“Then Renton was hit by a wave of shock which threatened to knock him incoherent.  A girl came into the room.  As he watched her, a coldness came over him.  She was the double of Dianne, but this girl looked barely secondary school age.  It took him a few seconds to realize that it was Dianne.”  (p 145)

My Top 10

  1. Trainspotting
  2. The English Patient
  3. The Crucible
  4. Cold Comfort Farm
  5. Emma
  6. Hamlet
  7. The Birdcage
  8. Romeo + Juliet
  9. Mother Night
  10. Star Trek: First Contact

note:  A fantastic Top 5 and a strong Top 10 with a few more listed down at the bottom.  A rare year in that it’s also fantastic for Original Screenplay.  This year has the highest average score for the two Screenplay awards in history.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. The English Patient  (256 pts)
  2. Sling Blade  (160 pts)
  3. Trainspotting  (160 pts)
  4. Romeo + Juliet  (80 pts)
  5. The Crucible  (80 pts)

note:  For the first time since 1988, there are no critics awards for an adapted screenplay which is why the point totals are so low though the points are also a little higher than they could be because three different BAFTA winners all end up in this year.

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

  • Sling Blade
  • The Crucible
  • The English Patient
  • Hamlet
  • Trainspotting

WGA:

  • Sling Blade
  • The Birdcage
  • Emma
  • The English Patient
  • Trainspotting

Golden Globes:

  • The English Patient

Nominees that are Original:  The People vs. Larry Flynt, Fargo, Lone Star, Shine

note:  This is the first time since 1988 that only one of the Globe nominees is adapted.

BAFTA:

  • Trainspotting  (1995)
  • The English Patient  (1996)
  • Romeo + Juliet  (1997)
  • The Crucible
  • Evita

note:  The other BAFTA nominee was Richard III which was from 1995.

BFCA:

  • The English Patient

My Top 10

Trainspotting

The Film:

One of my favorite films of all-time, one I saw three times in the theaters, saw it again as soon as it hit video, owned it on video (recorded from a laserdisc because the video itself wasn’t priced to own) and then later on DVD.  It is not just one of my favorites (ranked at #34 all-time) but a fantastically brilliant film as well, with an amazing script (just look, for example, at the hike scene and realize none of that is from the book) and brilliant editing that makes it such a revelation.  Dark, disturbing, yet astoundingly funny as well.  Then, of course, there is the soundtrack, or soundtracks, as there were two released and they are among the greatest ever assembled.  Reviewed already.

The Source:

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh  (1993)

This is a very good book, diving deep down into the depths of heroin addiction and coming out the other story with brutal honesty and desperation but also a fantastic sense of dark humor.  It is, for the most part, less a novel than a series of vignettes in which some of the characters overlap but without much of a storyline until we get towards the end and we see the journey that Renton has made to trying to get out of his life.  I’ve owned it ever since the film was released and have read it any number of times but the best way to read it, by far, is to be at home and to read it out loud because then you can find your way through the phonetic Scottish that is used throughout the book and at least get a chance of understanding what is being said (though it does get easier on subsequent readings).

The Adaptation:

A surprising amount of the film comes from the book including a number of scenes adapted quite faithfully (including the dialogue).  There are other scenes that are similar to the book but combine characters so as to keep the number of characters from getting out of hand (what happens to Tommy, for instance, happens to another character in the book who isn’t in the film at all).  Some of the best dialogue (including the final monologue) is straight from the book but many of the most brilliant lines (the opening dialogue, which takes off from that final monologue or the “it’s shit being Scottish” speech) are entirely the developments of the filmmakers.

The Credits:

Director:  Danny Boyle.  Based on a novel by Irvine Welsh.  Screenplay: John Hodge.

note:  The title is the only thing in the opening credits.

The English Patient

The Film:

When I watch this film and am reminded of how brilliantly it is constructed, from the incredible script that moves us back and forth between stories, with the intricate editing that keeps us moving without being confused, from the gorgeous cinematography and beautiful score to that absolutely amazing array of acting, I have to keep saying to myself “Lone Star and Trainspotting are even more brilliant”.  Because The English Patient is a remarkable film, one that came in and completely dominated the Oscars (winning nine) and most of them were deserved and even the ones I don’t agree with I won’t argue against.  The first group of voters got it wrong by not putting Lone Star and Trainspotting in the Best Picture race (not that either was likely) but then they got it right when they gave the award to The English Patient.  A film at once overwhelmingly romantic but with an aura of tragedy over all of it holding you at arm’s length.  Fully reviewed already.

The Source:

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje  (1992)

Ironically, after reading The English Patient for this project, the next book I went and read was Kiss of the Spider Woman.  The only thing that these two have in common (other than that I admire both books and continue to own them even as I continue to get read of books I will never read again) is that both of them are so intricately constructed on the page and so resistant to being adapted that it’s amazing that either was made at all, yet alone made so incredibly well.

This book is a marvel of poetic language (including one of my all-time favorite quotes: “Who lay the crumbs of food that tempt you?  Towards a person you never considered.  A dream.  Then later another series of dreams.” explaining how Katharine comes to fall in love with Almazy) in its dual stories: one of a nurse and her badly burned patient in an Italian house at the end of the war and the other his story of his doomed love affair and how he came to be burned in the desert to begin with.

You don’t need to know this to enjoy this book (and it’s nowhere explicitly said in the book) but Hana, the nurse and Caravaggio, the thief/spy whose thumbs were cut off in punishment by the Germans aren’t new characters.  They were minor characters in Ondaatje’s previous novel (In the Skin of a Lion) and Hana’s father, who dies in the course of the book (that’s one of the tragedies of her life leading towards her destiny which she learns about during the book) was the protagonist of that book.  But it’s all about Ondaatje’s use of language and memory and how the two can coincide.  It’s one of the rare Booker Prize winners that I really and truly admire (it’s one of only seven winners that I still own).

The Adaptation:

While much of the actual story in the film does come from the book, including a lot of what happens in Italy (Hana, scarred by war, stays behind in the house with her patient, eventually joined by Caravaggio, who has questions about the patient and Kip, the sapper who Hana falls for) and in Africa (Almazy falling in love with Katharine, their affair, Clifton tries to kill them all and fails, Almazy leaves to save Katharine, is detained by the Brits, helps the Germans so he can return to her, by which time she is dead), there are a lot of changes along the way (Hana and Caravaggio, as I said, are characters from the other book and have known each other for years while here they are both from Montreal and that forms a connection – it’s Toronto in the book but they presumably made it Montreal to explain Hana’s French accent and the more melancholy ending of Kip leaving after the dropping of the atomic bomb is dropped as are the bits about Hana’s father and the friend of Kip’s who dies and the scene with Hana and the paintings are both created for the film).  Minghella does a masterful job of pulling from the book what he needs, changing what he feels would hamper the film’s storytelling and then adding a few more things to cement the relationships as he depicts them.  All in all, a brilliant adaptation.

The Credits:

Directed by Anthony Minghella.  Based on the Novel by Michael Ondaatje.  Screenplay by Anthony Minghella.

The Crucible

The Film:

It’s interesting that it took so long and in the end, didn’t really come at a time when it was needed.  It would have been more relevant a few years later, after the Iraq War had begun with all the talk of being for or against us.  And it had taken over 40 years since it had first hit the stage at a time of maximum relevancy, perhaps the play, more than any other ever produced, designed to counter a political problem.  In the end, this film would actually have a lasting impact beyond what anyone could have imagined when making it (that Daniel Day-Lewis would meet Arthur Miller’s daughter Rebecca and that they would fall in love and marry) but perhaps because it wasn’t needed at the time was why the film didn’t get quite the reaction it deserved.

Turning a great play into a great film has always been easier than trying to do the same to a great novel, perhaps because the dialogue and action is already thought out for how actors can make it come alive.  Indeed, one of the few plays in the English language that is better than this one would also make one of the few films better than this one in this same year.  But it’s not just about the power of the play coming through (thanks to Miller finding ways to make it fresh and new on-screen – see below for more on that) but because it was perfectly cast with four great actors in four great roles bringing everything to their roles that was needed.  Daniel Day-Lewis, the great method actor of all-time and, role for role, the greatest film actor ever, is John Procter, the all-too human man who made the mistake of having an affair and finds himself punished for it in a much different way than he ever could have imagined.  Joan Allen, who would earn the second of back-to-back Oscar nominations for playing long-suffering wives (which she easily could have made it four in a row when you think about The Ice Storm and Pleasantville) is great as Elizabeth, the woman who just wants to get some semblance of her life back again but finds herself wounded even more by the beautiful young woman they had working for them.  Winona Ryder, paired again with Day-Lewis after their triumph in The Age of Innocence, is Abigail, the young girl who Procter made the mistake of falling for.  Even though she is filled with spite and venom, you can also see why he was so entranced by her, not just because she is so much more younger than his wife is now and so much more beautiful than she ever was, but because she is filled with a refreshing vitality that must have seduced him without any resistance other than his long-ago marriage vows.  Rounding out the quartet is Paul Scofield (who at least earned a Globe nom) as the stern judge who overseas the trials that would bring everlasting shame (and eventually, a considerable tourist industry) to the town of Salem.

What do we believe?  Who do we believe?  In Salem in 1692 the powers in charge believed the hysterical young women because they had a deep belief in Satan and evil.  But what we believe often comes out of what we fear.  The people fear a lack of control.  They fear what they cannot understand.  It’s been not much more than a generation since these people fled England where their beliefs had not been particularly tolerated.  The irony of their persecution never seems to come into their minds.  They are convinced that they are right and nothing else matters.

Their fervent belief and the way it propels the story forward is part of the strength of the film.  The acting, of course, is the major strength of the film and few films have four roles, one in all four of the acting categories, that are this well written and this well acted.  But this isn’t just a powerhouse of acting.  The film comes alive, in the woods around Salem, in the stark light of the church, in the broad daylight exposing the sins, not just that people have been accused of committing, but which the people of Salem are actually committing against each other.

It would be a mistake to think of this as just a filmed version of one of the all-time great plays.  It is a vibrant film that comes to life, that reminds us at every step of what is going on and that allows us, through magnificent acting and writing, to fully realize what a horrible act was committed upon the people by their own friends and neighbors.

The Source:

The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts by Arthur Miller  (1953)

What can I possibly say about this play that hasn’t already been said by hundreds of dissertations, articles or book-length critical pieces?  It is Miller’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the younger brother to the ground-breaking Kazan directed play that seemed to break all the roles and set the New York theater scene on its ear (Death of a Salesman / Streetcar).  It is a wonderfully vibrant social document that was absolutely needed in the heart of the McCarthy era to remind people what they were doing, not just to their friends, their neighbors, their co-workers, but also to themselves.  It was Miller’s response to his times, a play that resonates throughout the decades since and has continued to be one of the most taught plays in American Drama.  If you can think about the history of Salem, the history of the Blacklist and you can listen to John Procter yell out, as Miller puts it, “with a cry of his whole soul”: “Because it is my name!  Because I cannot have another in my life!” and you don’t feel for him, for the situation, for us all, then perhaps ask yourself what feelings you can find at all.

The Adaptation:

It is a testament to Miller and what he does as the screenwriter of the film that he does not just rest upon his laurels.  For many plays in this project, I can sit there with the play in my hand, reading along as the film moves forward.  But Miller does so much differently, opening up to new scenes, showing us what was only hinted at before, cutting scenes up and moving them around, understanding that writing for a film is different from writing for the stage where long scenes can be the standard, that for a long time, I was completely unable to follow along.  Yes, the vast majority of the dialogue comes straight from the original play, but he does a magnificent job of keeping the film from just being a filmed rendition of the play.

The Credits:

Directed by Nicholas Hytner.  Screenplay by Arthur Miller based on his play.

Cold Comfort Farm

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as my representative film for John Schlesinger when I placed him my Top 100 Directors of All-Time (a position he holds to tentatively at best, I admit).  It’s an interesting film because it was the one proof that Kate Beckinsale actually could act between her adorable early performance in which her acting was overshadowed by the magnificent cast (Much Ado About Nothing) and her later sexy-in-a-black-leather-outfit roles that required no acting whatsoever.  This film, in fact, is filled to the brim with actors who hadn’t really broken through yet, from the young (Kate Beckinsale, Rufus Sewall) to the much older (Ian McKellen).  It was only a television film in the UK but it played in theaters in the US and I am really glad I went to see it because I have loved the film since the day I saw it and continue to love it.

The Source:

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons  (1932)

I dismissed this novel as merely okay in my 1996 Nighthawk Awards but that was simply wrong.  This film is what so many fans of Jane Austen try to explain to me her books are: funny, charming, with something to say about the characters involved and yet still perfectly finding a way to a happy ending that’s perfectly appropriate to the story.  You can look at the opening three paragraphs and decide for yourself because they perfectly set the stage for what is to come both in the book and in the film:

“The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.

Her father had always been spoken of as a wealthy man, but on his death his executors were disconcerted to find him a poor one.  After death duties had been paid and the demands of creditors satisfied, his child was left with an income of one hundred pounds a year, and no property.

Flora inherited, however, from her father a strong will and from her mother a slender ankle. The one had not been impaired by always having her own way nor the other by the violent athletic sports in which she had been compelled to take part, but she realized that neither was adequate as an equipment for earning her keep.”

The Adaptation:

The film is a first-rate example of bringing a novel to life on-screen.  Almost everything we saw in the novel is on the screen and the vast majority of dialogue comes straight from the book (even the best line, which is tweaked slightly from “Did it see you?” to “But did it see you, baby?” perfectly delivered from the line of a Hollywood producer).  There are few films made from books this good that are both this good and this faithful.

The Credits:

Directed by John Schlesinger.  Screenplay by Malcolm Bradbury.  From the novel by Stella Gibbons.

Emma

The Film:

I had seen her before.  I had been seeing her, I suppose since she was still a teenager in Hook but she had never made much of an impression upon me.  In Se7en, she was just the wife who ends up with her head in a box and nothing about it would have inspired me to write a song.  I had seen her in The Pallbearer and I can’t imagine why because I didn’t watch Friends so maybe Kari wanted to go see it.  But suddenly we went to see this and who the hell was this luminous, vibrant actress before my eyes?  She was witty and alive, trying to bring a marriage to her friend, trying to bring comfort to the poor (in that condescending, annoying way that only the rich can) and bedeviling her brother-in-law though he also looked at her with a glint in his eye.  I wasn’t particularly familiar with Jeremy Northam yet either and I’ve never seen him give anything close to the equal of this performance but it was fantastic.

Emma Woodhouse is young and beautiful and it’s unclear how much she knows this.  She seems to want to help the people in the world, especially those not as fortunate as her, which seems to be everybody.  While that includes finding a husband for her friend Harriet (poor Toni Collette, always getting relegated to the second status), teasing Mr. Knightley, looking after her father and trying to charm everyone she meets.  Unfortunately she is sometimes too charming (or at least too pretty – as I said, blondes are not really my thing and the first couple of films I had seen her in, I hadn’t really cared about her and she seemed like just a generic blonde but this role really made me notice how beautiful she was, perhaps because of her performance), such as when she tries to charm the local vicar, Mr. Elton, into being a suitable match for Harriet only to discover that Mr. Elton, like so many moviegoers, is passing right over poor Toni Collette and moving right in on Gwyneth (Gwyneth is a good actress but she would have an Oscar before Collette would even have a nomination).  So it’s on to something else, which turns out to be Frank Churchill (Ewan McGregor, very different from Trainspotting which had just opened a couple of weeks before and sadly, his performance and his hair are the two biggest weaknesses in the film), who maybe could be a match for Harriet, or maybe even for Emma herself except this is a Jane Austen adaptation after all (see below for more on that) so he will turn out to have a big secret and besides, being an Austen novel it also means the perfect man for her has already been standing right in front of her.

Of the men right in front of their eyes that end up married at the end, it is Mr. Knightley that is the most obviously perfect match for the one he loves and who, it will turn out of course, also loves him (it doesn’t hurt that his brother is married to her sister).  They enjoy matching wits with each other, like in the great moment where they are practicing archery together and they banter back and forth over their beliefs on Harriet with the great moment where Emma gets flustered and gets off a bad shot prompting Knightley to reply “Please don’t kill my dogs.”

But the best moment in the film revolves around a picnic with several of their friends.  Emma has been under the influence of Frank Churchill and she says something really sharp and cutting to Miss Bates (played sublimely by Sophie Thompson) that, though she says it with a smile, is felt by Miss Bates right down to her core.  After the picnic, Knightley walks behind her, chiding her for making such a cruel statement.  It was this moment where I really knew that Paltrow could be a star, the way her face breaks down when Mr. Knightley chides her with “Badly done, Emma.”  She doesn’t face him but it is the key moment between them, when he chides her because he knows he must because she can be so much more than she has been and he hopes he is the man to help her realize that.  Of course, since this is an Austen adaptation, that is the case and for once we can gladly go into our happy ending knowing full well that these are two people who really do belong together.

The Source:

Emma: A Novel in Three Volumes by the Author of Pride and Prejudice  (1815)

Yes, that’s how it was originally published, without Austen’s name on the title page.

When I was reading this book for this project, I considered writing my friend Anne who is one of those people who doesn’t decide which six books she will read over the summer but which order she will choose to read her particular six books and say to her “I am currently reading an Austen book in which a charming, smart young woman finds herself continually frustrated with the older man that she will eventually fall in love with and marry by the end of the book while there is also another young man who seems a good fit at first but will turn out to be harboring a secret in his past” and challenge her to tell me what I was reading.  I could have mentioned an annoying clergyman who falls for the heroine but that would have cleared out Sense and Sensibility and just left Pride and Prejudice and Emma as the possibilities.  Of course, Anne probably would have asked me about parentage, knowing if there is just a mother it’s Sense and Sensibility, if there’s just a father then it’s Emma and if there is both then it’s Pride and PrejudiceBut my point, of course, is that all three books are ridiculously similar.  Which also leads to the cartoon just above.  Granted, that cartoon is aimed at modern times but I watch or read (usually watch – I love to watch them, hate to read them) Austen novels and wonder if she didn’t know anyone who had a damn job.

All of this gets back to what I wrote about Pride and Prejudice which is that I can’t stand Austen’s prose.  An opening line like “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” just makes me want to put the book back down.  But I started this project and I read it again.  Let’s hope I won’t have to do it yet again for some other foolish project.

The Adaptation:

This is a very faithful adaptation of the book.  Perhaps McGrath just loved the book or perhaps he felt he really needed to stick closely to it because Clueless had just come out the year before and so moviegoers (especially Americans) were more familiar with the plot than before and because any movement away from the story had already been done there.  Either way, it’s a great script and really shows that Austen’s dialogue can be quite superb even while her narrative prose is not.

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by Douglas McGrath.  Based on the novel by Jane Austen.

Hamlet

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best films of the year although my review was actually because I felt it was the under-appreciated film of the year (and still think that).  So, given that the Academy nominated it for Adapted Screenplay (a daring nomination given that Branagh used the entire text) why don’t I?  Well, the Academy had Cold Comfort Farm as ineligible and I don’t.  And the Academy was bold and correct for nominating it.  It’s not about Shakespeare’s original lines, it’s what Branagh does in crafting a script (which is why the script itself was published along with a diary).  This is a brilliant rendition of the play and if you have never seen it (and there’s a good chance you haven’t) please do yourself the pleasure of watching it.

The Source:

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare  (1602)

I have already written a good deal about this play here when I covered the Olivier version for this project.  That also contains a link to a paper that I wrote on Hamlet, one of the most important papers I wrote when working on my Masters.

The Adaptation:

I am simply going to quote what Branagh put in the published version of the script:

The screenplay is based on the text of Hamlet as it appears in the First Folio – the edition of Shakespeare’s plays collected by his theatrical associates Heminges and Condell and published in 1623 by a syndicate of booksellers.  Nothing has been cut from the text, and some passages absent from it (including the soliloquy ‘How all occasions do inform against me…’) have been supplied from the Second Quarto (an edition of the play which exists in copies dated 1604 and 1605).  We have also incorporated some readings of words and phrases from this source and from other early printed texts, and in a few cases emendations by modern editors of the play.  Thus in I, 4, in the passage (from the Second Quarto) about the ‘dram of eale’, we use an emendation from the Oxford edition of the Complete Works (edited by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, 1988): ‘doth all the noble substance over-daub’ – rather than the original’s ‘of a doubt’.  (p 174)

The Credits:

Adapted for the Screen and Directed by Kenneth Branagh.  William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
note:  The only opening credit is the title.

The Birdcage

The Film:

I remember talking about this film during Christmas of 1996 with my friend Jake Bassett.  Jake’s dad was the founder and dean of what is now a fairly notable film school so Jake had a tendency to notice things about films that others might not.  He mentioned this as a brilliant film and specifically talked about the opening.  Think about it, he told me, they must have started on a helicopter to get that shot coming in across the water, then they must have transferred the camera to a dolly to then go into the building because it’s one continuous shot.  And he was right, because it’s a hell of a shot.

I thought about that when I was watching the film for the second time in the matter of a couple of weeks.  The first time, I had been re-watching my old taped copy before doing my 1996 Nighthawk Awards.  The second time, having gotten La Cage Aux Folles to write about that for this project, I decided to watch The Birdcage again while the original was fresh in my mind.  But this time I got the Blu-Ray out of the library.  Some films, like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, you want on Blu-Ray because the effects look so amazing.  You don’t necessarily think about that with a Comedy.  But some films come vibrantly to life on Blu-Ray because of their color.  Once again, the sheer technical brilliant of The Birdcage was being under-appreciated.  The colors of this film just spring to life on the Blu-Ray and you can remember precisely why this film was Oscar nominated for Best Art Direction, a category that is normally dominated by period pieces (the fifth nominee that year was another reminder of the same kind of thing – Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet).

But do you really think about the sheer technical marvel of a film that is this damn funny?

At its heart, this film is actually pretty sad, of course.  That these two young people who so clearly love each other would feel the need to start and then perpetuate this ridiculous lie about his parents just for the sake of not overloading the poor pitiful minds of her conservative parents is tragic, and maybe we’re finally reaching the point where they wouldn’t have to do this.  To ask your father be something he isn’t just so as not to offend someone is obscene of course, and even the characters know this, but sometimes we do stupid things for love.  But we don’t really slow down that much to think about that because, as I said, this movie is so damn funny.

There is a great ensemble cast at work here, reflected in the fact that it won the SAG Ensemble Award, and occasionally some of the lesser characters get off a good line (“There’s a solution to this.”  “Death?  It didn’t work for Jackson.”), but the main focus of the comedy centers on three characters: Armand, Albert and Agador.  Agador gets a lot of physical laughs, of course, and his accent is so ridiculously over-the-top that you can’t help but love it (“My Guatemanliness .  My natural heat.”).  Armand is played by Robin Williams, so of course he gets all of the great lines and there are a lot of them: “We’re in hell.  And there’s a crucifix.”  “I made you short?”  “You’re going to a cemetery with a toothbrush.  How Egyptian.”  But it’s Alby who gets the moments.  Nathan Lane is the one who most successfully inhabits his role and his screams are just priceless, the best one coming when they first return to the house and he walks in the door and we hear his scream before we go to his face and declares “We’ve been robbed!”  But just watch his other moments, how he reacts to Armand, how he can’t cope with driving, how he pierces the toast, and best of all, how he walks like John Wayne.  There are a lot of films that are good as The Birdcage.  But there are few that are as consistently funny.

The Source:

La Cage Aux Folles, written by Francis Veber, Edouard Molinaro, Marcello Danon and Jean Poiret  (1978)

The source for this film is actually both the original film and the play from which it was adapted.  But, the play itself I was never able to get hold of and the film I already reviewed.  Both things can be found here.

The Adaptation:

It’s quite surprising to go back to the original film and see how many of the lines come from there.  Granted, a lot of the best lines certainly don’t come from there (“I made you short?” for instance), but a surprisingly high number of lines are present in the original film.  This film sometimes does some really good new things with them (the whole change of the John Wayne bit).  Perhaps a major reason we don’t realize how many of the lines are in the original is because they are in French, and so we don’t remember them being said, precisely because they aren’t being said.  So we remember Nathan Lane and Robin Williams saying the lines, even if they didn’t say them first.

The Credits:

Produced and Directed by Mike Nichols.  Screenplay by Elaine May.  Based on the stage play “La Cage Aux Folles” by Jean Poiret and the script written by Francis Veber, Edouard Molinaro, Marcello Danon and Jean Poiret.
note:  The opening credits do not mention the source but the end credits do.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet

The Film:

I remember being dazzled by this film in theaters.  I also remember that a number of people walked out of the film, most of them quite early on and almost all of them elderly.  Watching the film in its entirety for the first time in quite a while, I not only don’t find it surprising that so many people walked out, but I think perhaps it was what Baz intended.  It’s not that this film is set in modern times or is so flashy.  The opening scene is so over the top with dialogue coming at us rapid fire by actors who don’t seem quite up to it, almost frightened by their lines, I think Baz wanted to set a stage for a film that was very different from any Shakespeare film ever put on screen and he wanted to make certain that if you couldn’t handle it then you were going to be forced out of the theater.  It’s unfortunate that those people who left didn’t get the feeling for a film version of this play in which the actors were actually proper ages (unlike the solid 1936 version) and could actually act the hell out of the roles (unlike the over-rated 1968 version).

As I mentioned this film is all flash and style in the opening scenes.  It’s got gaudy colors, actors who seem overwhelmed, quick cut editing, everything that would make it seem like it wouldn’t be that good a film.  But it also establishes why this story works for the modern age.  It’s one thing for the two families to be admonished for sword fighting in the streets.  But when the swords are actually brand names for guns and there are bullets flying everywhere, you can see why the authorities want this shit stopped.  In the midst of all of this but also somewhere on the edge of it is young Romeo, who seems a bit lovestruck but really is just a young man trying to figure out who he is.  So, unlike previous Romeos, when he goes to a party and sees this angelic figure dressed in white, it’s very understandable that he falls in love with her so instantly.

This is not just a Romeo and Juliet for the times but for all-time.  It is, by a long, long way the best film version of the actual play (West Side Story doesn’t count in the sense because it has the brilliant songs and a much better ending).  It doesn’t just have a flashy style, though its brilliant art direction, costume design and cinematography do give it a look unlike any previous version.  It doesn’t just have first-rate performances in roles that had long been played by actors who were out of their depths (or too old), performances that give the full youth of Juliet and make Romeo really seem like a young man just discovering who he is rather than just a headstrong idiot who does one dumb thing after another.  It doesn’t just have a slight twist to the ending that really does make it seem tragic instead of just stupid.  It finds a way to put all of these together, to really announce what Strictly Ballroom had only hinted at: the arrival of a massive directing talent on the film scene who would consistently bring us bold and daring visual masterpieces even if the story-telling sometimes couldn’t match the images we would see on-screen.

The Source:

The Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare  (1597)

Ironic that this year would have film versions of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays and one of my least favorite.  I have never been a fan of this play, dating all the way back to the ninth grade when I first read it for school (and saw the 1968 film version).  I have been through the play numerous times since including for both undergrad and graduate school and I still don’t think particularly highly of it.  It has some great language and some of the great Shakespeare speeches.  But I just don’t think the character of Romeo works very well; he’s far too impetuous and never really gets permission from his brain before doing whatever he’s going to do.  There’s also the famous, most likely apocryphal, anecdote that Shakespeare proclaimed he had to kill Mercutio before Mercutio killed him.  The anecdote feels true because Mercutio is the most brilliantly vibrant character in the play and there’s no way you could believe Juliet falling for Romeo with Mercutio around.  I have always maintained that the way to do this play properly is to do it is a satire and have everything deliberately funny as it is in the Pyramus and Thisbe scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  That was made even more clear to me because my sixth grade class did that play and we deliberately kicked up a notch the incompetence of the players when doing those scenes and it really shows how you could do this play in a completely different manner.

The Adaptation:

But, I suppose, if you’re going to play it straight (and not just do West Side Story which is far superior) this is the way to do it.  The film keeps most (though not all) of the dialogue, gives more of an importance to Paris than is usually done in film versions (sometimes he’s cut entirely) but gives it a completely different ring by changing it to modern day.  By doing that, it doesn’t just change the setting (as some modern day Shakespeare films do) but also gives different meanings to words (such as using “sword” as the brand name for the guns).  There are other small changes but given how flashy and original this film is and how people reacted to it, it’s notable to point out how, textually faithful it is.

The Credits:

Directed by Baz Luhrmann.  Screenplay by Craig Pearce + Baz Luhrmann.
note:  The only mention of the source is in the title which is also the only credit in the opening titles.

Mother Night

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film (see link below).  I easily could have reviewed it for the Year in Film as an under-appreciated film because I thought was one of the better films of the year (obviously as I have it as one of the Top 10 adapted screenplays) but I had already reviewed it by then.  It is a very good film, the only really good film that has come of a Vonnegut book for reasons why I explained in the review.

The Source:

Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut  (1961)

As I said here when I ranked it at #37 all-time (also where to find the review of the film) this is actually the best book with which to begin someone on Vonnegut, one of his best books but also one that is more straight forward and less likely to make someone think that they can actually write like Vonnegut which they can’t.  As Vonnegut points out, it actually has a moral and it’s a useful one that we should remember: “We are what we pretend to be so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

The Adaptation:

The film does a very good job at sticking to the novel and almost all of what we see and hear onscreen comes straight from the novel itself.  There are a few cuts (Campbell’s pornographic book about him and his wife, the return of the soldier who caught him) and a couple of scenes are tightened up (for instance, the surrender to the doctor’s mother is much tighter and more dramatic in the film than in the book).  But this is a really faithful adaptation.

The Credits:

directed by keith gordon.  based on the novel by kurt vonnegut.  screenplay by robert b. weide.

Star Trek: First Contact

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film when I was doing my For Love of Film: Star Trek series.  It is a fascinating study in contradictions as some of the things that make it one of the best Star Trek films (the second best in the series) are also some of the things that make it go against the grain of what Star Trek is supposed to be.  But it’s great fun and one of the better Sci-Fi films ever made (even more so when you consider what its rank through 1996 would be).

The Source:

Star Trek: The Next Generation  (1987), created by Gene Roddenberry

I have written much about the original Star Trek show, rating every episode but have only written about the second show through the four films that came from it.  The second show was a marvel when it first aired, my generation’s chance for our own Star Trek series but with a few massive improvements, such as better actors and much, much better special effects.  Also, this didn’t feel as much a need to be a “Wagon Train to the stars” and thus the plots didn’t get bogged down as much by high concepts that didn’t go anywhere.  It was a great show.  It might have stuck around a season too long but it was much better, overall, than the first show and went out with a big high note with those final two episodes.  It’s of note that it is the only syndicated show in history to earn an Emmy nomination for Best Drama Series.

The Adaptation:

The film not only does a perfect job of continuing with the characterization that had been present throughout the show and had been expanded in the first film but also made great use of the best two episodes in the show’s history, the two part season finale / season opener, “The Best of Both Worlds” that ended Season 3 and started Season 4.

The Credits:

directed by Jonathan Frakes.  based upon “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry.  story by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga & Ronald D. Moore.  screenplay by Brannon Braga & Ronald D. Moore.

Consensus Nominee

Sling Blade

The Film:

The appeal of this film, whether for people who really enjoyed it (some of whom I have known) or on a critical level (it has an 84 on Metacritic) eluded me when the film first came out, eluded me when I was busy being infuriated when this film somehow won the Oscar and continues to elude me.  That this film won the Oscar over The English Patient, The Crucible (and the chance to give Arthur Miller an Oscar), Trainspotting and Hamlet to me is one of the worst choices the Academy has ever made in any category.

Let’s look at what Roger Ebert had to say: “If “Forrest Gump” had been written by William Faulkner, the result might have been something like “Sling Blade.””  Okay, well, that might be the single dumbest thing Ebert ever wrote.  If Faulkner had written Forrest Gump what we would have had was a character who instead of being inserted into all of history, would give us all of his own history in a way he couldn’t understand it but would still express it.  Or, you know, the Benjy section of The Sound and the Fury.  He wouldn’t have given us a pedantic story about a man who gets released from an institution that shouldn’t be releasing him, that refuses to take him back when he requests it and then takes him back with no problems after he kills a man.

The real problem at the heart of it is that the person he kills is a person who probably deserves to be killed, at least as far as we can see.  Billy Bob Thornton, as a writer, gives us a character that he can play but whose manner of speech is unbearably annoying and who manages to simply serve as a cipher for characters who don’t really fit into reality.  He plays Karl, a man who has been in an institution.  He’s released as if he is a criminal who has done his time (he killed his mother and her lover).  He is sent back to the town where he grew up.  I find none of this to be believable – that he would have ever been set free or that, with no one there to care for him, they would bother to send him back to the town where he committed the crime.  He befriends a boy who it turns out is bullied and he finds a kindred spirit.  In the end, he will kill the boy’s mother’s boyfriend in much a similar manner that he killed his mother.  People cheer because he was an abusive scumbag.

But nothing about the film fits any notion of reality.  Hell, at the end, rather than back in the institution (and now a stronger man who refuses to listen to the pedophile next to him), I think to myself that this takes place in Arkansas and I would have expected him to be executed instead.  The film never seemed real to me and Thornton the character can deliver the lines (annoyingly) but the lines given to him by Thornton the writer don’t match any notion of what I would expect from people, even those who are disabled.

The Source:

Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, written by Billy Bob Thornton, directed by George Hickenlooper  (1994)

This is a short film (29 minutes) in which the character of Karl was originally introduced.  While it seems similar to the opening of the film, there is actually a significant difference that I will point out below.  That difference, which means we deal less with Karl’s character as overwritten by Thornton, means that I find the short film (aside from being shorter) far more palatable than the feature film.

The Adaptation:

While the film mostly deals with Karl after he is getting out and the short film is all about the student who comes to interview him before he is released, the main difference is not that this is just the opening of the film but in viewpoint.  The short film has the journalist (played by Molly Ringwald – interesting that it would have such a prominent name for the short and such an unknown for the feature but perhaps that was part of changing the viewpoint) as our main point-of-view character, providing us with an entry in Karl’s world and we see her reactions to Karl and reactions to what he has done and how she reacts to meeting him.  It is much more about the notion of whether or not Karl should be freed rather than a story about what happens once he is freed.

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by Billy Bob Thornton.
note:  There is no source listed in the credits.
note:  The opening credits (which don’t even start until over 15 minutes into the film) have nothing except the title.

BAFTA Nominee

Evita

The Film:

How you react to this film might depend on several factors.  First of all, are you familiar with the stage show?  That’s kind of important because the film doesn’t provide a whole lot of narrative links or historical context like the stage show would in the program.  So you might be confused trying to understand Argentine history.  You would understand what’s happening with the characters because that’s developed well enough but there’s also the context of these actions being played out against actions at the highest form of government in that country from 1944 to 1952.  I happen to be a huge fan of the stage show (I’ve seen it on stage and have owned it on CD and listened to it regularly for over 25 years).  The second is how well you can accept Madonna, not because she isn’t right for the role (as an actress who sleeps her way to the top of power but still wants to be loved she’s perfect for the role and her singing is magnificent) but because the Golden Globes for some reason gave her the Best Actress award over Frances McDormand in Fargo (still the only time in history that the winner of Best Actress – Comedy / Musical failed to be nominated for the Oscar while the loser of the award actually won the Oscar).  Madonna is good but the award really soured people on the film.

But this film is a giant spectacle and it really succeeds at that.  It’s the story of Eva Duarte, the bastard child of a middle class man who was denied access to her father’s funeral and grew up resenting the world and wanting to get on top.  She got rich in Buenos Aires but was still denied her place by the upper class so she found a man she could push to the top (it was probably easy in 1996 when the film was released to find comparisons between Evita and Hillary Clinton but watching the film in late 2018 for this project, I commented to Veronica, who had never seen it, that what Peron does late in the film, destroying presses, imprisoning his enemies, brutally beating down any dissent and what Eva does – just wanting to be loved by everyone in the midst of all this tyranny – is actually the exact combination of what the current resident of the White House would have as his perfect world) and she rose to be first lady.  Yet, all she wanted was to be loved and her ambition was working against her (as was her frail body which eventually succumbed to cancer when she was just 33).

This film works for a variety of reasons.  The first is that Alan Parker really does film it as an epic story of one woman and her place in her country and the larger historical events add to what’s going on.  The second is that the direction and the acting are first-rate which was great because there were questions going into the film’s release as to whether Madonna could actually act (she does quite well here) and whether Antonio Banderas could really sing at this level (he’s amazing).  The cinematography, editing, sound and art direction are all fantastic (all of them were Oscar nominated) and the film holds together well.  If I can’t ever quite bring myself to move it to **** in spite of loving it in a lot of ways, it’s because the lack of historical context must make the film confusing for people who don’t know what’s going on and that the film kind of fizzles out at the end without a real oomph of a conclusion (the stage show had the same problem).  But, of all the Webber musicals to make the transition to film, this is far and away the most satisfying.

The Source:

Evita, lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber  (1976)

Like a lot of musicals back in the seventies, this began as a concept album (in 1976), moved to the West End (1978) and then to Broadway (1979).  It’s the 1979 Broadway production that is most well-known.  It was a massive hit, winning seven Tonys, including Best Musical as well as awards for Patti LuPone as Eva and Mandy Patinkin as Che (you have no idea how much it melted my brain when I first heard Evita in 1991 to realize that the amazing voice belonged to Inigo Montoya).  It’s a brilliant look at the life of Eva Person using Che Guevara (who lived in Argentina during the time) as a Greek type chorus (who also interacts with characters at times) to take us through her life.  The performances and songs are amazing, especially the 1-2 punch of ending the first act with “A New Argentina” and starting the second one with “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (which, if you don’t realize it, is actually a slowed down version of “Oh What a Circus”, the song that opened the show and which might actually be my favorite song in the show) though it does fizzle out at the end with Eva’s death (Webber and Rice also fizzled out at the end of Jesus Christ Superstar after the brilliant climactic song “Superstar”).  This show is easily on my list of Top 10 Stage Musicals of All-Time.

The Adaptation:

Most of the show is kept fairly intact.  There are some lyrical changes to some of the songs (“Oh What a Circus” drops the verses that rather explicitly identify Che and mention his age), there is a notable change in performers for one song (“Another Suitcase in Another Hall” is sung on stage by Peron’s mistress, but changing the song to Eva is actually a brilliant move that works perfectly for her at that moment), there are some songs that are different than the 1979 version but were in other versions (“The Lady’s Got Potential” had been dropped for Broadway and replaced by “The Art of the Possible” but it was reverted for the film).  They also added one song (which allowed them to win the Oscar which is nice because the song is great and Tim Rice got off a great line (‘I’m just glad The English Patient didn’t have an original song’)) which works perfectly in the film and really highlights Eva’s personality (plus reduces the fizzle at the end of the film given the placement of the song).  All in all, the screenplay follows the stage play quite well though it does add a lot of scenes of government brutality and such that you couldn’t depict on stage and they help provide some context to the Peron regime.

The Credits:

Based on the musical play Evita, Lyrics by Tim Rice, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Produced on Broadway by Robert Stigwood in association with David Land.  Lyrics by Tim Rice.  Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Screenplay by Alan Parker and Oliver Stone.  Directed by Alan Parker.

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 on the Nighthawk Awards.

  • Jude  –  Solid adaptation of the great (but bleak) Thomas Hardy novel and the establishment of great Kate Winslet performances in which she is also nude (see also Titanic, Little Children, The Reader).  Plus, it has an historic meeting of two Doctors.  High ***.
  • James and the Giant Peach  –  I really think I push this just barely into a low ***.5 just so I can have an Animated Film winner.  One of Roald Dahl’s most beloved novels becomes a very good stop-motion film.
  • The Secret Agent  –  Formerly in my Top 10 but I dropped it a bit.  Solid adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s fantastic book (in my Top 200) though I am in the minority in thinking that.  High ***.
  • The First Wives Club  –  Snarky and funny with a great ending musical number, Paul Rudnick adapts Olivia Goldsmith’s novel.  High ***.

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)

  • Fly Away Home  –  The cinematography and Anna Paquin’s lead performances are the best thing in this high *** film.  Very charming adaptation of Bill Lishman’s memoir.
  • Ghost in the Shell  –  Visionary but not quite good enough to make it above ***.  Based on the manga.  The sequel is actually a little bit better because of better story-telling.
  • Twelfth Night  –  Very enjoyable version of Shakespeare’s Comedy directed by veteran theatre director Trevor Nunn.  Great cast (Helena Bonham Carter, Nigel Hawthorne, Ben Kingsley).
  • La Ceremonie  –  Claude Chabrol doing what he’s best at: making a Suspense film with Isabelle Huppert.  Based on the Jean Genet play The Maids (which was based on a true story).
  • Mars Attacks!  –  Much better than the last attempt to make a film based on a trading card series (Garbage Pail Kids).  Goofy enjoyable fun from Tim Burton.
  • Mission: Impossible  –  The television show (actually it was two different shows) becomes a hit film with a plot that apparently confused everyone on the planet except me.
  • Matilda  –  The Roald Dahl book becomes a film that Veronica loves but I think it just high ***.
  • The Whole Wide World  –  It’s interesting that there are so many films about writers when the act of writing is so inherently uncinematic.  Robert K. Howard wrote amazing stories with a vivid imagination but the film mostly focuses on his relationship with Novalyjne Price Ellis and the film’s release, combined with Jerry Maguire to make Renee Zellweger a star.  Based on two memoirs by Ellis.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame  –  Disney decides to actually go with great literature, moving away from fairy tales.  It’s mixed, with a solid story but weak songs.
  • Killer: A Journal of Murder  –  Well, at least it’s well made, though it’s definitely disturbing to use the autobiography of a serial killer (Carl Panzram) to make a film about him.  Apparently the original papers collected by his guard that became the book are housed downstairs in the building where I work.
  • Nausikaya  –  The Croatian submission for the Oscars is based on a short story by Hanns Heinz Ewers.  With this film we get down to mid ***.
  • Angels and Insects  –  Morpho Eugenia was one of two novellas A.S. Byatt published in the book Angels and Insects which I assume the filmmakers took because of the book title.  Oscar nominee for Costume Design.
  • Basquiat  –  The old oscars.org listed this as adapted perhaps because of the “story” credit to John Bowe but it’s unclear if that’s a screen story or some published item.  Either way, a good biopic of the artist that kickstarted Jeffrey Wright’s film career (he had already done Angels in America on stage).
  • The Portrait of a Lady  –  I’ve always preferred watching a film from a Henry James book rather than reading the book and this is a good example.  Strong performances from Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich and Barbara Hershey.  I don’t recommend reading the novel.
  • Mary Reilly  –  Stephen Frears does an odd adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seen through the eyes of the maid.  Not as bad as reputation has it but not as good as it could have been.  One of a series of missteps for Julia Roberts before she returned to superstardom the next year with My Best Friend’s Wedding.
  • Victory  –  More classic literature, this time an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel starring Willem Dafoe and Irene Jacob.
  • Oedipus Mayor  –  The Colombian Oscar submission is a modern day version of the classic Greek play.
  • The Horseman on the Roof  –  French Drama with Juliette Binoche based on the novel by Jean Giono.
  • The Nymph  –  Lina Wertmuller Romance based on the novel by Domenico Rea.
  • August  –  The third of three straight years with a film adapted from Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.  This one is British and it stars Anthony Hopkins.
  • The Deathmaker  –  More real life serial killer (Fritz Haarmann – one of three killers the film M is modeled upon), more Oscar submissions (Germany).  This isn’t based on Haarmann’s writings but on psychiatric reports.  Down to low ***.
  • Harriet the Spy  –  This could easily have been added to the Awkward to Watch Because the Actress Grew up to Be Hot list because Michelle Trachtenburg seemed to grow up pretty damn quick after this film.  Based on the kids book by Louise Fitzhugh.
  • I Shot Andy Warhol  –  Based on the real story of when Valerie Solanas (played very well by Lili Taylor) shot Andy Warhol (played by Jared Harris).  Based on the diaries of Candy Darling (played by Stephen Dorff).
  • The Preacher’s Wife  –  If you were going to remake a Christmas classic, at least give it a reason which this does.  Changing the race of the angel, minister and wife also means you get Denzel and Whitney Houston.  Not as good as the original but for a Christmas remake, good enough.
  • Jane Eyre  –  Fully reviewed here when I covered the book as the #20 novel of all-time.
  • Moll Flanders  –  The 18th century novel by Daniel Defoe isn’t nearly as good but the film is just about as good as Jane Eyre even with an almost completely unknown director (Pen Densham).
  • Beautiful Thing  –  British Drama based on Jonathan Harvey’s play was intended for television but Sony Pictures Classics gave it a theatrical release in the States.
  • Butterfly Kiss  –  Michael Winterbottom’s first feature film.  Seems to be original but oscars.org had listed it as adapted, perhaps because it was based on “an idea” by Winterbottom and his writer-collaborator Frank Cottrell Boyce.
  • Ashes of Time  –  1994 Chinese film based on the novel The Legend of the Condor Horses.
  • Maborosi  –  Japanese Drama based on the novel by Teru Miyamoto.
  • The Nutty Professor  –  Eddie Murphy remakes the Jerry Lewis film and goes crazy with the makeup.
  • A Time to Kill  –  It’s based on a John Grisham novel, written by Akiva Goldsman, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Matthew McConaughey so it should be the perfect storm of me hating it.  Yet, Sandra Bullock is good and Samuel L. Jackson is quite good and it’s the best of the Grisham books so it reaches high **.5.
  • White Squall  –  Not a solid outing for Ridley Scott.  Based on The Last Voyage of the Albatross by Charles Gieg.
  • Marvin’s Room  –  Good acting all around (Meryl, Leo, De Niro, Diane Keaton) but the film, based on the play by Scott McPherson, is just too dour.  Down to mid **.5.
  • American Buffalo  –  Based on the David Mamet play and probably would have been better if Mamet himself had directed it instead of Michael Corrente.
  • Sleepers  –  The film I saw the day my grandfather died and given that and the terrible Brad Pitt performance, I can’t bear to see it again.  Mediocre effort from Barry Levinson.  Based on the novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra which I remember criticized from when the movie came out that he claimed it was basically all real but the facts didn’t support that.
  • I’m Not Rappaport  –  When the play by Herb Gardner was produced in 1984 it might have been fine.  But the film just confused me in 1996 because Michael Rappaport (and it’s not like it’s a common name) had become a decent known actor.  Mediocre Drama with Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis.
  • Brother of Sleep  –  The German Oscar submission from 1995.  Based on the novel Schlafes Bruder.
  • The Substance of Fire  –  Small Miramax film about a Holocaust survivor trying to hold together his publishing company.  Based on the play.
  • Blush  –  A 1995 Chinese film based on the novel Petulia’s Rouge Tin.
  • Surviving Picasso  –  Anthony Hopkins teams up with Merchant-Ivory again but this time, like with their Jefferson in Paris the year before, a true tale goes sour and just isn’t very good.  Low **.5.
  • Multiplicity  –  Mediocre Sci-Fi Comedy based on a short story by Chris Miller.
  • Primal Fear  –  Thriller based on the novel by William Diehl.  Not particularly good except for Edward Norton’s film debut, a knock-out performance that won him a Globe and earned him an Oscar nom.  Also the first film where I really noticed Laura Linney.
  • Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco  –  Not much of a surprise that a sequel to a silly Kids film would also be a silly Kids film.
  • The Phantom  –  Film adaptation of the comic strip that began back in 1936 probably would have been better if Billy Zane hadn’t played the lead.
  • Beavis and Butt-Head Do America  –  As mentioned in the Nighthawk Awards, I wasn’t a fan of the show but I did see the film in the theater.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream  –  A mediocre filmed stage production of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.
  • Ransom  –  We’re down to ** with this remake of the 1956 film which had been a remake of a 1954 television show.  A big hit but not actually all that good.
  • The Mirror Has Two Faces  –  I saw this in the theater because Lauren Bacall was the favorite to win the Oscar but it’s a cheesy Rom-Com and one of those films where an actress has a makeover at the end and ends up looking worse.  Based on the 1958 French film Le Miroir a deux faces.
  • Gamera: Guardian of the Universe  –  The ninth Gamera film, the first since 1980 and the first of the Heisei period, effectively serving as a reboot.
  • The Evening Star  –  A very mediocre sequel to Terms of Endearment.  Appropriate only in that Larry McMurtry constantly writes sequels anyway so you might as well film them.  This brings us to mid **.
  • Muppet Treasure Island  –  Muppet Christmas Carol had worked but trying to do the idea again of merging the Muppets with a classic story doesn’t work well here especially given the terrible performance by the kid playing Jim.
  • Mrs. Winterbourne  –  Boring Rom-Com based on the novel I Married a Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich.
  • Cemetery Man  –  Rupert Everett stars in a Zombie Comedy based on the novel by Tiziano Sclavi.
  • In Love and War  –  Why adapt A Farewell to Arms when you can tell the “true story” behind it?  Because you end up with dreck like this.  Of course it’s a true story, given that it’s directed by Richard Attenborough.  Based on the non-fiction book Hemingway in Love and War.
  • The Grass Harp  –  Walter Matthau stars in this adaptation of Truman Capote’s sentimental novella directed by Matthau’s son.
  • Maybe… Maybe Not  –  German Comedy adapted from two comic books created by Ralf König which I saw because Orion Classics released it in the States.
  • Escape from L.A.  –  Unnecessary and pretty weak sequel to Escape from New York.
  • Flipper  –  It had already been a film and a television show.  It didn’t need to be a Paul Hogan film as well.
  • All Dogs Go to Heaven 2  –  I’d much rather watch the remake All Cats Go to Hell.
  • Up Close & Personal  –  Unless you’re an Oscar completist like me (I watched this because it was nominated for Best Song) you’re better off skipping this crap based on Golden Girl: The Story of Jessica Savitch, a non-fiction book about the news anchor which bears very little resemblance to the film anyway and just read Monster: Living Off the Big Screen, the fascinating book written about the years spent making this film by screenwriter John Gregory Dunne (who had already written The Studio back in 1968 one of the best and most important film books every written).
  • Sgt. Bilko  –  I’ve never seen The Phil Silvers Show and this film version of the old act doesn’t make me want to.
  • Boys  –  Bland Drama based on a short story by James Salter.  If this had come out a few months later (i.e. after The Crucible) I would note this film as the start of Winona Ryder’s descent.  With this film we’re down to low **.
  • Diabolique  –  Why remake a great film?  And if so, how do you botch it this badly?
  • Before and After  –  I would blame the writing (based on a novel by Rosellen Brown) for how bad this is given it stars Meryl and Liam Neeson but I’ve already written about how lots of films with Meryl, even with great Meryl performances are quite bad.
  • Screamers  –  Based on “Second Variety”, a Philip K. Dick short story.  Just read the story instead.
  • Of Love and Shadows  –  Again, just read the source, a solid novel by Isabell Allende, rather than watch this mediocre film version with Antonio Banderas and Jennifer Connelly.
  • 101 Dalmations  –  I had to watch this twice in the theater (see the Awards for why).  The first Disney live action remake (a phase they wouldn’t really kick start for well over a decade) and one of the worst.
  • D3: The Mighty Ducks  –  Although crappy Disney sequels are even worse.
  • Foxfire  –  I haven’t read the Joyce Carol Oates novel this is based on but I’ve read other works by her and it can’t be as bad as this film.
  • To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday  –  Another solid Claire Danes performance in this year but this time it’s wasted in a misguided Drama based on the play.
  • Two Much  –  Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith were actually married for quite a while but when they worked together it was just painful.  Bad Romantic Comedy based on the novel by Donald Westlake.
  • The Crow: City of Angels  –  We definitely didn’t need a sequel.  Just stick to the fantastic original.
  • Tromeo & Juliet  –  We move into *.5 with this film.  The world definitely didn’t need a Troma version of Shakespeare’s play, especially one with the stupid play on words in the title.
  • Extreme Measures  –  Based on a novel by Michael Palmer this is another of the misfires Hugh Grant did in this stretch of years.
  • Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion  –  The second Gamera film in the Heisei period made at a time when no new Godzilla films were being made.
  • The Chamber  –  Terrible adaptation of what was already a terrible John Grisham novel.
  • Heaven’s Prisoners  –  Alec Baldwin and Teri Hatcher in an erotic Thriller which wasn’t a good formula in 1996.  Based on a novel by Dave Robicheaux.  We drop straight to low *.5 with this film.
  • Carried Away  –  Bland Drama based on the novel Farmer by Jim Harrison.
  • The Adventures of Pinocchio  –  People keep trying to make new film versions of Pinocchio.  They need to stop.  Disney did it perfectly.
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau  –  My college roommate George still probably hasn’t forgiven me for taking him to this.  Terrible film version of the Wells novel (reviewed here) with a troubled production.  The best thing about it is Val Kilmer’s impersonation of Marlon Brando.  This drops straight to mid *.
  • The Fan  –  Terrible stalker film based on the novel by Peter Abrahams.
  • The Associate  –  Terrible Whoopi Goldberg remake of a 1979 French film which was based on a 1929 novel.
  • Eye for an Eye  –  Sally Field wants revenge for her daughter’s rape and murder.  Based on the novel by Erika Holzer.
  • The Juror  –  A juror is threatened.  Based on a 1995 novel by George Dawes Green but also a rip-off of 1994’s Trial by Jury which was also terrible but at least had Joanne Whalley-Kilmer instead of Demi Moore.
  • Last Man Standing  –  A credited remake of Yojimbo (as opposed to the uncredited A Fistful of Dollars) which had kind of been an uncredited film version of Dash Hammett’s Red Harvest, so why didn’t they just make Red Harvest?  Because the people involved in this film screwed it, that’s why.  Down to low *.
  • Solo  –  Is Solo really any better a title than Weapon which was the original Sci-Fi novel this is based on?
  • Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace  –  Very little connection to the first film but that’s more connection than the first one had to the original Stephen King story.  We’ve reached .5 films now.
  • Thinner  –  Written by Stephen King but it was the last book he wrote as Richard Bachman before the pseudonym was discovered.  This one is faithful but awful but then again the book was pretty bad.
  • Hellraiser IV: Bloodline  –  Pinhead keeps going on but the films aren’t any better.
  • Striptease  –  This famous Demi Mooredisaster was actually based on a Carl Hiaasen novel.
  • Faithful  –  Chazz Palmentiri (who also stars) based this on his own play and I hope the play was better than this.
  • A Very Brady Sequel  –  We didn’t need a movie.  We certainly didn’t need a sequel.
  • Bad Moon  –  Crappy werewolf film based on the novel Thor by Wayne Smith.
  • Barb Wire  –  Really awful Pamela Anderson film based on the comic book.
  • Joe’s Apartment  –  Based on the MTV short, Roger Ebert has got this film covered pretty well although he rates it higher than I do.
  • The Stupids  –  Reviewed in full as the worst film of the year in my Awards.  Based on a series of books the very idea of which just depresses me.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • none

I’ve covered most of this year, having seen 90% of the Oscar submitted films and all but one in the Top 200 at the box office.  The top grossing film I haven’t seen is Once Upon a Time… When We Were Colored (#177 – $2.29 mil) and it is adapted (from the non-fiction book).  Bloodsport 2 (#215 – $684,351) is the highest grossing sequel I haven’t seen.