (except that in the original novel Cora is a half-sister to Alice and her hair is dark because she is part mulatto).  But the romance of the film (which plays much farther into the tragedy as well, with Heywood’s death added to this version of the film) is an addition of, first, the 1936 film, and then changed somewhat and refined for this film.

The Credits:

Directed by Michael Mann.  Based upon the novel by James Fenimore Cooper.  And the 1936 screenplay by Philip Dunne.  Adaptation by John L. Balderston and Paul Perez and Daniel Moore.  Screenplay by Michael Mann and Christopher Crowe.

A Few Good Men

The Film:

Watching this film this time, for who knows how many times, I was thinking, I should make this a higher **** film.  It’s close to Howards End and Reservoir Dogs for that final spot in the Best Picture race.  Imagine my surprise then, to go back to my review, written several years ago, and realize I didn’t even have it at **** to begin with, but ***.5.  Given how much the film resonated with real-world events that didn’t even occur until years after the events, I’m surprised I rated it so low.  I’ve gone back and moved it up.  It still sits at 4th for Adapted Screenplay because of the quality of the three scripts above it, but it shouldn’t be over-looked by any means.  It really is a great film, with remarkable performances all around, lead, of course, by Nicholson’s film-stealing performance.  I also must say, has there ever in the history of film been a better looking legal team than Tom Cruise and Demi Moore in this film?

The Source:

A Few Good Men by Aaron Sorkin  (1989)

This play was actually derived from real events that happened in Cuba in 1986.  Sorkin managed to turn it into a hit play that earned Tom Hulce a Tony nomination though I still have trouble seeing anyone other than Tom Cruise, with his great flippant attitude as Kaffee.  Aaron Sorkin, now one of the better known writers in Hollywood, was only 28 when the play was first produced.

It’s an interesting play that doesn’t use a large number of scenes in one location but rather sets up a variety of different locations and continually changes places without ever changing scenes.  It is a fantastically written play with great dialogue that can occasionally get quite funny without ever breaking the dramatic tension.

The Adaptation:

The vast majority of what we see on the screen contains the same dialogue as was heard on stage.  But on stage, there was a minimum of scenery and most of the locations were done through suggestion rather than elaborate decorations.  So the film doesn’t technically open up the play in the same sense that lots of film adaptations of plays do, but it does in the sense that we actually get the locations of the various things out in the real world.

There are a number of lines that get moved slightly into different places in the film than they were in the play, perhaps because the film fleshes out longer scenes while the play actually didn’t do that, the opposite of the case in most film adaptations of plays.

The one difference is that the conclusion between Cruise and Nicholson is slightly different than in the original play (where it is proved the flight logs were changed) and it is more that Cruise goads Nicholson into admitting things than actually proves it.  It definitely provides a more powerful dramatic conclusion and given the bluster that Nicholson provides in the performance, is completely realistic.

The Credits:

Directed by Rob Reiner.  Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin based on his play.

Flirting

The Film:

I wouldn’t know who Noah Taylor was until 1996.  When I first saw Shine, in the movie theater when it first came out, I was confused as to why this actor Geoffrey Rush (who I also didn’t know at the time) was getting serious Oscar attention while Noah Taylor, who played the same role as a teenager, was basically being overlooked (not completely – he was SAG nominated and he was nominated by the Aussies themselves, though he lost to Rush).  It wouldn’t be for over a decade that I would finally see Flirting, the wonderful 1991 Australian film (maybe – it won the Australian Film Institute Award in 1990) which stars Taylor as young Danny Embling, a lonely misfit away at boarding school dealing with bullying, stupidity and sexuality.

I want to say I first saw Flirting after the publication of Roger Ebert’s book that contained all of his four star reviews.  Then I wondered how I could have not seen it before.  It starred Noah Taylor who had established himself as one of the most fascinating actors around, Thandie Newton, who I hadn’t loved in Mission Impossible 2 and Charly but would, years after this, grow to love for her performances in Westworld and the double combination of Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts.  By this time, Kidman was already known in the States because between the time this was filmed and the time it was released in the States she had gone on to major Hollywood productions like Days of Thunder, Billy Bathgate and Far and Away and had married Tom Cruise but Watts wouldn’t break through in America for almost another decade when Mulholland Drive would establish her as one of the best and sexiest actresses alive.

It’s fascinating to watch all of these actors long before they were so well known on the international scene.  They are just kids (Kidman, the oldest of them, was still in her early 20’s) and they bring a sense of realism that you often don’t find in American films about teenagers.  They all have their own bits of awkwardness and not wanting to be where they are.  Taylor has gone off to boarding school after the events portrayed in The Year My Voice Broke (see below).  Newton is there, looking out of place (it is thought at first she might be a native but her father is Ugandan and her mother is Kenyan-British) while her father is lecturing at university.  In their shyness and loneliness, they begin a touching romance that never feels forced.  Kidman gets the role that had been essentially been played by Ben Mendelsohn in the first film, the somewhat bully who is actually a bit protective of these misfits.

Flirting is a great film, one that was widely acclaimed in Australia but which flew almost completely under the radar in the United States.  Even with Kidman in the cast, the entire theatrical run in the States made less than the opening weekend of Dead Calm, released when she was still relatively unknown and it would take years before the others would become known in the States.  But is a very real film with realistic dialogue, characters who feel very authentic and solid performances from everyone involved.  If it is a film that you have somehow missed, you definitely should take the time to go see it.

The Source:

The Year My Voice Broke, written by John Duigan, Directed by John Duigan  (1987)

As mentioned above, I first saw Flirting around 2008 or so after the Ebert book was published.  But, even though the Ebert review mentions the previous film (getting the title wrong), I still didn’t actually seek it out, perhaps because, while Flirting had Thandie Newton, Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts, the original film had none of them.  But I really should have because Noah Taylor is a fascinating and wonderful actor.  Taylor was 17 when the film was made but he looks even younger as Danny Embling.  Danny, if you have seen Flirting, is awkward and a bit shy and while he’s smart and funny, he is often bullied for his looks and for being awkward and lonely.  That’s something that had carried over from this film which was made three years earlier and takes place maybe a couple of years earlier (he’s still living at home through this film while he’s off at boarding school through all of Flirting).

Danny is starting to move into puberty and he is falling in love.  There are two problems with that.  The first is that he’s falling in love with his best friend and as is often the case with such loves, she continues to really just think of him as a friend.  The second is that she’s blonde and rather good looking and he’s awkward and she’s kind of out of his league.  That becomes more apparent when the local roguish bloke named Trevor also takes a fancy to her.  Yet, Danny can’t really take out his anger on Trevor because Trevor helps protect Danny from bullies (at one point rescuing him from being pushed into a toilet and smashing the two guys who are doing it into a trailer) and is genuinely fond of Danny.  I was reminded somewhat of the Nicole Kidman role in Flirting (although she is less fond of Danny) but even more of the film Lucas.  While writer/director John Duigan has talked about the two films were based on him growing up what I really was reminded of was how in Lucas we also had the shy kid in love with the friend while the friend is more taken with the more charming, athletic guy who also serves as kind of a protector.

This is a good film.  It doesn’t quite have the impact of Flirting and doesn’t have the same outstanding cast (Loene Carmen, the lead female here that Danny is in love with can’t compare as an actress to Newton, Kidman or Watts).  The dialogue is still realistic but it just didn’t carry the same impact.  But one thing that the film does have in common is a star who would wait a long time to bloom forth on the international scene becase the rugged Trevor is played by Ben Mendelsohn, a good 25 years before he would really start to become known to American audiences and get to play villain roles in Batman and Star Wars films.

The Adaptation:

The only character carried over from the first film is Danny and you can easily watch the second film without ever knowing the first film existed (which I think is what happened to me the first time I saw Flirting, about a decade ago).  It does give you a better insight into Danny and who he is at the school if you’ve seen The Year My Voice Broke.  Since the character is both written and directed by Duigan both times and is in fact explicitly based on Duigan’s memoirs of growing up, it makes sense of course that the Danny in Flirting is just a natural extension of him in the first film.  Flirting is the same kind of thing that I have done with my own characters – not so much a sequel as a further story of what happens to the same character after the events of the first story are over.

The Credits:

Written and Directed by John Duigan.

Glengarry Glen Ross

The Film:

“We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”  That’s Blake, the guy sent from the main office to a little downtown real estate office to get the point through to the guys who have been wasting their time away trying to sell something, anything and stay ahead of the game.  He’s played by Alec Baldwin and it’s hard to know whether to put Baldwin in the supporting actor list because he’s so damn good but he’s also only in the film such an incredibly short time (as compared to Al Pacino who was very deservedly Oscar nominated for a much larger performance in this film as the one guy in the office who’s not a total screw-up).  Baldwin has rarely been better and his performance has been much quoted by guys ever since the day the film landed.

It’s all about the film, of course.  The play had been a hit (winning the Pulitzer) but it didn’t have a ton in the way of star power (though Joe Mantegna won the Tony) while the film has Jack Lemmon’s last great performance, the other (much better) Oscar nominated performance from Al Pacino in the year he won Best Actor, very strong performances from established vets Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and Jonathan Pryce and a really good performance from Kevin Spacey that helped pave the way to his own Oscar a few years later.  What’s more, the brilliant small performance from Alec Baldwin is completely a creation of the film – the character wasn’t even in the play.

This is, in pretty much every way, the ultimate male film.  It’s written by a playwright who has never shown much interest in female characters and neither the play nor the film has one.  It’s about four male salesmen and their lackluster manager who are striving to out-compete the others only to have a boss from downtown come in and show them who has the brass balls to come in and tear them apart.  It’s all about power and domination.  And yet, for many, this wouldn’t be viewed as the ultimate male movie at all because in the end, it just comes down to a lot of showing off and talking and no actual action (the only real thing that happens in the film is that the office is burgled and that takes place offscreen and we only find out who did it because the person who did it accidentally gives it away in the worst way possible) but then again, there are many who would say that it’s exactly what makes it such a male movie – all machismo talk, no action.

The film isn’t perfect – it’s a bit too much to take at times and the direction is far from stellar.  But somehow the Academy missed out on Jack Lemmon’s last great performance, one of the best of a long and storied career.  At least they got Pacino right – he gives a far more nuanced, far more complete performance than the ridiculously over the top one mentioned down below that actually, somehow, won him the Oscar.  This film is absolutely not for everyone but if great acting is what you want, then it’s for you.

The Source:

Glengarry Glen Ross: A Play by David Mamet  (1983)

This is a hell of a play, a seven character piece all male, about struggling real estate agents and what they will do in order to survive.  It was a big hit when it first came out, winning the Tony and the Pulitzer.  It is powerful enough that it continues to be revived even though it would hard for anything to ever capture the energy of the actors in the film version.

The Adaptation:

Mamet adapted his own play and adds a lot to the beginning.  As mentioned above, the entire scene with Baldwin is entirely added for the film.  It’s a brilliant move (it kind of needed it as even with the Baldwin scene the film only runs 100 minutes and without it would have been kind of short).  There are some other changes, but once we actually get into the action of the original play (after the Baldwin scene, when the men have left the office and gone to the restaurant) things hold fairly close to the play.

The Credits:

Directed by James Foley.  Based on the Play by David Mamet.  Screenplay by David Mamet.

大紅燈籠高高掛
(Raise the Red Lantern)

The Film:

A young, beautiful woman comes to lives in a large household.  Until recently she was a college student but her father has died and in an effort to keep the family afloat she has accepted a proposal of marriage from a very rich man.  That she is young and beautiful is painful to his other three wives, all of whom she will have to deal with in order to keep herself afloat, not financially, but mentally.

The director-actress duo making the film are Zhang Yimou and Gong Li and they are both key to the success of the film, a film that was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars the year before and somehow managed to lose to Mediterraneo which is a nice enough Comedy but I can’t imagine how anyone who has seen this film could possibly have voted for that film.  Yimou and Li had made their debut together a few years previously with Red Sorghum, a film that showed how talented Li was and how brilliant Yimou was at making use of bright, brilliant colors.  Again, we get brilliant colors, as Yimou makes the household come to life, no more so than the idea of a red lantern that is hung up by whichever of the wives the master of the house decides to bed down with for the night.

What poor Songlian (Li) will learn as she moves forward is that she will be battling not just the other wives but also her own servants.  She knows that getting pregnant is the fastest way to making a solid claim (especially if it’s a boy) but it’s clear from her expressions that she’s not certain how much she wants to play this game.  She also doesn’t realize at first which wife is the real danger to her.

Yimou makes an interesting choice with the film, choosing never to allow us to see the master’s face.  He is just this ever-present power floating over all the actions in the film without ever really being there.  Songlian is young and beautiful but she knows that there is more to happiness than that even if using those things are the major key to finding her happiness.

Unfortunately, since it had been nominated for Foreign Film the year before it was ineligible in the other categories in its actual eligibility year which meant that the luscious cinematography and vibrant colors of the art direction and costumes were ineligible even though they all absolutely should have been nominated.  What’s more, in a year where the awful direction of Martin Brest in Scent of a Woman earned a nomination it meant that Zhang Yimou’s deft touch and brilliant direction was also ineligible.

The Source:

妻妾成群 by Su Tong  (1990)

The original title is translated as “Wives and Concubines” which is how the title appears in the credits of the film.  However, by the time the novella was published in English (it’s the first of three novellas in a collection and it runs just under 100 pages), the film had already been an international hit and the title was changed to reflect the film’s title which makes sense on a marketing level but not on an artistic level for reasons I explain below.  It’s a bit of a depressing tale of a woman who marries a rich man who already has three wives and the problems that befall her as the various wives try to outdo the others for the favor of their husband.  Things take a very dark turn towards the end (though more of a darker one in the film than in the book which again I will explain below).  One thing to note is that the English translation (by Michael S. Duke) translates the wive’s names and so, instead of Songlian like in the film, we get the story of Lotus (Duke explains why in the Translator’s Note: “the women’s names carry thematically important references to nature and the cycles of nature”).

The Adaptation:

As mentioned above, the title was changed from the original to the movie title for the English publication (as it was, apparently, for later printings in China as well).  What makes that such an odd artistic choice is that the all-important red lantern that gets hung by the part of the household for whichever wife will be getting the husband for the night (and are covered up when the husband discovers that Songlian is not actually pregnant, not to mention the thematic presence of such lanterns in the quarters of the maid) is entirely a creation of the filmmakers.  It is not present at all in the original story.  It’s a brilliant addition to the story, especially since Yimou is so good with color but to then have it become the title of the original story is just strange.

Most of the rest of the film does come fairly straight from the book with a lot of fairly close dialogue (as well as I can tell given translations and subtitles) but one big change is that in the film, Songlian is at least indirectly responsible for what happens to the third wife if not directly responsible while in the book she bears no responsibility for the actions whatsoever.  That makes her eventual fate, which is the same in both book and film, more understandable in the film with guilt eating away at her as opposed to simply being overwhelmed by the horror of what she witnesses.

The Credits:

Directed by Zhang Yimou.  Original Novel <<Wives and Concubines>> by Su Tong.  Scriptwriter: Ni Zhen.
note:  These credits are how they appear on the screen in the DVD (not from subtitles).

Enchanted April

The Film:

It’s a dreary day in London (statistics tell me that less than 20% of the English population lives in London but I swear you would think from watching films and reading novels that everyone in England lives in London or in a country estate) so when a rather miserable woman (Josie Lawrence) dealing with a dreary marriage (Alfred Molina doing a splendid job at playing a bore) to go along with that March weather in London sees an advertisement for a castle for let in Italy for all of April she can’t get it out of her head.  At her local club she approaches a woman she has never spoken to (the brilliant Miranda Richardson in the lead role to go along with her magnificent supporting roles in Damage and The Crying Game that finally made her a big name after years in the industry) and they decide this is something they might actually be able to do.  Her husband (Jim Broadbent) has some good money because he writes risque books (under a pseudonym and no one who knows him as a writer knows his actual name or that he is married).  But it’s not quite enough money so they bring in two other women, one a young, beautiful, rich woman desperate to get away from her life (which actually includes knowing Broadbent as an author) played by Polly Walker in a role that, if you don’t think she looks exactly like Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago then you are blind, and an old stodgy woman (Joan Plowright) who brags about her life with Carlisle and Tennyson but is very displeased to be asked by Lawrence if she knew Keats (“Keats!  No I didn’t, and I didn’t know Shakespeare or Chaucer either.”).  All the pieces are now in place.

After that, well, actually, not a whole lot happens.  That’s an interesting thing about this film which isn’t a Merchant-Ivory production though, with nice costumes a period setting and based on an older British novel with a female oriented story, it’s understandable that it should be mistaken for such.  What’s more, given how little will actually happen in the film until three men intrude on the privacy of the four women at the end of the film, it’s fascinating how good and enjoyable the film is to watch.  In some ways, it’s an example of what can happen when we just sit back and watch good acting (especially Richardson who somehow didn’t get an Oscar nomination and Plowright who did and surprisingly lost to Marisa Tomei) but it’s also an example of just good dialogue when the women are together.

Molina has almost no interest in Lawrence outside of her cooking until he arrives and suddenly manages to see things in a new light.  Richardson loves Broadbent but he is so taken with celebrity and fame that he almost blows his marriage through chance and the only reason he doesn’t is because he acts really fast with Walker reacting just as fast (in what is easily the funniest scene in the film).  Walker discovers when she is away from all her admirers that she actually has something to say and when someone comes along who is interested in listening to it, she is also able to find a different measure of happiness than she has before.  As for Plowright, well, she continues to get in her digs whenever she can but she also begins to realize that just because she has been lonely she doesn’t have to continue to be so.

I remember admiring this film when I first saw it, after its video release.  But I didn’t remember a lot about it and was surprised to see how much of the film is just resting back a little and allowing the four actresses to live in the skins of their characters.  Now that I have read the book it isn’t so surprising (see below) but it’s nice to see as well, a film that just allows the characters to be who they are without feeling the need to talk all the time.

The Source:

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim (1922)

The Introduction to this novel in the NYRB edition by Cathleen Schine points out something interesting that you might not expect having either read the book or seen the film: “When Elizabeth Von Arnim wrote The Enchanted April in 1921, she was fifty-six years old.  It is difficult when reading this deliciously fresh novel to remember that she was, in fact, a child of the Victorian age, closer in age to the story’s grim old Mrs. Fisher than to the three younger women who inhabit a glorious Italian castle for the month of April.”

Schine gets the novel right.  It is deliciously fresh and reading the three younger women, who are far more the focus than Mrs. Fisher, it would be easy to assume that the author was their age.  So it’s to Von Arnim’s credit that she does such a good job of understanding younger women of that age who were struggling in their marriages and trying to find a voice for themselves since she had found hers so much earlier on.  The characters very much come to life in the book and while the film version is quite faithful, there’s no reason you shouldn’t dive into the book as well.

The Adaptation:

There are some small deviations through the story and there are moments in the film that weren’t dialogue in the book.  But the biggest difference is that in the book we don’t see what happens with Broadbent’s character before the women leave for Italy and don’t know until he arrives that he is already acquainted with Walker’s character.  In the book, he simply shows up to see her but in the film we already are aware of his infatuation with her and their meeting in front of his wife is handled just slightly differently (with less humor) but it would still be similar to anyone who had read the book.  Overall, it’s quite a faithful rendition with much of the dialogue in the film coming straight from the book.

The Credits:

Director: Mike Newell.  Screenplay: Peter Barnes.  From the novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim.

Aladdin

The Film:

It was Thanksgiving of 1992 and I was sitting in a theater at a mall in Albany, NY with six other people, all of whom were between the ages of 16 and 21 and we were enjoying the hell out of Aladdin (which was a nice contrast from the night before when we had enjoyed the hell out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula).  We all of us had gone through childhood at an age when the animated Disney films in theaters were sub-par and didn’t come out all that often while we had hit mostly hit double digits and even our teens without them being widely available to buy on video (because films would go in and out of the vault).  So, when The Little Mermaid had redefined everything for the studio we had been anywhere between 18 and 13.  But we had found it and we had found Beauty and the Beast so when Aladdin was opening and we were together for Thanksgiving (the three Newkirk girls, two boyfriends, one other guy and me) we headed over there and the theater was mostly empty, perhaps because it was too late a showing for the kids.  But we were there and we loved the hell out of it.  From the opening song (“Arabian Nights”) to the brilliant, off the wall performance of Robin Williams that redefined what a voice performance could do (as well as basically ensuring that from this point on, it was going to be all about bigger stars getting those jobs rather than just voice actors), we were sold on this film.

While everyone has probably seen the film and even if they hadn’t would already know the classic story of the diamond in the rough who is the one able to go into the cave and retrieve the magic lamp and then has his wonderful adventures with the genie before marrying the princess, it’s easy to forget some key things about the film.  Because this wasn’t the film that kicked off the Disney Renaissance (The Little Mermaid), the first animated film to earn a Best Picture nomination (Beauty and the Beast) or the colossal runaway box office hit (The Lion King) this is the film that gets overlooked.  It might surprise you to learn then that this is the only Disney Animated Film since 1955 to be the #1 film at the box office in its release year and it was not only the #1 film domestically but worldwide as well.  Because the other three films have all gotten re-releases and added significant amounts to the original box office takes, Aladdin‘s $217 million gross looks like less than it is but when it was done at the box office, it was the #12 film of all-time and if not for the difference between matinee tickets and cheaper tickets for kids it probably would have been in the Top 10.

Aladdin was also in a tricky position when it came to its music, which was such a key part of the Disney Renaissance.  Howard Ashman, who had died well before Beauty and the Beast was even released, had written lyrics for three songs including two of the key ones in the film (“Friend Like Me”, “Prince Ali”) but not for the big ballad the film needed as the love song.  So Tim Rice was brought in but that meant that Ashman wouldn’t win yet another posthumous Oscar though “A Whole New World” turned out to be an absolutely phenomenal song that would be the only Disney song to win the Grammy for Record of the Year.

So it’s worth going back to the original film and remembering just how remarkable it is.  While The Lion King would become the standard against which animated box office would be measured, it’s Aladdin that I always return to.  When it comes to films like Lilo & Stitch, Tangled, Frozen and Moana, it’s always Aladdin that I think of when I think that the new film is the best Disney has done since…

That’s because Aladdin has everything you could ever need.  It has fantastic songs, most notably “A Whole New World”, the one time that the Academy actually recognized the best song in the Disney film and gave it the Oscar and also has a magnificent score that sadly gets overshadowed at the Nighthawk Awards by what are probably the two non-John Williams soundtracks that I have listened to the most in my lifetime (The Last of the Mohicans, The Power of One).  It has a hero we really root for, a princess who isn’t going to take shit from anybody (I love her fake seduction of Jafar), a truly worthwhile villain even if he doesn’t get his own song and most of all, the fantastic voiceover performance from Robin Williams.

It’s a little weird to go back now and if you’re not old enough to understand a lot of the contemporary references that Williams stuck into his genie monologues, then it can look a little weird.  But he’s so wonderfully manic and he brings the film to life.  It’s not a coincidence that when Williams died and people flocked to the Boston Public Gardens, to the bench that he had sat on with Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting and started writing various Williams lines in chalk, Thomas wrote “Well I feel sheepish” and I wrote “I’m history, no I’m mythology.”  Because that’s how we chose to remember one of the great all-time film (and stand-up) comedians, with a warm and friendly performance that invited you in.

The Source:

Alaeddin; or, The Wonderful Lamp

I don’t list an author or a year for this story because it’s hard to attribute either.  It first appears in print in 1710 in French, translated by Antoine Galland from the original Arabic provided to him by Hanna Diyab, a Syrian storyteller who might have actually originated the tale as it wasn’t found in original versions of 1001 Nights.  Yet, it had been added by 1839-1842 when the four volume edition was printed in Arabic that would become the source for Richard Burton’s unexpurgated translation in the 1880’s and it was the Burton version that I read.  Even that can mean different things because I read the original Burton (available in the link above) rather than the Signet version which had adapted the Burton version to contain more modern English (and reduce the erotic, though that’s less of an issue in this tale than in others in the collection) and add in paragraph breaks.  It’s actually the last point that makes the Burton a more difficult read rather than the original language because this tale runs just over 80 pages in my edition and to read it straight through without a paragraph break makes it difficult.

It’s a fascinating story though, one of the most enjoyably fantastical of the tales (perhaps because it isn’t one) dealing with not one but two different genies (Aladdin actually has a ring with one less powerful genie in addition to the lamp with the more powerful one).

The Adaptation:

The Disney version, as is so often the case, only takes the bare bones (sorcerer who brings Aladdin to get him the lamp, betrays Aladdin, Aladdin gets the genie and the girl, eventually gets rid of the sorcerer and will become Sultan when he is done).  Most of the rest is fairly different.  One point of interest is where the film and story take place (this was a point of contention in watching this film after reading Anthony Lane’s review of the 2019 version talking about the long convoluted history of the tale that the rug is pretty fast because it flies them all the way to China and back in a night and Veronica pointed out that the story could be in China especially since it’s in the Burton and the original (“It hath reached me, O King of the Age, that there dwelt in a city of the cities of China a man which was a tailor, withal a pauper, and he had one son, Alaeddin hight.”) but, aside from the rest of the text that seems to place the story in Arabia, the song itself that opens the film explicitly places this particular film in Arabia).

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by John Musker, Ron Clements.  Songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, Alan Menken and Tim Rice.  Screenplay by Ron Clements and John Musker, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio.

A River Runs Through It

The Film:

If I were to say that this is the birth of a star, you would probably misunderstand what I was talking about.  You would think, naturally, that I am referring to the emergence of Brad Pitt into (almost) full-fledged stardom.  Really, I am referring to that “introducing” credit in the end credits, the young actor named Joseph Gordon-Leavitt with that terrible haircut and who only gets a few minutes.  Yet, it’s a good few minutes and it’s better hair than he would have on Third Rock.  Pitt, on the other hand, is both a promise of the film and part of the problem.

Now, first of all, Pitt had already been born as a star in his small role in Thelma and Louise.  Second of all, Pitt had also shown that trying to carry a film could be a disaster, as witness Cool World, released earlier the same year.  Third, Pitt isn’t the star of the film.  Yes, he brings the film some energy as Paul, playing it more as a star turn in a character role rather than the dead-eyed lifelessness that accompanies so many of his lead performances, which brings some life to the film, which it needs since Tom Skerritt’s performance as the preacher father of the two young men who are brought up to live by the two laws of religion and fly-fishing has to play his role so straight and narrow.  But Paul isn’t the main character of the story.  Instead it’s Norman, the writer who lives the story (and later writes it ostensibly as a novel but really as a memoir) is played by Craig Sheffer and good lord is he a weight almost dragging the film into the water.  He’s so lifeless in his performance that you wonder why the fish aren’t leaping out of the river trying to eat him.

Robert Redford, in his first film as a director, Ordinary People, had shown that he could masterfully instruct actors and move them around in a human drama.  In his second film, The Milgaro Beanfield War, he really established that he could take the look of a film, the cinematography and the music, and tell a decent story with decent acting but which really focused on those two things.  In A River Runs Through It it seems like he wants to combine the two.  But his masterful narration and the performance of Pitt aren’t enough to overcome the parts of the film that want to drag it down.  In the end, it’s still a very good film because the cinematography and the music and the look of the film are so masterful that they are able to overcome any problem with the acting.  The script is even strong as it follows the two brothers, one trying to escape into a world with words and a beautiful woman and one who can’t seem to escape the troubles that haunt his life.  But in the end, it’s the look of the film that is long remembered after the end credits have passed, not the words that get uttered on screen and certainly not the performances of those who say them.

The Source:

A River Runs Through It by Norman MacLean  (1976)

This is a beautifully written novella or short novel or story or whatever you want to call it.  That does not, however, make it an interesting one.  Over a decade now I wrote about my “Susan Orlean” test when I wrote about trying (unsuccessfully) to read The Orchid Thief and how I couldn’t get through it because even though Orlean is a talented writer, she wasn’t talented enough to get me through a story that was about flowers.  Now MacLean is close to that same level which means his sentences are beautifully formed and the story ends with both a great first line (“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”) and a magnificent closing (“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over the rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.  I am haunted by waters.”).  Unfortunately, in between is an awful lot about fly fishing and the beauty of the language just wasn’t enough to get me past how insanely boring it is to read about fly fishing.  So, if you know someone who likes to fish, absolutely buy them this book.  If not, you’ll have to decide whether the person going to read it can get past that.

The Adaptation:

It’s a really faithful adaptation, straight through to using director Robert Redford to narrate actual lines from the book (including the opening and closing lines).  The only worthwhile difference is that Norman is already married to Jessie in the book at the point where he has to deal with taking her brother fly-fishing.

The Credits:

Directed by Robert Redford.  Based Upon the Story by Norman Maclean.  Screenplay by Richard Friedenberg.

Consensus Nominee

Scent of a Woman

The Film:

The more I have to endure this film, the more it infuriates me.  I watched it first when it came out on video and my first thought was, “They gave Al Pacino an Oscar for this?  Did they not see Malcolm X?”.  I watched it again when I did my Best Picture project and I hated it even more.  This time I didn’t suffer through it as much because I went through it so quickly (helped by the fact that it’s not really an adaptation – see below).  Hopefully, unless I do some future series about acting categories, I can avoid ever seeing this stupid film again.  For the record, by the way, if this film were in its rightful place on the list below, it would be between Waterland and Rampage.

The Source:

Profumo di Donna by Ruggero Maccari and Dino Risi  (1975)

This is the original Italian film, Scent of a Woman, that was an Oscar nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay back in 1975.  I have already reviewed it in full in this post.  I am not a fan but it’s better than this piece of shit.

The Adaptation:

To be fair (and I’m not inclined to be fair to this film, so I’m pushing it here), the credits make clear that this isn’t really an adaptation of either the original novel or the Italian film.  It simply takes the character and builds a new film around him.  Yes, the basic plot of the story – a blind army vet is being shepherded over a weekend by a younger man (well, boy really) and plans to kill himself at the end of it.  So, all the things that are changed (no more old love, the boy isn’t in the army) and all the things that are added (the idiotic school subplot which is perhaps the most infuriating thing about the novel) aren’t so much a change to the source as just what Bo Goldman wanted to do with this script.  They’re all terrible, but that’s not so much part of the adaptation as just part of the film.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Martin Brest.  Screenplay by Bo Goldman.
note:  The opening credits do not mention the source.  There is a note towards the end of the end credits: “Suggested by a character from ‘Profumo di Donna’ by Ruggero Maccari and Dino Risi, based on the novel “Il buio e il miele” by Giovanni Arpino.

 

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10

(in descending order of how I rank the script)

note:  For both this and the following list, bear in mind that the Nighthawk Awards has a full list of every film I saw in the theater so you can go there for more personal reactions to a lot of the films.

  • Of Mice and Men  –  A low ***.5 version of the classic Steinbeck novel that was in my Top 200.
  • Gas Food Lodging  –  Adaptation of a YA novel (Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt by Richard Peck) is good (high ***) but the film as a whole doesn’t quite match the level of the script.
  • Porco Rosso  –  Miyazaki once again adapts his own Manga for the screen, this one about a pilot who’s also an anthropomorphic pig.  At low ***.5 that actually makes it weak Miyazaki.
  • Damage  –  A film that has continually moved upwards in my estimation, Louis Malle directs the adaptation of Josephine Hart’s novel.  The only one of Miranda Richardson’s three really good performances in the year to earn her an Oscar nomination.
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula  –  I’ve discussed it briefly here as one of my favorite films of all-time and reviewed it in full here.  Popped it in again just the other day because we had watched The Fearless Vampire Killers the night before and it made me want to watch this.
  • The Power of One  –  This film really struck me in three different ways when I first saw it (in the theater), none of which had to do with the film debut of a future James Bond (Daniel Craig).  The first was that I used to really be into films because of their message and this one’s anti-apartheid message was moving (if not subtle in the slightest).  The second was that my best friend John and I had both just read Joyce for the first time in AP English and we liked the idea of an epiphany and Fay Masterson was pale and very pretty and she was our epiphany (we literally called her that) and she was just six months older than us (little did we know her career would not really be worth noticing).  Third and most importantly, the score was absolutely amazing and I bought the soundtrack on tape within a week and it was one of the first soundtracks that I converted to CD and I still listen to it in its entirety a lot (with the possible exception of Glory there is probably not a non-John Williams score soundtrack I have listened to more from start to finish).  Based on a novel by Bryce Courtenay, it’s high ***.
  • A League of Their Own  –  Also high ***, it’s smart and funny and, ironic given that it’s a film mostly about women, has one of Tom Hanks’ most under-appreciated performances.  The credits don’t read like it’s adapted but it’s based on a story by Kelly Candaele who made a 1987 short documentary that the film derives from so the old oscars.org listed it as adapted.

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)

  • Malcolm X  –  The rare high ***.5 film on this part of the list in any year.  Spike’s direction is very good and Denzel is fantastic but I think the meandering script is what keeps it from being a great film.  Based, of course, on The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley.
  • The Ox  –  Best Foreign Film nominee from the year before from Sweden.  Stars three of Bergman’s stars (Ullmann, von Sydow, Josephson) and directed by his longtime cinematography Sven Nykvist, so it’s ironic that the writing is the weakest part of the film.  Based on the novel by Siv Cedering.  Low ***.5.
  • A Midnight Clear  –  Based on the novel by William Wharton, this high *** War film is about a German platoon that wants to surrender towards the end of the war.
  • Batman Returns  –  I had loved the first film and this film had Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman.  It was going to be great, right?  It was not and I explain why here.  Just so we have a clear idea of where this year sits in my own personal history, this film was released the morning after I graduated from high school.
  • Noises Off  –  I first saw this in college with my roommate Jamie (who had done the play, by Michael Frayn, on stage) and I think we like it a lot more than most.  It has a wonderful ensemble cast and was the last film role for one of my favorites (Denholm Elliott).  Given that three of the actors had untimely deaths (Elliott, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter), I’m surprised no one ever mentioned a curse, but than again, both Michael Caine and Carol Burnett are in the mid 80’s.  This was the film that made me realize how sexy Marilu Henner is.
  • Patriot Games  –  I saw this opening day because I had read the book (by Tom Clancy) and just a couple of months later, while on my trip to college, my mother and I drove past the Naval Academy so I could see where they filmed some of the scenes.  Still solid.  First film where I ever saw Sean Bean and of course he died.  Also has Thora Birch as Harrison’s daughter, years before American Beauty and Ghost World.
  • White Dog  –  Samuel Fuller’s 1982 film of Romain Gary’s book was shelved by Paramount causing Fuller to leave the country and never direct another film in America.  The old oscars.org listed this as its LA release after it had played New York’s Film Forum the year before.  Social Drama about racism that was shelved because of fears it was racist and later released on DVD by Criterion.  We’re down to mid *** with this film.
  • Chaplin  –  Based on both Chaplin’s autobiography and a biography of him because making films about real-life events is what Richard Attenborough does.  I re-watched this for the first time in over 25 years after starting this list because I felt that Downey’s performance deserved it, even if the rest of the film didn’t.  Based on Chaplin’s autobiography as well as a biography.
  • The Mambo Kings  –  Solid film based on the Pulitzer winning novel by Oscar Hijuelos (The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love), an award I rated a B (good but not great book but not great other options).
  • Cabeza de Vaca  –  The 1990 Oscar submission from Mexico, the title literally translates to “Head of the Cow” (see, Señora Perez, I didn’t forget all my Spanish 102).  Solid Adventure film based on a journal from 1542.
  • Alien³  –  I am kinder to this film than most for reasons I make clear in my full review here.
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol  –  People who were younger than 18 in 1992 may have fonder memories of this film than I do.  It’s an okay version of the classic Dickens story but it was also the first film with the new voice of Kermit after Jim Henson’s death in 1990 which is part of why they tried to keep his time on-screen to a minimum because the voice didn’t sound particularly right.
  • Gô-hime  –  One of the last films from former Oscar nominee Hiroshi Teshigahara (Woman in the Dunes).  Based on a novel by Masaharu Fuji.
  • Barefoot Gen  –  A 1983 Anime film based on a Manga series.  Three years later it would get a dubbed release in the States as well.
  • The Oil-Hell Murder  –  The Japanese Oscar submission from 1989 based on an 18th Century play by Chikamatsu Monzaemon.
  • FernGully: The Last Rainforest  –  Apparently it was a book first which I assume is just as cheesy as the film.  Not by by any means, just cheesy.
  • Used People  –  Based on the play The Grandma Plays, this is a charming enough Romantic Comedy with Shirley MacLaine and Marcello Mastroianni (they both earned Globe noms).
  • Where Angels Fear to Tread  –  E.M. Forster’s first novel isn’t up to the level set by his later masterworks but is good enough.  The film isn’t up to the level of other film adaptations either (obviously) in spite of several Forster alumni (Judy Davis, Helena Bonham Carter, Rupert Graves).  Down to low ***.
  • The Child of Man  –  The first year of the post-USSR Oscars brings forth the first (and until 2008 only) submission from Latvia.  Based on a novel by Jānis Klīdzējs.
  • Tous les matins du monde  –  French Drama based on the novel by Pascal Quignard though the film actually beat the book by about two weeks.
  • Golgo 13: The Professional  –  Another Anime film made in 1983 based on a Manga finally hitting the States.
  • The Cry of the Owl  –  Also a late arrival, this is Claude Chabrol’s 1987 adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel.
  • Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland  –  The original comic strip by Winsor McCay is one of the earliest, most important and most influential comic strips of all-time.  The film, a Japanese-American collaboration, however, is mostly mediocre.
  • Single White Female  –  Suspense thriller based on the novel SWF Seeks Same has some moments but for a recent Oscar nominee (Barbet Schroeder) it’s a letdown.
  • Wayne’s World  –  Now we’ve reached **.5.  I enjoyed this film in the theater and I had enjoyed the skit on SNL.  But “enjoyed” and “thinks it’s actually a good film” are not synonymous.  I am thankful that the soundtrack introduced me to the song “Dream Weaver”.
  • Lethal Weapon 3  –  There’s an amusing side-note to me seeing this in the theater noted in the NA.  Tolerable third film in the series made a bit more tolerable by the addition of Rene Russo.
  • Storyville  –  You can tell it’s not good because Joanna Whalley-Kilmer is in it.  Seriously, I’ve seen most of her post-1989 work and there isn’t a single good film among them.  Based on some novel called Juryman.
  • Marquis  –  A 1989 surrealistic French film based on the writings of de Sade.  So, you know, not for kids.  Mid **.5.
  • Freddie as F.R.O.7.  –  And now we drop quickly to low **.  Bizarre James Bond parody with an animated frog.  Maybe that’s why the old oscars.org considered it adapted because I don’t see anything that marks it as such.
  • Prelude to a Kiss  –  The beginning of the descent of Alec Baldwin’s career that wouldn’t right itself until State and Main in 2000.  Mediocre romance with Meg Ryan based on the play by Craig Lucas.
  • Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me  –  The show had been weird and brilliant at first and then just became weird (or as Homer puts it in the episode “Lisa’s Sax” while watching the show: “Brilliant.  (chuckles).  I have absolutely no idea what’s going on.”).  The film just stays at weird and stumbles to even rise above mediocrity.  Just stick with the show (I don’t want to say the original because I haven’t seen the new version but have heard very good things).
  • Police Story III: Super Cop  –  Jackie Chan continues to punch and kick people.
  • Night and the City  –  The original film is simply brilliant (as can be seen in my review here).  This version, with Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange should be better, especially since Irwin Winkler (Scorsese’s long-time producer who had directed De Niro quite well the year before in Guilty by Suspicion) directed it.  But it just never works and especially when compared to the 1950 version it’s a big letdown.
  • Lorenzo’s Oil  –  I re-watched this in grad school for some reason and thought even less of it then, having had another decade of appreciating film than when it first came out.  A solid performance from Susan Sarandon can’t save it from sappiness.  Also, either I made a mistake at one point copying down info from the old oscars.org or they bizarrely listed it as adapted because it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and though it’s based on a true story it doesn’t seem to have a previous source.
  • K2  –  This was apparently a stage play first.  At least the film gave you some actual views of the mountain.  Still not good enough to bother with though.
  • Edward II  –  Just because Derek Jarman tragically died relatively young (early 50’s) doesn’t mean I have to think his film aren’t overrated.  This postmodern version of the Marlowe play has an interesting performance from Tilda Swinton but not much else to recommend it.
  • City of Joy  –  Directed by a two-time Oscar nominee (Roland Jaffe), this Social Drama about a doctor (Patrick Swayze) working in the slums of Calcutta was designed as pure Oscar bait but they forgot to make it good.  Also didn’t help that it was a box-office bomb.  High **.  Based on the novel by Dominique Lapierre.
  • Swordsman 2  –  Middle part of the trilogy starring Jet Li.
  • The Lawnmower Man  –  Bears almost no resemblance to the original Stephen King story.  Does have solid Visual Effects or so I remember from seeing it in the theater 27 years ago.
  • Bébé’s Kids  –  Actually nominated for an Annie, this mess of an Animated Film was based on comedic sketches from Robin Harris.
  • Rock-a-Doodle  –  A dumb animated film based on a play by Edmond Rostand (Cyrano de Bergerac) of all people.
  • Candyman  –  Bernard Rose, who would later make terrible film versions of Anna Karenina and Frankenstein makes a bad film from a Clive Barker short story.
  • The Lover  –  It’s erotic with good cinematography and Jane March is very sensual but she can’t act so this version of Marguerite Duras’ novel is low **.
  • Waterland  –  This adaptation of the Graham Swift novel has Jeremy Irons but it also has Ethan Hawke.
  • Rampage  –  Based on a novel by William P. Wood that was loosely based on a real serial killer.  This William Friedkin film was filmed in 1986 and played the Boston Film Festival in 1987 and a 1988 European release so this *.5 film shouldn’t have been Oscar eligible by the time Friedkin re-edited it, gave it a new ending and got it a 1992 U.S. release but somehow it was.
  • Home Alone 2: Lost in New York  –  Because I watched this as an adult and don’t have rose-tinted glasses for it, I can definitely say it sucks.  The first film at least had some decent qualities; this one has none.
  • Godzilla & Mothra: The Battle for Earth  –  Designed originally as a stand-alone Mothra film but perhaps because the moth hadn’t been in a film in almost 25 years, the producers decided to plop Godzilla in there.  It gets quite wacktastic towards the end.
  • Shining Through  –  Fox knew they had a stinker on their hands so they buried this World War II Drama with Michael Douglas and Melanie Griffith in January but it came to back to life at the Razzies, winning three including Worst Picture and Actress.  Based on a novel by Susan Isaacs.
  • Memoirs of an Invisible Man  –  I had no interest in seeing this clearly terrible film (based on the novel by H. F. Saint) until William Goldman released Which Lie Did I Tell in 2000 in which he talked about how Chase wanted to stress the loneliness of invisibility until Goldman finally said (he says in the book he doesn’t remember saying it but a 1988 newspaper report quoted him): “I’m sorry, but I’m too old and too rich to put up with this shit.”  The film finally emerged years later and it was just shit.
  • Freejack  –  Terrible Sci-Fi film based (loosely) on the novel Immortality Inc.  Has a random straight acting performance from Mick Jagger.
  • Honey, I Blew Up the Kid  –  The original film got Disney the threat of a lawsuit, not because of the idea but because the original production company (Doric Films) had an agreement with two homeowners to use their houses for the film.  When Disney bought the script, rather than pay the homeowners, they actually recreated the houses on a set in Mexico.  After the threatened lawsuit, Disney paid a nominal amount (small for Disney – nice for the homeowners) and one copy each of the movie on video.  I know this because my grandfather was one of the homeowners and I have copies of all the letters sent to Disney, a final letter in response and the actual settlement contract (my mom has the video).  That house on-screen, including the attic and kitchen and the backyard is where my mother grew up.  Oh, and this sequel is brainless and terrible which is too bad because in spite of the lawsuit the original is a good and fun film.
  • Pet Sematary Two  –  The first one sucked.  This one sucked more.  The only connection to the original King novel (and first film) is the concept, not any of the characters.  We jump directly from *.5 to .5 with this film.
  • Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth  –  We don’t get two Stephen King films in a row because Sleepwalkers was original with a King screenplay.  Instead, we end with this horrible sequel to a Clive Barker film.
  • Once Upon a Crime  –  Not quite the worst film of the year but the worst adapted film I’ve seen, a remake of a 1960 Italian film called Crimen.  Simply terrible ensemble Comedy starring John Candy and directed by Eugene Levy.

note:  18 fewer films than the year before on this list whereas I’ve seen 20 fewer films than the year before total, so more original scripts this year even though the original scripts, as a whole, were better the year before.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • Romeo – Juliet  –  Listed on the IMDb as Romeo.Juliet but I have used the title as it was listed on the old oscars.org.  Eligible film using cats voiced by big British actors (John Hurt, Ben Kingsley, Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith) to depict the story.  Completely unable to find but, since I hate cats and am not a big fan of the play, not a big loss for me.
  • Sunset  –  Not eligible but received an LA release according to the old oscars.org.  Only listed as Zakat on the IMDb.  Little seen (21 votes on the IMDb) film based on the works of Isaac Babel.

Not only have I seen every Top 100 film at the box office for this year, but there won’t be another Top 100 film I haven’t seen until 2005, so I’ll dispense with that part for a number of posts.  CrissCross (#134, $3.05 mil) is the highest grossing adaptation I haven’t seen while Aces: Iron Eagle III (#142, $2.51 mil) is the highest grossing sequel I haven’t seen.

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