“He didn’t move.  Not until the elevator door began to close.  Then raised his hand.  He did – Karen positive now it was Foley – raised his hand to her as the door closed.”  (p 148)

My Top 10

  1. Out of Sight
  2. Gods and Monsters
  3. Primary Colors
  4. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
  5. Ringu
  6. Live Flesh
  7. A Simple Plan
  8. The Butcher Boy
  9. Character
  10. Apt Pupil

note:  A very strong Top 4 but then it starts to fall off badly.  The full list is long, though, and is listed down at the bottom except for my #16 (Little Voice) which is reviewed because of its BAFTA nomination.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Out of Sight  (264 pts)
  2. A Simple Plan  (208 pts)
  3. Primary Colors  (160 pts)
  4. Gods and Monsters  (120 pts)
  5. A Civil Action  /  The Thin Red Line  /  Hilary and Jackie  /  Little Voice  (40 pts)

note:  This is the last year to-date that any scripts with just 40 points earn Consensus nominations.

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

  • Gods and Monsters
  • Out of Sight
  • Primary Colors
  • A Simple Plan
  • The Thin Red Line

WGA:

  • Out of Sight
  • A Civil Action
  • Gods and Monsters
  • Primary Colors
  • A Simple Plan

Golden Globes:

  • none

Nominees that are Original:  Shakespeare in Love, Bulworth, Happiness, Saving Private Ryan, The Truman Show

note:  This is the first time since 1986 that none of the Globe nominees are adapted.

BAFTA:

  • Primary Colors
  • Hilary and Jackie
  • Little Voice

note:  The other BAFTA nominee was Wag the Dog, from 1997.

BFCA:

  • A Simple Plan

NSFC:

  • Out of Sight

BSFC:

  • Out of Sight

NBR:

  • A Simple Plan

note:  The first award given out by the NBR for Best Screenplay.

My Top 10

Out of Sight

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as my example film for Steven Soderbergh.  Even had I not done that, it would have been reviewed as my #1 film of 1998.  It is a truly brilliant film, a magnificent Crime film that moves between the past and present as effortlessly as any film ever made, something that shows how brilliant the direction, the writing and the editing is.  It is also, easily, one of the sexiest films ever made, if not the sexiest, and proof that you don’t need to have nudity in a film for it to be unbelievably sexy.  This is the film that absolutely should have begun George Clooney’s run at the Oscars and has easily the career best performance from Jennifer Lopez and if you just focus on those two you miss the magnificent ensemble work behind them.  Simply a great film that is also great fun to watch.

The Source:

Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard  (1996)

I think this was the third Leonard novel I read, all in a row.  It was the early summer of 1998, after Jackie Brown had been released at Christmas but before this film was actually released (Get Shorty was the third).  I enjoyed all three of them immensely and yet never felt the need to dive further into Leonard, perhaps because I was so attached to the film versions of these three films.  It’s a really entertaining and fairly good Crime book about a career bank robber and his escape from prison that leads to him falling for a federal marshal and the way their lives intersect over the course of about a week.

The Adaptation:

A fantastic and fantastically faithful book to film adaptation with the vast majority of the dialogue in the film coming straight from the book.  There are scenes that aren’t in the book of course because there are some key differences (in the book, Ripley isn’t at Lompoc and only Glenn knew him and all the scenes involving him were created by the filmmakers, which is amazing since they sound just like all the actual Leonard scenes from the book) and there are some minor differences (Karen is blond in the book, Buddy is white).  But the film, while keeping very close (it’s amazing how much of the dialogue is from the book) makes one very notable change at the end because the book just ends with Karen picking Foley up to take him back to Florida and we don’t get that brilliant moment of realizing that she has set him up with a man who is accomplished at escaping from prisons and get her sly smile.

The Credits:

directed by Steven Soderbergh.  screenplay by Scott Frank.  based on the novel by Elmore Leonard.
note:  Only the pre-title credits are in the opening titles.  These are from the end credits.

Gods and Monsters

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best films of the year.  What I stressed in that review is that while the film was highly praised, almost all of the praise was reserved for the writing and the acting and almost nothing was said about the first-rate editing, cinematography, art direction and costumes of the film.  Just look at the scene, early in the film, where Whale is reminiscing while talking to the young interviewer and the way it goes from the drab grays of London to the bright colors of Southern California in the 50’s.  It is a magnificent film from start to finish, lead, of course, by the Oscar deserving performance of Ian McKellen as James Whale.

The Source:

Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram  (1995)

This is kind of an odd book.  First, it’s a fiction book with an (admittedly) fictional character who is our entryway into the world of a real man who did exist and did die under strange circumstances (made less strange when his suicide note was released decades later).  Second, I get the feeling that Bram wrote this book because he was less interested in Whale as a director than as a gay man who dared to live openly about for decades  My own interest is in Whale as a director because I’m not interested in people’s personal lives, so the book and I are at odds.

The Adaptation:

The adaptation is interesting because I love the film and didn’t much care for the book yet, except for making Maria, his Mexican housemaid, an Eastern European woman named Hanna instead, almost everything in the film comes straight from the book and almost everything in the book is faithfully adapted on-screen.  One small brilliant change is the add-on of the final scene, which is not in the original book.

The Credits:

Written for the screen and Directed by Bill Condon.  Based upon the novel “Father of Frankenstein” by Christopher Bram.

Primary Colors

The Film:

If you watch this film, even knowing nothing about it, and don’t immediately realize that John Travolta’s Jack Stanton is a thinly disguised version of Bill Clinton then you were born at least after 1982 and probably after 1990.  You don’t even have to know about the issues that plagued Clinton during his 1992 campaign for the presidency, about his issues with marijuana or the Vietnam War or about his womanizing.  It’s all in Stanton’s performance, in the way he takes a hand and then uses his other hand to grab a person on the arm, often close to the elbow.  It’s about the way he immediately moves into a crowd and starts talking, about how he’s a policy wonk when he’s on stage debating against other candidates but he’s a man of the people as soon as he’s allowed to cut loose.  Of course, he’s a man with the ladies as well and he’s a deeply flawed man and that’s what this film is really all about.

In the wake of the highly successful novel, it was inevitable that a film version would be made of Primary Colors.  In a bit of extra kismet (although it didn’t help it enough at the box office), it was also released in the wake of yet another scandal for Clinton having to do with his inability to keep his pants properly zipped (see the cartoon on the right – it’s from a great book called Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression).  But, in finding the right mix all across the board, when it came to a director, a writer and the four primary actors (none of which is the actual guiding role in the film that takes us on that journey because it’s almost irrelevant), this film took an incredibly mean-spirited novel that captured all the flaws in the man but none of the stuff that actually helped propel him to victory and made a funny, caustic, and sadly realistic tale of what it is like to run for the presidency.

We follow a young black man whose grandfather was a civil rights icon (as we constantly hear) into the early parts of a campaign of the governor of a small Southern state running for the Democratic nomination.  He’s Jack Stanton and he has some severe flaws, the most problematic of which is that he can’t seem to keep from fucking whoever will let him.  Played by Travolta, he is Clinton come to life and in a career with multiple Oscar nominations, this might be his best performance.  Emma Thompson veered away from a straight mimicry of Hillary and finds a woman with a deep core of strength and who believes in her man even when she hates him and is a reminder of what Bill Clinton once said about how if he hadn’t married Hillary, she still would have been First Lady and he would have been the most popular professor at Georgetown.  There is also Billy Bob Thornton as, essentially, James Carville, willing and able to piss off anybody but brilliant on the campaign trail (he would have certainly earned an Oscar nomination if he hadn’t already done that for A Simple Plan since you can’t be nominated twice in the same acting category) and Kathy Bates (earning an Oscar nomination) as the enforcer who comes in to dig up the dirt and keep Stanton in line.  Mike Nicholas is running the show and he got his old comedy teammate Elaine May to write the script and it’s sharp work, as they look at the process and how funny (and sad) it can be and what it does to people.  And this was all just in 1998 (based on the 1992 campaign) and if they had gotten to a modern campaign, it’s possible that everyone involved would have just shot themselves instead of making a film about that.

For anyone who is already too cynical about politics, this is not a film you should watch.  It’s realistic in the way it depicts modern politics, in their fascination with the news cycle and with the dirt and their total inability to give a shit about what is actually important.  But it’s well directed, well-written and has fantastic acting all across the board and in some ways it’s also a must see.  So hold your nose, I guess, and enjoy how good the film is.

The Source:

Primary Colors by Anonymous  (1996)

This is a rather mean-spirited book by a journalistic hack by the name of Joe Klein.  I have no problem with writing that he’s a hack because he staked his credibility as a journalist on the notion that he didn’t write this book which he did (and was proven not long afterwards).  It’s not only mean-spirited (it’s really clear that it’s about Clinton and his campaign but he really ups the flaws in Clinton’s character without showing any of the really positive attributes that got him elected in the first place) but since it was written with the “anonymous” as the author, it was also cowardly.  If Klein really wanted to write a novelistic exposé, he should have had the guts to put his own name on it (and not to blatantly lie about it afterwards).  It’s not very well-written and it was a best-seller partially because of the anonymity of it and partially because it dissected a modern political campaign and showed all the nastiness that can go on at the heart of it.  I can’t recommend reading it in any way.  The film tones down the nastiness a bit and gives you those magnificent performances.  The novel is really kind of just tabloid trash.

The Adaptation:

Except for the ending (in the novel, Stanton is trying to keep Henry on at the end and we never know if he’s actually elected), almost everything in the film comes straight from the book.  A few minor points are dropped and some characters are cut down, but the film pretty well distillates what we had read in the book.

The Credits:

Directed and Produced by Mike Nichols.  Screenplay by Elaine May.  Based on the Novel by Anonymous.
note:  There are no opening credits other than the title.  These are from the end credits.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

The Film:

One of my favorite films of all-time (it ranked in my Top 50 when I did my list), it’s a brilliant rendition of the book on-screen.  It is one of the most visually interesting films ever made and the one film that I would argue should I actually get a re-release for 3-D because can you imagine what it would be like if those lizards suddenly were coming out of the screen towards you?  The link in the next section contains a full review of the film.  After this, be sure to watch Gonzo, the brilliant documentary (already reviewed here) about Hunter.

The Source:

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson  (1971 / 1972)

The book, my #26 novel of all-time (which means that the novel is fully reviewed here which also contains a review of the film) was originally serialized in Rolling Stone in November of 1971 and then published as a book in 1972.  I own many editions but the best one to get is the Modern Library version if you can still get it because it also contains a few other pieces that really help you understand what Hunter has done in this book and how it relates to his actual life.

The Adaptation:

There actually isn’t much that I need to say here that I haven’t already said in my piece on the novel and the film.  I cover a lot of what the film does and which parts come from the book and the few changes and even where they come from.  Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni would actually publish their screenplay (and would explain why it’s “Not the Screenplay” as it says on the cover) and in a piece that’s very insightful into Hollywood and how the WGA works, Gilliam explains precisely why the script is not credited and how the actual credits for Davies and Cox have nothing to do with the movie itself.

The Credits:

Directed by Terry Gilliam.  Screenplay by Terry Gilliam & Tony Grisoni and Tod Davies & Alex Cox.  Based on a book by Hunter S. Thompson.
note:  The title is the only thing in the opening credits.

リング
(Ringu)

The Film:

I have heard the argument posited that people who saw The Ring before they saw Ringu prefer it, that it’s a matter of which one you see first.  I think that’s ridiculous.  I think that if you prefer The Ring then your taste is suspect.  It comes down to a very simple thing: Ringu is a genuinely terrifying film with moments that frighten the beejesus out of you while The Ring is a film with moments designed to make you jump and that tries to scare you.

Several teenagers die mysteriously and, it turns out, all at the same moment (and it turns out they knew each other).  One of them is the niece of a reporter and the reporter sets out to find out how this could have happened.  It’s a journey that eventually finds her sitting in front of a television watching a strange videotape of an isolated well.  She enlists her ex-husband to help her in the search and it will come out that it’s the tape of a well where a teenager was murdered years ago and that everyone who watches the videotape dies exactly a week after watching it.  To keep from dying you have to follow the instructions, but those instructions are taped over so the reporter and her ex are in a race against time to find out what they need to do before they also die.

The journey is part of the fascination here.  This isn’t just a Horror film, it’s also a Mystery.  What happened out at the well, why did it happen and why would it carry such a horrible curse?  What could possibly break such a curse and can it be done in the time allowed?

Given that this film is now over twenty years old, has had sequels, been remade, had the sequels remade and become very well known, I can mention that the curse itself is broken, but not for the reasons that they think during the film.  That leads to a death scene for one of the characters (there it’s still a surprise but if you have never seen this film that’s on you – I already ranked it as the 21st greatest Horror film of all-time and the only reason I didn’t review it for that post is because I knew it would be reviewed for this post) in one of the most genuinely terrifying scenes ever put on film.  Psycho had been at least a bit dulled for me before I saw it because the scene was so famous but I saw this film early enough and it doesn’t get the attention that it should (partially because of the remake) and what we see on film is just so completely unnerving that it really stands out.

The Source:

リング by Koji Suzuki (1991)

A teenager dies of fright in her parents apartment, grabbing at her hair.  Another teen, this one on a motorbike in traffic, dies at the same moment in the same manner.  What this will lead to is a bizarre, horrifying supernatural experience in which a telepathic woman with smallpox manages to transmute the virus and transport it in such a way that in a sense she will live forever.  This is the basic premise for the novel that was not only a massive seller, but will kick-start a franchise that has included comic books, multiple items on television, video games and at least 13 films to-date.

The book itself is interesting and in some ways reads more like a mystery than a horror novel, following a reporter (the uncle of the first victim) on his quest to find out what happened (though driven more by professional need than because of any real interest in his niece).  Perhaps because I had been through the films, perhaps because I think the way the film does things is more terrifying, this novel didn’t quite work for me.  It didn’t have that real level of Stephen King terror that I was expecting given its reputation.  Still, it was definitely effective enough to have a major cultural impact.

The Adaptation:

This is one where I won’t bother to really list all the differences between the novel and the film because someone has gone through with a pretty good fine-tooth comb and done it already on the Wikipedia page for the novel.

One interesting thing that I will note because it struck me while reading this book.  This book was written in another language (the same language the original film was made in), was a terrifying supernatural Horror novel, was made into a very acclaimed film and then was remade in America into a film that wasn’t nearly as good though there are people that (unaccountably to me) prefer the American version.  Now all of those things also apply to another film that will be in this project once I get to 2008: Let the Right One In.  But the two also have a really strange added connection between them.  Both of them have rather terrifying female supernatural characters who kill people.  Except that in the original novel (and not in the film in either version) it’s not a female.  In Ringu, the character is actually intersex and in Let the Right One In the character is actually a castrated boy (there are hints of this in the film but it’s not made explicit while in the book it is).  Just another bizarre connection between two brilliant Horror films, in fact quite possibly the two best foreign language Horror films made in the last 80 years.

The Credits:

Directed by Hideo Nakata.  Based on the novel The Ring by Koji Suzuki.  Screenplay by Hiroshi Takahashi.
note:  As always with films that don’t use the Roman alphabet, the credits are from the subtitles.

Carne tremula

The Film:

Was this what people were expecting from Almódovar at this point?  In one sense it follows on themes that he had already established – men marked by their mothers into what kind of lives they would lead, complicated relationships on-screen that also present the viewers with complicated views on eroticism and consent.  In some ways, it might be laying a bit of a baseline for what would come in his next film, his masterpiece, All About My Mother.  But this also has a bit of a thriller feel to it (because it’s based on one by a writer so notable in the genre, Ruth Rendell, that there is an award named after her).  What’s more, there’s the fact that it was adapted at all – all of the previous films had not only been original screenplays but the high degree of originality what was helped mark a film as being his.  It would also be his second collaboration with Javier Bardem (who, in spite of being perhaps Spain’s greatest actor, has never worked with him again) and his first with Penelope Cruz (who has almost been a muse to him through many years) and, in spite of not being on-screen together, would eventually marry 13 years later.

The film begins, as so many of his films do, with the way that we are brought into the world and what it means for us.  In this case, poor Victor is born on a bus to a poor prostitute at the start of a crackdown by Franco.  Twenty years later he doesn’t have his life under control and when he goes to see a woman he had sex with the week before one man ends up shot, Victor ends up in jail and all of the people involved in the scene have their lives changed drastically.

After a brief check-in on the characters a few years later where we learn some key information about some of them, we get to the moment where Victor is let out of jail.  He must deal, first with the emotions that he felt watching a scene on television while in jail that makes the moment that sent him to jail incapable of fading into the past.  Then, he goes to a cemetery to visit his mother’s grave, since she died while he was inside.  That simply sets in motion more events that will move him towards what is now a rather dubious goal but is offset somewhat by the jaded emotions going through all of the other people who had their lives changed the night that sent him to jail.

I’m deliberately not saying much about the film, about happens, about how the characters react to each other.  Almódovar gives us a high degree of eroticism and a high degree of pain.  We see painful moments suddenly offset by unbridled joy.  This is best shown in one of the tensest scenes in the film that is broken up by a goal scored on television in which two characters suddenly rejoice together as something bigger than them comes into play.

I do have one more thing to say about the film, the best film he had made in several years and the start of an uprise that would peak through his next films and most especially his next two films, two films that are not only his best but would be among the best for any director, but I say it down below in the adaptation part.

The Source:

Live Flesh by Ruth Rendell  (1986)

I may not have given this book the attention it deserves.  There are two reasons for that.  The first is that it was fairly obvious, early on, that the book only provides a plot framework for Almódovar to use to create his own characters.  The book, as is well described on the jacket, is “a daring psychological study of a rapist.”  That is not the case with the film and since the film was what interested me, I kind of blew through the book rather quickly.  The second reason is that this is a Suspense novel, which really isn’t my type of thing.  Even though Rendell is widely acknowledged as a master of the genre (there is an award named after her after all) I never would have read this book if not for this project and I am not familiar with her other work.  On the other hand, it is fairly well written and so there’s a reason to recommend it.  It just didn’t fit what I needed and it was clear, early on, that its connections to the film were fairly light.

The Adaptation:

This is the other thing that I wanted to say about the film: the book, as noted above, is a study of a rapist.  That’s not the case with the film at all.  The Victor in the book has raped several women and goes to rape the woman when all of the events of the book unfold to change his life and other’s lives as well.  But the Victor in the film is very different and what he does after he gets out of jail is not because he’s a rapist but because of the events of that specific night.  This book is a study of a type of character but the film is a portrait of an array of damaged characters, how they have damaged themselves, how they bring that damage to others and how they are unable to escape their own pain and end up furthering the process.  That’s not to say that one of those is better than the other (though obviously I prefer the film) but that they do very different things.  The way that fits into the next two films for Almódovar (All About My Mother, Talk to Her) is the way he looks at characters, at how their past damages them and how it informs all the actions of the film.

The Credits:

guión y dirección Pedro Almódovar.  basado en la novela de Ruth Rendell.
note:  There are no opening credits.

A Simple Plan

The Film:

Three men out in the snow find a plane.  Inside the plane is a dead man, a crow pecking out the dead man’s eyes and a sack with over four million dollars.  What can they do?  What would you do?  The smartest of them, Hank (the others are his sad sack brother Jacob and Jacob’s friend Lou), the one who certainly seems to be the most upright, in spite of what he will find himself doing, thinks they should leave it.  In the end, they take it, with the understanding that Hank will keep the money and after they are certain they can get away with it, they will split it.  But the money is already working on them.  When Hank comes in the door, and gives the same question to his wife, she talks about how she would give it back and it’s not right to take it.  That is, until he starts pouring money on the table.

If money is the root of all evil then A Simple Plan is the map to how that works.  A person can know the right thing, can even strive to do the right thing and still find his pathway leading him straight to death, misery, mayhem and destruction.  This isn’t an action film where things go nuts, this is a Suspense film where things slowly to work on people’s minds and they’re not sure what the next step is supposed to be, especially when the next step comes upon them so suddenly that they are forced to improvise and all they can do is make the worst decisions possible.

Bill Paxton was never a great actor and he often seemed overwhelmed by what was going on around him (can’t you just hear him in your head saying “Game over, man.”) which actually makes him the perfect person to play Hank.  Hank isn’t all that smart, just enough to get a better life, enough to make him seem like the smartest when he’s dealing with men like Jacob and Lou.  Billy Bob Thornton, however, who seemed so in control of what was going on in Primary Colors, never seems like he can get a handle on things and every decision he makes just makes it worse, pushing Hank into a position where he is forced to make choices that are just as bad or worse in order to keep his brother safe.  Then there is Bridget Fonda, who begins as the sweet, pregnant wife who knows they should give the money back to almost a Lady Macbeth pushing her husband to do more and more awful things because it’s the only way they can possibly come out this.

Sam Raimi had been an interesting director for a long time before this film but this was his first attempt to actually make a more serious film and perhaps get in the Oscar conversation and it’s very unlike the other work in his oeuvre (with very little humor in it, for one thing) and yet, he never went this route again, moving back towards the genre films with action and some humor.  But in his one try, he really nailed it, a solid Suspense film where you can’t wait to see where it’s going to go and you dread where that might be because these characters just can’t seem to make the right decision no matter how hard you might want them to.

The Source:

A Simple Plan: A Novel by Scott Smith

This is a really solid Suspense novel, the story of three men who find four million dollars in a plane in the woods and trying to figure out where things go from there.  Poor Hank is just a nice, decent guy who finds himself increasingly doing the wrong thing because he can’t help but dig himself deeper.  It’s well written and it’s actually got enough changes from the book (one character dies in a very different way than in the film for one thing) that you can’t even be certain, having seen the film, that things will come out the same way.  It’s well-written enough that I suspect that the book generally finds itself sitting in the Fiction section rather than in the Mystery section where most Suspense novels end up.

The Adaptation:

For a while things go pretty much according to how they went in the film.  There are some minor changes but for the most part you can follow the plot along between the book and the film.  But after the killing (which is a bit different in the two things), the film, will basically following the same concept, has a lot of considerable changes with a very different death scene for one of the characters and a whole suspenseful aspect to the end of the novel (with a lot more deaths) than what we end up seeing in the film where things wind down pretty quickly.

The Credits:

directed by Sam Raimi.  based upon the novel by Scott B. Smith.  screenplay by Scott B. Smith.

The Butcher Boy

The Film:

Francie Brady, in some ways, is like other boys his age.  He looks at the world around him and tries to interpret it his own experiences.  He sees himself as a good boy and the local quiet, studious Philip Nugent as a bit of a prat.  Francie’s got a best friend, Joe, and they talk about the world around them, which in the early 60’s includes comic books, aliens, the thought of nuclear war.  He tries to understand what his parents are going through and he’s dealing with life the best that he can.  Or that’s how Francie sees himself.

Other people don’t have such a generous view of him.  Mrs. Nugent, in particular, views Francie as an unwashed, common brute, all that could be expected from an alcoholic father and a crazy mother and that he constantly picks on her boy is because he’s an awful child and must be punished.  Philip himself doesn’t seem to understand why Francie is so obssessed with him, so bothered with picking on him.  Joe likes Francie and goes along with his stunts, whether jumping off rooftops or picking on the local weaker kid.

But, in Neil Jordan’s adaptation of the highly regarded novel, we are invited in to see the problems with Francie.  We get Francie as our narrator, as our guide through this world (complete with his older self talking to his younger self in a rather fascinating visual attempt at portraying the problems in Francie’s mind) but we can also see what he is doing.  By exposing us to the worst of Francie’s actions but also the inner workings of Francie’s mind we get a complex, fully realized portrait of a truly disturbed child (who will only become more so after he is sent to reform school only to be abused by a priest).  All of comes to life in a remarkable portrayal by film newcomer Eamonn Owens (as well as a solid performance by Jordan regular Stephen Rea, first as Francie’s alcoholic father and at the end of the film as the adult Francie).

Neil Jordan has a fascinating view of his home country and has never hesistated to show it in his films.  To ratchet up the controversy, he cast Sinead O’Connor as a foul-mouthed vision of the Virgin Mary who appears to Francie and inspires him.  O’Connor, already not a favorite among Irish Catholics thanks to her SNL move of tearing up a picture of the Pope provides some elements of fantasy relief in what is really a very dark comedy but somehow Jordan always manages to pull it all together and produce a film that manages to make it into the Top 5 of a really weak year for Adapted Screenplay.

The Source:

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe  (1992)

I’m a little surprised that this novel didn’t win the Booker Prize.  That’s kind of a compliment (it’s got serious talent involved in the writing) and also kind of a diss (it’s overly complex almost to the point of obtuseness).  It’s the story of poor Francie Brady, the kid who is kind of going crazy and is also the terror of his neighborhood and the events that will unfold that will lead him from a home with two parents (a messed up home, but still there and still with two parents) to an orphan in a reform school and headed down the road of lifelong incarceration and serious mental issues.  Above I almost wrote that the book is needlessly complex but I think there is a need for it.  The problem is that I hard time parsing my way through McCabe’s talent with the language to actual figuring out what was going on with the story.

The Adaptation:

Other than the ending, where in the film Francie has finally been let out while in the book Francie is still incarcerated and has just managed to attach himself to a new friend the film does a fairly close job of sticking to the book, at least to the point that I could understand what was happening in the book.

The Credits:

Directed by Neil Jordan.  Based upon the novel by Patrick McCabe.  Screenplay by Neil Jordan and Patrick McCabe.

Character

The Film:

A young man has been walking away from an older man after a dark conversation.  The older man watches him go with a knife stuck into the desk in front of him.  Then the young man can take it no more and turns and comes screaming across the room and leaps into the air.  Later, the young man will turn up bloody and is arrested for the stabbing death of the older man, a man who, it turns out, is his father.

That’s the beginning of Character, the film that won the Oscar in 1997 for Best Foreign Film but was otherwise ignored.  I remember the first time I saw it, watching the young man leap straight at me and being fascinated.  The fascination followed all the way through.  The fact that the older man is his father is not a secret – it’s revealed very early on.  That’s because this film is not a mystery but rather, as the title suggests, a character study.  It’s a look at what kind of man the older man is.  He’s a hard nosed bailiff, a man responsible for keeping his son down.  We never really learn why this is – after he impregnated his housekeeper he constantly offered to marry her or support her financially and she constantly refused.  Once his son starts to grow, he continues to push back at him, at times refusing to acknowledge him or his paternity, and at times forcing financial ruin upon him.  The son continues to work hard and eventually, in spite of his father’s constant impediment, eventually gets an education, goes to law school, and on the day the film begins, becomes a lawyer.  It is his father’s recognition and congratulations of this that forces the argument that begins the film.

It is a bleak film and very rarely does any sort of joy shine in.  Throughout the film, we know that the son leapt into the air towards his father and we are left to wonder whether he actually would have killed him.  What is revealed at the end of the film says much, both about the son’s character as well as his father’s.  It is well-written and well-directed and creates an atmosphere of bleakness that is appropriate for the story.  It is, upon reflection, the kind of film that the Academy likes to reward with Best Foreign Film, and it was definitely the best of the nominees (it’s not this film’s fault that the Academy didn’t nominate Princess Mononoke).  It is the kind of film, with a simple image that can stick in your mind for well over a decade, as it certainly has for me since that initial viewing.

The Source:

Karakter by F. Bordewijk  (1938)

This is an interesting, quite well-written novel.  It’s been well-known in the Netherlands ever since its initial publication.  It was first published in English in 1966 as “the 25th in the series of translations published under the auspices of the Council of Europe in order to make available to a wider public literary works written in the lesser-known European languages.” according to the copy I read.

It’s a fascinating character study of a man who is born out of wedlock, raised in poverty by a mother who refuses to accept the offers of marriage or money that the father sends.  He is raised in bitterness and becomes determined to succeed, and in spite of obstacles from his father, he does manage to do so, at the end becoming a lawyer and a man prepared for greater things in life.

The Adaptation:

There is no death.  There is no mystery.  The entire first scene, and indeed, the entire plot structure from the film, doesn’t exist in the book.  When I first started to read it, and it begins with the impregnation and then birth of the child, I figured that what was happening at the end of the book had instead been used as a framing device for the film.  Not so.  While most of the film follows from the book, the entire idea of killing the father or even the father being dead was completely created by the filmmakers.  It works as an interesting idea, although the end of the film then presents an idea of reconciliation that is not in the original novel and indeed, strays rather far from the ending of the original book.

The Credits:

Regisseur: Mike Van Diem.  Scenario: Mike Van Diem.  In Samenwerking Met: Laurens Geels & Ruud Van Megen.  Gebaseerd Op “Dreverhaven en Katadreuffe” en “Karakter” van F. Bordewijk.

Apt Pupil

The Film:

Buried somewhere on my computer (certainly on old backups if nothing else) might be my attempt in 1994 or so to adapt this novella into a screenplay.  But I was busy with college and then life happened and my adaptation, entitled Jungleland (after the Springsteen song I imagined opening the film, which was appropriate since the song had been used as an epigraph for King’s The Stand) because I didn’t think Apt Pupil would be a very good title (it’s not) stalled out quickly.  But I was pleased when the novella finally was made and especially so when I discovered that it was being directed by Bryan Singer who had been so brilliant in his direction of The Usual Suspects (his behind-the-scene issues notwithstanding) and then to see it in the theater and be very pleased.  I didn’t love the film by any means, but Ian McKellen had done such a magnificent job and he was already becoming one of my favorite actors (this was still before Gods and Monsters and he had not yet been cast as Gandalf or Magneto) and his performance had anchored the film and helped it overcome some other issues.

The tricky thing at play in this story was the supposed corruption of a youth who ends up friends with a Nazi in hiding in Southern California decades after the war.  But the thing you realize when you see the film or read the story is that Todd Bowden is not, in fact, a corrupted youth.  He really is an apt pupil, ready to learn at the knee of the instructor.  He’s got a darkness that sears his soul and he enjoys learning about the Holocaust and all the horrific things that were done in that period and the chance to hear such things first-hand is just a treat for him.

The script understands the darkness in Todd’s soul and does not shy away from it (even if they shy away from the brutal ending – see below) but unfortunately, even though it would later turn out that Brad Renfro had some severe darkness in his own soul, he doesn’t quite have the ability to match up with McKellen’s performance on-screen.  The most telling scene in the film informs us both about the relationship between the characters and between the performances.  McKellen as Denker (or Dussander), the Nazi, is given an old uniform by Todd.  At first he refuses it but Todd bullies and blackmails him into putting it on and then marching.  But soon, Denker is marching beyond Todd’s control and we can the movie as a whole in that scene, with Todd desperately ordering him to stop, engulfed in the darkness but no longer able to control it.  Renfro’s not all that good in the scene but McKellen is masterful and when he finally does come to a stop, at his own time of choosing, there is a sly smile on his lips.  Todd might think he has the power in the relationship but there is only so much he can control.

If the film can’t quite get up to the level of greatness, it’s partially because the cast outside of McKellen isn’t particularly strong and because the ending, though dark in its own way, is also kind of compromised in not bringing any sort of conclusion to Todd’s story.  It does have a very good score (from John Ottman) and by bumping McKellen into supporting (Todd is in far more scenes and it’s really his story so Renfro is really the lead) I can get both of his performances into the Nighthawks.  It’s a very good film but it’s possible that it could have been a great one if only they had been able to do more with the cast.

The Source:

Apt Pupil by Stephen King  (1982)

I first read this sometime around 1986 when I got my copy of the book (it has Stand by Me on the cover – you can often tell when people got this book by what movie is on the cover).  This is the second novella in the book, the Summer of Corruption, although Todd is actually already corrupt, he just hasn’t had a chance to act on it yet.  It is a very dark story, easily the darkest in the book.  It’s a fascinating character study of a boy who doesn’t realize how messed up he is and who sinks deeper into darkness until there’s no way he could ever possibly get out.

The Adaptation:

Most of what we see in the film comes from the book.  There are some things that are dropped (in the book, it’s not just one homeless man that Denker kills but many and Todd himself has also been killing them) and some significant changes (the book starts when Todd is 12 and continues through to his senior year of high school while the film takes place all in one year) and the ending is significantly different (Todd actually starts killing people on the freeway with the haunting last line “It was five hours later and almost dark before they took him down.”).  The film starts a little earlier than the book (the book starts with Todd coming to Denker’s door which is where I had planned to start it) showing how Todd came to discover Denker.  In spite of all of those changes it is actually a fairly faithful adaptation.

The Credits:

Directed by Bryan Singer.  Based on the novella Apt Pupil by Stephen King.  Screenplay by Brandon Boyce.

Consensus Nominees

The Thin Red Line

The Film:

Just yesterday (21 Feb 2019), Kris Tapley of Variety tweeted out “Shakespeare in Love is a better film than Saving Private Ryan but it doesn’t matter because The Thin Red Line is a fucking masterpiece.”  How ironic that I agree with him on the first part but not on the second since it’s the first part where we get lambasted online and the second part that I am addressing here.  I understand that there are those who view this as a masterpiece and as I wrote in my full review, there are those who think it is a snooze-fest.  Part of the problem for me is that Malick tries to be too ethereal with his film and part of it is that I don’t feel there are any real characters (to the extent that Adrien Brody, who I joked in the 1997 post in the film The Last Time I Committed Suicide was just hanging around behind Thomas Jane and Keanu Reeves and wondering how he, with actual acting ability, wasn’t the star whereas in this film he was the star and then Malick cut almost his entire role down to a few lines).  They feel like interchangeable parts and it’s hard to know or care who anyone is.  The studio actually did him a favor by insisting he cast several big name stars because it at least allows us to know who they are.  I think the film is well made and it’s very good but it doesn’t belong on this list because there is very little to the screenplay and what there is, is all over the place.  It made it in because the Oscars nominated it (with not a lot else to go for, since it was a Picture nominee and since most of my Top 10 is foreign or very esoteric).

The Source:

The Thin Red Line by James Jones  (1962)

I was a bit disappointed when I first read this, partially because its length is a bit too much for something that is really only about the combat (if you go in thinking there will be bits about the men’s lives before the war because of the Ben Chaplin / Miranda Otto scenes in the film you will be sadly mistaken).  But I was more disappointed because I had already read The Naked and the Dead (and I suspect, so had many of the people who would have been reading this when it was first published).  Now, it’s true that Mailer’s book was about the Philippines campaign while this book is about Guadalcanal but they are similar books in both style and content and I think that the Mailer book is far superior.

The Adaptation:

Given how long the film is, you would think that’s because they’re trying to cram as much of the book in as possible but that’s not really the case.  Malick gets so distracted with the philosophical musings that he wants to have hanging around the film that we get long interludes that are not from the book at all (like all the flashback scenes with Ben Chaplin and Miranda Otto).  Because of changes during the editing process, major characters (like Adrien Brody’s Corporal Fife, one of the biggest characters in the book) become minor or almost cameo characters.

The Credits:

Directed by Terrence Malick.  Screenplay by Terrence Malick.  Based upon the Novel by James Jones.
note:  These are from the end credits.  There are no opening credits.

A Civil Action

The Film:

The actions of the film occur through the 1980’s and by the end of the century the mess left behind had been cleaned up and the water in Woburn was safe.  It was also the eastern part of the city where the damage was done.  But don’t think for a minute that this film wasn’t on my mind every time I went to my dentist’s office, just a couple of blocks from the town square, for over a decade.  Though I had seen the film years before, I actually first read the book sitting in my apartment in Arlington, an easy bike ride away from where all these kids lived and died.

This film was fairly well regarded and it earned multiple Oscar nominations but it was not financially successful and it’s actually not hard to see why.  Let us, for a minute, look at it in comparison to another film, set in the same city and dealing with some of the same concepts.  In 1982, The Verdict was released.  It had a much bigger and (and, not to denigrate Travolta’s performance which is quite solid) better star in Paul Newman.  It had an Oscar nominated performance from the opposing lawyer (James Mason in this case, though Robert Duvall would earn an Oscar nom for this film in basically the same role).  It had a better director (Oscar nominee Sidney Lumet).  Though The Verdict is a significantly better film, should that have made as much difference in the results (big Oscar noms for The Verdict) and the box office (A Civil Action made $3 million more but on a much bigger budget and after 16 years of significant ticket price inflation).  The real difference is in what the approach is (The Verdict was a fictional story about an adult woman who is damaged by a medical procedure while this is a true story that deals with dead kids) and in how it ends.  Newman risks everything but it doesn’t cost him everything.  Travolta’s character (who, let’s remember, is real) risks everything and basically loses it all and the verdict in the actual trial doesn’t actually help much (it’s the things that happened years later that you read on-screen that did).  In essence, both are the same film – Boston lawyer risks it all in big trial against great odds.  But Newman’s alcoholic makes a comeback while Travolta’s rich ambulance chaser loses his money.  People want to pay to see Newman risk things.  They don’t want to pay to watch over two hours of a depressing tale of sick kids that doesn’t actually bring what can amount to a happy ending.

Now all of that is a discussion of why the film wasn’t really successful.  But what about the quality of the film itself?  It’s a fairly solid film, the type of real life film that people like to go to, provided it has something of a satisfying ending.  Most people don’t want to go watch two hours of bummer things and then still walk out without something having been gained.  Travolta gives us something in that his Jan Schlichtmann actually does grow, learning that money won’t be the end-all of life.  He gives us a solid performance, one of the four things about the film that really merit its recommendation (the others are Duvall’s performance as the much smarter lawyer, a legend at the firm that my sister worked at for a while, the really solid cinematography and a quite good score from Danny Elfman).  It’s interesting that in an ensemble cast that includes William H. Macy, Kathleen Quinlan and James Gandolfini, it’s really only Travolta and Duvall that stand out but that’s kind of the way the film is written.  Indeed, the script earns no points from me.  It’s not bad, but the film goes on too long and it focuses too much on the lawyer himself and not on the case.

This is the kind of film where you would actually expect the direction to be the problem, given that it’s a writer turned director.  But Zaillian has a solid hand with his direction.  If anything, it’s the too-long script and editing that doesn’t do anything to keep the film from feeling like a lot longer than 115 minutes.

The Source:

A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr (1995)

Like I said, I actually read this book when I was living just a few miles from where all of this took place.  It’s a first-rate non-fiction book about the trial that helped clean up the mess that Woburn was so that by the time I lived there, it no longer had these problems.  Harr actually followed the case from early on and had full access and the book does a very good job of being impartial.  All of that might not sound like much but I will say that it’s not the kind of book I would normally read (I used to own it because of the film) but it’s a more than compelling read that could keep me interested in spite of, at times, not wanting to because of the subject matter.

The Adaptation:

Though there are some small changes from the book, for the most part, other than cutting some minor characters and combining a bit of the action to make it flow a little better, the film does a fairly good job of keeping to the established facts as presented in the book.

The Credits:

Directed by Steven Zaillain.  Based on the book by Jonathan Harr.  Screenplay by Steven Zaillian.

Hilary and Jackie

The Film:

Can you be artistically brilliant and still be happy?  I have a friend who likes to insist that you cannot.  That’s not really true, of course, but there is a measure of truth to it that applies to artistic biopics.  My two favorite musical acts, U2 and Bruce Springsteen, won’t ever have films made about their rise.  Who would watch them?  Four Dublin boys start a band together and over 40 years later, they’re still one of the biggest bands in the world?  A Jersey boy with a couple of personal stumbles (manager who hoses him with a bad contract, a short, unsuccessful marriage) has all the other parts of his life working in his benefit.  But that’s why we get films, very good films, about more problematic personalities who have lots of issues to deal with like Johnny Cash and Ray Charles.  But then we come around to this film.

Jacqueline du Pre was a brilliant cellist, one of the most widely acclaimed in the world.  And if that had been her whole life, even with moderately demanding parents who pushed her to succeed, there would never have been a biopic.  But there were other things, namely that she was struck down by multiple sclerosis when she was 28 which cost her, first, her career and later, her life and that she suffered from emotional and mental issues.  There is no question from the reaction of some of her professional friends to this film that they simply wanted the biopic that showed her dealing with her disease and not with her other illnesses.  But, like with Shine, that’s where the movie gets made.  People like to hear classical music but that doesn’t give the actors a whole lot to do.  But emotional and mental problems?  That gives actors a whole lot to do, especially when they are as talented as Emily Watson and Rachel Griffiths.

Like almost everyone else, I had never even heard of Emily Watson before she burst onto the scene in Breaking the Waves.  But after that, I was eagerly awaiting anything she might do next and after her solid performance in The Boxer came this film which earned her a second Oscar nomination.  She has a difficult role, much more difficult than say, what Geoffrey Rush won an Oscar for in Shine two years before.  First, she has to be an irrepressible joy when she plays the cello.  Part of her genius in playing was the way du Pre moved her body so much, finding herself in the music as much as finding the music in herself.  But all of that joy starts to get sucked away as she watches her sister turn away from professional musicianship and begin a family.  It turns out that Jackie wonders if she could also have a family, and not just a family, but Hilary’s family with Hilary’s husband.  Two sisters whose love for each other is all-encompassing must now also be met with an impasse that will scar both of them.  This is where Rachel Griffiths, who had been fantastic in Muriel’s Wedding but hadn’t really hit the level that Watson had with her Oscar nomination has to carry much of the film as we see their relationship through her eyes before Jackie actually gets sick and we sort of rewind and get much of it through Jackie’s eyes.  That’s where the title comes into things.  This really is Hilary and Jackie and we start with Hilary and move on to Jackie, continuing through her illness (that gives us some really superb acting that isn’t dominated by the kind of tics that were so much a part of Rush’s performance).

This was the relationship that Hilary du Pre remembered when she wrote the book.  This was the full measure of their relationship and what she wanted to say about her sister.  Like so many musical biopics it never manages to completely rise above the genre but it’s absolutely worth watching just for the performances from Watson and Griffiths.

The Source:

A Genius in the Family by Hilary du Pré and Piers du Pré  (1997)

This is a bit of an oddly written book, the dual tales of Hilary and Piers telling their own versions of their relationships with their sister Jackie.  But all of the drama really comes in the way Jackie interacts with Hilary which is perhaps why the film hardly even gives Piers any lines.  It’s okay but it’s a lot of melodrama because when you write about a cello player’s life and she has mental and physical issues, it’s hard to focus on the playing itself, especially since playing classical music doesn’t really come across in a book and it’s especially strange since it bounces back and forth between the two narrators.

The Adaptation:

When I got the point where Hilary meets her husband and so little about it matched what was in the book, I was afraid that a lot of the film was going to be very different from the book.  But, once we get to the illness, a lot of it is actually fairly straight forward (though it’s Hilary’s husband who finds Jackie naked in the woods, not Hilary) and while almost nothing of Piers’ memories make it into the film, a lot of Hilary’s do.  One major difference is that Jackie died with Hilary there and while she heard it on the radio driving home, it was shock that the BBC had it so quickly, not learning about her sister’s death that upset her.  Even the beach anecdote that frames the film comes almost straight off the page, one of Hilary’s memories that she tells to her dying sister.

The Credits:

Directed by Anand Tucker.  Screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce.  Based on the book ‘A Genius in the Family’ by Hilary and Piers Du Pre. (right accent on the e)

Little Voice

The Film:

You can look at films and remember that they come from a specific point in time.  There are those films in the 70’s that speak to the outsider voice, with independence granted to filmmakers.  Then there are those films in the 90’s that have big name actors, sometimes not in huge roles, with quality scripts and that seem destined for the awards games even though they don’t look they have the slightest chance at making any money back.  They are not really prestige pictures, in that they don’t necessarily have high production values and the directors might not be that well known.  But they are often smart, sometimes quite funny, and they have all that money invested in the actors that wasn’t spent on the production side.  Oh, and before the film starts, that Miramax logo comes up on the screen.

Little Voice belongs to that era, of course, of the Miramax’s late 90’s success with awards.  It was nominated for six BAFTAs, won Best Actor – Comedy at the Globes, earned three acting noms at the Globes and was nominated for an acting Oscar.  It was not receiving any accolades for its technical achievements (well, the BAFTAs did nominate its Sound).  What was quality about this film was the acting.  That makes sense, of course, as the script is written in such a way to allow for solid performances.  Though none of them make my nominees (and indeed, only Jane Horrocks even makes my Comedy Top 5, though that’s because this is a strong year for Comedies), the three main performances in this film (Jane Horrocks as Little Voice, the poor young woman haunted by her father’s death and existing and interacting in the world only through old songs, Michael Caine, as the sleazy entertainment manager who uses LV’s mother to get to this talent and then abandons everyone at the end when it all falls apart and Brenda Blethyn, as LV’s mother, so caught up in her own world that she’s perfectly willing to ignore her talented and traumatized daughter unless it can benefit her) are all very strong.

The film itself though, is not great, and doesn’t even quite make it into very good.  It’s at the top range of ***.  It’s a bit too much of a downer, with poor little LV having a chance for love (with Ewan McGregor, who was quickly becoming one of the key Miramax stars), but otherwise bleakness abounding.  It isn’t directed particularly well and the production values aren’t really that great.  It’s adapted from a successful stage play and it’s a chance for actors to shine, and hey, that’s a lot of what Miramax did best.

The Source:

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice by Jim Cartwright  (1992)

It’s a strange little play about a young woman, cut off from the world, existing, essentially, only through her songs.  It’s all done in one act, without traditional staging, with people coming on and off throughout the play.  It’s a bleak story, but was a big hit on stage, with Jane Horrocks, playing the same role that she would play six years later in the film, being a huge success.  Having seen her in Life is Sweet, I couldn’t imagine that people would know she was capable of the singing required.  Perhaps most importantly, this was one of the first big stage successes of Sam Mendes’ career (he was only 27 at the time).

The Adaptation:

What the film really does it streamline the play into various different scenes (the play was all one act) but keep most of the dialogue intact.  There are a few minor changes (the excuse for McGregor’s character to return to the house and really meet LV changes, mostly because it had been six years since the play and technology had changed a bit), but for the most part, the film takes the play and turns it into a film without losing what had been in the play in the first place.  And really, what both things do so well is allow Horrocks to really shine through, both in her performance and in the way she performs the songs.

The Credits:

Directed by Mark Herman.  Based on the Stage Play by Jim Cartwright entitled “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice”.  Screenplay by Mark Herman.

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.  That’s especially notable this year where I wrote a lot about certain films and I explain (to the extent that it can be explained) why I saw so many awful films this year (several of which are at the bottom of this list).

  • The Celebration  –  In the Top 10 all-time for Consensus Points for Best Foreign Film to have been submitted to the Oscars but not nominated.  This very good (it does earn a Nighthawk nom) Oscar submission from Denmark is based on a hoax radio broadcast.
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service  –  One of my wife’s absolutely favorite films (we have a tapestry from it above our bed) and one of the first Miyazaki films I ever saw is based on the novel by Eiko Kadono.  Mid ***.5, good enough to earn a nomination for Foreign Film (and Score) and win Animated Film.
  • One True Thing  –  Anna Quindlen’s novel is a well-done piece of melodrama (high ***) with some really good acting from Renee Zellweger and Meryl Streep.
  • Affliction  –  Very bleak film from Paul Schrader based on a very bleak novel by Russell Banks.
  • La Separation  –  A 1994 French film based on the novel by Dan Franck.  Low ***.5.
  • The General  –  Very good (high ***.5) film about Dublin crime boss Martin Cahill adapted form the non-fiction book by reporter Paul Williams.
  • The Mask of Zorro  –  The first new Zorro film in almost a generation and the best of all of them in the way it combines humor (“I have broken the Fourth Commandment.”  “You killed somebody?”  “No, that is not the Fourth Commandment, Padre.”  “Of course not.”) and great action.  Low ***.5.
  • Lolita  –  Fully reviewed here when I covered the novel as one of the greatest ever written.  Has much better leads than the Kubrick version but much weaker supporting actors.  High ***.
  • Central Station  –  Oscar nominee for Foreign Film and Actress.  Based on a short story by director Walter Salles.
  • Hurlyburly  –  The well-known David Rabe play gets turned into a film version with a first-rate cast
  • Beloved  –  An ever better book than Lolita gets a solid (high ***) film adaptation.
  • The Dupes  –  High *** Syrian film from 1973 that finally earned a U.S. release.  Based on the novel Men Under the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani.

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)

  • The Gingerbread Man  –  Based on a manuscript that John Grisham didn’t even publish, Robert Altman gets a very solid high *** film starring Kenneth Branagh.
  • Mrs. Dalloway  –  The classic novel (#68 on my list) gets a film adaptation with Vanessa Redgrave.  Not reviewed because I hadn’t seen the film when I wrote the piece on the novel.
  • Dancing at Lughnasa  –  The highly acclaimed play by Brian Friel gets turned into Oscar bait starring Meryl but Oscar didn’t take the bait.
  • Dangerous Beauty  –  Solid Costume Drama based on the non-fiction book The Honest Courtesan.
  • Regeneration  –  BAFTA nominee for Best British Film.  Based on the novel by Pat Barker.
  • A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries  –  In the same year that James Jones gets a hit film adaptation, his daughter’s autobiographical novel about being raised by him also gets a film version.  It stars Leelee Sobieski, the answer to the question “What if de-aging technology was used on Helen Hunt?”
  • Four Days in September  –  The Oscar nominee from Brazil based on a non-fiction book by a reporter about the 1969 kidnapping of the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil though the film fictionalizes the events.
  • Smoke Signals  –  Based on one of the stories from Sherman Alexie’s fantastic (and fantastically titled) collection of interlocked stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.  Notable not just for being good but for its almost entirely Native American production.
  • Babe: Pig in the City  –  I will now ask my wife for her reaction to this film.  She made a whining noise and said “whimper” because of the death scene of the one animal and how it is portrayed.  Fairly good and not that far off the first film but pretty dark for a kids film.
  • Great Expectations  –  Apparently it’s the year of the Top 100 novel adaptation because this novel is at #35.  This film is reviewed there.  We also get to mid *** with this film.
  • The Eel  –  A 1997 Japanese film based on the novel On Parole by Akira Yoshimura.
  • The Hi-Lo Country  –  Stephen Frears branches out and makes a Western based on the novel by Max Evans.
  • Begging for Love  –  The Japanese Oscar submission based on the novel by Harumi Shimoda.
  • Tieta of Agreste  –  A Brazilian Comedy and the Oscar submission for 1996 based on the novel by well known Brazilian writer Jorge Amado.
  • The X-Files  –  The rare film for a series that is part of the television chronology, slotting between the fifth and sixth season.  I remember sitting in a hot tub at my old roommate’s apartment listening to him explain everything to me I needed to know to see the film (I was only an intermittent watcher of the show).
  • Talk of Angels  –  Held up for two years by Miramax, this Drama is based on the novel Mary Lavelle by Kate O’Brien which was actually banned in Ireland when first published.
  • The Borrowers  –  Decent live-action adaptation of the book by Mary Norton though Ghibli would do it better years later as The Secret World of Arrietty.
  • Bad Manners  –  Based on the play Ghost in the Machine by David Gilman this is a rather dark Comedy.
  • A Spell  –  The Mexican Oscar submission based on the novel Don Elisejo by Marcel Sisniega.
  • The Prince of Egypt  –  Like The 10 Commandments, essentially adapted from The Book of Exodus.  This was DreamWorks’ prestige production that Jeffrey Katzenberg put all his effort into.  It’s not bad but it’s far from great and we’re down to low ***.
  • Un Air de famille  –  A 1996 French Comedy.  Based on the play.
  • The Parent Trap  –  A remake with Lindsey Lohan in the Harley Mills role.  Not bad but not as good as the original.
  • Divorcing Jack  –  Colin Bateman adapts his own dark novel.
  • Cousin Bette  –  A loose adaptation of the Balzac novel with Jessica Lange in the title role.
  • Chinese Box  –  Decent Jeremy Irons Drama inspired by works of Paul Theroux.
  • Pretty Village, Pretty Flame  –  The 1996 Serbian Oscar submission based on a book by Vanja Bulic.
  • Wilde  –  Stephen Fry is a very good choice as Oscar Wilde but the film itself, based on Richard Ellmann’s Pulitzer winning biography is only okay.
  • Rivers of Babylon  –  The Oscar submission from Slovakia.  Based on the novel by Peter Pistanek.
  • Ever After: A Cinderella Story  –  Bland version of Cinderella starring Drew Barrymore.
  • Madeline  –  It uses the story from four of the Madeline books but the film is cutesy in a way that the books, because of their artwork, never were.
  • Western  –  The French Oscar submission from 1997.  Based on a story by Manuel Poirer, although that could be just a screen story, making this original.
  • Shadrach  –  Bland Drama based on a short story by William Styron.
  • Love and Death on Long Island  –  Based on the novella by Gilbert Adair this film has the benefit of John Hurt and the detriment of Jason Priestley.
  • Les Miserables  –  Unfortunately Bille August can’t seem to reign in his actors’ worst instincts so there’s a lot of hamming in this version.  But still, with Liam Neeson as Valjean, it’s not bad either.
  • The Mighty  –  Kieran Culkin starts to prove that he’s the one with the acting talent in the family but it’s not enough to save this adaptation of the novel Freak the Mighty from pure schmaltz.
  • Star Trek: Insurrection  –  The weakest of the TNG films and barely making it as a *** film.  Reviewed in much greater detail here.
  • Hard Core Logo  –  Canadian mockumentary based on the novel by Michael Turner.  Pales in comparison to Christopher Guest’s work.
  • Mighty Joe Young  –  Remake of the 1949 film has good visual effects but not much else.
  • City of Angels  –  Remake of Wings of Desire, with this movie we hit **.5.  A great soundtrack (I actually bought it right away and didn’t see the movie for well over a decade) but just a completely unnecessary film.  Don’t remake great Foreign films.
  • Summer of the Monkeys  –  Disney movie about a kid with monkeys based on a kids book.
  • The Horse Whisperer  –  You feel awkward when you watch the kid and realize she’s grown up to be one of the hottest people on the planet but not as awkward as just trying to stomach the schmaltz from this film based on the Nicholas Evans novel.  After a great first five films as a director this is the start of the weak second five films from Robert Redford.
  • Esmeralda Comes By Night  –  Mediocre Spanish Romantic Comedy based on a short story by Elena Poniatowska that gets us down to mid **.5.
  • How Stella Got Her Groove Back  –  Another hit Terry McMillan novel after Waiting to Exhale made her a star but this film is even more schmaltzy than that one was.
  • Passion in the Desert  –  A rare year with two Balzac adaptations.  His short story became this bland Drama.
  • Meet Joe Black  –  Even though this remake of Death Takes a Holiday is better than Waterboy, it was still a better move to see that one to get the Phantom Menace trailer since this is not only boring but also twice as long (as Waterboy and as it needs to be).  We’re down to low **.5.
  • You’ve Got Mail  –  Another weak remake.  At least this one had a point (updating The Shop Around the Corner for the internet era, where it would be easier to fall in love with someone you’ve never seen).  But it didn’t have a good script.
  • Quest for Camelot  –  In a year with “The Flame Still Burns” and “Uninvited” the crappy song from this Animated film based on the novel The King’s Damosel by Vera Chapman won the Globe.  But, hey at least the Globes nominated those two great songs, unlike the Oscars.
  • Swept from the Sea  –  The Joseph Conrad story “Amy Foster” gets turned into a boring melodrama for Vincent Perez and Rachel Weisz.
  • Return to Paradise  –  After her great 1997, Anne Heche drops back to Earth with this remake of Force majeure.
  • Psycho  –  Even worse, Heche gets offed just like Janet Leigh in Gus Van Sant’s almost shot by shot pointless remake of Hitchcock’s classic.
  • The Last of the High Kings  –  Small film that took Miramax two years to bring to U.S. theaters.  Based on the novel by Ferdia Mac Anna.
  • Dr. Dolittle  –  As I write this, Robert Downey’s version of this is about to be unleashed.  This is actually, by quite a ways the best version, even at low **.5 and I don’t imagine Downey’s will be any better.
  • Permanent Midnight  –  So, one of the ALF writers was on heroin?  That might explain a lot.  Ben Stiller tries to go dramatic with very mixed results in this adaptation of Jerry Stahl’s memoir of addiction.
  • The Rugrats Movie  –  After Harriet the Spy and Good Burger, Nickelodeon Films moves into animation with this film version of their television show.
  • The Object of My Affection  –  The Friends cast heads to the big screen.  Jennifer Aniston plays opposite a charming and handsome Paul Rudd (is that redundant?) in an adaptation of the novel by Stephen McCauley.
  • What Dreams May Come  –  Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) has another novel adapted.  It’s not the worst film to win the Oscar for Visual Effects.
  • The Man in the Iron Mask  –  This film version of the classic Dumas novel has an all-star international cast with the four musketeers played by an American, Englishman, Irishman and Frenchman but it’s still pretty much a dud, at least partially because it seems to have been written by a person who saw the earlier film versions and only vaguely heard about the book (which is only the last third of the more complete book The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later).  With this film, which I saw in the theater, the first of many crappy films on this list I saw in the theater, some of which are explained in my Nighthawk Awards and many of which have no good explanation, we have reached the ** films.
  • Les Boys II  –  Sequel to the French Action Comedy and one of the earliest films released in the States by Lionsgate.
  • Simon Birch  –  Another film I saw in the theater, though the excuse is that it’s based on John Irving’s wonderful A Prayer for Owen Meany.  However, it simply proves that the novel was unfilmable, especially since they dropped the majority of the novel and wrapped it up with just the early parts.  Irving made them change the name since it bore so little resemblance to the book.
  • Halloween H20: 20 Years Later  –  Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the franchise in a film that retcons out the previous four films.  She’ll do it again another 20 years on much more effectively.  Down to mid **.
  • Practical Magic  –  This film has two young actresses who grew up to be quite stunning (Camilla Belle as a young Sandra Bullock, Evan Rachel Wood as Bullock’s daughter) but of course Bullock and Nicole Kidman are the real gorgeous stars.  Alice Hoffman’s book was a big seller but the movie really isn’t very good.
  • Desperate Measures  –  Based on a novel by David Klass, this Barbet Schroeder Thriller is a dud.
  • The Newton Boys  –  It’s like doing Mobsters again except it’s with a director who’s overrated (Richard Linklater) and starring four actors who I have varying levels of hate for (in order, from least annoying to most: Vincent D’Onofrio, Matthew McConaughey, Skeet Ulrich, Ethan Hawke).  Based on a non-fiction book.
  • Lethal Weapon 4  –  Thankfully the final film in this franchise because they had run out of ideas back with the third one.
  • Nightwatch  –  Ole Bornedal remakes his own Danish film.  It’s got Ewan but that’s not enough.
  • Palmetto  –  We drop to low ** with this film.  Based on the novel Just Another Sucker this film is more proof that Elisabeth Shue used all her acting ability up with Leaving Las Vegas.
  • The Alarmist  –  Another early Lionsgate film, this one is based on a play by Keith Reddin.
  • The Visitors II: The Corridors of Time  –  Sequel to the hit French film but not nearly as funny.  Or, really, funny at all.
  • Suicide Kings  –  Based on a short story by Don Stanford, a bunch of younger actors who do no acting kidnap Christopher Walken who makes up for it by providing too much acting.
  • Krippendorf’s Tribe  –  Weak Disney Comedy based on the novel by Frank Parkin.
  • Godzilla  –  In all fairness, I should rewatch this when it keeps airing on cable (like every night) so I can more fairly re-rate it down to about *.  I saw it in the theaters because I love Godzilla films but this one is just terrible and has the single worst acting performance I’ve ever seen (Maria Pitillo).
  • Sphere  –  Another enjoyable Michael Crichton novel becomes a crappy film (see also Congo).
  • Another Day in Paradise  –  Crime film based on the novel by Eddie Little.
  • Blues Brothers 2000  –  Just a terrible, terrible idea.  The original film relied so much on Belushi that there was no point to this.
  • A Perfect Murder  –  Another film I saw in the theater.  A remake of Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder except with Gwyneth in the Grace Kelly role.  This film brings us to *.5.
  • Blade  –  I know there are people who love this film, based on the Marvel character, but Wesley Snipes is such a painfully bad actor, I can’t tolerate it.
  • The Mighty Kong  –  Animated version of King Kong that Wikipedia says was straight-to-video but the old oscars.org said got an L.A. theatrical release.
  • Air Bud: Golden Reciever  –  Being a box office dud didn’t stop a gazillion further film that were thankfully all straight-to-video and not included in this project.
  • U.S. Marshals  –  There’s not a lot of actors who have played the same role again after winning an Oscar for it but this has got to be the worst of them with Tommy Lee Jones reprising his role as Agent Girard from The Fugitive.
  • The Night Flier  –  Crappy adaptation of a Stephen King short story which raises the question of whether there are good adaptations of a Stephen King short story (no, there aren’t – the Different Seasons stories are novellas).
  • The Odd Couple II  –  We drop straight from high *.5 to high * with this horribly conceived sequel to the Comedy classic.
  • The Phantom of the Opera  –  Dario Argento ruins the Leroux novel.  He’ll repeat this with Dracula over 20 years later.
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie  –  Feature length version of the classic tale.  Stick to the Rankin/Bass version.
  • Phantoms  –  Yo, Affleck, you were not the bomb in Phantoms.  Based on Dean Koontz’s best seller.
  • Tarzan and the Lost City  –  I like Tarzan films but Casper Van Dien and Jane March are just about the worst acting couple you could imagine.
  • Vampires  –  Terrible John Carpenter film based on the novel by John Steakley.
  • The Avengers  –  I had never seen the show (I have now and it’s fantastic, especially the Diana Rigg stretch) but I knew of the characters because the Marvel comic would make jokes about Steed and Mrs. Peel.  It had Ralph Fiennes and Sean Connery (giving maybe the worst performance ever by an Oscar winner).  But it’s just so unbearably awful.  This brings us down to mid *.
  • Patch Adams  –  The worst film ever nominated for Best Picture – Comedy at the Globes (by a lot at the time but only by a little after 2010), this schmaltzy crap was a big hit (#10 for the year but it was the year for bad movies to be hits) but was just awful.  Based on the book by the actual Adams.
  • A Rat’s Tale  –  Terrible Kids Animated film based on the novel by Tor Seidler.
  • One Tough Cop  –  One of the crappy Baldwins plays a real life cop (Bo Dietl) based on the cop’s book.
  • Species II  –  Terrible Horror sequel.
  • Mercury Rising  –  This one has the talented Baldwin but is still an awful Suspense film based on the novel Simple Simon.  This brings us to low *.
  • Major League: Back to the Minors  –  Another terrible sequel and another terrible film I saw in the theater that doesn’t even bring back the main cast members.
  • A Night at the Roxbury  –  I was forced to endure this feature length SNL skit (that wasn’t a funny skit to begin with) by friends who liked the characters.  This began my intense dislike for Will Ferrell which has continued to this day pretty much unabated with only one exception (Stranger than Fiction).
  • 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain  –  Another terrible film in this series.
  • Lost in Space  –  As mentioned in the Awards, I had never seen the show but I saw this in the theater.
  • Bride of Chucky  –  See also 3 Ninjas.
  • I Still Know What You Did Last Summer  –  The surviving cast of the first film get some black friends and one of them actually survives the film.  Now we’re at .5 films.
  • Barney’s Great Adventure  –  The most annoying kids tv character ever gets a feature length movie.  I would definitely not recommend watching this without having taken acid first and since I’ve never taken acid, I can’t guarantee that will make it better.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • none

The highest grossing Adapted film I haven’t seen from 1998 is The Land Girls (#252, $238,497) and it’s not for lack of trying since it’s a Universal film (released through Gramercy); there is no film grossing over $750,000 in the year that I haven’t seen, adapted or original.  Unless there’s a deceptively titled one, I have seen every sequel listed at BOM for the year.