“His words were echoed with unspeakable astonishment by all but Elinor, who sat with her head leaning over her work, in a state of such agitation as made her hardly know where she was.”  (p 335

My Top 10

  1. Sense and Sensibility
  2. Les Miserables
  3. To Die For
  4. Leaving Las Vegas
  5. 12 Monkeys
  6. Get Shorty
  7. Richard III
  8. Clockers
  9. An Awfully Big Adventure
  10. Il Postino

note:  It’s a decent (but not great) Top 5 and a more solid Top 10.  My own list is much longer and continues down at the bottom though Dead Man Walking (my #12), Apollo 13 (#15) and Babe (my #24) are reviewed because of award nominations.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Sense and Sensibility  (560 pts)
  2. Babe  (120 pts)
  3. Leaving Las Vegas  (120 pts)
  4. Apollo 13  (80 pts)
  5. Il Postino  (80 pts)

note:  Sense and Sensibility sets new records for wins (7), noms (8), points (560) and percentage (50.72%).  The previous records, with the years they were set are, respectively, 5 / 1993, 5 / 1979, 368 / 1993, 38.74% / 1979.  All of these records will only last two years.

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

  • Sense and Sensibility
  • Apollo 13
  • Babe
  • Leaving Las Vegas
  • Il Postino


  • Sense and Sensibility
  • Apollo 13
  • Babe
  • Get Shorty
  • Leaving Las Vegas

Golden Globes:

  • Sense and Sensibility
  • Dead Man Walking
  • Get Shorty

Nominees that are Original:  The American President, Braveheart

note:  Dead Man Walking is the only adapted script to earn simply a Globe nomination between 1992 and 2000.


  • Babe
  • Leaving Las Vegas
  • Il Postino
  • Richard III
  • Sense and Sensibility  (1996)

note:  The winner was Trainspotting which will be in 1996.


  • Sense and Sensibility

note:  This is the first year of the Broadcast Film Critics Awards.  Until 2002 it will just be an award with no nominees.


  • Sense and Sensibility

note:  This is the first adapted script to win the NYFC since 1991.


  • Sense and Sensibility

note:  This is the first adapted script to win the LAFC since 1990.


  • Sense and Sensibility

My Top 10

Sense and Sensibility

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as the best film of 1995.  It is sly and witty and romantic and charming and dramatic and heart-breaking and gut-wrenching and it does all of that without even a loosening of a corset.  It does it through language and through looks, through marvelous cinematography, a great score, fantastic art direction and costumes and brilliant direction from a man that shouldn’t have been able to do such a brilliant job with his first film in English.  But, most of all, it does it with acting.  With fantastic performances from Emma Thompson (that should have won her another acting Oscar though she did win a writing Oscar) and Kate Winslet (which helped make her a star and that starring light has yet to dim) and wonderful supporting performances, namely from Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant, but also from far too many wonderful British actors and actresses to mention.  If you think Jane Austen is not for you, just give this film a chance.  Just watch the scene between the two sisters when Marianne finally realizes the pain that her sister has been hiding.  That scene alone is worth two Oscars.

The Source:

Sense and Sensibility: A Novel. In Three Volumes. By A Lady.  (1811)

That’s the title page as it appears in facsimile in the current Penguin edition of the novel.  I will not slog through yet again describing how much I dislike reading Jane Austen or that her characters are smart and charming but the narrative is flat and unrealistic and that all of them should go get a damn job.  So, go find an Austenite to tell you about the book and then good luck getting them to shut up.

The Adaptation:

This is another thing where you can look at Wikipedia, because the Austenites are going to have a much better handle on this than I do, mainly because they care and I, for the most part, don’t.  There is some changing of ages (Elinor is made almost a decade older for obvious reasons), some lightening of the characters (the two main males are made more sympathetic and it really works because you definitely want those two marriages to be happening at the end of the film) and some minor characters are eliminated to streamline the action.  But, all in all, a solid and thematically faithful adaptation.

The caption and photo above are interesting though – it was hard to do because while the dialogue is almost word for word from that scene, the actions depicted are quite different which is why it might seem that the caption doesn’t really go with the photo.

The Credits:

directed by Ang Lee.  adapted from the novel by Jane Austen.  screenplay by Emma Thompson.

Les Misérables

The Film:

One of the best films of 1995 and one that was passed over completely by the Oscars (it wasn’t even submitted by France for Best Foreign Film).  This is one of the best film examples of what you can do with a great story.  It takes the story and presents it in ways that are fully faithful and then stretches the story in other directions that pulls it completely away on the literal level while staying completely true to it on metaphorical levels.  It is the best film and best performance from a director (Claude Lelouch) and actor (Jean-Paul Belmondo) that had been doing strong and important work in France for over 30 years.  Because it’s one of the Top 5 films of 1995 you can find a full review of it here in my Nighthawk Awards.

The Source:

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo  (1862)

I have already reviewed this novel, back in 2013 when I wrote about the 1935 film version for the Adapted Screenplay post for that year.  I wrote back then that this is one of the greatest stories ever told but it is not one of the greatest novels ever written.  I have a higher opinion of the novel now than I did then though I still don’t think I would quite put it in my Top 200.  A good part of that higher opinion is that the last two times I have re-read it (yes, I have read this incredibly long, dense novel in its entirety four times), I have put aside the old translation that I had and this time gone with the much more recent fantastic Julie Rose translation currently published by the Modern Library (shown on the right).

I won’t try to compare the Rose translation to the original Wilbour translation with specific examples but it is a beautiful book and one that deserves to be read if you have the patience to get through all of Hugo’s digressions (and coincidences that would sometimes make Dickens blush).

The Adaptation:

As I mentioned in the original review, in one sense, this isn’t even an adaptation of the novel but a wholly original screenplay.  It uses the book as a framework in that it depicts a few scenes and it discusses the similarities in the life of Belmondo’s Henri Fortin and the character of Jean Valjean.  There are certainly similarities in the plot but this is a story that takes place during World War II and the characters know the novel and discuss it.  In fact, for a long time, I couldn’t decide whether or not this was an adaptation or not but in the end, the film claims it as such with the title and that’s the way the Academy would have treated it had they nominated it as they should have.

The Credits:

liberamente adapté par Claude Lelouch.

note:  the only mention of the source is in the title: Les Misérables de Victor Hugo

To Die For

The Film:

I was watching the film on opening weekend with my roommate Jonathan.  We knew it was going to be a satire and it was, a wickedly funny take on what media does to people.  A beautiful young woman, Suzanne Maretto, whose only goal in life was to end up on television, had convinced her 15 year old lover to murder her husband (or maybe he just thought she wanted that – a question of points of view permeates through the book and the film).  She is standing at the funeral for her husband and then she walks up to the tombstone, places a tape deck there and it starts blaring Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”.  That was the point where this satire went brilliantly over the top for both Jonathan and myself and we couldn’t hold it in and was just busted up laughing, just about as loud as I have ever laughed in a movie theater.

Nicole Kidman had been on the rise.  She had come to Hollywood as a hot Aussie import, starred opposite Tom Cruise and got married, become the “it couple” of the decade and, starting with Billy Bathgate, started giving more promising performances.  But nothing she had done had really shown what she could do.  This performance was better than all of her previous performances put together.  Kidman plays Suzanne as a bitter satire on every person who thinks celebrity is the key.  “Suzanne used to say that you’re not really anybody in America unless you’re on TV… ’cause what’s the point of doing anything worthwhile if there’s nobody watching?”  That’s Lydia talking, one of three teenagers who will fall under her spell and ruin multiple lives and the first part of the quote was actually used in the ads.  This is what culture had come to – it was all about a chance to be famous.

Going back now, what’s remarkable isn’t just Kidman’s performance, although, looking at it, it’s far easier to see the route that lead to such brilliant performances in Eyes Wide Shut, The Others, The Hours and many more than to see how she got there in the first place.  Maybe she needed Gus Van Sant as much as he needed her (he needed a big film like this after the awfulness of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and this set the stage for Good Will Hunting and his first Oscar nom).  But hidden in this film, in their perfect scumbag teenage performances are two of the best actors of their generation: Joaquin Phoenix (using that name for the first time and returning after six years away from film) and Casey Affleck.

The film works because it’s structured the same way the book is, giving each character their own chance to tell their side of the story.  So we get Nicole’s brilliant Suzanne and her beliefs about television but we also get Ileana Douglas’ wonderful snarky sister-in-law, Wayne Knight as the local cable guy who can’t believe this local bombshell is so desperate to be on television that she’ll come work for him (and if only he had known what was in that envelope) and Phoenix with his intense stare years before he would become a multiple Oscar nominee (and almost certainly an eventual winner).

One last bit about this film.  A couple of months later I was sitting with two classmates, Steff and Vince and Steff asked us if we had seen the film because for some reason she didn’t catch the ending.  I didn’t want to spoil it but Vince gave the best description of the ending that I could have imagined and one of the funniest descriptions of a film ending I have ever heard, simply telling Steff “she got iced.”

The Source:

To Die For by Joyce Maynard  (1992)

This novel is a loose take on Pamela Smart, a media coordinator at a high school in New Hampshire who convinced her 15 year old lover to murder her husband.  The novel is interesting mainly because Maynard not only tells the story in an interesting manner (with a large number of small chapters from the points of view of all the people involved) but does a good job of giving each character their own voice.  The book does feel like it could have been a lot shorter but that might have just pagination (the new edition of the book I read was over 400 pages but the original hardcover ran less than 300 because it didn’t start a new page with every character change).

The Adaptation:

The film is a very faithful straight forward adaptation, even keeping to the notion that much of the action has already taken place when these interviews are happening and that multiple people are given their own point of view.  Kudos to Buck Henry for keeping that structure and having it work so well.  There is mention of Suzanne playing music at the funeral but it’s not “All By Myself” (I can’t find the spot in the book that says what it is).  The most significant difference is that in the book her body is found and it’s very clear that she’s dead (though the police also know she was murdered) but the film’s ending with that smile on Ileana Douglas’ face is just perfect.  There is one hilarious thing the film definitely got right: “Some people say they’re sure to make a movie about this.  If so, I’d like to see Julia Roberts play me.  Or that actress that just got married to Tom Cruise in real life – I can’t think of her name.”  (p 343)

The Credits:

Directed by Gus van Sant.  Based on the Book by Joyce Maynard.  Screenplay by Buck Henry.

Leaving Las Vegas

The Film:

This is going to be one of those opening paragraphs that seems like it has nothing to do with the film I am reviewing but will come back to it by the end of the paragraph so bear with me if you can or feel free to skip it.  In reviewing the comic Longshot fnord wrote the following about visionary artist Arthur Adams: “Art Adams can tell a story with his art.  It’s not just a big mess of posed shots and splash panels.  His characters look good, the action is clear, and he’s got a whole bunch of wild ideas for us without it ever resorting to chaos.  I just don’t know where he came from.  Based on what i know best (Marvel), I can’t trace a line from any existing artist to Adams.  From Adams you can get to McFarlane and, yes, Liefeld, but where does he come from?  The future, that’s where.”  I was thinking about that quote as I was watching (okay, mostly fast-forwarding because it’s all so painful to watch) Leaving Las Vegas for the first time since I saw it in theaters back in December of 1995.  It’s not that line about the future, though that’s the punchline.  It’s the line “where did he come from?”  That line was going through my head while watching this film.  Nicolas Cage had been giving some entertaining performances over the previous number of years in films like Raising Arizona, Moonstruck and Honeymoon in Vegas but he had never been in anything that showed the dramatic range that he showed here.  Mike Figgis had directed a number of films and had even written a couple of them but he had never done anything that showed him worthy of awards attention and certainly not that he could both write and direct a piece of work like this.  Elizabeth Shue had done movies like The Karate Kid, Adventures in Babysitting and Cocktail for gods sake.  She was just another pretty face who seemed doomed to be mostly done in Hollywood once it was certain she wasn’t much of an actress.  Even the writer of the novel, John O’Brien, had written one episode of Rugrats which was heavily re-written and the novel was basically a suicide note and he killed himself just a couple of weeks after discovering the book would be filmed (though by gunshot rather than by alcohol).  How did such a motley collection of cast-offs and wannabes somehow put everything together perfectly this one time (and it really was pretty much this one time – Cage would have one more great performance in him (Adaptation) and would devolve, by the mid 00’s into a complete joke while Figgis and Shue would slide back into obscurity and O’Brien, of course, was dead).  How did a writer/director who hadn’t done much all that well of either find just the right direction to take these two actors and get them to give the performances of a lifetime.

My first film reviews were written back when I was in high school (Dances with Wolves was the very first).  Then I reviewed a few films in college but not very many because I didn’t like the professor who advised the student newspaper, so I would write reviews when I knew I could just write them and hand them in to the editor and then I wrote some for an underground newspaper which is when I reviewed this film.  I couldn’t fathom how Leaving Las Vegas had somehow been overlooked for Best Picture, especially for such dreck as Braveheart or such light-hearted fare as Babe, especially when it had the other four key nominations (Director, Screenplay, Actor, Actress), making it the very rare film that manages to get those four but not the last (it was only the fifth film to ever do it, the first in 24 years and the last to-date to do it).  Yet, I really couldn’t recommend it to people.  It is, without a doubt, one of the most depressing things I have ever seen, which is why I went another 23 years before seeing it again and spent a lot of this time watching it on fast forward, certainly something I couldn’t do in the theater.  In the course of things, it’s probably not as depressing as it could be only because nothing about this life reflect my own, unlike some other depressing films which have at least crossed over a bit.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  That’s the tagline today.  But even 23 years ago, it was a place where dreams went to die, the last resort of neon and gaudiness out in the desert.  Vegas is supposed to be a world away from LA, the hip capital of the world, where all the movie deals happen.  You get that vision when poor Ben, the drunken sod who can’t even keep his hands from shaking long enough to sign his severance check is driving out there to drink the last of his life away.  It has to be a deliberate choice because you see one lane roads out in the middle of nowhere, with no bastions of relief in sight (which is of course movie bullshit – to get to Vegas from LA just take I-10 to I-15 and you’ll never be off a four-lane freeway the entire trip – Fear and Loathing happened in 1971 and the roads look nothing like that anymore).

And we’re supposed to feel for Ben and wonder what has happened to him.  We don’t really get a good enough look at his life to see how he ended up there, but that’s another deliberate choice.  The book gives us 50 pages of Sera, the prostitute in Vegas (again, without much notion of how she ended up there) before we ever even meet Ben but we have 15 minutes of Ben and the way his life in LA is over before we even get to the title.

Somehow these two people manage to connect.  Ben wants a quick fuck, one last desperate good time on his journey straight towards death and he goes for the attractive whore that he almost hit when he first got to Vegas.  She sees something broken in him and thinks maybe she can offer him some comfort for a while.  So they come together in their desperate needs, for her to just feel some real companionship for a while that doesn’t actually require payment and for him, the chance to have some human contact while he drinks himself into the grave.

What we see between them is touching and tender and amazingly acted, so much so that we never really think about how we’re not doing anything more than scratching the surface.  Figgis frames their lives so what we get is what we can see onscreen and we feel sympathy for them even if we can’t feel empathy.  And more credit to Figgis since perhaps the most touching scene in the film, the one where she straddles him, pulls the top of her bathing suit and pours whiskey on it for him to drink off her, is not actually in the book.

I don’t know what more to say about this film.  Figgis has never made another film that comes anywhere close to it.  Shue has never given another performance either before or after that was even in the same city let alone the same neighborhood (or even earned points from me).  Cage would, after 2002, devolve into one of the most pathetic jokes in the film industry and would give a performance so bad in The Wicker Man that it would inspire memes and jokes.  But somehow, they all came together and made this touching, gut-wrenching film that I hope I never make myself have to see again.

The Source:

Leaving Las Vegas by John O’Brien  (1990)

It’s a decently written portrait of two lost souls, one a whore in Vegas and one an alcoholic involved in the film industry in LA.  The alcoholic brings himself to Vegas to drink himself to death and does and for a short time they find comfort in each other.  It’s a short novel (less than 200 pages) and O’Brien’s own father described it as a suicide note which says something really depressing since he didn’t kill himself until four years after the book was published.

The Adaptation:

As I wrote above, while the film’s first 15 minutes focus entirely on Ben and his time in LA before he even gets to Vegas (the actual title comes when he arrives in Vegas), the first 50 pages of the book are actually Sera.  In fact, most of what happens to Sera in the film outside of her time with Ben (the college guy scene, for example) actually happens in those first 50 pages before Ben even arrives in Vegas.  He doesn’t actually get there until page 100 of a 189 page book.  Aside from that, almost everything that we see on screen and that we read on the page corresponds with each other although they often happen in a different order than in the other medium.  One thing that I did note above is that the topless scene where Sera pours alcohol on herself after swimming doesn’t happen in the book; they do go out of town and she does swim and Ben does break the glass table but the actual tender love scene (and him falling in the water) is only in the film, not in the original book.

The Credits:

Directed by Mike Figgis.  Based upon the novel by John O’Brien.  Screenplay by Mike Figgis.
note:  The credits don’t come until some 15 minutes into the film.  It took so long I assumed they were at the end of the film.

12 Monkeys

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best of the year.  Granted, it’s a weak year and in most years 12 Monkeys wouldn’t have really made the cut (and often wouldn’t even make the cut for the Top 10) but that shouldn’t take away from it being one of the top five films of the year.  It’s a fascinating, bizarre film and I think about Brad Pitt’s amazing charismatic performance as I sit and re-watch Interview with the Vampire for my 1994 project and see how dead he is on the screen when he’s expected to carry a film.

The Source:

La Jetée, un photo-roman de Chris Marker  (1962)

This is a fascinating short film, almost a half hour long, told in a photo montage rather than through film itself.  It’s the story of a man in post-apocalyptic Paris who is sent back in time to discover more about the past and ends up being the man involved in the primary memory of his own childhood, a loop caught in time, of a man witnessing his own death.  A fascinating, haunting film, especially in the manner in which it is told.

The Adaptation:

Most of the plot that we do see in the film (the haunting memories of a pre-apocalyptic childhood, the post-apocalyptic man sent back in time who ends up being the man killed in his own memories) ends up on-screen.  But Gilliam fashioned a larger tale wrapped up in the story of what caused the world to be wiped out in the first place as well as the man’s larger attempts to find out what has happened and the obsession with a woman that he makes into the woman he has always desired because she is marked from his youth.  The Brad Pitt character, bizarre and fascinating as he is, is completely the creation of the filmmakers of this film and has nothing to do with the original.

The Credits:

Directed by Terry Gilliam.  Inspired by the film “La Jetee (accent on second e)” written by Chris Marker.  Screenplay by David Peoples & Janet Peoples.

Get Shorty

The Film:

Film ratings go up and down.  I’m not the only reviewer who does that.  Roger Ebert gave an initial rating of less than **** to a number of films that eventually ended up on his Great Films list (with a retroactive re-rating of ****).  Sometimes, something just clicks.  In this case, it wasn’t even yet the process of re-watching Get Shorty for this project that clicked.  It was just the process of re-reading the book.

Elmore Leonard wasn’t a Hollywood writer but he had worked there having his novels adapted to the screen and writing scripts (some of which were adaptations of his own novels).  So he looked at the crime scene (which he often wrote about) and he looked at Hollywood and he thought that the two weren’t all that different.  So he came up with Get Shorty, one of the most brutally funny novels about Hollywood which became one of the most brutally funny movies about Hollywood.  It would win John Travolta a Golden Globe a year after his Oscar nomination for Pulp Fiction and showed that he really could walk a good line between menace and humor as Chili Palmer, a loan shark from Miami who goes to Hollywood after one of his delinquent accounts and decides he rather likes it there.  It helps that he loves the movies.  He earnestly loves the movies (he has a poster for The Thin Man in the backroom of the barber shop where he does his loan sharking) to the point that when he goes to see Touch of Evil in a theater near his hotel, he knows the words by heart.

Once he gets there, he falls in with a number of people, including schlock producer Harry Zimm (played perfectly by Gene Hackman as a typical Hollywood man who always must keep talking), former scream queen Karen Flores (a decent role for Rene Russo), movie star Martin Weir (Danny DeVito) and a couple of shady limousine men who have been putting money into Harry’s movies as a way to launder drug smuggling money though Harry is clueless to that aspect of it.

Chili fits right in in Hollywood, using his brain, using his muscle when he has to (he’s threatened by a former stuntman and he responds by throwing him down a flight of stairs) and using his personality to ingratiate himself to the right people.  Though it was Pulp Fiction, not Get Shorty that earned Travolta an Oscar nomination (there was a lot of blowback in this year when the two Comedy winners, Travolta and Nicole Kidman, both of whom happened to be Scientologists, both failed to earn Oscar noms), I actually think this might be the best role of his career.  He settles effortlessly into the role, always smooth and debonair.  It helps, of course, that he has Leonard’s impeccable dialogue to go along with (see the bit below on that).

Barry Sonnenfeld was a bit of an uneven director.  He had started as a cinematographer and that’s often a bad sign for a director.  But this is his best film, without a doubt in my mind, perfectly mixing the characters, the crime and the comedy, the Hollywood scene with the absurdity of it all.  I just think that for a long time, perhaps because of the light touch to it, I didn’t consider it a great film (****) and this time, even before watching it, I knew that it absolutely was.

The Source:

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard  (1990)

“You could argue pretty convincingly that, unlike [Jane] Smiley, Leonard never wrote a truly great novel; either that or they were all great because they were all by Elmore Leonard, his voice ringing perfectly true, time after time, like a church bell.”  (“Getting Good” in The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life, Richard Russo, p 96)

I haven’t read a lot of Elmore Leonard, I think just the three novels that were made into films in the mid 90’s, all in less than a week just before Out of Sight hit theaters, but I think Russo has him just about right.  His books are relentlessly entertaining and his voice definitely rings true.  In a lot of ways, though I still think this is the weakest of the three films, even having re-rated it to ****, this is my favorite of the books.  That’s because I’m not a big Crime reader but I definitely enjoys novels (and films) about Hollywood.  This one, in which a Miami loan shark ends up producing a film in Hollywood because he wants to get out of Miami and because he just loves the movies, I was constantly entertained by the whip-smart dialogue and the way it so perfectly bursts the bubble that Hollywood likes to throw it around itself as being much more cultured than they really are.

The Adaptation:

There is a well-known anecdote about how MGM didn’t actually want to really use Leonard’s dialogue in the script and how they toned down Scott Frank’s initial script and that when Travolta read that version he insisted on it being returned to Leonard’s original dialogue.  I probably read about it in Time Magazine at the time, but Ebert quotes Travolta from the Time article.  It was the right move.  In the end, the vast majority of the dialogue in the film comes straight from the book.  There are a few things that weren’t in the original book (Harry isn’t beat up in the book, the $500,000 is to get a meeting with Michael Weir (I don’t know why they changed the name) and there is no widow, there is no “Cadillac of minivans”).  And of course the ending was provided by Scott Frank, not by Elmore Leonard, but it’s not only a brilliant ending, it also fits in very much with what Leonard writes.  It’s an absolutely magnificent example of a faithful adaptation.

The Credits:

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.  Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard.  Screenplay by Scott Frank.

Richard III

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best of the year.  There have been lots of fantastic Shakespeare adaptations over the years but there have been few that so brilliantly re-imagined how a history play could be brought forward in time and still be relevant.  This was also my real introduction to Ian McKellen (I had seen him in films before this but never really noted him) and he immediately became one of my favorite actors, buoyed over the next few years by Cold Comfort Farm, Apt Pupil and Gods and Monsters and then permanently cemented when he became both Magneto and Gandalf.

The Source:

The Tragedy of King Richard the third by William Shakespeare  (1593)

I don’t have much to say here because I have already written about the play in my 1956 post when it was adapted for the screen by Laurence Olivier.  Suffice to say it is one of Shakespeare’s best plays, has perhaps the best villain part for the screen and in some ways continues to be the most relevant of the history plays.

The Adaptation:

In a bit of sauciness, the first lines we hear in the film are from a singer entertaining the Royal Family and they are a sung version of “The Passionate Shepard to His Love” which isn’t actually by Shakespeare but by Kit Marlowe.  But then of course we do begin the actual spoken dialogue with one of the most famous, if not the most famous opening lines by Shakespeare: “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York”, coming in at almost ten minutes into just a 104 minute film.  But we go straight from that speech, delivered to a large crowd, to him finishing the speech while urinating.  This is not your traditional Shakespeare.

The play is heavily abridged of course.  The Olivier film version ran over 160 minutes and even it had abridgments (it is one of the longest of Shakespeare’s plays with many allusions to the Henry VI plays that had come before it).  This film runs a full hour less and as I mentioned, there isn’t even dialogue until 10 minutes into it.

Then, of course, there is the modernization of the play.  It takes all of the action and removes it from the 1480’s and places it in the 1930’s, in a time where Richard can be a Fascist and the War of the Roses becomes something much more desperate.

The Credits:

Director: Richard Loncraine.  Screenplay: Ian McKellen & Richard Loncraine.  Based on a stage production by Richard Eyre.  from the play by William Shakespeare.


The Film:

I remember that when this film came out, Spike Lee claimed that white critics liked it better than his previous films (most notably Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X) because in this film he didn’t point the finger of blame at whites.  This wasn’t a film about white racism or whites suppressing blacks.  It was about, mostly, black on black crime, about the way black communities were destroying themselves with the drug trade and with violence (mostly coming out of the drug trade).  I remember that I thought this was a better film than any of his previous films at the time (I would later upwardly revise my estimation of Do the Right Thing), not because of the ridiculous reasons that Lee was claiming but because this film was lacking a weakness that those other films had: Spike Lee as an actor.  Lee is a very good director and a good writer and a powerful filmmaker but as an actor, he’s on a par with Quentin Tarantino as an annoying distraction.  In this film, instead of a starring role (like Do the Right Thing) or a key supporting role (like Malcolm X), he just has two cameos.  He let the real actors do their jobs and everything flowed right from there.  I found it insulting that I would potentially choose this film over his others because it wasn’t blaming me, but then again Spike Lee has never shied away from pissing people off (and I should make clear that I genuinely like him and was overjoyed at his Oscar win even though it wasn’t my #1 choice, especially given how gleeful he was).

Now that I have that off my chest, I can get down to actually writing about the film itself.  This might have been the first time I saw the film again since I originally saw it (during opening weekend, I want to say) back in 1995.  Yet, I was amazed at how well it had stuck with me.  Even reading the novel again for the first time in a long time (I used to own it), I was amazed at how well the film was coming to life in my head.

What is a clocker, you might ask?  It’s those young black men who sit on benches outside the projects, clocking time as they sell their drugs.  Strike (Mekhi Phifer) is a clocker and he’s good at what he does (he’s got thousands of dollars stashed away in a few places) but he has several problems.  The first is the young kid, Tyrone, who clearly idolizes Strike, but who Strike has been warned away from by Andre, the black cop who is trying to clean up the neighborhood where he grew up.  The second is Rodney, the man who runs the local drug trade and who can turn deadly violent in the blink of an eye (I didn’t know who Delroy Lindo, who plays Rodney, was, before the fall of 1995 but after his performances just a month apart in Clockers and Get Shorty I never forgot him again) and who has ordered him to get rid of another drug dealer who is dealing behind Rodney’s back.  That murder, which actually isn’t committed by Strike himself, brings him to the attention of two homicide detectives (Harvey Keitel and John Turturro) and his life just gets even more complicated.  All of this is complicated even more by a serious stomach ulcer that is basically killing Strike before anyone else can get around to killing him.

Clockers is one of those films that presents a larger issue wrapped around a microcosm (the ultimate example of that in this year was Smoke).  The specific story in the film revolves around the murder, the way that the detectives (especially Keitel, who is great) focus on the murder and try to use it to get Strike to implicate Rodney so they can try and get rid of two birds with one stone and what it does to Strike’s life.  But all of it also takes a larger look at drugs and the violence they bring into inner city issues.  Lee does it with the master hand of someone who seems like he has actually seen it.  The performances come alive, the cinematography is bleached out as if this is all too real for us actually to deal with and the script and direction are much tighter than almost anything that Lee had done before (or has done since).  It’s one of Lee’s best, not because it doesn’t point the blame at whites, but because he puts it all together so well.

The Source:

Clockers by Richard Price  (1992)

This is a much better book than Price’s Bloodbrothers, which was filled to the brim with truly awful people.  Perhaps by getting away from the people he knew (he supposedly based Bloodbrothers somewhat on his own life) he was able to take a step back and observe people and write about them instead.  What came out of it is a first-rate novel about the lowest level of the drug trade – the young black men who were sitting on benches outside of projects in urban areas selling the drugs themselves.  Then Price focuses even more on one particular dealer, Strike, and the problems that befall him when another drug dealer is murdered and the cops have (good) reason to suspect that Strike might have killed him, especially after his previously upstanding older brother actually confesses to the crime.

It is not a fun book and it can take a bit to get through (it’s almost 600 pages and it’s dense) but is a well-written and thoughtful book.  I even knew someone on one my numerous runs through grad school (it was my second) who wanted to teach this book.  I used to own the book but I got rid of it years ago because it just seemed that I wasn’t actually going to ever read it again and if it wasn’t for this project, that’s probably true.  But it’s definitely worth reading at least once, if you can cope with the subject matter.

The Adaptation:

Price would actually co-write the screenplay with Lee and what we get is a perfect distillation of the book.  Some of the subplots are cut (like Strike dealing with his PO and the more extreme problems from his ulcer or the detective’s issues with his wife) so that they can focus on the main plot.  But, basically everything we see on screen came from the book and a large portion of the dialogue is actually verbatim from the book.  So, if you can’t bring yourself to read the book, the film is a good summation of what you would have read.

The Credits:

directed by Spike Lee.  based on the book by Richard Price.  screenplay by Richard Price and Spike Lee.

An Awfully Big Adventure

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film once.  That’s because it was ridiculously over-looked.  It made almost no money at the box office (in the U.K. and U.S. combined it made less than a million dollars) in spite of having the same director and actor as Four Weddings and a Funeral from the year before.  It has what might very well be Hugh Grant’s best performance and has one of those “singularity” performances, a performance from someone that is really good and that seems out of place with the rest of their career (in this case, Georgina Cates, who had to make up a name, hair color and background just to get cast and is fantastic).  This is, for a Comedy, an odd, dour film, but a fascinating one with good writing and acting and one that I always like to return to.

The Source:

An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge  (1989)

So I have finally read this novel, over 20 years after originally seeing the film and long after I had intended on reading the book.  That’s not even the odd part.  The odd part is that I am fairly certain this is the first book I’ve ever read by Beryl Bainbridge.  She was considered a bit of a treasure among the Brits and she was short-listed for the Booker Prize five times including for this novel.  However, since I only read the Booker winners and not the short-list (and because I often don’t even like the Booker winners, I wasn’t going to expand myself with their lists), I had somehow never given her a try.  And now?  Well, I’m not sure.

I loathe biographical criticism and I’m not going to try and figure out if anything in this book might have happened to her since she would have been 17 in 1950 and had been an actress in Liverpool for years when fifteen year old Stella is working in a theatre in Liverpool and dealing with the foibles of a small theater company, their problematic director and the old star who is brought in as a late replacement.

I don’t know how I feel because I have so much attachment to the film and have seen it so many times and there is so little difference between the film and the novel that I don’t know if I like the book just because I already liked the film.

The Adaptation:

This is a remarkably faithful book to screen adaptation.  Really, the only thing that’s different is that Alan Rickman’s O’Hara is a more impressive man than the way he is described in the book.  But almost every line and scene that I remembered from the film was right there in the book.

The Credits:

Directed by Mike Newell.  Screenplay by Charles Wood.  Based on the novel by Beryl Bainbridge.

Il Postino

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film because in the weird way this film year turned out it managed to be the first Foreign film nominated for Best Picture in over 20 years (though, to be fair, films nominated for Best Foreign Film were ineligible for Best Picture for that period).  It was a very good, very warm film that made people feel good (in spite of what was essentially a downer ending – an ending that I pointed out in my review was actually the biggest weakness of the film and which I will mention below) and it was a film that no one disliked.  That managed to push it above more controversial fare like Leaving Las Vegas and Dead Man Walking and into the Picture and Director races.  It is not a great film but it is a very good and it’s nice to return to it and witness, once again, the power and importance of language.

The Source:

Ardiente Paciencia by Antonio Skármeta  (1985)

There seems to be some confusion concerning this book.  It is the same title as a film, written and directed by Skármeta that was first released in 1983.  Wikipedia claims the book was a novelization of the film and the dates would seem to bear that out.  The IMDb lists the film as being based on the book.  Given that Skármeta mentions nothing about the film in his introduction to the novel (at least the 1994 edition I read) and that he talks about how he worked years on the novel I suspect that he paused while working on the novel, did the film and then went back and completed the book, so it’s not a novelization per se.

Any way it works, it’s a decent little book (barely more than 100 pages) about a postman who befriends Pablo Neruda during the period where Neruda was living on Isla Negra during the last years of his life, which include Allende’s election, Neruda’s win of the Nobel Prize and the death of both Allende and Neruda.  His postman, after much cajoling of Neruda, manages to use the poet’s words to win over the local beauty.

Even though it was published under its original title in 1985 and translated in 1987 (under the original translated title – Burning Patience), most current editions call it The Postman (and include a movie cover).

The Adaptation:

If you are familiar with the film and you just read the description of the book you might be thinking to yourself “that doesn’t sound right”.  That’s because the filmmakers were Italian and wanted to make the film in Italy.  The original book uses Chile’s actual politics of the later period of Neruda’s life including the election of a socialist government, it’s collapse in the coup and Neruda’s death (which, it appears from evidence now, was likely murder at the hands of the new government).  The filmmakers decided to move the time period back to 1950 (when Neruda was in exile leading up to his return to Chile in 1952) and deal with Italian politics instead.  Much of the book remains pretty much the same – Mario given the job because he has a bike, being awestruck by Neruda, using Neruda’s poetry to win over the girl.  And Mario is even dead at the end of both stories.

But the ending of the film that I didn’t think worked very well isn’t all the ending of the book.  That couldn’t happen, of course, because Neruda dies before Mario does in the book.  They couldn’t do that with the film so instead they have that bitter return for Neruda to where he had once lived in exile.  It also means that Mario’s letters to the poet aren’t ignored and that Mario isn’t around to celebrate with Neruda when he wins the Nobel Prize.  In some ways the film and the book are very similar but these few differences are quite significant and they give a very different feel to the endings of the two works.  The original movie, which I have not seen, is actually set in the period and place that the book is set in.

The Credits:

diretto da Michael Radford.  soggetto di Furio Scarpelli e Giacomo Scarpelli.  liberamente tratto dall’opera letteraria “Il Postino Di Neruda” di Antonio Skarmeta edita da Garzanti.  sceneggiatura di Anna Pavignano, Michael Radford, Furio Scarpelli, Giacomo Scarpelli, Massimo Troisi.

Consensus Nominee


The Film:

I have already reviewed this film because it was a surprise Best Picture nominee although not as surprising as its Best Director nomination.  It’s a very good film, a low level ***.5 film that is good for both kids and adults.  I struggled in my original review to explain why I don’t think it’s quite a classic and I think it’s the parts of the film that struggle too hard to be cute (namely the damn annoying mice that have no point in the movie other than to try to be cute).  It is an impressive display of mixing live action and visual effects and does have a very charming performance from James Cromwell that finally gave him the reputation as an actor that he deserved.

The Source:

The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith  (1983)

Unlike Raise the Red Lantern, whose review I also wrote today, it makes sense that the book was retitled Babe: The Gallant Pig in order to tie it more closely with the film.  It’s a charming little book (the edition I read ran 130 pages but also had new illustrations) that is kind of a pale shadow of Charlotte’s Web (runt of a pig that talks to other animals on a farm but not to humans and doesn’t end up getting eaten).

The Adaptation:

The main difference from book to film is the expansion of characters and the addition of more animals.  In the book, Babe trains the sheep with the help of Fly and Farmer Hoggett has faith in him.  That’s it.  There is no story about the wife going away and watching it on television, no Rex, no cat and, sadly, no duck that pretends to be a rooster so it can be important and not killed.  Which, given that there’s already Charlotte’s Web, made the book feel even less necessary, at least to me.

The Credits:

Directed by Chris Noonan.  Based on the book by Dick King-Smith.  Screenplay by George Miller & Chris Noonan.

Apollo 13

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as a Best Picture nominee for 1995.  I feel it would have won the award had it not been tripped up by the directors who, oddly, didn’t nominate Ron Howard (who would go on to win the DGA).  Now, I have it as a mid ***.5 and the direction isn’t the reason (it’s the script, actually, which I feel lacks some focus and could have made the movie shorter and tighter) and this film is far superior to that piece of crap Braveheart that did manage to win Best Picture.  This film sits, historically, between two far superior films that also portray true stories about NASA (The Right Stuff, First Man) which is unfortunate for this film.  But Howard did really strong technical work on this film and got a performance out of Ed Harris that finally made people sit up and notice him and started to make him a perennial Oscar candidate.

The Source:

Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger

Ironically, the parts of the book that don’t actually address the actual problems on Apollo 13 are the most compelling.  Is it because it’s so much easier to understand what’s going on when it’s placed on screen and I had seen the film multiple times before ever reading the book?  Or is it because I’m more familiar with those parts and it was the other aspects of Lovell’s NASA career that made for more interesting reading simply because they were new?  Either way, it’s a solid book, though, since the film does such a solid job of adapting it (with some caveats – see below), I imagine it’s actually less read since the film came out.

The Adaptation:

I won’t say a lot about the differences because there are people who have entered detailed information on the Wikipedia page for the film that detail all the changes from real life to the screen.  The most prominent of those are that much of what we see Ken Mattingly contribute to the rescue effort are really a composite of multiple people and that there was never any blame up in Apollo 13 placed on Swigert.  The other main differences from the book to the film are that the book covers much more of Lovell’s NASA career while the film focuses more on the Apollo 13 flight.

The Credits:

Directed by Ron Howard.  Based on the book “Lost Moon” by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger.  Screenplay by William Broyles, Jr. & Al Reinert.

Globe Nominee

Dead Man Walking

The Film:

I remember discussing this film with my Sociology professor.  He complained about the actual death scene, when Sean Penn is stretched out in a Christ-like pose on the table, being martyred against an unfair system.  I also remember in the press not long after that, Tim Robbins defending that scene and saying that he was being criticized for it (I’m fairly certain he had the good taste not to say he was being crucified over it) unfairly because that was how the actual set-up was for lethal injection.  Whether that is true or not (that it wasn’t strictly relevant is of note, as I will point out below), it would have been better not to have dramatized it that way.  I remember in a creative writing course that same semester criticizing a name in a story because it was very strange and it distracted from the common-place aspect of the rest of the names.  The writer defended the name as being real and I mentioned it didn’t matter if it was real, only if it felt real and it didn’t (a side note to that – for my current job I have been listening to interviews with writers and both John Irving and Samuel Delany (very good but very different writers) noted that the worst writing they would get from students would be the very parts that the students would try to say actually happened – in essence, they agree completely with my point that it needs to feel real, not be real).  Robbins might have been right but it would have been better not to invite the criticism and to film it a different way.

But what it gets down to is that this film is less a dramatic film (though it is that) than a philosophical argument.  It’s a well-reasoned and thought-out argument, especially in that, by telling the stories of the victims families in a film about a man being executed for killing the victims, it at least allows for the counter-arguments.  But in the end, it’s clear that the filmmakers have an argument to make and they are using this film to argue it quite well.

Why have the death penalty?  That is the question asked by this film as it was asked by the original book by Sister Helen Prejean.  Yes, the man being executed, Matthew Poncelet is rather reprehensible.  He’s a perfect example for those who approve of the death penalty.  He goes on television and praises Hitler and blasts the government.  He killed a young couple in cold blood and has lied about how responsible he was for his actions.  He’s a killer and not particularly remorseful until he is about to be executed.  He’s played by Sean Penn in the role that finally won over the Academy to appreciating him.  Penn had been a brilliant actor for years but he had been such a pain in the film industry’s side that they had been ignoring him.  But the way he digs into the character and finds his anger and then his fear and even a bit of his dignity, the Academy finally welcomed him into their ranks (and he would later win two Oscars).

On the other side of the glass from him, talking to him, guiding him through his experience, is a nun, Sister Helen Prejean, played brilliantly by Susan Sarandon, in the performance that finally won her an Oscar in her fifth try (fourth in five years), though it probably helped that Emma Thompson (who I think should have won) had just won three years before and was going to win for Adapted Screenplay and that Nicole Kidman had not yet been embraced by the Academy and hadn’t even been nominated.  But Sarandon brings a quiet grace to the role of a nun who hadn’t though that much of the death penalty until she was brought into this man’s life and had to find some reason that he should die and found it lacking.

In spite of two magnificent performances (that they rank at #7 (Penn) and #5 (Sarandon) at the Nighthawks shouldn’t diminish their effectiveness), the film itself just barely pushes into the ***.5 range because in the end it really does just feel like an argument.  So am I pushing it up because I agree with it or pushing it down because I already agreed with it and didn’t need to be persuaded.  Too much of the film feels like being beaten over the head with why this country or any civilized country would ever need the death penalty.  That’s why the imagery in the actual execution scene should have been changed.  Because, even if it’s true to life, it just feels like it’s part of the argument.

The Source:

Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States by Helen Prejean, C.S.J.  (1993)

Unlike the film, which tries to present itself as something more than an argument against the death penalty, Prejean’s book isn’t trying to do anything other than that.  It’s the account of Prejean’s work with two convicted criminals and how she helped them spiritually as they both moved towards their own deaths.

I personally don’t have much use for nuns, people who have dedicated their lives to an idea I find ridiculous in a church that I solid issues with.  But Prejean is a woman with considerable depth to her soul.  She comforts these two murderers because she believes that every person, no matter what they have done, deserves that.  And she comes to see all the inherent unfairness in the death penalty and the way it is applied in this country.  She has done a lot of studying on how it works and backs her arguments up with considerable statistics.  It didn’t hurt, reading the book, that I agreed with her and her opposition to the death penalty long before I picked up her book, indeed long before I even saw the film.

The Adaptation:

It’s remarkable how true this film is to the book when you consider that the character of Matthew Poncelot in the film is actually a composite of two different men: Patrick Sonnier and Robert Lee Willie.  Their crimes were very similar, so it was easy to conflate those (though Sonnier’s confederate in the crime was his brother).  Some details come from one prisoner or the other (the complaining on television, for example, was Willie but the words said by the murderer at the execution and the reaction of the parents to those words were Sonnier) but most of the details in the film happened with either one man or the other and in one case or the other.  The one major difference between the film and the real life events is that both of those men were actually executed in the electric chair because they died in 1984 and Louisiana didn’t switch to lethal injection until the 90’s.  So, for Robbins to defend his scene as true to life is in some part disingenuous since in real life neither of those men that make the composite Sean Penn character were even executed by lethal injection.

The Credits:

Written and Directed by Tim Robbins.  Based on the book ‘Dead Man Walking’ by Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J..

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10

(in descending order of how I rank the script)


note:  As with every year from 1989 to 2005, you can find more about every film I saw in the theater in the Nighthawk Awards.  Only four of this group are among those but a bunch more of the bottom group are.

  • Jeffrey  –  It actually hurts a little that I can’t bring myself to push this into the Top 10.  The film is hysterically funny because the play was hysterically funny.  But, as a film, it doesn’t work quite as coherently and I can’t push the script quite that high.  Thankfully, it’s now been released on Blu-Ray (I know because my local library has it on order) so no more excuses for never having seen it.  Based, quite faithfully, on the play by Paul Rudnick though the line “Yoko Ono” was originally “Jacqueline Onassis” in the play but she died between the time the play was produced and when the film was made – the punchline (“To see the apartment”) was still the same.  Full review here where it was one of two Under-appreciated Films of the Year.
  • Hyenas  –  A 1992 Senegalese film that I was introduced to by my college roommate when he ran the International Film Series at school.  Good high ***.5 film based on the play The Visit by Friedrich Dürrenmatt.
  • The Secret of Roan Inish  –  Very good, very different John Sayles film based on the novel Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry by Rosalie K. Fry.
  • Whisper of the Heart  –  High ***.5 Anime film, the first Studio Ghibli film not directed by Miyazaki or Takahata (it’s directed by Yoshifumi Kondo), based on the manga by Aoi Hiiragi.
  • Circle of Friends  –  Feature film debut for Minnie Driver in a very good performance as the ugly duckling turned swan in an adaptation of Maeve Binchy’s novel.  High ***.
  • Strawberry and Chocolate  –  A 1994 Oscar nominee for Foreign Film, submitted by Cuba.  Based on the short story “The Wolf, The Forest and the New Man” by Senel Paz.
  • Carrington  –  Really good performances from Emma Thompson (as Carrington) and Jonathan Pryce (as Lytton Strachey) but the film itself is just high ***.  Based on the biography of Strachey by Michael Holroyd.
  • The Perez Family  –  Solid *** Mira Nair Comedy based on the novel by Christine Bell.
  • Shanghai Triad  –  The writing isn’t the strongest thing about this high ***.5 Zhang Yimou film (in order, that would be the Cinematography, Art DIrection, Costume Design and performance by Gong Li).  Based on the novel Rules of a Clan by Li Xiao.
  • Heat  –  Michael Mann based this on an unsuccessful pilot he had made that got turned into a television movie called L.A. Takedown.  He really upped the ante here, going with De Niro and Pacino instead of Alex McArthur and Scott Plank, neither of whom I have even heard of.  This is a high ***.5 but it’s all about the direction rather than the script.
  • Devil in a Blue Dress  –  A box office failure but Denzel certainly sets hearts (and other organs, based on the comments at his AFI tribute) ablaze as Easy Rawlins in this adaptation of Walter Mosley’s novel.
  • The Bridges of Madison County  –  I’ve read books I hated more (I’m looking at you The Fountainhead and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) but I’ve never read a book written as badly as this one which a friend in college asked me to read because it made her cry.  Terrible, terrible novel by Robert James Waller becomes high *** movie thanks to solid script and strong performances from Eastwood and Meryl.
  • Home for the Holidays  –  Solid Thanksgiving Comedy directed by Jodie Foster with good performances from Holly Hunter and Robert Downey as siblings.  Based on a short story by Chris Radant.

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)


note:  A few films that could have been considered adapted but aren’t: Clueless (even though it follows the plot of Emma, the Academy apparently didn’t consider it adapted so neither will I – it would have been in the above list if I had), First Knight (terrible Arthur film that uses Arthur characters), The Jerky Boys: The Movie (they existed as characters already in their comedy sketches but it isn’t really adapted), Mallrats (perfect example of a guilty pleasure that I like more than I should and the characters of Jay and Silent Bob already existed but the Academy didn’t list it as adapted so neither will I), Nixon (since Stone documented the sources he used it was surprising it was nominated in Original Screenplay at the Oscars) and Tall Tale (makes use of the legend of Pecos Bill).

note:  I have been working much more towards completing years, at least in terms of major box office films and major studio films, so this list is considerably longer than the one in 1993 (24 more films) and that will probably be the case from here on forward.

  • The Bride with White Hair 2  –  Sequel to the original, both are mid ***.5 and this one is ever so slightly better.  One of the first films Veronica ever had me watch.
  • The Executioners  –  Another sequel introduced to me by Veronica, in this case to one of her favorite movies, The Heroic Trio.  Low ***.5.
  • A Little Princess  –  The best film version of the classic children’s novel because it’s directed by Alfonso Cuarón.  We’re at high ***.
  • GoldenEye  –  Very solid start to Pierce Brosnan’s time as Bond though sadly the other Brosnan films won’t be nearly as good.  Fully reviewed here.
  • The Money Order  –  If you’ve never seen Ousmane Sembène’s films you need to.  He’s required viewing.  This film, for example, made in 1968, was the first ever feature length film from West Africa actually in an African language (Wolof).  Sembène based it on his own novel.
  • Desperado  –  I initially dismissed this film as crappy Antonio Banderas like Assassins (they opened only five weeks apart) because I hadn’t yet seen El Mariachi.  But this is actually quite a good film, like Evil Dead 2 a film that functions as both a sequel and a partial remake.  Plus it opens with the fantastic “Canción del Mariachi“.  And that scene is a reminder that whether as the mariachi or as Puss, Antonio will not hesitate to hit you with his guitar.
  • Xala  –  Another Sembène film, this one from 1975 and again based on one of his novels.
  • Dust of Life  –  The Algerian submission for Foreign Film at the Oscars was actually nominated and for years it was the only post 1978 Oscar nominee I hadn’t seen (there are currently only four Oscar nominees I haven’t seen post-1945 and they’re all Foreign Film nominees – Qivitoq, Harry and the Butler, Portrait of Cheiko, Hoa-Binh).
  • Othello  –  This film version of Shakespeare’s tragedy was the first to have an actual black in the lead role (Laurence Fishburne) and it’s got a great Iago from Kenneth Branagh but Irene Jacob’s English isn’t good enough as Desdemona and it would have been much better if directed by Branagh instead of Oliver Parker.  Still, quite solid.
  • Persuasion  –  Like Cold Comfort Farm the next year, actually made for British television and released in theaters in the States (though not Oscar eligible).  Solid adaptation of another Jane Austen book but this one I haven’t bothered to read because I don’t have to.
  • Casino  –  With Marty, De Niro, Pesci and again based on a Nicholas Pileggi book (Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas) there were expectations of another GoodFellas but it’s not nearly on the same level.  Solid but for Marty, solid is a big step down.
  • Country Life  –  The second of three straight years with Uncle Vanya adaptations, this one is the Australian one with Sam Neill and Greta Scacchi.
  • Through the Olive Trees  –  Is it really adapted?  Well, it’s the final film in Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s Koker trilogy so at least sort of.  Well regarded by many but just mid *** from me and submitted to the Oscars but not nominated.
  • A Month by the Lake  –  A Romantic Comedy set between the wars but at Lake Como instead of a British country estate.  Based on the novel by H.E. Bates.
  • Jumanji  –  Solid Kids Fantasy film based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg.
  • The Innocent  –  Solid adaptation from John Schlesinger of Ian McEwan’s novel though many think it much worse than I do.
  • The Stranger  –  Not an adaptation of the Camus novel but rather Satyajit Ray adapting one of his own short stories for his last film, released in India in 1991 (Ray died in 1992).
  • Memories  –  Anthology Anime film based on three short stories.
  • The Women from the Lake of Scented Souls  –  A 1993 Chinese film that won the Silver Lion in Berlin.  Based on the novel by Zhou Daxin.
  • Cry, the Beloved Country  –  It’s been a long, long time since I read the classic South African novel but I remember it fondly.  Solid film adaptation with James Earl Jones and Richard Harris.
  • Kristin Lavransdatter  –  Norwegian submission for the Oscars, directed by Liv Ullmann based on the trilogy by Sigrid Undset that helped make her just the third female to win the Nobel Prize.
  • The Indian in the Cupboard  –  Another solid Kids Fantasy film, this one based on a book by Lynne Reid Banks.
  • Balto  –  Unclear if it’s actually adapted (oscars.org said no) though this Animated film is based on a true story.
  • Waiting to Exhale  –  “Did you get Waiting to Exhale?”  “They put us on the Waiting to Exhale waiting list but told me don’t hold your breath.”  Based on the novel by Terry McMillan.
  • Total Eclipse  –  Christopher Hampton adapts his own play about Rimbaud (Leo) and Verlaine (David Thewlis) and their relationship.
  • Jonah and the Pink Whale  –  The Bolivian submission at the Oscars is based on the novel by José Wolfango Montes Vannuci.
  • Unstrung Heroes  –  Based on the memoir by Franz Lidz.  I haven’t seen this since the theater and I fear it would fail precipitously but I liked it at the time.
  • Love and Human Remains  –  For Denys Arcand, low *** is weak.  Based on the play Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love by Brad Fraser.
  • Bar Girls  –  Lesbian Romantic Comedy based on the play by Lauran Hoffman.
  • O Quatrilho  –  After 22 failed submissions in a row, the first Brazilian Oscar nominee since 1962 and the first of three nominations in four years.  Based on the novel by José Clemente Pozenato.
  • A Kid in King Arthur’s Court  –  Disney had already made a Kids modern version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court with Unidentified Flying Eyeball and they do it again.  It has a flop of a lead (Thomas Ian Nicholas) which is why in spite of a future Oscar winner (Kate Winslet) and future Bond (Daniel Craig) it’s low ***.
  • Frankie Starlight  –  Decent Drama based on the novel The Dork of Cork.
  • Once Were Warriors  –  Prominent New Zealand film about modern day Māori culture with big roles for two of the most well-known Māori actors, Temuera Morrison and Cliff Curtis.
  • I, the Worst of All  –  Biopic of Juana Inés de la Cruz, this is the Argentinian submission at the Oscars for 1990 based on Sor Juana: Or, the Traps of Faith by Octavio Paz.
  • A Walk in the Clouds  –  Schmaltzy Keanu Reeves Romance based on the 1942 Italian film Four Steps in the Clouds which was BAFTA nominated in 1948 and I just finally saw last week.
  • Feast of July  –  Another H.E. Bates novel, this one is adapted by Merchant Ivory except Ivory isn’t involved so it’s only mediocre.
  • Dolores Claiborne  –  One of two connected Stephen King novels that were so bad (Gerald’s Game is the other – they’re connected by the eclipse) that came out in 1992 and were so bad I didn’t read another newly released King book until the fourth Dark Tower book five years later.  But the film, with solid performances from Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh isn’t that bad (and Gerald’s Game was also made into a decent film 20 years later).
  • A Goofy Movie  –  Just the second DisneyToons film and like all of them, just mediocre.  Adapted only in that it uses Goofy.
  • War of the Buttons  –  Kids film based on the novel by Louis Pergaud.
  • God’s Comedy  –  The Portuguese Oscar submission is the second in a trilogy, the sequel to Recollections of the Yellow House.
  • Ermo  –  A 1994 Chinese film based on the novella by Xu Baoqi.  The last on the list of *** films.
  • Sabrina  –  Yes, Harrison Ford is more believable than Bogart and Julia Ormond is actually ignorable in the early scenes while Hepburn wasn’t.  Even with that, this is still a far inferior remake of the 1954 classic.  Now we’re at **.5.
  • Casper  –  Live action version of the character who had been a feature animated short character, a comic book character and then a television animated character.
  • The Bait  –  A true event in 1984 became a 1990 novel by Morgan Sportes became this 1995 French film.
  • Blue in the Face  –  Using ad-libbed scenes filmed during Smoke, Wayne Wang released this sequel to that film just a few months later but while Smoke is really good this is just bland.
  • Roommates  –  Written by Max Apple, adapting his own memoir about his grandfather.  Ironically, you can find interviews with Apple here which is the project I currently work on for my new job.
  • The Sum of Us  –  In the role he was probably best known for (at least in America) before L.A. Confidential, Russell Crowe plays a gay son in this adaptation of David Stevens’ play.
  • The Run of the Country  –  We drop several points to mid **.5 with this Peter Yates Drama based on the novel by Shane Connaughton.
  • The Journey of August King  –  Mediocre Drama from director John Duigan based on the novel by John Ehle.
  • The Stars Fell on Henrietta  –  We drop a couple more points down to low **.5.  Mediocre Drama based on a short story by Winifred Sanford.
  • Outbreak  –  Loosely based on the really fascinating non-fiction book The Hot Zone by Richard Preston and I can’t stress that word loosely enough.  I saw this in the theater and haven’t bothered with again.
  • How to Make an American Quilt  –  Also saw in the theater and also haven’t seen since, probably because it had Winona Ryder and probably because someone else wanted to see it and I went along with it.  Based on the novel by Whitney Otto.
  • Green Snake  –  A 1993 Hong Kong Fantasy Martial Arts film directed by Hark Tsui.  Based on the novel by Lilian Lee who also wrote Farewell My Concubine.
  • Faust  –  The latest Jan Svankmajer stop-motion adaptation of a classic.  The Czech Oscar submission from 1994.
  • The Underneath  –  One of Soderbergh’s weaker films, this Heist film is a remake of a 1949 film and both are based on the novel Criss Cross by Don Tracy.
  • Father of the Bride Part II  –  Rather than just call it a remake of Father’s Little Dividend that wanted to make certain you knew it was a sequel.
  • The Baby-Sitters Club  –  Adaptation of the Kids book series.  Not terrible.
  • Die Hard: With a Vengeance  –  This third go around for John McClane (and the last for over a decade) just reuses the character and puts him a new situation (and city).  With this film we hit **.
  • Restoration  –  Great costumes (which won the Oscar) but this costume Drama based on the novel by Rose Tremain is a dud.
  • Wild Bill  –  Walter Hill used two different sources (Pete Dexter’s novel Deadwood and Thomas Babe’s play Fathers and Sons) but they don’t liven up this Western biopic.
  • Arabian Night  –  Known more generally as The Thief and the Cobbler, this Animated film spent over 30 years in production before getting the official Oscar eligible release from Miramax under this title.  Based on Nasreddin stories.  I’ve never seen the later re-edits but this version is not good.
  • Dangerous Minds  –  Another true story of a teacher with tough kids.  Based on the book by the teacher.
  • Panther  –  Mario Van Peebles directs his own father’s novel about the founding of the Black Panthers.  Films like this are why he was so ridiculed by the comic strip Boondocks.
  • Fluke  –  Kids film with a dog.  Based on a novel by James Herbert, better known for writing Horror novels.
  • The Basketball Diaries  –  Jim Carroll lead an interesting life but this film, adapting his autobiographical novel isn’t very interesting.
  • Batman Forever  –  Fully reviewed here.  The Batman franchise gets turned over to a shitty director (Joel Schumacher) and his even more shitty screenwriter (Akiva Goldsman).  After re-reading my review and thinking about, I dropped this film 10 points.
  • Losing Isaiah  –  Based on the novel by Seth Margolis this Drama about a woman who abandons her baby then wants it back feels more like a Lifetime movie.
  • Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home  –  I have a British friend who was visiting when the first Free Willy was playing in the local theater and after she saw it on the marquee she couldn’t stop giggling.  This sequel is only worthwhile in that it allows me to tell that anecdote.
  • Kiss of Death  –  Nicolas Cage tries (and fails) to play the role that made Richard Widmark a star and David Caruso tries (and fails) to have a movie career.  Skip this and watch the original 1947 film instead.
  • Search and Destroy  –  Based on the play by Howard Korder.
  • The Last Good Time  –  Forgettable Drama based on the novel by Richard Bausch.
  • Grumpier Old Men  –  Grumpy Old Men definitely didn’t need a sequel.
  • Moonlight and Valentino  –  Pretty bad Romance based on the play by Ellen Simon.
  • Delta of Venus  –  I’d much rather read this book by Anaïs Nin then Henry Miller’s shitty Tropic of Cancer but the film at *.5 is pretty bad.
  • Under Siege 2: Dark Territory  –  The original was surprisingly decent for a Steven Seagal film.  This one is not.
  • Village of the Damned  –  Remake of the 1960 film and adaptation of The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham.
  • Gumby: The Movie  –  Everyone’s favorite green claymation blob gets a feature length film that is terrible.  Mid *.5.
  • Tom and Huck  –  Disney destroys Mark Twain with Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Tom and Brad Renfro as Huck.
  • Johnny Mnemonic  –  Thankfully I didn’t have to do any of the William Gibson interviews for my work (see Roommates, above) because I hate his work.  His short story became this terrible Keanu film.
  • Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh  –  Now we’re at low *.5 with this sequel to the 1992 film adapted from a Clive Barker story.  Has any director made a bigger leap?  Bill Condon went from this to winning an Oscar as the writer-director of Gods and Monsters.
  • Dracula: Dead and Loving It  –  Now we’re in * range with Mel Brooks bottoming out with his parodies.  I really love Brooks’ early work and even have fondness for Spaceballs and Robin Hood and I love Dracula but I only remember laughing once during this mess (“She’s dead?”  “No.”  “She’s alive?”  “No, she’s nosferatu.”  “She’s Italian?”).
  • Godzilla vs Destoroyah  –  The 7th (and final) in the Heisei period and the 22nd Godzilla film overall.
  • Tank Girl  –  I follow certain rules so original songs aren’t eligible at the Nighthawks unless I’ve seen the film even if I already know the song.  That’s why I watched this terrible adaptation of the comic series, so I could count “Mockingbird Girl”.
  • Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers  –  Donald Pleasance was dragged back into this but died before its release so until some production company starts using him as CGI this is his last go around in this franchise.  The sixth film in the franchise and one of three to be ignored when the next installment arrives three years later.
  • Congo  –  Michael Crichton’s book was very enjoyable.  This terrible film that wastes Bruce Campbell, Tim Curry and Laura Linney is not.
  • Major Payne  –  Terrible remake of the 1955 film The Private War of Major Benson.
  • The Brady Bunch Movie  –  I never cared for the show but this attempt to satirize the show is even worse.  This brings us to mid *.
  • Stuart Saves his Family  –  Lorne Michaels really needed to stop bank-rolling feature length versions of SNL skits.
  • Judge Dredd  –  Another comic book adaptation I saw just so I could include an original song on my list (“Dredd Song” by the Cure).
  • Just Cause  –  Sean Connery and Laurence Fishburne star in a terrible Suspense film based on a novel by John Katzenbach.
  • Hideaway  –  Dean Koontz’s Horror novel becomes a terrible film.  Now we’re down to low *.
  • Fair Game  –  It was bad enough when this novel by Paula Gosling was made into the movie Cobra.  Here it stars Cindy Crawford and Billy Baldwin.
  • Lord of Illusions  –  Clive Barker gets all the blame for this crappy Horror film, having directed the film and written the original short story.
  • The Scarlet Letter  –  In the fall of 1995 I was taking an early American Lit course.  We were supposed to read a critical interpretation of The Scarlet Letter and write a paper on the interpretation.  I made the argument that this new film version was, by having a happy ending, making a critical interpretation and so got permission to write on the film.  I didn’t read the book (I paid attention in class).  I didn’t watch the film (I read a review).  I wrote the paper and got the highest grade in the class.  I have since punished myself by both reading the book and seeing the film.
  • Highlander III: The Final Dimension  –  If there can be only one shouldn’t this have ended after the first film?
  • Mortal Kombat  –  Paul W.S. Anderson arrives in Hollywood and this video game adaptation is about his talent level.  We’re into the .5 films now.
  • Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie  –  Based on the television show, bad enough that it should have been forgotten but successful enough that it spawned a sequel and a reboot.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde  –  Not the first film to have Jekyll turn into a female instead of a monster but bad enough we should hope no one does it again.
  • 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up  –  A sequel that became a prequel as well when it got made before the second one but then released the following year.
  • It’s Pat  –  The original SNL skits about Pat, an androgynous person whose gender you couldn’t figure out weren’t funny but it was turned into this movie which was a disaster.  It opened in August of 1994, bombed horrendously (making less than 1/200th of its budget) at the same time that star and writer Julia Sweeney found out her brother was extremely ill and just before she found out she had cervical cancer.  Yet, for some reason, six months later it finally opened in L.A. (as evidenced by oscars.org placing it in 1995, the Razzies placing it in 1995 and the 3 February 1995 L.A. Times review) which did double its box office but was still less than 1/100th its budget.  Plus, of course, it’s just a terrible film that doesn’t have a single funny moment.  Don’t expect to see this one on Disney+ anytime soon.
  • The Mangler  –  Terrible adaptation of one of the weaker Stephen King stories in Night Shift, one that is all about the concept (a killer laundry press).
  • Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls  –  Actually this film barely makes my Bottom 5 for the year as below it are National Lampoon’s Senior Trip, Billy Madison, The Doom Generation and Showgirls.  But, this crappy sequel to what was already a really stupid film is just awful and not one bit funny.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • none

The highest grossing Adapted film I haven’t seen from 1995 is Sister My Sister (#240, $217, 881), though there are eight original films above it that I haven’t seen.  The highest grossing sequel I haven’t seen is Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (#260, $44,272).  I’ve seen every film released by a major studio or prominent indie except A Pyromaniac’s Love Story which is original.