One of the most disturbing scenes in film history and it’s not in the book at all.

My Top 10

  1. Schindler’s List
  2. The Age of Innocence
  3. The Remains of the Day
  4. In the Name of the Father
  5. Shadowlands
  6. The Snapper
  7. Much Ado About Nothing
  8. Short Cuts
  9. Like Water for Chocolate
  10. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

note:  A very strong Top 5 and Top 10.  There are several more movies on my list at the bottom though The Fugitive (#13) and Strictly Ballroom (#17) aren’t included because they’re reviewed below as award nominees.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Schindler’s List  (368 pts)
  2. The Remains of the Day  (152 pts)
  3. In the Name of the Father  (120 pts)
  4. Short Cuts  (104 pts)
  5. The Joy Luck Club  (80 pts)
  6. Shadowlands  (80 pts)

note:  Schindler’s List sets a new points record as it becomes the first film to win five awards.  However, because of so many BAFTA nominees and two critics winners, it has a lower percentage of the points than The Player the year before.

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

  • Schindler’s List
  • The Age of Innocence
  • In the Name of the Father
  • The Remains of the Day
  • Shadowlands

note:  This is the only year in the history of the Academy Awards where I agree 5/5 with this category.  It is their best Top 5 by several points.

WGA:

  • Schindler’s List
  • The Fugitive
  • In the Name of the Father
  • The Joy Luck Club
  • The Remains of the Day

Golden Globes:

  • Schindler’s List
  • The Remains of the Day
  • Short Cuts
  • The Player

Nominees that are Original:  Philadelphia, The Piano

BAFTA:

  • Schindler’s List
  • In the Name of the Father
  • The Remains of the Day
  • Shadowlands
  • Strictly Ballroom  (1992)
  • The Joy Luck Club  (1994)

BSFC:

  • Short Cuts

CFC:

  • Schindler’s List

My Top 10

Schindler’s List

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film, of course, because it won Best Picture in 1993.  It didn’t just win the Oscar – it won everything.  It is still the only film in history to win all of the Best Picture awards – all six critics groups, the Oscar, the BAFTA, the Globe and the PGA.  It is a brilliant film, with the right choice to make it in black and white shining through in every shot.  It established Liam Neeson as a world class actor and finally won Steven Spielberg his first Oscar.  I will remind those again who take issue with the shower scenes that this film is not about the six million people who died.  It is about the people who lived.

The Source:

Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally  (1982)

I must admit, I had a slight prejudice against this book before I ever got around to reading it and it still sticks with me.  A friend of mine at Powells railed against the book because it was written as a novel.  Keneally claims “the novelist’s craft is the only one I can lay claim to, and because the novels’ techniques seem suited for a character of such ambiguity and magnitude as Oskar.”  My friend David disagreed, claiming that Keneally was just too lazy to do the proper research and write an actual non-fiction book about Schindler.  Even aside from David’s argument, I don’t find the novelistic approach to work particularly well.  It makes for a strange viewpoint.  It really does feel like a history book that just doesn’t want to be a history book, to be written as a novel perhaps because it would sell better and allow Keneally more leeway.  Any way it works, the book tells an important story but it is far from a great book.

The original title, by the way, was never used in the U.S., where it was published as Schindler’s List back in 1983.  In most countries, it now uses that title as well instead of the original title.

The Adaptation:

The book really just provides the blueprint for the film.  Almost every important scene (except for the “I pardon you” scene, the most disturbing in the film and one of the most disturbing in the history of film) is present in the book (even the scene of his workers thinking they will be gassed but only getting showers).  But almost no dialogue in the film comes from the book.  There is dialogue in the book, but even when it is there in scenes used in the film, the filmmakers use their own dialogue.  The book is really nothing more than a blueprint; it does not provide the real details.

The Credits:

Directed by Steven Spielberg.  Screenplay by Steven Zaillian.  Based on the Novel by Thomas Keneally.
note:  There are no opening credits other than the title.  These are from the end credits.

The Age of Innocence

The Film:

I have reviewed this film once already as one of the best films of 1993.  Of course, it boggles the mind that the Academy voters didn’t realize that it was one of the best films of 1993.  As I mentioned before, at first glance, it seems like it doesn’t belong very well in the Scorsese oeuvre but when you take a closer look at the way these people act within their closed New York society and the rules that they must live by and what will happen when people break the rules, it actually is very much a work that belongs there.  One of Scorsese’s very best films, a triumph of magnificent acting and writing and a visually sumptuous film.

The Source:

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton  (1920)

As mentioned in my full review, I was not an Edith Wharton fan.  In fact, I’m still not an Edith Wharton fan, though I think this is a great book and it placed in my Top 200.  It won the fourth Pulitzer Prize, a prize I gave an A- and said that it was the best choice the committee could have made.  The Modern Library introduction (from 1948) declares Wharton “the grande dame of American letters” and I mentioned to Veronica that, annoyingly, I couldn’t argue with that statement at that time.  American literature had Willa Cather (who I also don’t like except for one book – Death Comes for the Archbishop) and Louisa May Alcott (known primarily for one book) while the Brits had Austen and the Brontes and George Eliot and Virginia Woolf.  Eventually, of course, we would get Toni Morrison and so Wharton no longer has claim to that rank but it was not untrue in 1948.

This is a great novel in the way that Henry James kept failing to write a great novel because even though I don’t care about the rich, Newland Archer comes vividly to life on the page and Wharton’s language is so wonderful.  Just look at her description when Newland arrives in Boston on page 230: “The next morning, when Archer got out of the Fall River train, he emerged upon a steaming midsummer Boston.  The streets near the station were full of the smell of beer and coffee and decaying fruit and a shirt-sleeved populace moved through them with the intimate abandon of boarders going down the passage to the bathroom.”

If you have never read Wharton, well count yourself lucky that Ethan Frome wasn’t inflicted upon you in high school because it’s just terrible (more on that at the bottom of the post).  But this is definitely the book to read, the one she is most known for and thankfully the one she deserves to be most known for.

The Adaptation:

A remarkably faithful adaptation, complete to the point that it includes a narrator who gives life to some of the narrative threads of the story that the dialogue and actions wouldn’t be able to cover.  I actually have the published screenplay because it is part of a magnificent hardcover with loads of glorious stills from the film, excerpts from other books that helped the filmmakers with making their film and a list of films that they watched in preparation for the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Martin Scorsese.  Based upon the novel by Edith Wharton.  Screenplay by Jay Cocks & Martin Scorsese.

The Remains of the Day

The Film:

Is this perhaps the most British film ever made?  It’s the story of two decades in the life of Stevens, the butler of the grant Darlington Hall during the same time that its owner falls out of favor in society (he is an ardent appeaser during the 30s) and eventually, with no heir to inherit (he had no son and his godson was killed in the war), is sold to an American.  It is the tale of a love that grows between two people in which neither one so much as makes a single nod to the other one out of emotion or allows themselves the luxury of a single moment of joy or even pain.  It is brilliantly told (by four Brits, one of whom was born in India, one of whom was born in Japan and one of whom was born in Germany) and exquisitely acted.  It is also the premier example of a film that is widely admired but not firmly loved as it was the first film in history to earn Picture, Director and Screenplay nominations from the Oscars, Globe, BAFTA and guilds and fail to win any of them (as well as earning Actor and Actress from the first three because the SAG awards didn’t exist yet).

The Source:

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro  (1988)

I have the same reaction to Ishiguro every time I read one of his books.  I admire what he is doing, I admire his use of language and that he is interesting in the way he structures his narratives.  Yet, there is also something almost inapproachable in them for me.  I have read five of his seven novels and just about every time I have the same reaction: “well, that was well-written but it was also could kind of a slog and it didn’t really work that well for me.”  This was the first Ishiguro I ever read, because I had seen the film and I would never attempt to argue with those who do love his work and I think that he was a good choice for the Nobel Prize.  There’s just something that doesn’t work for me.

Looking at Ishiguro’s name you might wonder why he would write about a British butler in the time leading up to World War II and the potential romance with the housekeeper that he denied himself to have, but Ishiguro was raised in Britain, moving there when he was just six and if there’s any society that knows as much about closing off your emotions as the Brits, it’s the Japanese anyway.

The Adaptation:

It’s impressive how Jhabvala cuts through the narrative to find actual scenes that could be placed on film.  Many of the lines of dialogue do come straight from the book but they are more ethereal in the way they are buried in Stevens’ narrative as he journeys to see Miss Kenton in the hopes that she will return to the house after all this time.  There aren’t many differences between the book and the film and a major one (the changing of the new owner to be the same Lewis who had visited for the conference in the 30s) is actually a smart one as it economizes with characters and provides some interesting continuity, someone with an actual connection to the estate.

The Credits:

Directed by James Ivory.  Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

In the Name of the Father

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as a Best Picture nominee.   Of course, I would have reviewed it anyway as one of the five best films of the year.  It’s a great film that manages to not only tell the story of one particular innocent man and the way he was railroaded by the British system and kept in jail for 15 years but also an indictment of how we, the world, approach justice when there is terrorism involved and how what we do and why we do things still matter even in a world of moral grays.  Daniel Day-Lewis has won three Oscars but this is where the Academy let him down, not giving him an Oscar that he deserved.

The Source:

Proved Innocent by Gerry Conlon  (1990)

Conlon is the rare writer who is not trained, writing about his own life, without any help, who does a good job of it.  The book has its own voice as Conlon takes people through his life and the mistakes that he made that ended up with him being wrongly suspected of committing the Guildford bombing in 1974

The Adaptation:

As can be found most places when you look up this film (and discussed in my own review of the film), Conlon and his father were never kept in the same jail cell (though at times they were in the same prison).  That is a dramatic device that the filmmakers decided to employ to look at their lives in prison and their relationship with each other (and the filmmakers always admitted that).  There are other deviations from the actual historic facts (for instance, much of what we see Gareth Peirce, the solicitor played by Emma Thompson, do was a combination of other people and as a solicitor not a barrister, she would not have been making arguments in court, but again, it’s an easy decision for filmmakers to make, thus eliminating extraneous characters (and the complications of the British legal system)).

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Jim Sheridan.  Based on the Autobiographical Book Proved Innocent by Gerry Conlon.  Screenplay by Terry George and Jim Sheridan.

Shadowlands

The Film:

Narnia was my gateway drug to Middle-Earth.  I was only six when my brothers were reading the books and then handing them to me.  I read them so fast that they didn’t believe me and they would actually test me on the books afterwards.  Aside from that, Debra Winger was the massive celebrity crush of my adolescence.  So when a movie was coming out with Debra Winger about C.S. Lewis, especially since it was starring Anthony Hopkins who had proven, over the previous two years in Silence of the Lambs, Dracula, Howards End and The Remains of the Day that he was absolutely one of the best actors at work, there was no way I would miss it.

At the time when this film was released, I had only cried once in a theater – just a couple of weeks before when Philadelphia overwhelmed me for reasons having more to do with me (see what I wrote in the Nighthawk Awards) than with the film itself.  Then came the final moments of Shadowlands.

Let’s rewind a little.  C.S. Lewis, by the mid 50’s, was well known throughout England and the States as the author of the Narnia books and fairly well known also as a writer about theology.  He speaks to crowds and says things that resonate, things like “If you have no need of God you do not seek Him.  If you do not seek Him you will not find Him.”  Lewis, who lost his mother at age nine, has grown up with his brother, the two of them living the life of bachelors in Oxford as such men do.  He is smart and thoughtful and imaginative but he does not move towards feelings.  Not like Stevens, the butler that Hopkins played in The Remains of the Day, who actively represses his feelings.  Lewis simply never makes use of them.

Then a series of circumstances derail his way of life.  He meets an attractive American divorcee named Joy Gresham, a poet who is in England with her young son, Douglas.  A first meeting to talk about his books turns into an invitation to tea for her and Douglas turns into an invitation for Christmas.  When Joy and Douglas leave for America and then return to live in England, Lewis finds himself increasingly drawn to her.  He still isn’t dealing with feelings; he enjoys having her around.  It turns out she would like British citizenship.  So they get married for convenience, a brief civil service that Lewis then leaves to get back to work (his brother at least has the good sense to go get a drink with Joy afterwards).

Then comes illness.  It seems like the story trope, but this is all from real life.  There are some changes (Joy had two sons and all of this takes place over a bit more time, so that Douglas was almost 14 in real life when the end events of the film come around) but this is essentially the story of how Lewis came to find, not just love, but his feelings at all.  Joy, played by Debra Winger, in the best role she had managed to find in a decade (leading to her third Oscar nomination) finds the heart of Joy, a directness that speaks to Lewis.  Hopkins, meanwhile, once Joy gets sick, finds the emotions that Lewis didn’t realize he had.  That’s what makes this performance so different from his performance as Stevens; that his emotions just needed to be located and he will suddenly feel, passionately and tragically.

So we come back to that ending.  Lewis and Douglas, now his stepson, sit in the attic.  In front of them is an old wardrobe that Douglas looked in earlier in the film, hoping to find some of the magic of Narnia, hoping to find something to replace his alcoholic father back in America and his dying mother, only to find clothes and wooden backing and that wardrobe represents hope for them, hope for something more.  But the light has gone out of their lives, having just come from the funeral.  They sit together and wonder how they go on and they cry.  And so did I, the first time I saw it, and again, when my friend Bret and I kidnapped our friend Ali and made her take a break from work to go see it with us and cry.  And I know that Debra Winger’s scene saying goodbye to her children in Terms of Endearment wasn’t the only thing that influenced this story.

“The pain now is part of the happiness then.”  Lewis says this at the end, something he learned from Joy, something I have learned in my own life.

The Source:

Shadowlands by William Nicholson  (1989)

This actually began life as a television film in 1985 (a version that hewed a little bit closer to real life in that both sons are in it) though neither the film nor the actual published play make any reference to that.  Then, William Nicholson pared it down, reducing characters and scenes, focusing it mainly on the two main characters and the two secondary characters (Lewis’ brother and Joy’s son).  Both acts in it begin with Lewis talking to a crowd on theology and pain (moments that are spread out in the film).  It’s an effective play and one of the few that I have actually held onto as my Drama collection has continually decreased over the years.

The Adaptation:

Almost all of the lines in the play make it on-screen.  There are some things that are slightly re-arranged (such as the opening bits of each act) but they are all pretty much intact.  There is a lot more in the film however, including a subplot involving one of Lewis’ students that wasn’t in the original play at all.

The Credits:

Directed by Richard Attenborough.  Screenplay by William Nicholson based on his stage play.

The Snapper

The Film:

What makes a trilogy?  Sometimes it’s one story being told across multiple volumes or episodes like the original three Star Wars films.  Sometimes it’s something in the theme that unites three stories like in the Three Colors Trilogy.  Sometimes it’s a bit less, especially when it comes to film trilogies.  Let’s look at the Barrytown Trilogy, for instance, a group of three films that are only loosely connected but which were based on three novels that were considered a trilogy by the original author.  The Commitments had been a success, both financially (barely) and critically (very much so) but it didn’t seem like the other books were going to be made.  Two years later, when the second novel in the trilogy about one family in Dublin was filmed, it appeared originally as a television film in Ireland (though it earned a theatrical distribution in the States and thus was Oscar eligible and earned a Golden Globe nom) with a different director and an almost completely different cast and crew and by the time the third film came along (The Van, released originally in 1996 and in the States in 1997 and just missing out on my Top 10 for Adapted Screenplay so it won’t be reviewed) just about the only people who had been involved in all three films were Roddy Doyle (who wrote the original novels and co-wrote the script to the first film and wrote the final two scripts) and Colm Meaney.  Hell, even the names didn’t stay the same through the films as the Rabbitte family name used in The Commitments belonged to that film company and had to be changed for The Snapper and was then changed again for The Van.

Poor Sharon Curley is in the family way.  But, presaging what we’ll see in Juno, her family isn’t about to turn her out or even yell too much.  They love her too much.  They’re a close-knit Irish family into talking and drinking and then more talking and possibly more drinking.  They are a bit concerned about who the father might be and even more concerned when the idiot who did father the child can’t keep his bleedin’ mouth shut down at the pub.  A lot of Juno, though, revolved around Juno herself and her cleverness and the way she pushed the world back a little with some ironic detachment.  There’s nothing like that here.  Sharon wants to keep workin’ and goin’ to the pub and keep on like nothing has changed (except that she can’t work the register because she keeps needin’ to go to the toilet).  Her da also wants to keep things the same and he mostly does so until it becomes apparent who the father is and he gets into a fight down the pub.

The comedy in this film is less than in a film like Juno but there is more family warmth and it is real.  The siblings continue to tease each other and do stupid kid things, the adults continue to muddle on because there’s nothing else that can be done.  They continue forth like all families do in such circumstances.

The Source:

The Snapper by Paddy Doyle  (1990)

Roddy Doyle has long been one of Ireland’s best contemporary writers.  He wasn’t as established at this point, having not yet won the Booker (he would win it the year that this film came out) but he had already published the very popular The Commitments and continued his story of the Rabbitte family, living in a section of Dublin, with this story of what happens when the oldest daughter ends up getting pregnant.  Given that there’s not actually a whole lot to the book (it covers from when she reveals that she is pregnant, shortly after learning it herself until the birth of her daughter and there is a little bit revolving around subplots but really almost the entire book deals with her pregnancy and the way her father (a little bit her mother but mostly her father) deals with it).  But it’s an enjoyable read and one best read at home only because so much of the book is dialogue and written in dialetic (“- I should give ou’, I suppose.  An’ throw a wobbler or somethin’.”) that it’s actually easier to read if you read the book aloud to yourself.  Great dialogue and not a whole lot of narrative but Doyle’s books are always fun to read.  It’s best read in the Penguin version that collects the whole trilogy, which is what I own and is pictured to the right.

The Adaptation:

Doyle kept very close to his original novel with most of the dialogue coming straight from the book and, since it had actual Irish actors, the dialects even work exactly as they are written out on the page.

The Credits:

Directed by Stephen Frears.  Written by Roddy Doyle.

Much Ado About Nothing

The Film:

What can I really say about this film that I didn’t already say in my original review?  I wrote it for the Nighthawk Awards because this is one of the Top 5 films of the year.  In fact, it earns Nighthawk nominations for Picture, Director, Actor and Actress, all of which are remarkable in a year that is as filled to the brim with great films as this one is.  It is also a film I love to return to, filled with joy and warmth and humor.  It somehow lost the Globe to Mrs. Doubtfire and failed to earn a single Oscar nomination.

The Source:

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare  (1599)

One of Shakespeare’s more mature and more interesting comedies with a fantastic battle of wits between Beatrice and Benedick and a clear back story that makes all their verbal jousting even more interesting.  The play can be interpreted in a variety of ways (I mention at least two different interpretations of scenes in my full review of the film) but that’s part of the brilliance of it.  Definitely one of my favorite Shakespeare comedies and would possibly be my favorite if A Midsummer Night’s Dream didn’t have so much of a back story in my life.

The Adaptation:

I thought I would need to note some of the specific choices that Branagh makes that move away from the actual text but I actually covered those already as well in that review.

The Credits:

Directed by Kenneth Branagh.  by William Shakespeare.  Adapted for the screen by Kenneth Branagh.

Short Cuts

The Film:

Paul Thomas Anderson was a famous fan of Robert Altman.  He mentions Altman a lot in the commentary for Boogie Nights and he was the backup director for Prairie Home Companion in case Altman couldn’t finish.  Nowhere is it more obvious that Altman was a massive influence on Anderson than if you watch Short Cuts and then you watch Magnolia.

Short Cuts is an example of what would later be termed a “hyperlink film” in which the characters seems to be distinct and different storylines but have slight connections that keeps bringing them together.  Anderson would master this kind of film with Magnolia with a group of disparate characters all connected through a single game show even when they don’t know it.  But, in spite of very different types of characters (and original storylines), Anderson clearly was inspired by this film in which Altman would take the core elements of several of Raymond Carver’s short stories, remove them from the Pacific Northwest and place them all in various parts of LA, connecting them through two very LA events at the beginning and end: the spraying for medflies and an earthquake.

Short Cuts seemed to follow on the idea that Altman had used before in The Player, moving between groups of people and getting the feel of them (though The Player was better partially because it had a single strong character to follow and a better story) and Nashville, connecting a large group of people without following any single character (which I thought was weak because it didn’t have good characters and had weak writing which Altman counters this time by importing fully created characters from Carver’s work).

It’s hard precisely to say what this film is about without getting into a very long description that touches on every storyline but, aside from them all being in LA and enduring the opening and ending problems and all being vaguely connected, it’s mostly about unhappiness.  The film focuses mostly on couples (some with children) and all of them are unhappy in one way or another.  Whether it’s alcohol or an old affair or apathy or bitterness or even a new tragedy, something is wrong with all of these people.

I didn’t take to this film as much the first time I saw it as I do now because I was looking for something with a stronger core story like I had seen in The Player the year before.  But the wide array of characters and how well they work in conjunction with each other overcomes that and provides a fascinating film in which you can see something different every time you watch it.  Of course, it’s not perfect and when Altman would try to do a similar film the next year with Pret-a-Porter, it would be one of his worst.

The Source:

the writings of Raymond Carver

Though there actually is a book called Short Cuts that contains the nine stories (and one poem) that kind of provide the basis for the film’s primary characters, the link above is to Where I’m Calling From, the magnificent collection that Carver was working on when he died that contains 37 stories in all covering the entirety of his career including six stories that hadn’t been published before.  While it only contains six of the stories that were “used” for Short Cuts it also shows off the depth and breadth of Carver’s career and includes his two most famous short stories, neither of which was used for the film (“Cathedral”, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and if you have never read the former you didn’t have a decent short story anthology in college).  Carver (who was from a tiny little nowhere town called Clatskanie, Oregon that I have driven through several times) was a master at showing middle or lower class families trying to deal with their problems.  This collection really belong on a shelf with A Good Man is Hard to Find as a magnificent collection from someone who wasn’t around long enough (Carver died at 50).

The Adaptation:

The film uses nine stories and one poem (though none of them are listed in the credits) and after the film, a new book was released called Short Cuts that contained all the pieces used for the film.  But they didn’t really use that much from the original stories as I will let Altman himself explain.

“The credit on Short Cuts says, ‘Based on the stories of Raymond Carver.’  We took great liberties with that.  His widow, Tess Gallagher, worked on the film with us and it’s just thick with Raymond Carver.  And yet there’s only one story that’s really his, the one about the little kid getting hit by the car and dying.  That was the closest to any of his stories, though there were pieces of the others everywhere.”  (Robert Altman interviewed in Conversations at the American Film Institute with The Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation, ed. George Stevens, Jr, p 11-12)

That is very true.  For instance, “So Much Water So Close to Home” contains the basic idea for the story (man finds body on a fishing trip) but the film and story then go in very different directions (not to mention making use of the other two guys on the trip for different aspects of the story) and that story would be more fully covered over a decade later in the film Jindabyne.  But, “A Small, Good Thing”, the story Altman mentions, does follow the events rather closely even though it also has some notable changes (it was a man who did a hit and run in the car to cause the injury in the story and there is no grandfather showing up either).  But some of the other stories only bear a passing resemblance even to the characters that they supply.  Altman’s got it right – the film is thick with Carver – but really doesn’t take much directly from the stories.  Yet, it’s the thickness from Carver that really provides the depth to the film that would be so badly lacking the next year in Pret-a-Porter.

The Credits:

Directed by Robert Altman.  Based on the writings of Raymond Carver.  Screenplay by Robert Altman & Frank Barhydt.

Like Water for Chocolate

The Film:

Magical realism is one of the most wonderful of literary genres, producing a number of absolute classics but it has been resistant to film.  Is it a coincidence that this book, which is a good book but not on the same level as the classics of the genre, is probably the best film made from a magical realism novel?  Probably not, as I write about below.  This is the cleanest, most wonderful film realization of the genre.  It was a big hit at the box office, setting a then-record for highest gross from a foreign language film in the U.S. and even now, over 25 years later, it is still in the Top 10.  It was a Golden Globe nominee and was, by a long ways, the best of the submitted foreign films at the Oscars so of course they didn’t nominate it.

Water breaks in a pregnant woman and she has no time to do anything but have the child on the kitchen floor.  That child grows up to be a master cook, one who is filled with a burning love for a young man but she is forbidden to marry because tradition decry that she take care of her mother as the youngest daughter (the father is not around, having died of a heart attack the day she was born)  From the things she cooks come amazing results.  Tears she sheds while making the wedding cake for her love (he’s now marrying her sister so he can stay close to her) make everyone eating it break out in tears.  Roses from him fill her with such desire that the quail she makes with it causes her other sister’s body to start steaming and she rushes out to wash off and then, naked, is carried away by a soldier of the revolution.

These are the kind of things that happen in magical realism and this film makes them come across beautifully.  We sense that these things really could happen, that love and pain and desire and hate can really set things aflame, that people really would respond like this.

This story, like many magical realism ones, covers multiple generations, but it is mostly the story of Tita, the child born on the kitchen floor and destined to change the lives of everyone around her with her food.  It brings food to life in a way that few films have ever managed to do (Babette’s Feast, which, ironically, won the Oscar is one of the few contenders).  It brings sex and desire and romance to life in ways that make the film came alive with literal flames.

I really can’t fathom what would have made the Oscars gave an award to the fairly boring Indochine (aside from the solid Catherine Deneuve performance) while passing this over.  In the days before the Three Amigos arose, this was one of the best films ever to come out of Mexico, including being photographed by their favorite cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki.

The Source:

Como agua para chocolate by Laura Esquivel  (1989)

This isn’t a novel on the level of Gabriel García Márquez or Isabel Allende.  It’s not even close.  But it is a charming, fun read with some good romance and a whole lot of food.  It’s the story of Tita, a young woman who was born on the kitchen floor and the way her mother won’t let her live her own life (there is tradition in the family that the youngest daughter must take care of the mother and doesn’t get to marry) and all of the things that come up along the way.  It’s structured in 12 monthly installments (I don’t know if it was actually serialized but it certainly would have made sense if it was), each with its own recipe.  It’s well worth reading although a lot of it is faithfully adapted to the screen.

The Adaptation:

So, with García Márquez and Allende and Rushdie resisting translation to the screen (even when they are adapted, they often aren’t very good), why is it this novel, which is good but isn’t anywhere near their level as a work of literature, is so successful?  Well, it helps that this book is so thin in terms of total story.  It runs only 245 pages, it loses about 5 pages in almost every installment because of the formatting with the “next month’s installment” and the recipe and then there usually a couple of pages per month that focus on the recipe of the month (the novel brings the first couple of recipes to life quite well, especially since they are integral to the plot but after that it lets most of them be in the background if it makes use of them at all).  So that brings the number of pages that actually deal with plot or character down to about 160 which works pretty well when you’re trying to translate something to the screen.

That would explain why this film is so faithful to the original.  There are a few things here and there that get dropped (including, if you are watching the American version, a subplot about Tita returning after she first leaves the house although I don’t know why it was cut but it definitely isn’t in the version available on Netflix which runs some 15 minutes shorter than the original Mexican version – but hey, that’s Harvey Weinstein for you) but for the most part, what you read on the page is what you get on the screen.

The Credits:

Produccion y Direccion: Alfonso Arau.  De la novela de Laura Esquivel.  Guion Cinematografico: Laura Esquivel.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

The Film:

It’s not actually all that hard to figure out what’s eating Gilbert Grape.  He’s trapped in the small town in Iowa where he was born and raised.  He lives with two sisters, equally demanding, a mother who is so overweight she can barely move and a younger brother who is developmentally delayed and gets himself into trouble.  Gilbert works at a dead-end job, pricing things at the local market which is going under because of the big supermarket that has opened on the edge of town and has such attractive notions as a lobster tank.  He’s having an affair with a lovely older woman but she has two kids and a husband who Gilbert is not certain is completely unaware of their affair.  What isn’t eating him?

It’s easy to gain a measure of sympathy for Gilbert but it’s hard to hold it.  First of all, while he’s trapped by a lot of his life, he’s not particularly nice about it to anyone (except his brother, who he protects and even then, he eventually loses it with his brother in a scene that manages to lose him almost any sympathy you had for him).  Second, Johnny Depp plays him in such a dispassionate manner that it’s hard to know that you should feel sympathy for Gilbert.  That’s not a criticism of Johnny’s performance but an observation on Gilbert’s state of being.

But Gilbert meets a young woman who’s come to town for the local fair and suddenly he wants something out of life, something more than he can get by just hanging around pricing groceries and sleeping with the local cougar.  But what about all the people who depend on him?

We’ll follow Gilbert through his journey, especially through the rollercoaster of emotions hanging around his brother, Arnie.  Arnie is played by Leonardo DiCaprio and while no one would be surprised today to go back and watch this performance, it’s worth noting that at the time he was still mostly known for appearing in the later seasons of Growing Pains.  This performance, magnificently done, would earn Leo his first Oscar nomination.  In fact, going back now, seeing how a decade later both Depp and Leo would compete against each other for the same Oscar, it’s easy to see that perhaps they were both learning from each other, for they both would find their ways past their reputations to be among the finest actors around and you can see it all here.

The Source:

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges  (1991)

A solidly written book that wouldn’t have held my interest in the slightest had I not seen the film.  Indeed, I still probably wouldn’t have read it if not for this project.  Gilbert is a fascinating character but he’s not particularly sympathetic, just wanting to get away from everything in his life, griping about it all without any attempt to seize hold of his life and do something.

Hedges, if you don’t know (and I didn’t), is the father of Lucas Hedges and if you get a hardcover copy and see the author picture, it’s easy to see the resemblance.

The Adaptation:

Almost all of what we see on film is from the book, though the film strengthens the relationship between Gilbert and Becky, the girl who comes to town and that he falls for (she’s also younger in the book – just fifteen).  The ending of the film, where Gilbert and Arnie are going to go off and have a life with Becky aren’t in the book at all.  The book actually ends with the family standing around watching the fire.  The film also considerably lessens the impact of Larry, the older brother who only visits for Arnie’s birthday.

The Credits:

Directed by Lasse Hallström.  Based on the novel by Peter Hedges.  Screenplay by Peter Hedges.

Consensus Nominee

The Joy Luck Club

The Film:

An older Chinese-American woman has died but her mahjong group goes on.  That’s because she has a grown daughter who is pushed and at least somewhat willing to take her place in the group.  This really will be an opportunity to take a step back from the group and look at the four different women in the group (including the dead mother) and the four daughters that they have raised (in America, though all four of the mothers were born in China) and the world of difference that two different countries and very different times have brought upon them.

Amy Tan’s novel had been a big hit when it was released in 1989 and director Wayne Wang (who was born in Hong Kong but moved to America when he was 17) had wanted to make it right from the start.  The problem was that the book itself was inherently un-cinematic.  It was the story of four different families, told in bits and pieces, moving back and forth between the past and the present with the only solid connection between the stories being that the four women, after moving to America, would form a mahjong group.

Wayng worked his way around this by moving back and forth between the stories, giving us modern day America (as mostly seen through the daughters) and 1940’s China (as seen through the mothers).  He used a mostly Asian-American cast (the only film to do that between Flower Drum Song in 1961 and Crazy Rich Asians in 2018) and made certain to stick to the women’s stories.  This would end up with mixed results.  At times it can be hard to remember which story you’re in except that no matter what story you’re in the men seem to either be worthless or ruthless and not worth having around.

Still, this film does what most films don’t: it tells a multi-generational story centered almost entirely around women and doesn’t mollify it by throwing in big stars or have any of them cave to the awful men in their lives.

The Source:

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan  (1989)

The criticism for this book stems from two main ideas.  The first is that Tan kind of demonizes Chinese society in the 1940’s when you see it through the eyes of the mother characters.  The second is that there are almost no worthwhile men in the novel.  There is some legitimacy to both criticisms but what is lost in those is that Tan wrote a very good book focused entirely on women and their experiences in America after their mothers’ experiences in China.  What people don’t criticize is Tan’s writing itself which is why she has been so successful at it:

I always thought it mattered, to know what is the worst possible thing that can happen to you, to know how you can avoid it, to not be drawn by the magic of the unspeakable.  Because, even as a young child, I could sense the unspoken terrors that surrounded our house, the ones that chased my mother until she hid in a secret dark corner of her mind.  And still they found her.  I watched, over the years, as they devoured her, piece by piece, until she disappeared and became a ghost.  (p 105)

The Adaptation:

I said above that I feel that this novel is inherently un-cinematic.  It is structured less as a traditional novel and more in the model of Winesburg Ohio and The Things They Carried, two novels, I will point out, that have not been made into films.  In these, the novel is less a structured narrative than an inter-connection of pieces.  This novel is broken down into 16 parts (each of the eight women get two parts, though really it’s seven women because one woman has died to start the novel and her daughter gets her parts as well), none of which are more than 33 pages in length (they are mostly around 20).  That gives a defined form but not one that lends itself to a film.  The filmmakers partially get around that by giving the film a party at the end that can be used to give a framework to the work as a whole and the story of these women’s lives are brought forth (quite faithfully I might add, especially by using voiceovers to add their narratives – the party at the end is the biggest difference from the novel).

The Credits:

Directed by Wayne Wang.  Based upon the novel by Amy Tan.  Screenplay by Amy Tan & Ronald Bass.

WGA Nominee

The Fugitive

The Film:

I have already written about the film as it was one of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture.  Now, it is a very good film, a taught suspense thriller with a solid performance from Harrison Ford an Oscar winning performance from Tommy Lee Jones (though Ralph Fiennes really deserved the Oscar) and it proved that it was actually possibly to make a good film from a television show, something almost every film that’s tried to do it since has failed to replicate.  It was a huge hit and one I was really excited about as you can see in my Nighthawk Awards (go to the films I saw in the theater).  This film is notable because it heralded the start of a wave of films adapted from television shows (I don’t blame this film for that because many of them were clearly already in the works before this film was released – I already blamed it on The Addams Family in my 1991 post) and not only is this is a really good film in spite of being based on a television show but until the second Mission: Impossible film, seven years later, it would also be the biggest box office hit and adjusted for inflation it’s the biggest television adaptation of all-time.

The Source:

The Fugitive, created by Roy Huggins  (1963)

The characters of Doctor David Kimble as well as Gerard (he’s a lieutenant in the show but he’s a U.S. Marshall in the film) and even the one-armed man were created by Roy Huggins and so the show as a whole (or the first aired episode, “Fear in a Desert City”) is the source.  But really, there are three episodes that are the real source and that’s why they aired on television just a couple of weeks after the film was released: the first season episode “The Girl from Little Egypt”, that actually explains the full story of Richard Kimble’s flight and the one-armed man and the final, two-part episode (“The Judgment: Parts I and II”) in which Kimble finally catches up to the one-armed man and Gerard fully believes in his innocence.

The show was a massive hit (my parents were big fans), developed in part on the famous story of Sam Sheppard, the Cleveland doctor who was initially convicted of murdering his wife, and in part on Les Miserables, with Kimble as Valjean and Gerard as Javert.  The two part final episode was a massive media hit, the biggest U.S. television show to ever air up to that point (a record that would hold for a decade until Roots) and one of the first shows (if not the first) to actually have a concluding episode to a series instead of just ending it.  It really is fantastic television and it still held up very well when I saw it in the summer of 1993 (influencing me enough that when I started listening to the musical of Les Mis, later that same summer, Barry Morse, who played Gerard in the show, was my visual image for Javert).  They even upped the anticipation by airing the third-to-last episode in April, then airing re-runs all summer before concluding the series in August.

The Adaptation:

Because the show aired over the course of 120 episodes and the film had to be content with two hours (less than just the three episodes that directly inspired the film), the film uses the original concept (one-armed man murders wife, doctor on the run, hunted by Gerard, finale) and built up their film around that.  It is very true to the characters.

The Credits:

Directed by Andrew Davis.  Based on characters created by Roy Huggins.  Story by David Twohy.  Screenplay by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy.
note:  This made me miss old films.  It took almost 15 minutes to get to these credits because they come at the very end of the prologue, when Kimble is being put on the bus that he will escape from.

BAFTA Nominee

Strictly Ballroom

The Film:

The first thing I always have to do is remind myself that Guy Pearce isn’t in Strictly Ballroom.  Paul Mercurio looks a bit like Pearce but on the poster he looks a lot like Pearce and by the time I got around to seeing the film I had definitely seen Adventures of Priscilla and I think even L.A. Confidential.  Then, when watching the film itself, I have to remind myself that this film, like the other two films to follow it in Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy, isn’t meant to be particularly realistic.  It is a world of creativity and heightened senses.

Though it was released in Australia in the summer of 1992, I don’t know that I had even heard of it before December of 1993 when the film was a surprise Golden Globe Nominee over Groundhog Day and Six Degrees of Separation.  It actually works well as a Globe nominee even if doesn’t make my Top 5 for Comedy / Musical (but at least it’s on the list) because it does have a visual flair and is a crowd-pleaser and it was a weak year for the category (Mrs. Doubtfire won the Globe for god’s sake).  The film was also a big hit at the BAFTAs where it earned a load of nominations, among which was Adapted Screenplay.  That’s the one that throws me off a bit and is why I am now reviewing the film.

This film is loaded with cliches, but that’s actually a deliberate choice by Luhrmann.  He means to take those and play with them, so it’s not all that hard to guess what’s going to happen in the course of the film, but rather to enjoy it happening.  The plot, for instance, isn’t so different than The Cutting Edge, a ridiculous romantic comedy about two mis-matched ice skaters who are kind of doing things their own way yet will come through in the end to not only win but also to fall in love.  Is there anyone who has ever watched Strictly Ballroom and not known exactly what was going to happen?  But in The Cutting Edge, of course they’ll fall in love, especially since she’s Moira Kelly.  Here, unlike a film like Circle of Friends, where the ugly duckling will of course turn out to be Minnie Driver with a lot of hair or The Breakfast Club where you’ll realize that under that hair and with a bit of eyeshadow, Ally Sheedy will emerge, our ugly duckling who will turn out to be a swan isn’t a model with bad hair or dumpy clothing.  That’s not meant to be a takedown of Tara Morice but a compliment to Luhrmann for at least not taking a blatantly good looking actress and pushing down her looks so she can be developed later.  Yes, Morice loses the glasses and her hair gets better, but her partner really will fall for her because of who she is and not just because he finally has an idea of what she really looks like.

This is a film about following your heart, not only when it comes to who you love, but when it comes to what you love.  Scott is a ballroom dancer but he is a man who dances his own way and he wants to win the important competition that his parents never did (of course they are also dancers) but he wants to be able to do it in his own way and do it with the partner he has chosen.  If the story is ridiculously cliched (and it is and no cleverness in the script overcomes that enough to justify the BAFTAs nominating the screenplay), it is also lively.  What’s more important than the script (and this could be said about every Luhrmann film) is the look of the film.  Luhrmann adapted a fascinating visual flair for his films from the very start and the cinematography, the costumes and the production design shine through at every turn.

The Source:

Strictly Ballroom by Baz Luhrmann  (1984)

Strictly Ballroom began life as a short play in 1984 written by a 22 year old Baz Luhrmann which had an expanded version open in 1986 and in 1988 played in Sydney which got a film offer which Luhrmann said he would take if he could direct the film.  I have not been able to read the play (it’s not commercially available in the States) but you can read about its production history on the Wikipedia page for the film.

The Adaptation:

Because I haven’t read the play, I can’t say what was changed.  Clearly the film expands considerably on the original short play but I don’t how much of that was added for the film and how much was added in during the later expansion of the play.  I suspect that the interview segments weren’t in the original play.

The Credits:

Director: Baz Luhrmann.  Screenplay: Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce.  From a screenplay by Baz Luhrmann & Andrew Bovell.  From an original idea by Baz Luhrmann.  Based on the N.I.D.A. stage production devised and developed by the original cast: Glenn Keenan, Baz Luhrmann, Catherine McClements, Helen Mutkins, Tony Poli, Jamie Robertson, Nell Schofield, Sonia Todd.  And further developed by the Six Years Old Company: Tyler Coppin, Di Emery, Lisa Kelly, Glenn Keenan, Baz Luhrmann, Genevieve Mooy, Tara Morice, Mark Owen-Taylor, Craig Pearce.
note:  These are from the end credits.  The opening credits only has the title.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10


(in descending order of how I rank the script)

note:  A reminder, once again, that my Nighthawk Awards has a list of all the films I saw in the theater that year with comments explaining why (and other details).  Some of those are repeated a bit below but others aren’t.

  • Six Degrees of Separation  –  Based on the Pulitzer nominated play by John Guare, who had based it on something that happened to friends of his.  The highest *** (a 75) because the leads and script are good but the film itself doesn’t hold up to them.
  • Hot Shots Part Deux  –  Another 75 film, this sequel has been fully reviewed here.
  • King of the Hill  –  Steven Soderbergh’s adaptation of A.E. Hotchner’s memoir about growing up in St. Louis is a low ***.5.
  • Germinal  –  Yet another 75 film (very rare for a year to have three) is Claude Berri’s adaptation of the Zola novel, the thirteenth in the Rougon-Macquart saga and well worth reading.
  • Farewell My Concubine  –  Like The Piano (also in this year), I was really bothered by the moral ambiguity in the film but have warmed to it considerably over the years.  I always admired the visual look of the film, which is incredible.  Based on the novel by Lilian Lee.  The first film in which I ever saw the great actress Gong Li (which I feel the need to mention if for no other reason than that I am literally watching her on-screen in Zhou Yu’s Train as I write this).
  • Army of Darkness  –  I remember seeing the poster for this on the back of a lot of comics I owned at the time with the memorable tagline: “Trapped in time.  Surrounded by evil.  Low on gas.”  I wouldn’t actually see it until I met Veronica and she had me watch the whole Evil Dead trilogy because she loved it.  At this point, of course, we own the trilogy and have met Bruce multiple times.  Great fun with good effects, a good score and some great humor.
  • Heaven & Earth  –  Based on two memoirs by Le Ly Hayslip about coming from Vietnam to the States, Oliver Stone’s third Vietnam film was felt to be a big Oscar contender but wasn’t quite up to the task.  It’s got a lot of good pieces (most notably the Cinematography and Score) but they don’t add up to a film above mid ***.  I don’t think I’ve seen this since the theater.

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)

  • Jurassic Park  –  The rare high ***.5 film on this part of the list in any year.  But the script is the weak spot in this film that was a deserved blockbuster.  I had bought the book a few months before (see The Pelican Brief below) and I love it and still re-read it every few years.
  • The Secret Garden  –  Agnieszka Holland does a solid job adapting the children’s classic that has been adapted before (but not this well).  High ***.
  • Searching for Bobby Fischer  –  Thankfully not actually about Fischer, who’s a lunatic but about chess prodigy Joshua Waitzkin based on the book by his father.  The directorial debut of Steven Zaillian who won the Oscar this year for Adapted Screenplay for Schindler’s List.
  • Justice  –  The German submission for Best Foreign Film.  Based on the novel by The Execution of Justice by Fredrich Dürrenmatt.
  • The Story of Qiu Ju  –  At high *** this is actually low in this period for Zhang Yimou.  Based on the novella The Wan Family’s Lawsuit by Chen Yuanbin.
  • Dead Alive  –  Another of those films the old oscars.org listed as adapted perhaps because Stephen Sinclair has a “story” credit before the screenplay credit, so it’s probably not really adapted.  Worth seeing, Peter Jackson’s zombie comedy was a big cult hit.  Known as Braindead outside of North America but I actually think Dead Alive is a better title.
  • Daens  –  Oscar nominee the year before for Foreign Film, submitted by Belgium.  Based on the novel by Louis Paul Boon which was based on a real priest.
  • Orlando  –  We’re down to mid *** with Sally Potter’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s rather bizarre novel.  It’s not entirely successful though the costumes and sets are magnificent and Tilda Swinton is quite good, especially at bouncing between genders (which makes sense if you’re read the novel).
  • Fearless  –  Peter Weir’s interesting Drama is adapted from a novel by Rafael Yglesias.  The Academy rewarded Rosie Perez for her one attempt at actual acting with an Oscar nomination.
  • Batman: Mask of the Phantasm  –  Actually, fully reviewed here.  Adapted with characters, of course, not a storyline.  The storyline itself is a weakness in the film.
  • Addams Family Values  –  Barry Sonnenfeld gives us actually a fairly solid sequel but then goes on to better things (Get Shorty) and there wouldn’t be another Addams Family film until this month.
  • Sofie  –  Liv Ullmann, a Norwegian actress who is known for being in Swedish films directs the Danish Oscar submission from 1992.  Based on a novel by Henri Nathansen.
  • Faraway, So Close!  –  Wim Wenders gives a mostly unnecessary (though certainly not bad) sequel to Wings of Desire.  But it does have songs from U2 written expressly for it (which, of course, the Oscars didn’t nominate because why nominate the foremost band of our time when you can nominate a weak Carole Bayer Sager song instead).  Definitely watch the video.
  • Abraham’s Valley  –  The Portuguese Oscar submission is based on a novel by Agustina Bessa-Luís.
  • What’s Love Got to Do With It  –  Based on Tina Turner’s autobiography (co-written with Kurt Loder and if you don’t know who he is from Rolling Stone or MTV you are officially too young).  Very good performances from Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett (neither of whom earn Nighthawk noms like they did Oscar noms because this is a really, really strong year) but very tough to watch.
  • A Bronx Tale  –  Chazz Palminteri was struggling as an actor when he wrote his one-man play in 1988.  Then De Niro directed the film version (with Chazz writing the script and in a supporting role) and the next year he earned an Oscar nomination and his career took off.
  • Gettysburg  –  Why adapt a well-known Pulitzer winner like The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara and then change the name?  Maybe they hoped the well-known battle name would bring in crowds?  But if that was their goal why didn’t they edit the film down below four hours?  We drop to low *** because decent acting (namely Richard Jordan in his final film role, released five weeks after his death) and good tech work can’t make up for a movie that is too slow and too long.
  • Heat-Haze Theatre  –  Seijun Suzuki’s 1981 Drama was based on a novel by Kyōka Izumi.  The second in his Taishō Roman Trilogy.
  • The Adventures of Huck Finn  –  Stephen Sommers’ major studio directorial debut is a not-bad version of the classic Twain novel with Elijah Wood in the starring role.
  • Ethan Frome  –  “Are you still, uh, you know, inflicting all that horrible Ethan Frome damage? Is that off the curriculum?”  That’s John Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank and I 100% agree with his assessment.  It’s a horrible, horrible book (ironically, of course, Edith Wharton’s best book is up towards the top).  The film doesn’t suck because it has Liam Neeson and Joan Allen, though sadly, Allen would very much get typecast in this role (though, I guess, this kind of role also earns her several Nighthawk nominations).
  • The Puppetmaster  –  The Jury Prize winner at Cannes, this Taiwanese film is based on the memoirs of puppeteer Li Tien-lu.
  • Macross II: Lovers Again  –  Never actually released in the States (until years later on video), this film continues (sort-of), the story of what, with all due objectivity, is the greatest show in the history of television, Super Dimensional Fortress Macross (known in the States as Robotech).
  • Once Upon a Forest  –  It’s hard to tell if this is really adapted because it seems like it went from being a pitch to Hanna-Barbera and then became a film.  Either way, it’s not bad, a nice little environmentally themed Animated film that bombed at the box office even without a competing Disney film.
  • Rudaali  –  The Indian Oscar submission, it’s based on a short story by Mahasweta Devi.
  • This Boy’s Life  –  Because De Niro is in both this and A Bronx Tale (and the titles aren’t too dissimilar) my brain mixes them up.  This is the one with DiCaprio and with De Niro as the abusive stepfather.  Based on the memoir by Tobias Wolff.  Aside from a teenage DiCaprio, the film also has pre-stardom Carla Gugino, Tobey Maguire and Eliza Dushku.
  • The Firm  –  I had actually read the book and found it moderately enjoyable in spite of a really stupid ending.  The film has a very different, slightly less stupid ending.  The opening shots at Harvard were filmed the week I left Brandeis in December of 1992 and so has always been a reminder of what it looked like when I left Boston.  This was the second of five straight films starring Tom Cruise to make over $100 million when that was a lot less common of a thing.  Its box office success perhaps gave people the wrong idea about Grisham adaptations because no other one has come even close
  • A Dangerous Woman  –  A Gyllenhaal family affair (Stephen directed, his wife, Naomi Foner wrote the script, Maggie and Jake are in the film), this was the surprise Golden Globe nomination for Debra Winger rather than Shadowlands (which, she more correctly earned the Oscar nomination for).  Based on the novel by Mary McGarry Morris.
  • The Man Without a Face  –  The epiphany had returned and that was all I cared about!  (Go here and go down to The Power of One).  The film itself, based on a very unsubtle novel by Isabelle Holland that could have been fodder for an Afterschool Special was tolerable.  Who knew that two years after his directorial debut here, Mel Gibson would win the Oscar.
  • Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey  –  A remake of The Incredible Journey but since I wouldn’t see that until years later, since I was not a kid when this came out and since I’m neither a cat nor a dog person, this, to me, is just sentimental trifle.
  • Carlito’s Way  –  I was really excited for this in the theater.  After all, I loved De Palma’s The Untouchables, had a huge crush on Penelope Ann Miller (who had earned a Globe nom and had a nude scene!) and Sean Penn supposedly was going to get his shit together and become the actor he was supposed to be.  I was really disappointed coming out of the theater.  Penn is really good and Miller is solid but the film itself isn’t very good and the pace is terrible, making 144 minutes seem a lot longer.  One of five films I saw in the theater before LOTR was made that had Viggo in it and I still had no idea who he was before that first trailer.  With this film, we drop to **.5.
  • Sommersby  –  I remember this one messing my parents up (they saw it before me).  The commercials made it seem like a Romance but if you’ve seen the original (The Return of Martin Guerre) you know that the film can’t have a happy ending (and kudos to Warner Bros for not giving it one).  So my dad expected schmaltz and was pleasantly surprised and my mom expected romance and got a massive downer ending (that she, of course, hated).  Parodied in a bizarre episode of The Simpsons that ends with it being decided that no one will ever speak of it again (apparently a working title of the episode was “Skinnersby”).
  • Vampire Hunter D  –  The 1985 Anime vampire film based on the series of novels finally makes it to the States.
  • Wide Sargasso Sea  –  Jean Rhys’ novel which is essentially a prequel to Jane Eyre gets a film version from John Duigan (Flirting).
  • Robin Hood: Men in Tights  –  Only adapted in that Robin Hood already existed as a character, although I suppose it follows Prince of Thieves close enough that it should be adapted anyway (including the great King Richard cameo that is one of the film’s best moments).  It’s got its moments (“Circumcisions: Now half off!” made every guy in the theater cringe) but is too uneven to even reach ***.
  • M. Butterfly  –  David Cronenberg takes on the play by David Henry Hwang (which derives from the original opera) with mixed results.
  • Lost in Yonkers  –  Neil Simon’s play won the Pulitzer but the film version is only mediocre.
  • Alive  –  One film guaranteed never to be shown on a plane.  There had already been a Mexican version of this story (about the Uruguayan rugby team that crashed in the Andes and had to resort to cannibalism to survive) but that was based on a different book.  This is one is based on a book by Piers Paul Read.  I actually rate the Mexican film (Survive!) just about the same.
  • The Pelican Brief  –  The book wasn’t complete crap (unlike Grisham’s later work) and it had Denzel and Julia Roberts and was directed by Alan J. Pakula so it should have been better.  We’ve hit mid **.5.
  • Heart and Souls  –  Apparently based on a short film by writer Gregory Hansen, this is a cheesy Comedy with Robert Downey Jr.
  • Tom and Jerry: The Movie  –  Proof that a five minute cartoon doesn’t make for a good film.  The cartoons had been around since 1940.
  • Patlabor 2: The Movie  –  Mediocre Japanese Anime sequel.
  • Mrs. Doubtfire  –  We’re down to low **.5.  I’m not bitter that I saw this in the theater because my family wanted to see something “funny” and heartwarming rather than something good.  I’m bitter that this stupid film won Best Picture – Comedy at the Globes over Dave, Strictly Ballroom and Much Ado About Nothing.  I have a rant about that on the Nighthawk Awards.  Based on the novel Alias Mrs. Doubtfire by Anne Fine this dumb film was the second highest grossing film of the year and would have been the highest the year before but then again it’s no worse than Home Alone and at this point that was the fourth highest grossing film ever released.
  • La Petite Apocalypse  –  Not one of Costa-Gavras’ best efforts.  Adapted from a novel by Tadeusz Konwicki.
  • Money for Nothing  –  Based on a book by Mark Bowden (later better known for writing Black Hawk Down), this has John Cusack in the true story of a longshoreman who found a million dollars that fell out of an armored car.
  • The Music of Chance  –  Paul Auster isn’t really a cinematic writer (at least for novels – his original script Smoke would be quite good) so this adaptation of his novel falls flat.
  • A Far Off Place  –  A teenage Reese Witherspoon stars in this adaptation of two books by Laurens van der Post.
  • Beethoven’s 2nd  –  I’m honestly surprised I have this film rated this high.  But I saw it a long time ago (because it was Oscar nominated for Best Original Song over songs by U2, Bono, Peter Gabriel, Danny Elfman and Sinead O’Connor) and maybe I just went easy on it.  A sequel to the silly first Kids film about a giant dog.
  • Fire in the Sky  –  Some logger in Arizona claims he saw a UFO, wrote a book about it and they made a movie.  Enjoy.
  • Being at Home with Claude  –  We drop straight to mid ** with this Canadian film based on the play by René-Daniel Dubois.
  • We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story  –  Bland and rather boring Kids Animated film based on the children’s book by Hudson Talbott.
  • Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II  –  The fifth film in the Heisei period and the 20th in the franchise is not actually a direct sequel to the first Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla but just another in the franchise.
  • Point of No Return  –  I haven’t seen this film since the theater because it was a pale remake of La Femme Nikita.  But it had a badass Bridget Fonda in a short black dress so maybe I should see it again.
  • Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story  –  Based on two books about Bruce Lee which I hope are better than the film.
  • Tokyo Decadence  –  This erotic Japanese film was banned in several countries.  Also known as Topaz which is the English title of director Ryū Murakami’s novel that he adapted into this.  We’re down to low **.
  • Happily Ever After  –  Filmation made this Snow White story as a cheap sequel to the classic Disney film but legal issues with Disney and Filmation’s closure in 1989 kept it out of theaters until 1993 when it was released to capitalize on a planned re-release of Disney’s film.  This film barely lasted three weeks in theaters and made just over $3 million because it sucked.  The Disney re-release made over three times that in its opening weekend even though tens of millions (possibly hundreds of millions) of people had already seen it because it’s brilliant, the fourth different time (at least) it had been in the Top 40 for the year at the box office.
  • The Dark Half  –  Medium to good Stephen King book became crap as a film.
  • Indecent Proposal  –  The film was clearly terrible but the possibility of a nude Demi Moore seemed to push crowds to it as it was one of the biggest hits of the year but she had just peaked with A Few Good Men (as an actress and a box office attraction) and her career went downhill from here.  Based on the novel by Jack Engelhard.  Another film from this year parodied in a Simpsons episode.
  • Born Yesterday  –  The original has long infuriated me because Judy Holliday un-deservedly won the Oscar over three brilliant performances.  But at least that was a good film.  This version has Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson.
  • Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit  –  I hate Whoopi.  Thought the first film was dumb.  This considerably worse.
  • Dennis the Menace  –  Down to *.5.  I would have questioned whether anyone even reads the dumb comic strip anymore but this film actually made $50 million.
  • Cliffhanger  –  Debra Winger was my serious childhood crush but a girl I was very much in love with in 1993 looked just like Janine Turner (she was pestering me about my secret crush and I said she looked like Janine Turner and she started to say “Some people say I…” and then it kicked in) and this was the only film Turner made during her stretch on Northern Exposure.  Too bad it’s terrible.  Based on a concept by John Long which probably doesn’t really make it adapted but oscars.org treated it as such.
  • Jack the Bear  –  My college roommate Jon defends this up and down but he’s also a massive Danny DeVito fan.  Schmaltz.  Based on the novel by Dan McCall.
  • Another Stakeout  –  Unnecessary sequel with the added annoying baggage of Rosie O’Donnell.  Though, at least Emilio Estevez gets in a good line at her (“I’ve had this moustache for thirteen years. How long have you had yours?”).
  • Wayne’s World 2  –  Just like The Exorcist III in 1990, the original director wasn’t back (Penelope Spheeris – either bounced by Mike Meyers or didn’t want to deal with his shit depending on what you read) and that worked out worse for her (like with Friedkin) as the film she made instead is lower down the list.  This wasn’t just a sequel but almost was a remake as well (of the classic Ealing Comedy Passport to Pimlico) but when Paramount realized that (they didn’t have the rights to a remake), the producer almost crushed Meyers (as detailed here), forcing him to come up with a different story really fast.  He came up with this one and it was terrible.
  • Rising Sun  –  One of my first experiences with changing the race of a character from the book to the screen which would have worked great if they had, you know, picked a good actor instead of Wesley Snipes.  I enjoyed the book at the time (I had been reading all of Crichton that summer) but thought the film was crap and haven’t seen it since opening weekend (and, to be fair, I haven’t read the book since and the only Crichton books I still own are The Great Train Robbery and Jurassic Park).  We’re down to low *.5.
  • Son of the Pink Panther  –  What a sad bow-out to filmmaking for Blake Edwards (retired after this) and Henry Mancini (died), a crappy new Pink Panther film with Roberto Benigni as Clouseau’s son.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III  –  Being bad never stopped movies from being made but the continual drop in box office (from $135 to $78 to $42 million for this film) meant that it would be 14 years after this stupid sequel (involving time travel) before another TMNT film would be made and 21 years before there would be a new live-action film.
  • The Three Musketeers  –  This film must have broken something.  I’ve seen a half-dozen versions of this that pre-date this one and most of them are good and only the 1939 Musical version is bad (and it’s better than this).  But after this shitstorm (with Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland and Oliver Platt as the Musketeers) we got The Musketeer and the 2011 version that was even worse than this one.  Shit acting from everyone involved and I haven’t seen it since the theater.  This film is also responsible for All for Love.  I realize that the song was a big hit (#1 hit in many countries, #3 in Canada for the whole year, #8 in the States for the whole year) but it was just a syrupy mess.  I’ve got homemade best-of compilations for all three singers involved (Bryan Adams, Sting, Rod Stewart), all made over a decade after this song and all three cd’s combined only have two songs recorded after this one (both from Sting – “Sisters of Mercy” from the Leonard Cohen tribute album Tower of Song and “Desert Rose”).  It just killed all three of them for me in one stroke.
  • Sliver  –  Joe Eszterhas had hit box office gold the year before with a Suspense film and naked Sharon Stone but even though Philip Noyce is usually a better director than Paul Verhoeven, this film is much worse than Basic Instinct.  Based on a novel by Ira Levin who had provided fodder for solid box office in the past (Rosemary’s Baby, Stepford Wives, Boys from Brazil) but this actually lost money until it got to the international market.
  • Boiling Point  –  When I’m supposed to root for Wesley Snipes and against Viggo, I’m already miserable.  Based on a novel called Money Men.
  • The Vanishing  –  From here on down, we have examples of almost every kind of adaptation misfire: pointless remakes, bad Stephen King adaptations, shitty sequels, SNL skits made too long, video games adapted to film and feature versions of television shows that weren’t good to begin with.  We start with this remake that re-iterates what Hitchcock had already proved with The Man Who Knew Too Much: don’t remake your own film.  George Sluizer’s Dutch version in 1988 had been really good (earning a 75 from me) but this piece of crap is just awful, a total example of the stupid Hollywood ending ruining a film.  Also, it made too much use of Nancy Travis, who is a terrible actress and too little of a very cute Sandra Bullock before Speed made her a star.
  • Needful Things  –  The novel is enjoyable if too long, the supposed “last Castle Rock story” as King destroyed the town (which he had done several other times to other towns in other novels).  The film, which I saw on a date that should have been more important than it turned out to be, was utter crap, a complete waste of good actors (Max von Sydow, Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia) and I haven’t seen it since.  Now we’re into the * films.
  • Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday  –  The subtitle is less of a lie than it was with “Final Chapter” only in that it took nine years before the franchise came back this time.  Just as bad as ever.
  • Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice  –  Thankfully the rest of the sequels in this series went direct-to-video so this is it for this awful franchise.
  • RoboCop 3  –  I wasn’t a fan of the first one and hated the second one so I didn’t see this until this past year as I’ve tried to see as many films from Orion Pictures as possible.
  • Coneheads  –  One of the least funny early SNL skits becomes a film that’s not funny at all.  In spite of the putrescence of this film and Wayne’s World 2, there will continue to be SNL films and they will continue to suck.
  • Super Mario Bros.  –  Great, a video game adaptation.  I never played the game (I’m not a video game guy).  Helped John Leguizamo achieve semi-stardom and that’s definitely a bad thing.
  • Look Who’s Talking Now  –  The first film was the #4 film at the box office in 1989.  This second one was in the Top 25 of 1990.  This one doesn’t make the Top 100 of the year and makes less than half the budget.  Perhaps because it’s really, really bad?  Also because people were tired of it.
  • The Beverly Hillbillies  –  This is the movie Penelope Spheeris made instead of Wayne’s World 2 and wow is it awful.  I’ve never seen the actual show and have no desire to ever do so but it can’t be as bad as this.
  • Weekend at Bernie’s II  –  The original was stupid.  This is just awful.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • none

The highest grossing Adapted film I haven’t seen from 1993 is Best of the Best II (#129, $6.60 mil).  The highest grossing non-sequel Adapted film I haven’t seen is The Nutcracker (#168, $2.10 mil).