“There was a hush, and all turned their eyes on Frodo. He was shaken by a sudden shame and fear; and he felt a great reluctance to reveal the Ring, and a loathing of its touch. He wished he was far away. The Ring gleamed and flickered as he held it up before them in his trembling hand.” (p 240-241)

My Top 10

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  2. In the Bedroom
  3. Ghost World
  4. Vanilla Sky
  5. Last Orders
  6. Shrek
  7. Ocean’s Eleven
  8. A.I.
  9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  10. The Pledge

note:  Not a great Top 5 or Top 10.  It’s another of those years which is balanced by a fantastic group of original scripts (Amelie, Memento, Gosford Park, Monster’s Ball, Amores Perros, Royal Tenenbaums, Others, Man Who Wasn’t There).  My #11 (Black Hawk Down), 13 (Iris) and 14 (Bridget Jones) are reviewed down below because of nominations while the rest of my list (which reached 19) is down at the bottom.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. A Beautiful Mind  (296 pts)
  2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring  (120 pts)
  3. Shrek  (120 pts)
  4. Ghost World  (80 pts)
  5. Bridget Jones’s Diary  (80 pts)

note:  No winner will have fewer points again until 2013.

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

  • A Beautiful Mind
  • Ghost World
  • In the Bedroom
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Shrek


  • A Beautiful Mind
  • Black Hawk Down
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary
  • Ghost World
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Golden Globes:

  • A Beautiful Mind

Nominees that are Original:  Gosford Park, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Memento, Mulholland Drive

note:  This is the only time after 1987 that the only Adapted nominee at the Globes wins the award.


  • Shrek
  • A Beautiful Mind
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary
  • Iris
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring


  • A Beautiful Mind

Nominees that are Original:  Memento, The Man Who Wasn’t There

note:  This is the first year that the BFCA has nominees and not just an award.  However, the BFCA has just a single award from 2001-2008.

note:  For the first time since 1996 and the last time ever (because the NBR and CFC would establish separate awards for Adapted and Original), no critics awards for Best Screenplay go to an adapted screenplay.

My Top 10

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Film:

At this point there’s not much more that I need to write about this film.  I wrote about it once for my Peter Jackson post.  Then I wrote about it again for the Best Picture post.  I actually didn’t write about it for the post on the novel precisely because I had already written about it twice.  It is a fantastically brilliant film.  It is at once a large scale epic with visual effects unlike almost anything ever seen on film.  Yet, it is also a brilliantly acted ensemble drama that focuses on what is going on with the characters.  It is made with exquisite care and talent at every single level and has an acting ensemble rarely seen in a feature film (it ranks in a tie for 6th all-time in my total acting points with On the Waterfront and behind Return of the King, the first two Godfather films, The Departed and The Lion in Winter).

The Source:

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)

Of course, this isn’t really a novel – it’s one third of a novel, or two of the six books of a novel released in this form because it wasn’t feasible at the time to release the entire novel in one volume.  Even so, the single novel of which this is one volume is one of the greatest ever written for reasons I made very clear here.  The cover on the right, of course, is just one of many covers I could have gone with, and that’s just includes the editions that I own, which are detailed here, although that is out of date and I have more than what is in the post.

The Adaptation:

This is going to be long and detailed, so if you’re not really into Lord of the Rings, you might want to skip down to the next film.

And by the way, for some differing viewpoints on how to think of the adaptation of this film, try looking here.

I’ve punted on a lot of films over the course of this project when it comes to this section because other people had already done the work.  This time, because it’s a book and a film I love so much and because I actually haven’t seen it detailed in other places, I am going to go through chapter by chapter and give a rough breakdown of the changes.  Chapter titles that are in bold are the names of tracks on the soundtrack.  EE stands for the Extended Edition of the film.


Concerning Hobbits  –  Some of what is told here appears in the prologue and some of the information about hobbits is narrated by Bilbo in the Extended Edition (hereafter EE).

Book One

I – The Long-Expected Party – This does follow accurately in that this is 60 years after the events of the Hobbit as seen in the prologue.  It mostly follows along with a few small changes (such as introducing Merry and Pippin or not having Gandalf hide the vanishing with a flash)

II – The Shadow of the Past – The major difference here of course is that 17 years doesn’t pass.  Indeed, it seems like just a few weeks at most since Gandalf has left.  Much of the information conveyed in this chapter is actually placed into the prologue.  Gandalf’s key lines about Bilbo sparing Gollum in this chapter appear in the film in Moria.

III – Three is Company – Almost entirely different as Frodo now leaves in a hurry with Sam immediately after Gandalf and the whole idea of moving to Crickhollow is dropped.  Pippin and Merry enter the story by accident (as opposed to the Bakshi version which is just awful what they do – see my review of the book).  The song that Pippin sings in Minas Tirith in the third film actually comes from this chapter.

IV – A Short-Cut to Mushrooms – The actual title is mentioned onscreen but during the events of the previous chapter (sort-of).  Buckleberry Ferry isn’t a race and they don’t flee the Shire immediately in the book.  Though the chapter title is actually used as a line of dialogue, the soundtrack track is “The Black Rider.”

V – A Conspiracy Unmasked – Entirely cut.

VI – The Old Forest – A hint of this happens in the EE of Two Towers in Fangorn but otherwise cut.

VII – In the House of Tom Bombadil – Entirely cut and the film is better for it.

VIII – Fog on the Barrow-Downs  – Entirely cut.

IX – At the Sign of the Prancing Pony – The film basically leaps from the end of Chapter IV straight to the start of Chapter IX.  One of the most faithful chapters in the book with only small, superficial changes.

X – Strider  –  Compressed in that there is no letter from Gandalf.

XI – A Knife in the Dark  –  Most of the journey to Weathertop is compressed (there is a bit more in the EE) and the attack doesn’t actually happen on Weathertop itself in the book but in the dell next to it, but otherwise fairly accurate.

XII – Flight to the Ford  –  A perfect example of what the film does to faithfully adapt concepts rather than literal points from the book.  For a conservation of characters, Arwen takes over Glorfindel’s role (which works well, since he’s not used later in the books – in the Bakshi version he used Legolas in the same way).  Also, to make it work better in a film, it’s a race rather than a long slog.  If you listen carefully you’ll hear Arwen grant her place on the boat to Frodo, something she doesn’t do until over half-way through Book VI in the book.

Since Frodo was the limited POV character in Book One, it ends with him falling unconscious.  The film waits for its intermission (between discs and in any theatres that still used intermissions) until after the council.

Book Two

Chapter I – Many Meetings  –  There are some small changes such as Bilbo’s presence being announced earlier and the interactions as the characters arrive.  And, of course, Gandalf tells us about Saruman (which had also been shown in part earlier in the film) to Elrond rather than us hearing it at the council.

Chapter II – The Council of Elrond  –  Because they needed to convey a greater sense of urgency, things are done a bit differently, especially of course the other two hobbits hiding and the choosing of the fellowship at the end (something that is not nearly as dramatic in the book and the characters certainly don’t announce themselves as they do in the film but it’s a great moment in the film).

Chapter III – The Ring Goes South  –  A few differences (some lines are moved between characters, there is earlier talk of Moria, no wolf attack) but the general concept holds.  The film shows more of a friendship between Boromir and the other two hobbits, designed to be echoed when he sacrifices himself for them.

Chapter IV – A Journey in the Dark  –  Fairly faithful although the battle against the watcher in the water is longer and more involved in the film.  There is no mention made of Gollum in the book though Frodo thinks they are being followed.

Chapter V – The Bridge of Khazad-Dum  –  The battle against the orcs is much longer in the film and the orcs don’t flee due to the Balrog.  A small line about jumping over a fissure becomes the big scene on the stairs, one of the more cinematic scenes in the film.  There is much debate among Tolkien fans over how big a Balrog precisely is.  Except for maybe the Battle of Helm’s Deep, there is no chapter in the entire book that has as large a percentage of screen time in relation to pages as this one.

Chapter VI – Lothlorien  –  Much compressed, moving the action to meeting Galadriel as quickly as possible.

Chapter VII – The Mirror of Galadriel  –  Faithful in the two main scenes (the greeting of the Fellowship, the actual mirror scene) with a couple of lines moved between people.  Sam’s vision in the mirror is the only aspect of the Scouring of the Shire that we’ll see in the film.

Chapter VIII – Farewell to Lorien  –  The gift-giving is somewhat different (and much abridged except in the EE) with Aragorn and Sam getting different gifts than in the book (Sam not getting his gift was a sure sign that the scouring wouldn’t be in the film).

Chapter IX – The Great River  –  Much truncated until we get to Rauros other than the Argonath.

Chapter X – The Breaking of the Fellowship  –  Mostly faithful to the book, though, of course Aragorn never finds Frodo before Frodo leaves.  Still, it’s in character for both and gives Aragorn the chance to refuse the ring.  Much of the action of the first chapter of the second volume is included in the film but I’ll discuss that in the 2002 post.

The Credits:

directed by Peter Jackson.  screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson.  Based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien.

In the Bedroom

The Film:

This is, as I wrote about in my original review, one of the most personally painful films for me to watch.  This time, given how well I remembered it, given how I had already reviewed it and given that I was mostly focusing on it as an adaptation (which there isn’t a whole lot of – see below), I spent a lot of the time fast forwarding or leaving it on the background while focusing on other things (including writing this review).  It is a masterfully made film from a director who has not gone on to other things.  He made Little Children, as I mentioned in the original review, and hasn’t made a film since.  It has three amazing performances at its core and is a reminder that Marisa Tomei is one of the most sensually talented actresses to ever work in film and that her sensuality plays an important part in the film because of how her lover embraces her and how her lover’s father lives through their affair.  See it once and then hope you don’t trap yourself into having to see it two more times because that’s a bit much to take.

The Source:

Killings” by Andre Dubus  (1980)

A powerful short story about the parents of a man who is killed by his girlfriend’s ex-husband and how their need to see him punished and removed from the world overcomes all the reasons why you wouldn’t do such a thing.  Just look at this masterful final paragraph:

“She was holding him, wanting him, and he wished he could make love with her but he could not.  He saw Frank and Mary Ann making love in her bed, their eyes closed, their bodies brown and smelling of the sea; the other girl was faceless, bodiless, but he felt her sleeping now; and he saw Frank and Strout, their faces alive; he saw red and yellow leaves falling to the earth, the snow; falling and freezing and falling; and holding Ruth, his cheek touching her breast, he shuddered with a sob that he kept silent in his heart.”

The Adaptation:

The story begins after the son has already been killed and the killer released on bail.  We get the back story of what happened through Dubus’ masterful narration but over half the film takes place before the story even starts.  Even then, the Dubus story focuses more on how the couple feel about the killer and how they can go on rather than dealing as much with their emotions about their son and each other (and their other two kids, who are cut from the story – Ruth even mentions how they couldn’t have any others).  This is one of those adaptations where almost everything that was on the original page is in the film but there is a whole lot added to it.

The Credits:

Directed by Todd Field.  From his [Andre Dubus] story Killings.  Screenplay: Rob Festinger and Todd Field.
note:  Only the title and acting credits are in the opening titles.  These credits are from the end credits.

Ghost World

The Film:

What a joy this was to see in the theater (and apparently not enough people found this joy as it made just $6.2 million or less than the opening weekends of Tomcats and Freddy Got Fingered).  It was like suddenly someone had decided to make a live-action feature film of Daria.  Enid is very much like Daria – attractive, but not in the obvious high school way, smart, caustic, cynical, always wearing a skirt, pushed away to the outskirts of the high school social set not because she’s an outcast but because she has no interest in being part of it.  Instead of getting the last two years of high school like we got in Daria, we get the summer after high school when Enid must take an art class in order to officially graduate, deal with the stress of the actual world outside of high school where people are expected to have a job and make a living and a strange relationship that she stumbles into by chance and finds that it’s just about the most meaningful thing in her life.

Enid and her best friend Rebecca are trying to figure out what to do now that high school is over but they know they want to continue hanging out and even live together.  Enid is played by Thora Birch who had been a developing child actress for years before bursting through with her star turn in American Beauty and then her work here (which rightly earned her a Globe nom).  Rebecca is played by Scarlett Johansson, who had also been developing as a child actress and really made a play for herself in this year with this and The Man Who Wasn’t There.  But after this film, Birch almost disappeared from feature films until this past year while Johansson would develop as both a serious actress and the hottest person on the planet.  It’s a change in circumstances that I guarantee you no one saw coming.

What happens to Enid develops from a prank that she and Rebecca play on someone who places a personals ad in the paper.  First, feeling sorry for him after their prank, then becoming interested in him, Enid finds herself with a real adult friendship, interacting with someone because of shared interests and fascinating conversation.  That he is much older (played by Steve Buscemi in what is easily the best performance of his career and the moronic voters of the Academy passed him over somehow) and rather strange doesn’t seem to bother her (she’s rather strange herself, after all).  But it leads to a cascade of events that break her friendship with Rebecca and leave her wondering what she is supposed to do with herself now that she has escaped high school.

This is an interesting and painful film to go back to.  It’s not any less brilliant or hilarious than it was when I saw it in the theater but it’s so much more painful to realize, not just what Enid is going through, but also to listen to the painful interactions between the characters.  It’s great writing but it doesn’t make it any easier to sit through.  But it is a very stark reminder that while sometimes audiences get it right, there are a lot of great films that fly considerably under the radar while utter crap that is marketed to the lowest of low can be more successful.

The Source:

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes  (serialized 1993-97, collected 1998)

If Ghost World reads a bit disjointed, as if every chapter has a real ending and the next one picks up a bit oddly, that’s because this was an ongoing strip that Clowes was working on (and publishing) and only later was it collected together as the book that he is most known for.  It’s an ongoing story of Enid (and her friend Rebecca) and what happens to her in the days after high school as she tries to adapt to being out in the world.  It’s an interesting and oddly funny story with a bit of an obtuse ending that allows you to make up your own mind about what’s going to happen to Enid from that point on.

The Adaptation:

As Clowes himself has admitted he both tried to rewrite the story as a film and simply to adapt the original story into a film and he ended up combining the two of them.  For a while, the film follows along pretty well with the original, but the Buscemi character is a one-off appearance in the original strip and after he leaves the diner, that’s it, while in the film he becomes the other primary character in the film and almost everything that happens with his character is different from the original book.  There are a few things in the later part of the book that at least hearken back to the book (including the ending, which apparently many view as a metaphor for suicide which Clowes didn’t intend and at first found a strange notion but has since come around that it’s a possibility since so many people read it that way) but most of the second half of the film is completely original.

The Credits:

Directed by Terry Zwigoff.  Based upon the comic book by Daniel Clowes.  Written by Daniel Clows & Terry Zwigoff.

Vanilla Sky

The Film:

David Aames wakes up in a luxurious Manhattan apartment with a magnificent song playing in the background.  (A brief digression: Cameron Crowe is better than almost any director at matching the music to his films – I once made a mix tape that was all songs from Crowe films, complete with dialogue inserts and trailers making use of Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky – one of my best mix tapes.  Vanilla Sky is no exception and when we begin with Radiohead’s brilliant “Everything in Its Right Place” and then move on, perfectly to “All the Right Friends” by R.E.M. (a new mix of a long beloved b-side for R.E.M. fans), the songs are not only great, but perfectly fit the scenes)  He heads out in his car and notices that no one is around.  He drives and continues to find no one.  Soon he is in Times Square and in one of the great shots in all of film history (yes, a version of it existed in the original film but using Times Square just magnifies it), he is completely alone.  The amazing, lucid world of Times Square is there but the only thing that’s actually vibrantly alive is David himself.  This is the world he has built for himself – filled with amazing color and lights and nothing actually there.

David will find himself at his birthday party later that same day (the Times Square scene was a dream of course, but what a visual image) trying to deal with two different women, the women that will change his life in ways he never could have imagined.  One is Julie, the beautiful blonde that his best friend desperately wants, but who is also described as “the saddest girl to ever hold a martini.”  Julie’s been sleeping with David and she believes that’s a commitment, no matter what David might say and she is not ready to let this go.  But at the party, David will meet Sofia, a woman who will entrance him from the second he lays eyes on her, a woman who can say to him “I’ll tell you in another life when we are both cats.”  That is a line that will circle back to David when he desperately needs it and he will desperately need it because his life will never be the same after that night only he’s not certain how not the same it is.

Vanilla Sky is a fascinating film because you have to decide what to make of it, to decide how much is real.  We move around in time back to the day of the party, forward to David, wearing a mask, sitting in jail for a crime that he’s not sure if he committed and which we’re not sure even happened or, if it did, who it happened to.  We will wonder if we should feel sympathy for David, a handsome, rich man who has it all and while he’s sleeping with his best friend’s ideal girl, he also manages to immediately sweep away the woman that his friend brings to the party.  But he also is entranced by what he finds in Sofia, the woman he had never seen before and never wants to stop seeing.  It’s not just that she is gorgeous (an ironic bit on that in a minute), but that she fascinates him.  He gets glimpses of her life (“I like your life.”  “Well it’s mine and you can’t have it.”) and he wants to see more.  But he gets into a car the next morning and it all goes wrong.

Remakes are a tricky thing.  I saw Vanilla Sky on opening night without having seen abre los ojos but I also stopped at Movie Madness on the way home and rented the original (not knowing that the writer/director was the same person who had scarred me when I saw The Others in the theater a few months before).  I was fascinated to see exactly how much of the story came from the original (the vast majority of it) though also interested to see the way that Crowe improved on the original film.  First of all, there is the casting – it’s not just that he got better looking leads which really amped up the whole idea behind the film (and makes it even more appropriate that Penelope Cruz played the same role – I think the vast majority of people think Cruz is far better looking than Najwa Nimri in the original but, even though I think Cruz is one of the hottest actresses in history and Cameron Diaz does nothing for me, the number of people who think Diaz is hotter is a far higher number than for the original, making David’s interest in her more about her than just being the gorgeous one) but that the cast is so good.  It’s not just Cruise in a great performance or Diaz in a performance that absolutely should have been Oscar nominated (and is better than the Oscar winning performance) but the smaller character parts like Noah Taylor or Tilda Swinton that really hold the film together.  There is also the music and the way that it becomes such an intrinsic part of the film.  But most of all, there is Crowe’s ear for dialogue.  Such lines like the ones mentioned above or “She was a proximity attraction.  That’s mine, you can’t have it.” or “I saw your life flash before my eyes.”) are just fantastic.  Most of all, there is the line “I will see you in another life when are both cats”, because when it is said again, to bring the film to its climax it reminds you of the emotional journey we have been on with David and why we do feel sympathy for someone who is initially so shallow and not worth caring about (which is also a measure of Cruise’s performance).

Is this a matter of having seen this film before seeing the original?  I don’t think it is.  I think this is a more complete film, one that really builds on what the original had done and takes it up another notch.  Sadly, in the almost 20 years since this film, Crowe has never been this good again and has rarely even been remotely close.

The Source:

abre los ojos, guión: Alejandro Amenábar y Mateo Gil, director: Alejandro Amenábar

I didn’t know who Amenábar was when I first went to see The Others and didn’t know much more until after leaving Vanilla Sky and picking up this film on the way home.  I quickly discovered a fiercely original filmmaker with amazing ideas.  Sadly, that hasn’t borne out through his further career.  Mar Adentro was really good but hardly that original, Agora was a bit disappointing and Regression was just terrible.  But later films don’t take away what he did in his first few films and this is no exception, especially when you consider that he was just 25 when this film was released.  How many filmmakers of his quality have even directed a feature film by that age, let alone two (he had already done Thesis) and the list gets even smaller when you ask who has directed a film this good by that age.

César is a good looking, rich young man.  He has pretty much whatever he wants.  He doesn’t particularly want Nuria, the woman he’s been sleeping with.  He does want Sofia, the woman who shows up to his birthday party on the arm of his best friend.  But when Nuria shows up as he leaves Sofia’s place the next morning, things take a dark twist.

From here on out, not only is César never quite sure what is going on in his life, but we are also left in the dark.  He’s injured in a crash but does he wear a mask because he really can’t be healed through surgery or because he’s just taken to hiding behind the mask.  Is he in jail because he killed Nuria?  Or did he kill Sofia?  Or are they the same person because it’s never quite clear to others in the film.  Is this really his life?  Or is something else?

This is the fascinating premise behind Amenábar’s film, a film that Tom Cruise saw and was fascinated by, which ended up with Cruise buying the rights to the remake and Cruise’s then wife Nicole Kidman, starring in Amenábar’s next film.  This film, though really good and visionary is not quite at the same level as Crowe’s remake because of reasons mentioned above.  But it is a really good film and should not be ignored or forgotten simply because a big Hollywood star was in the remade version that was seen by a lot more people.

The Adaptation:

Almost everything that we see in the first film would be seen again in the remake, although Crowe would move it to New York (which gives Times Square for the big scene where no one else is there).  But Crowe would add things (Aames has a much more complicated life and that’s not in the original at all) and would bring mostly his own dialogue to the film rather than relying on the original.  Still, it’s easy to just watch Crowe’s film on a visual level and think it mostly just uses the first film, but that’s because you’re not looking deeper.  Abre los ojos.

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by Cameron Crowe.  Based Upon the Film “Abre Los Ojos”, Written by Alejandro Amenábar and Mateo Gil.

Last Orders

The Film:

Four men meet in a pub.  Or, really three men meet in a pub.  The fourth only pulls up outside and holds down the horn, causing the other three to gather round the window and stare outside.  “It’s a Merc,” they say, astonished at being picked up in such a grand ride.  So they head out.  But there’s really five men.  One of them is in a box.  They brought him inside the pub, even put him up on the counter.  “That’s Jack?” the astonished barman asks.  “Jesus God, what’s he doing here?”  Well, he’s there for last orders, but a different last orders than the barman usually serves.  He’s gone now, burned down to ash, small enough to fit in that box and be carried by his best mates and his lad and is headed off on a ride.

Some British novels make it to Hollywood and end up adapted as if they weren’t British.  High Fidelity made a great story, no matter if it was London or Chicago.  But Last Orders is a distinctly British story and it makes a distinctly British film.  You could imagine four friends wanting to send their friend off in America but the trip wouldn’t be the same.  You wouldn’t have these men, burdened by failed marriages and a memory of a war they all survived, coming back to the same London neighborhood and dreaming of the seaside they could possibly escape to.  But that’s just the novel.  There’s also the film.  The Hollywood version of this would try to pack it with stars but in Britain the character actors are the stars.  So the biggest star of the film, Michael Caine, plays the man in the box and we only get him in flashback scenes (and played as a young man by JJ Feild who is not only eerily accurate as a young Caine but is a dead ringer for a young Alec Guinness).  Instead, we have Bob Hoskins as the man who is holding this group together, Lucky, as christened by his friend during the war, yet not Lucky enough to have the wife or daughter stick around and not Lucky enough to escape being in love with his best mate’s wife for the entirety of their lives.  We have Tom Courtenay as Vic, the man who brings the box because an undertake is a steady profession and it’s one he’s been holding to his entire life.  There is also David Hemmings (the only real weakness in this film is that Hemmings’ eyebrows are so outlandish throughout the entire film that they actually border on annoyingly distracting and you want to reach through the screen and cut them) as another mate and Ray Winstone as Caine’s son, although not really his son, though we don’t find that out for quite a while into the film and that’s actually part of how this all works.

This is not just a story of the men and their trip to the seaside to say goodbye to a friend and father.  It’s also about their past, about how they all came to occupy those stools in the pub every night over the course of the decades, how there were days early on when Caine’s wife (played brilliantly by Helen Mirren, a phrase that seems redundant) would join them but now she won’t even join them for this farewell because she has somewhere else to be and that informs everything else that is going on in the film.

I don’t want to explain everything that will happen because this is such a distinctly British film, a very good film that finds the great actors that are right for the roles and put them all in the right spots and then moves forward from there.  You will get full accounts of their lives but also see the pain that tears at them as they go through the trip and their final farewell.  This was a film that slipped almost completely under the awards radar (the NBR award for Best Ensemble – a pretty good choice and a Satellite nom for Adapted Screenplay).  But it’s maybe the best film by Fred Schepisi, that interesting director who never really made it to the front ranks (who also wrote the script which is fantastic and is doubly so given that this is one of his rare screenwriting credits in a long directorial career).

The Source:

Last Orders by Graham Swift  (1996)

Graham Swift has never really been that well-known here in the States but he is very well-known and well-respected in Britain.  Indeed, this novel actually won the Booker Prize, one of the rare Booker Prize winners that I think really deserved the award and one of the rare ones that I have continued to re-read.  It’s actually modeled somewhat after Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying though that’s not why I think it’s so good.  It’s because of how it tells the story, using various different characters to give us the history of this long friendship and of a long marriage and the requisite pain that it suffered through.  It’s a fantastic novel and absolutely one you should read as Swift manages to give us a variety of different characters and it’s always easy to tell who is speaking (aside from the heading) because he gives each of them their own distinctive voice.

The Adaptation:

A fantastic, faithful and fantastically faithful adaptation.  The vast majority of what we see on-screen is precisely what it was on the page.  What’s more, Schepisi even manages to kind of hold to the various viewpoint characters and move back and forth in time with as much ease as Swift did in the original novel.  I recommend reading the book first because I almost always recommend reading the book first but this is definitely a case where it’s worth it to indulge in both.  They are worth your time.

The Credits:

Written & Directed by Fred Schepisi.  Based upon the novel by Graham Swift.


The Film:

I already reviewed this film here because it was the first Oscar winner for Best Animated Film (a trophy that DreamWorks desperately wanted and that Katzenberg can hold high, especially since they basically peaked right out of the box in that field).  In that review I struggled a bit to explain why I consider Shrek “only” a ***.5 film and not a **** film but that’s still the position that I hold to.  However, that makes it the (increasingly less rare) franchise starter that’s actually bested by a sequel.  This film also has some personal memories for me as the first film where Veronica and I treked out to the Century at Eastgate, the theater that became our home base for major films until they built a much closer Century three years later.

The Source:

Shrek! by William Steig  (1990)

I’m not a big fan of the book but I can see why kids are.  Steig’s ogre is so grotesquely drawn that I just struggle to look at (which, of course, is part of the point) while his donkey looks just like his own Sylvester from Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.  This is a pretty simple (and short) picture book about an ogre who finds true love with a female even uglier than he is.

The Adaptation:

As should be fairly obvious, only the basic premise (ugly ogre, a talking donkey, a marriage at the end) comes from the original book.  Everything else came from the filmmakers at DreamWorks, including, obviously, the numerous, numerous digs taken at Disney from start to finish (for more on that see the review).

The Credits:

Directed by Andrew Adamson, Vickey Jenson.  Based upon the book by William Steig.  Written by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Joe Stillman and Roger S.H. Schulman.
note:  These are from the end credits.  Only the title and actors are listed in the opening credits.

Ocean’s Eleven

The Film:

By 2001 when this film was released, in spite of performances in Out of Sight, Three Kings and O Brother Where Art Thou, George Clooney still had yet to be nominated for an Oscar.  That had not stopped him, however, from being just about the coolest person in Hollywood.  Aside from amazing acting talent (in high evidence in those films), almost unbearable good looks (I remember the first time I watched E.R. and saying “It should be criminal for any guy to be that good looking”) and becoming a powerful voice for activism, he just seemed cool.  That’s why he could slip into the role of Danny Ocean so easily.  Lots of people liked Sinatra but even he never had this level of coolness.  You absolutely believe he would be this smooth and suave, talking his way into and out of things, moving, cool and calm, towards his end goal, which is more than what we think for a good portion of the film.

Danny is just out of prison and required to stay in New Jersey but he’s not going to do that.  He wants to rob a casino (three casinos actually), he wants to work with his friends to do it, he wants to convince a man to bankroll it by robbing the casino he used to own and he has an even more important prize waiting at the end, and, partway through the film, when one of Danny’s crew watches that prize walks down the stairs in that dress and he says “This is the best part of my day” you absolutely understand him and Danny.

Clooney and director Steven Soderbergh had teamed up for Out of Sight.  Then Soderbergh was nominated multiple Oscars in 2000 and won Best Director.  Then came this film, in which the two of them seemed to decide that not every film had to be a serious Oscar contender (though this film is considerably better than some of the Oscar nominees, including the Best Picture winner) and they could have some fun.  To that end, they brought in a fantastic ensemble cast (allowing Brad Pitt to slide into a supporting role and remind us that he’s a brilliant character actor) that could all work together as a team.

This is an exquisite heist film.  It’s not as great a film as something like The Asphalt Jungle or The Killing but it has much more of a sense of fun about it.  There’s no question that this film is a Comedy and it revels in that in the ways the characters interact (most especially almost every single line in the final scene of the film – absolutely my favorite in the film).  But this film also understands its characters and we gets hint of other people they have known and how they have been connected before and will be again (note that it’s not just Rusty who knows Tess – Saul also does).  What’s more, it’s very well made, with some fantastic cinematography among the neon bright of Las Vegas and some good, crisp editing that keeps things moving and also keeps one step ahead of us so we only realize the truth at the same time the mark does.

The Source:

Ocean’s Eleven  (1961), produced and directed by Lewis Milestone, screenplay by Harry Brown & Charles Lederer, based on a story by George Clayton Johnson & Jack Golden Russell.

There’s no question there was an appeal to the Rat Pack.  Most of them had some serious talent that spread over a variety of different manners.  Mostly what they did was hang around together and make people wish they were with them.  They gambled, they drank, they caroused (well, Shirley MacLaine didn’t, but perhaps that’s why she only gets a brief funny cameo in this film rather than a key role) and people thought they were cool, especially Sinatra.  So then this film idea came around and they were perfect for it (supposedly when first pitched the script Sinatra joked “Forget the movie, let’s do the job!”) as a bunch of former Army buddies who have fallen on harder times since the war and decide to rob a Vegas casino.

However that hardly qualifies this film as a classic.  Not only had I never seen it by the time this film was released, I was barely aware of its existence until the remake was announced.  There is a bit of fun to it (most notably when MacLaine shows up as a drunken New Year’s reveler) and there’s some good twists to it (the idea that the money would be dumped into the garbage with one of the crew working for the sanitation department) and, of course, because this was still doing the Code, they don’t get to keep the money and the way that all plays it might be the single best thing in the film (they hide it in a casket but unfortunately the body in the casket is to be cremated so they all sit there together watching their money burn up).

Unfortunately, however, unlike Clooney, Sinatra was not an actor all the time – he was an entertainer and while he could give powerhouse performances, if he wasn’t trying to give one, he relied too much on charm and not enough on talent.  What’s more, while Clooney had multiple future Oscar winners and even more future Oscar nominees among his crew, Sinatra’s crew just doesn’t have the acting chops to make this anything more than a full little caper film with a couple of nice twists.

The Adaptation:

There is a crew of eleven men lead by Danny Ocean.  The crew is robbing a Las Vegas casino.  For the most part, that’s it.  Almost nothing else from the original film, not the characters, not the details of the plot and certainly none of the dialogue carried over into the remake which is probably the remake is really good and the original is just okay.

The Credits:

Directed by Steven Soderbergh.  Screenplay by Ted Griffin.  Based on a Screenplay by Harry Brown and Charles Lederer.  And a story by George Clayton Johnson & Jack Golden Russell.
note:  There are no opening credits.  These are from the end credits.

A.I. Artifical Intelligence

The Film:

It was the big question in the summer of 2001: what would a film with the cold sensibility of Stanley Kubrick and the warm fuzziness of Steven Spielberg be like?  Ironically, even though Kubrick had been dead for almost two and a half years, he had a film released more recently than Spielberg (whose last film was Saving Private Ryan, released in the summer of 1998).  Both of them had advanced the Science Fiction genre by leaps and bounds.  What would this collaboration bring, especially since Kubrick had died before they could really get going on the film?  Well, it certainly brought a mixed bag at first.

First of all, the critics couldn’t quite decide on it.  Some critics thought it wasn’t cerebral enough, some thought it was too cerebral, some thought it brought the right level of emotion that Kubrick normally lacked while others that Spielberg had sugar-coated what Kubrick must have done.  The audiences were divided as well.  The film opened strong (almost the same opening as Ryan) but then faded (it made just a little more than a third of what Ryan made and was the first summer Spielberg film to fail to earn $100 million).  I wasn’t quite certain what I thought of either, thinking that it had gone on too long and gotten a bit too weird at the end, though I was suitably impressed, not just with the special effects, like everyone else, but with the performances of Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law (I actually thought it was a much more impressive performance than Law’s Oscar nominated performance from two years before in The Talented Mr. Ripley) and the way it approached the story.  Veronica, on the other hand, couldn’t stop bawling once the film was over, so emotionally wiped from her journey with Teddy.  This was Science Fiction as approached through fairy tale, not so different from the approach that had made the original Star Wars so delightful.

Osment, who looked like a surefire future star after this and The Sixth Sense but was never able to live up to these two films, is David, the artificial boy who is given to parents whose own child is in a medically induced coma from which he may never recover.  First David must win over his new mother (played quite well by Frances O’Connor, another actress whose career never seemed to be as high as her talent) and then hold on to her affection when her real life son returns.  But that’s the warm fuzzy part of the story.  The story really gets interesting after he and his pet Teddy (a magnificent living teddy bear that is the heart and soul of the story) are abandoned and he meets Gigolo Joe (Law) and has to deal with the Flesh Fair, a futuristic arena where artificial beings are destroyed in front a seething crowd.  The Flesh Fair is in essence the most problematic part because it is the part that is the most interesting, the most suspenseful and yet it is over far too soon and we have so far to go on the journey.

A.I. is a beautifully realized film.  It is, to me, a low level great film that has some weaknesses and could have been shorter and therefore stronger.  But it is also an amazing visionary story with a warm beating heart at its core (Teddy) that draws you in and wonders what kind of future we are creating for ourselves.  Perhaps what is most interesting is that the beings that we create in this film are far more human than the living beings who inhabit it.

The Source:

“Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss  (1969)

This is along the lines of the best Science-Fiction stories in that it creates a believable, understandable world in the far future where a lot has changed and it manages to do it in just a few short pages.  We get the story of David, an artificial boy who has been malfunctioning and the pain that his adoptive human mother feels at knowing that he will have to be returned and probably destroyed.  Just seven pages long but a great example of really short Sci-Fi.

The Adaptation:

Given that the story is only seven pages long it provides a solid blueprint for the first 45 minutes of the film (the first act, essentially).  There are a lot of changes (there is no sick child being replaced or who returns and prompts the malfunction) and while some of the details are the same (the character of Teddy originates in the story but is much more warm and interesting in the film), the film really fleshes things out.

Of course, everything after David and Teddy have been abandoned (and that’s a big change, because the mother points out that Teddy is no trouble and works well and the implication is he will be kept) was completely originated by the filmmakers, as was the obsession with Pinocchio and the Blue Fairy.

The Credits:

Directed by Steven Spielberg.  Screenplay by Steven Spielberg.  Based on a screen story by Ian Watson.  Based on the short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss.
note:  Only the title is in the opening credits.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Film:

I have already reviewed the film as my part of For Love of Film series (the last one when I was still doing all the films in a single post).  This is a great film but in some sense it’s because it’s a Kids film and not really a Fantasy film (though I do classify it as Fantasy if for no other reason than to keep it consistent with all the other films).  It has a truly magnificent and almost instantly iconic score, fantastic art direction and some very solid visual effects.  It also has a great supporting cast (the most surprising bit of which was that the best was Robbie Coltrane with his constant refrain “I shouldn’t have said that”) and solid performances from the three main kids who would just continue to get better as the films would go on.  This was pretty much us fans of the books could have hoped for from the opening film.

The Source:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997)

I list it under the original British title because the book was released in Britain first.  Indeed, it was a big seller, won several prizes and had already been released in Braille in the UK before it finally got released in the States, nearly a year and a half later with various British phrases changed including the title.  It’s a very fun first book though I will repeat what I told Veronica when she first had me read it, not long after we had met and before we started dating: there’s not a character in the book with the depth of Edmund from the Narnia books.  While the Narnia books stayed mostly at the same level and didn’t really grow, these books would grow but that doesn’t change that the first book really does paint almost all of the characters as black or white, something Rowling would greatly improve as she went along in the books.  I have written more about the book here when I covered the books in a For Love of Books post.

The Adaptation:

There are necessary changes, of course, in order to get the book within a reasonable running time (and at close to 2 ½ hours, it’s pretty long for what is essentially a Kids film).  So, the early parts of the book before Harry gets to Hogwarts are massively truncated (it takes a third of the book before Harry gets on the train but just a fifth of the film).  After that, though, almost everything is kept (unlike the later books where subplots are mostly dropped) and while some things are still a little truncated (Norton is gotten rid of pretty quickly in a different manner which means Ron ends up in the forest instead of Neville), it keeps things flowing.  There are a couple of changes when they go after the Stone which actually aren’t to the benefit of the film but I discuss those in my piece on the film itself (and some in the piece on the book itself).  Overall, it’s a very good and very faithful adaptation that does a good job of keeping to the book but getting it onscreen in a reasonable manner as well.

The Credits:

Directed by Chris Columbus.  Screenplay by Steve Kloves.  Based on the Novel by J.K. Rowling.
note:  As will be the standard for all the Harry Potter films, these are from the end credits and only the title of the film is in the opening titles.  In fact, except for the director and except for the fifth film, this will be the same credit for all eight films.

The Pledge

The Film:

In 1995, Sean Penn directed Jack Nicholson in a film about a father who has become an alcoholic after the death of his daughter and wants vengeance on the man being released from prison who is responsible for her death.  In short, it is about revenge.  This film, six years later, has the same general idea, the same star and the same director but this time things are a bit different.  This film isn’t about vengeance.  It’s about protection.

Nicholson this time around plays Jerry Black a cop about to head off to permanent marlin fishing off the coast of Baja but in the midst of his retirement party he heads out to deal with the case of a murdered child.  As the senior man there, the one with the most experience, he tells the parents and the distraught mother pulls a pledge from him that he is going to find the man who killed her daughter.  This will bring him a much different retirement than he had planned and it will not involve Baja.

Jerry is a good detective and that’s because he listens.  He listens to the children who talk about what the dead girl said she had seen before she died.  He listens to the details of two other dead child cases.  He listens to his instincts rather than his old co-workers and he sets out to find the killer.  He discovers that a gas station that seems to be in the middle of these killings is for sale and he sets in, semi retired, but really now a knight on the watch for what he must protect.

What happens to him is unexpected in a couple of different ways.  The first is that he seems to move solidly towards solving the case, picking up clues and finding a child who he thinks might be a target.  But he has also come to fall for the child’s mother and he is torn because he desperately wants to catch the killer and that drive conquers everything else in his life.

This film is based on a novel that was deliberately written to flip the detective novel on its ear (see below).  To Sean Penn’s credit, he doesn’t do the Hollywood thing and have everything come together in the end as had happened once before (see below).  This film contains one of the bleakest of all film endings and you will wonder how you can stand it.  But Penn, in his few directorial efforts has always, like he has as an actor, taken a step back and not allowed for any easy answers.  It is worth seeing for the determination and drive in Nicholson’s performance and a reminder as he was heading into his sunset years that he was one of the very best if not the best that film acting ever had to offer.

The Source:

Das Versprechen: Requiem auf den Kriminalroman by Friedrich Durrenmatt (1958)

Durrenmatt had written a script for a film that had a downbeat ending but he was forced to have a typical ending in which the detective solved the case.  To counteract that notion, he then wrote this fascinating novel in which a retired police chief tells a story to a mystery writer about one of his detectives.  That detective made a pledge to the mother of a murdered child that he would catch the killer and that pledge seemed like it would be met when he befriended a child and was able to set up a trap for the killer but then everything fell apart at the end.  The detective went rather crazy and he would never know what the chief later discovered, that he had been right about the killer but was undermined by fate that made him look as if he were wrong.  It’s a short novel (183 pages) but a fascinating one and the subtitle (which translates to Requiem for a Detective Novel) is an appropriate one.

The Adaptation:

As I said, give Penn credit for sticking to the very downbeat original story.  While the story is moved from the outskirts of Zurich in the 50’s to Reno in the 00’s, the novel itself is brought very faithfully to the screen (without the framing device).  An excellent example of a novel being adapted to the screen, ironic given how the novel came to be written in the first place (and there are strong similarities between that original film and the story in the novel).

The Credits:

Directed by Sean Penn.  Based on the book by Friedrich Durrenmatt (umlats over the u).  Screenplay by Jerzy Kromolowski & Mary Olson-Kromolowski.

Consensus Winner

A Beautiful Mind

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film back in 2012 for my Best Picture post.  That was the second time I had seen the film, after originally seeing it in the theaters and my opinion of it had actually diminished.  There are certainly effective things about it, most notably Crowe’s performance, but also Connelly’s performance and the score.  But the writing of the film is blatantly manipulative and it was aggravating to watch it a second time and even more so this time having now read the book and realizing how little they have to do with each other.  This is definitely not a film that should have won Best Picture and it’s ironic, of course, that Crowe won his Oscar for the least of the three nominated performances he gave in the years 99-01.

The Source:

A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar  (1998)

The title kind of says things in and of itself.  Not the poetry of the title, although that also says something (and indeed, I wonder if they only gave credit to Nasar because she had such a perfect title for it rather than actually owing anything to her book) but that it has no subtitle, which is kind of odd for a book like this, not even an acknowledgement of who the book is about (you may see a subtitle in other editions, including the one I have linked to but the original hardcover edition had no subtitle).  It’s an interesting story of a man I don’t really care about (a mathematician who won the Nobel Prize in Economics) and it does a fairly good job of getting you into his head (where you probably don’t want to be).  The biggest flaw is that this book is written a bit out of order, with Nasar doubling back to cover things again while clueing you in to Nash’s illness, though not nearly in as deceitful a way as the film did.

The Adaptation:

The credit to the book is kind of buried in the end credits, much further in than such a credit usually is and that’s quite appropriate.  The film has a man named John Nash who was a prize mathematician who went to Princeton, had severe mental illness, married a woman named Alicia, was committed, later managed to get better and eventually won the Nobel Prize in Economics.  Those things the book (and real life) and the film have in common.  Pretty much everything else in the film is made up.

The Credits:

Directed by Ron Howard.  Written by Akiva Goldsman.  Based on the Book by Sylvia Nasar.
note:  There are no opening credits.

Consensus Nominee

Bridget Jones’s Diary

The Film:

Much like George Clooney at this point, Renée Zellweger had been giving remarkable performance after remarkable performance (Jerry Maguire, One True Thing, Nurse Betty) and still did not have an Oscar nomination to show for it.  And while Clooney would get grief for doing some lighter fare like Ocean’s Eleven, this was actually the role that finally catapulted Zellweger into the Oscars, the first of three straight nominations that would culminate with an Oscar for Cold Mountain.  But perhaps the Oscars got it right because during the most recent awards season (which culminated with her winning a second Oscar), after listening to one of her speeches, Veronica turned to me and asked where she is from.  She’s from Texas, by the way, yet is so perfectly convincing as the poor British girl who can’t seem to fix her romantic life that it’s understandable that people wouldn’t know that.

I don’t know at what point I realized the truth about the story behind the story.  It had been several years at that point since I had seen the Olivier / Garson Pride and Prejudice and I had not yet read the book at that point (I have actually never seen the 1995 television version that starred Colin Firth and was the inspiration for Fielding’s book in the first place).  But it’s easy to see – the bare bones of the story coming from Austen, Fielding doing a good job of adapting it to a modern British society (you could say it was inspired by what Clueless did with Emma but this kept the essential British elements of the characters intact).

Bridget wants to lose weight, she wants to give up smoking, she wants to live a smarter life.  Most of all she would like to sort out her love life.  Things start to go well with Daniel, who is handsome, smart and charming and doesn’t all mind when Bridget’s short black dress turns out to be hiding a pair of granny panties underneath it.  Unfortunately, Daniel is also her boss, a cad, the kind of man who would sleep with Bridget while also sleeping with someone else and the kind of man who would lie about the past, not only to put himself in a good light but to put a potential rival in a bad light.  That rival, of course, is Mark Darcy, and if you’ve not at all familiar with the character from Austen, he’s smart and good looking but also rather haughty and one who says what he feels even if is without tact.  And of course Bridget will be forced into the position of choosing between this two men and because we’re in Austen territory here, it will be complicated by first finding out the truth about the men that she only thinks she knows.

This is a charming Romantic Comedy, a great date movie.  It’s well written and funny with a nice group of British friends (which I suppose is one of the hallmarks of Richard Curtis, one of the three screenwriters and of course the writer behind Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually, all of which had groups of friends like these and all of which had Hugh Grant playing up his charm) but most of all, it’s got a really good, lovable performance from Zellweger that is the heart of the film and which finally got the Academy’s attention.

The Source:

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding  (1996)

I actually used to own this book even though it is not at all the kind of book that I normally read.  But the film was coming out and I prefer to read books before seeing the film (and I was definitely seeing the film) so I got it used at Powells because I was working there and I had a big employee discount.  It’s an enjoyable read as we dive into one year in the life of Bridget Jones, a complete hot mess, but fun-loving and lovable even if she’s not quite the match of Lizzie Bennett, the character she is modeled upon.  Most of all, it’s a quick and easy read even if it did help kick off a genre I am definitely not a fan of, the modern Chick Lit genre.

The Adaptation:

For the most part, what we get in the film is what we got in the book.  There is more added in for the film (there certainly is no moment in the book where anyone asks Salman Rushdie the directions to the loo) and the ending plays up the potential drama a lot more than the book which kind of slides into the happy ending.

The Credits:

Directed by Sharon Maguire.  Based on the novel by Helen Fielding.  Screenplay by Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies, Richard Curtis.

WGA nominee

Black Hawk Down

The Film:

What happens when you have war in a time of peace?  David Halberstam, one of the great non-fiction writers of modern times gave that title to a book about this era, the time of Bush and Clinton and the military conflicts they had to deal with.  In that book, Halberstam spends part of a chapter on this incident, though he doesn’t go much into detail (he actually references the Bowden book instead, calling it one of the greatest bits of war reporting he had ever read).  But you look back at this era, the time between Vietnam wound down and before 9/11 changed the world and you wonder how we ended up in the position of soldiers dying in a land far away from home in a conflict that many would struggle to remember.

This is a different type of war movie than almost any that had gone before but then again, it was a different kind of war.  What’s more this was a film about a specific incident and it was important to get the details right.  So, there is a considerable amount of attention to detail (which is part of why the Editing and Sound were so good that they won the Oscars), time spent establishing the characters and the events of the day are provided down to the minute.  Ridley Scott, coming off a Best Picture win for Gladiator, really upped his game here.  He bled the colors out, just like he had for that film, but this time it’s because of the African sun beating down from the sky, of the starkness of the events that left 19 soldiers dead.

The decision on the film was not to fill it with stars, not to give a real lead role to anybody (Josh Hartnett comes the closest and he wasn’t really a star) but to make use of a lot of rising stars.  So it’s not surprising to see all the major franchises represented here, from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings (Ewan McGregor and Orlando Bloom are given roles that are almost the opposite of their major roles in those franchises) to Star Trek, Harry Potter and even Game of Thrones.

None of this, however, makes it any easier to watch the film.  It’s a great film, fantastically shot and constructed by Scott, his cinematographer (Slawomir Idziak) and his editor (Pietro Scalia).  But it’s so relentlessly bleak, the attempt to get rid of a warlord that it turned out may not have been as unpopular as was thought (a problem that America has made before).  You watch it and you wonder how things could have gone so wrong and then you remember that this film came out before the invasion of Iraq and you wonder if anyone in the White House actually saw it.  Probably not.

The Source:

Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War by Mark Bowden  (1999)

Mark Bowden is a fantastic journalist but I haven’t read that much of his work because he has this tendency to write about stories that I don’t really want to read.  This is a first-rate piece of journalism, a detailed story of exactly what happened during that awful day, why it went wrong and what the aftermath was.

The Adaptation:

I can punt on this.  Whoever has entered info on the Wikipedia page has filled in a lot of details about the film and how it relates to what actually happened (and thus how it relates to what is detailed in Bowden’s book).  For the most part the film follows pretty close on real events.  I will note that the book dives right in without bothering to establish all the soldiers involved, instead giving more of their individual stories later in the book as it deals with their actions over the day.  The film tries to establish the characters first, giving you an idea of who they are before the actions begin, so that the soldier falling out of the helicopter (in the book it seems to be something that was discovered afterwards instead of noticing as it happened as a result of the helicopter swerving) happens as quickly as page 16 while it takes a lot more screen time before we get to that moment.


Directed by Ridley Scott.  Screenplay by Ken Nolan.  Based on the book by Mark Bowden.
note:  These are from the end credits.  Only the title is in the opening credits.

BAFTA nominee


The Film:

A film is less than just the sum of its parts.  That’s why this film with a fairly solid script and some much more than solid performances is still only a high *** film while films in this same year that can’t come close to matching the level of acting from the four primary actors can rise above it on the list.  This film is smart and it has characters who are smart and interesting and love words but there is something a bit lifeless about the film as a whole that keeps it from being great or even very good.

If words are the light of your life, if the use of words is what you do for a living, if you love words, in some ways, more than life itself, what to do when the darkness creeps in and leaves you in a place where you can’t find enough illumination to light up the word you are looking for?  That’s the story of Iris Murdoch.

Murdoch was a free spirit at a time when a free spirit hadn’t yet been embraced by the general public.  She had an odd hair style and if there was a sensuality about her she wasn’t really beautiful (certainly not as beautiful as Kate Winslet who plays her though the hair is definitely accurate) and she learned to love that sensuality and embrace it.  Sex was something beautiful and it could inspire her words, so why not embrace that?  Because words were what her life was about.  By the time she met John Bayley who would be the great love of her life, no matter who she would share her body with, she was already a published author, in fact had just published her greatest novel, Under the Net, a novel so good that by the time this film was made it had been acknowledge by the Modern Library as one of the best of the century.  Played by Kate Winslet as that young free spirit, she would have a strange romance with Bayley (played quite well by Hugh Bonneville, looking both older and younger than he does now because of his hair) and they would marry and she would go on to an amazing writing career that would last another four decades and see her win a Booker Prize and become of the most beloved writers in Britain.

But there is also the darkness.  We also get a much older Iris (played by Judi Dench in the stretch where it seemed Dench would be nominated for an Oscar every year) and John (in an Oscar winning role for Jim Broadbent although, first, it’s questionable if it’s even supporting, second it’s questionable if it’s actually better than his performance the same year in Moulin Rouge (the double whammy probably helped him win) and third, it’s questionable if he’s actually better than Bonneville who got very shortchanged by all the awards groups but all of that makes it sound like Broadbent doesn’t give a great performance when in fact he actually does).  In her 70’s, Murdoch would be stricken by Alzheimer’s and the words that had once lit up her life now escape her grasp.

But this film isn’t all bleakness because it tempers the darkness with the light.  We get the past and the present, intermixed together, as we watch the couple fall in love at the same time as we watch a long-tempered couple trying to hold themselves together.  It makes for an uneven film but for an acting treat.

One last personal note about this film.  My mother is constantly mixing people up.  But she continues to mix up Jim Broadbent and Hugh Bonneville even though they are so different in age that in this film they play the same character at two different ages.

The Source:

Elegy for Iris by John Bayley  (1999)

First a quick note on this book.  If you were to look at the credits for the film, you would think that there are two separate books that were used to form the basis for the screenplay.  However, even though it says nothing in the film and says nothing in the book itself, this book, published in the U.S. in 1999 is in fact the same book as Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch published in 1998 in the U.K..  I don’t know why the book doesn’t mention that or why the film credits both titles as if they are two different books.

If you were to look online you could find the full range of reactions to this book from it being a beautiful memoir of a man and his time with his wife to a description of it being boring and not giving much of the description of a prominent writer’s work to it being decried as the intellectual rape of a woman who was no longer able to speak for herself.  Bayley was married to Murdoch for a long time, enduring her constant infidelity during their long marriage during which time Murdoch also become an internationally renowned author and then on into her time in decline when she could no longer reach the words that had been so important to her.  It’s well-written and poignant though it’s a bit too much of a memoir for me and not enough about a great writer.  But then again, that’s exactly what Bayley is trying to write so I’m really just asking for a different kind of book which is a bit petulant.

The Adaptation:

As is often the case with adaptations from books like this there are some scenes in the book that make it to the film intact but for the most part this is just a building block from which the filmmakers fashioned their script.  Of course it doesn’t contain much in the way of dialogue as such books usually don’t while the film contains a considerable amount of dialogue (some would say too much).


Directed by Richard Eyre.  Based on John Bayley’s Books Iris: A Memoir & Elegy for Iris.  Written by Richard Eyre, Charles Wood.

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.

  • The Tailor of Panama  –  John Boorman makes a low ***.5 film out of John le Carre’s book (which I haven’t read since I’ve only read the early pulp ones I own).
  • Tape  –  Proof that I can admit when someone I hate gives a good performance.  Ethan Hawke is quite good in this film version of Stephen Belber’s play that kind of plays on Hawke having starred in Dead Poets Society with co-star Robert Sean Leonard (and also that Uma Thurman is the woman they argue over).  High ***.
  • The Shipping News  –  High ***.  But while the book is fantastic (see the full review here where I also review the film) the film doesn’t seem to fully satisfy anybody.
  • Liam  –  Like Boorman’s film, another overlooked film from a Top 100 Director, this time Stephen Frears, directing this adaptation of the novel Back Crack Boy.  Low ***.5
  • The Deep End  –  Very loosely adapted from the novel The Blank Wall (already filmed by Max Ophüls as The Reckless Moment).  If Vanilla Sky was the film that made me finally notice Tilda Swinton, this was the film that finally made me start paying attention to her.  Low ***.5.
  • The Road Home  –  Even though this is another Top 100 Director (Zhang Yimou) this film, released in China in 1999, probably wouldn’t have gotten its U.S. release if not for Zhang Ziyi’s powerhouse performance in Crouching Tiger.  Filmed before that, here she is utterly adorable in her film debut.  Adapted from the Bao Shi novel Remembrance.  Low ***.5.

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)


note:  Again, more total movies than the year before but fewer adaptations.

  • Maids  –  Two years before he would be a surprise Oscar nominee for City of God, Fernando Meirelles gives us this Comedy based on the play by Renata Melo.  High ***.
  • Burnt Money  –  Based on the novel by Ricardo Piglia, which was based on a real 1965 bank robbery, this is an Argentine Suspense film.
  • Faraon  –  The last major novel from Polish writer Bolesław Prus, this film version was actually made in 1966 and earned an Oscar nomination for Foreign Film but waited until 2001 for an L.A. release.
  • The Golden Bowl  –  Massively over-rated Henry James novel that I was forced to read in grad school makes for a solid James Ivory film.
  • Focus  –  Anti-semitism is the focus of this film version of Arthur Miller’s novel.
  • From Hell  –  A great graphic novel becomes a much more solid film than most such graphic novels become.  Based on the Alan Moore / Eddie Campbell exploration of Jack the Ripper.
  • The Circle  –  The old oscars.org listed this Jafar Panahi Drama as adapted perhaps because Panahi provided the “idea” but didn’t write the script.  Solid film about Iran’s treatment of women.
  • Planet of the Apes  –  The first film on this part of the post that I saw in the theater; it had an ending that drove people nuts but which I feel I must point out is literally straight from the book.  I hold this film to be higher than most people do but it’s still not as good as the 1968 version.  This brings us to mid ***.
  • Charlotte Gray  –  It was Cate Blanchett’s year and this is already her third film in this post.  Solid Gillian Armstrong directed Romance based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks.
  • Hearts in Atlantis  –  Based on Stephen King’s book, except that the book was a collection of short pieces and the title piece of the book was not this story (this story was called “Low Men in Yellow Coats”).  The Carol character actually is in the title story except that she’s in college.  Odd choice to make the film since the only way it really makes sense is if you’ve read the Dark Tower books and Hopkins’ character later makes an appearance in those books.
  • Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within  –  The video game already had lots of iterations before this film came out (don’t know how many, don’t care), so it was natural to have the film come along.  And it wasn’t bad.  But it was expensive and domestically this film didn’t even crack the Top 70 for the year at the box office.
  • Joint Security Area  –  Early solid Suspense film from Chan-wook Park who, until a couple of months ago, I would have described as the most well-known and highly-regarded South Korean director.  Based on the novel DMZ.
  • Behind the Sun  –  Brazilian Drama from Walter Salles based on the novel by Ismail Kadare.
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch  –  John Cameron Mitchell adapts his own stage show, writing, directing and starring.  It’s gone on to become a big cult film.
  • Under the Sun  –  Swedish Oscar nominee from 1999 based on the novel by H. E. Bates.  Low ***.
  • The Wide Blue Road  –  A 1957 Italian film from then future Oscar nominee Gillo Pontecorvo that finally got an L.A. release.  Based on the novel Squarciò by Franco Solinas who would later be Oscar nominated for co-writing The Battle of Algiers with Pontecorvo.
  • Don’t Say a Word  –  Michael Douglas stars in this Suspense film based on the novel by Andrew Klavan.
  • Baise-moi  –  Disturbing and very violent French film based on the novel by director Virginie Despentes.
  • Our Lady of the Assassins  –  Crime film from former Oscar nominee Barbet Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune) based on the novel by Fernando Vallejo.
  • Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust  –  Anime Horror film based on the third novel in the series.
  • The Luzhin Defence  –  John Turturro and Emily Watson star in this adaptation of one of Nabokov’s early novels (usually published in the U.S. as just The Defense).
  • Audition  –  Serial killer Japanese Horror film based on the novel by Ryü Murakami.
  • The Caveman’s Valentine  –  A weird Mystery starring Samuel L. Jackson and based on the novel by George Dawes Green.
  • Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back  –  Adapted in that most of the characters already existed in previous Kevin Smith’s films.  This film has not held up well (because Jason Mewes is so fucking annoying) though the soundtrack is still great.  Even at low *** (which is probably higher than most would have it) it’s still eons better than the reboot from last year which is a shame because I think it’s pretty obvious I really like Kevin Smith.
  • Jurassic Park III  –  We drop to high **.5 with the third installment that at least brought back Sam Neill and Laura Dern.  Considerably better than Lost World but still weak enough both in terms of quality and box office ($181 million which is very good but still half of what the original made even before inflation) that you wonder, how, when they revived the franchise 14 years later, it went through the roof.
  • Enemy at the Gates  –  It’s like when Joseph Fiennes teamed up with Jude Law in this World War II film based on the non-fiction book by William Craig he handed off any star power he had and never got it back.  Since this film, I’ve seen one Fiennes film in the theater and 12 Law films.
  • Legally Blonde  –  I’m surprised this wasn’t original but it was apparently based on a novel by Amanda Brown.  Not my thing and I don’t really think it’s all that good.  I’m not a Witherspoon fan but I appreciate that she can be great rather than just ditzy.
  • Va savoir  –  French film that’s sort of based on the Pirandello play and having read Pirandello in college that seems about the best you can get from a film.
  • Lantana  –  Depressing Australian film based on the play Speaking in Tongues.
  • The Crimson Rivers  –  Another disturbing, violent French film, this one based on the novel Red Blood Rivers.
  • Blow  –  We’re down to mid **.5.  This has a great international cast (Depp, Cruz, Franka Potente, Rachel Griffiths) but can’t do enough with it.  Based on the non-fiction book by Bruce Porter about an American cocaine smuggler.
  • Sordid Lives  –  Small little Drama directed by Del Shores and based on his stage play (with much of the same cast).
  • Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade  –  Anime film based on the Manga series Kerberos Panzer Cop.
  • O  –  Julia Stiles completes her Shakespeare trilogy, this time playing Desdemona to Mekhi Phifer’s Othello and Josh Hartnett’s Iago.  They are all kind of out of their depths.
  • Pavilion of Women  –  Maybe it would have been better if it had been a Chinese film instead of an American production in English with a mostly Chinese cast (except Willem Dafoe).  Based on the novel by Pearl S. Buck.
  • Spriggan  –  We drop to low **.5 with yet another Manga series turned into an Anime film.
  • The Mummy Returns  –  The sequel to the very fun 1999 film reunites the original cast and for some reason Rachel Weisz is much hotter (especially in the flashback to ancient Egypt scenes) but that’s the only particularly good thing that can be said for it.  Don’t buy into the whole scene reflecting the sun into the pyramid – Mythbusters showed how false that was.
  • Intimacy  –  It’s hard for my brain to reconcile that this is the same Mark Rylance from Bridge of Spies and Wolf Hall having sex with Kerry Fox in this Drama based on stories by Hanif Kureishi.
  • Escanaba in da Moonlight  –  Jeff Daniels does it all, directing, starring and not only writing but having written the original play as well.  Unfortunately his Comedy isn’t all that good.
  • K-PAX  –  Weak Sci-Fi film based on the novel by Gene Brewer and if Brewer didn’t simply plagiarize Man Facing Southeast than he coincidentally wrote the same story but didn’t do it nearly as well.
  • The Body  –  Antonio Banderas Suspense film based on the novel by Richard Sapir.
  • American Pie 2  –  This first sequel to the hit original film is at least tolerable which is more than can be said for the rest of the franchise to come.
  • Bully  –  Disturbing film about the murder of a teenager based on the non-fiction book about the actual crime.
  • The Other Side of Heaven  –  On the one hand, it’s based on a Mormon missionary’s autobiography.  On the other hand, it has an early film role for Anne Hathaway.
  • The Prince of Light: The Legend of Ramayana  –  Released under several titles, this Indian Animated film took years to make it to theaters.  Based on the Ramayana.
  • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider  –  We get to ** with this crappy film (which I admit I saw in the theater) adaptation of the video game (which I have never played).
  • Hannibal  –  In between winning Best Picture for Gladiator (admittedly undeservedly) and earning an Oscar nom for directing Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott made this crappy sequel to Silence of the Lambs.  Granted, the book by Thomas Harris was simply awful, so there wasn’t much that could be done.
  • The Princess Diaries  –  The adaptation of Meg Cabot’s YA novel shows that all you need to do to go from awkward to hot is have your eyebrows plucked (and look like Anne Hathaway in the first place).
  • Zoolander  –  I can never actually remember if I saw this in the theater or not.  I think I actually did which is astounding since I don’t like Stiller, Wilson or Ferrell.  The old oscars.org didn’t consider it adapted but it is in the sense that the character had already been created by Stiller for some shorts for VH1 back in the 90’s.
  • Lost and Delirious  –  Canadian schoolgirl Drama based on the novel The Wives of Bath by Susan Swan.
  • The Trumpet of the Swan  –  The third of E.B. White’s children classics (I have it in a box set with Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little) becomes a weak animated film.
  • Just Visiting  –  The Visitors gets remade in English.  Even though it uses the original French stars, it’s still bad (mid **).
  • The Legend of Zu  –  Remake of the 1983 film and based on the same Chinese legend but not very good in spite of a brief appearance by Zhang Ziyi.
  • Captain Corelli’s Mandolin  –  Based on a best-selling (and in Britain, beloved) novel and the follow-up to Shakespeare in Love for director John Madden, this was pushed as Oscar bait and a grand epic.  But it’s fairly bad and bombed at the box office.  One of a number of 2000-2001 films that used Penelope Cruz as the beauty who is desired but didn’t actually ask her to act.
  • Someone Like You  –  Lame Ashley Judd Rom-Com based on the novel Animal Husbandry.
  • Dr. Dolittle 2  –  Worse sequel to a film that wasn’t that good to begin with.
  • Les Boys III  –  Third in the Canadian Comedy series.
  • Riding in Cars with Boys  –  Anyone: I overcame difficulty in life and then wrote a book about it and they made a movie about it.  Me: I don’t care about your life.
  • Down to Earth  –  We drop to low ** with Chris Rock’s remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan / Heaven Can Wait.
  • The King is Alive  –  It makes considerable use of King Lear so it’s sort of adapted.  It’s also a Dogme 95 film so it’s more than sort of annoying.
  • Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel  –  Another true life story except this one was a play in between life and the movie.
  • Rush Hour 2  –  More Zhang Ziyi and again she can’t save this crap.
  • Chopper  –  A cult film in Australia where the real Chopper lived, went to prison, wrote this book and where the film was made.  You can follow a debate on the merits of the film in the comments here.
  • Texas Rangers  –  Very loosely based on a book by a real Texas Ranger this film is like Young Guns but with a younger and much crappier group of actors.
  • Pokemon 3: The Movie  –  I see these because I want to check off all the animated films on the year but they’re all interchangeable in my head.
  • Hardball  –  More true story crap (from a book this time), with Keanu as a gambler coaching inner city baseball.
  • Recess: School’s Out  –  The Disney animated show gets a crappy feature film.
  • Marco Polo – Return to Xanadu  –  The very first Australian animated feature film (from 1972) gets re-edited and released for Oscar consideration and it’s crap.  I haven’t seen the original version.
  • Along Came a Spider  –  James Patterson now gives independent bookstores a lot of money which helps weigh against the horrible things he’s written and had made into films.  The second Alex Cross film.
  • What’s the Worst That Could Happen?  –  Terrible film version of a Donald E. Westlake novel starring Danny DeVito and Martin Lawrence.
  • Sweet November  –  We drop straight to mid *.5 with this crappy Keanu-Charlize Theron Romance based on the 1968 film.
  • The Invisible Circus  –  Now we’re down to high * with this Drama based on the novel by Jennifer Egan.  This is why you shouldn’t meet authors.  I met Egan and really liked her but this movie is just awful and I intensely hated her book A Visit from the Goon Squad.
  • Exit Wounds  –  I didn’t think Steven Seagal still had a film career by 2001 but here you go.  Terrible Action film based on the novel by John Westermann.
  • The Musketeer  –  Hong Kong style choreography meets Dumas and it’s a disaster.  Doesn’t help that Justin Chambers as d’Artangan makes Chris O’Donnell’s performance look like Olivier.  Mid *.
  • Thir13en Ghosts  –  Even if it wasn’t a crappy Horror remake of a 1960 cult film it would deserve to be this low just for the stupid stylization of the title.
  • Original Sin  –  The Truffaut version (Mississippi Mermaid) of the novel Waltz Into Darkness was my #8 Adapted Screenplay of 1970.  This version with Banderas and Jolie is just awful (yes, I went ahead and saw it even after what I wrote in that review).  Low *.
  • Double Take  –  A Graham Greene story that became an okay film somehow becomes a shitty buddy Comedy with Omar Epps and Eddie Griffin.
  • Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles  –  The second film was really flawed but at least had a solidly done ending.  This film has nothing good about it.
  • Monkeybone  –  Famous for being a critical disaster and a massive box office bomb and it’s as bad as people said (down to .5 films now).  Based on the graphic novel Dark Town by Kaja Blackley.
  • Josie and the Pussycats  –  The Archie comic book and animated show becomes a terrible Musical film.
  • Valentine  –  Awful slasher film based on a novel by Tom Savage.  Low .5.
  • Scary Movie 2  –  The first one had some genuinely funny moments.  But this seems to be the start of the long terrible string of parodies that would come out over the following decade.
  • Megiddo: The Omega Code 2  –  Still not the worst film of 2001 thanks to Freddy Got Fingered but this mindless sequel still gets zero stars.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • none

The highest grossing Adapted film I haven’t seen from 2001 is Left Behind (#157, $4.2 mil – which makes it the highest grossing film I haven’t seen from 1989 to 2004) and no other film, adapted or original, is higher than 175 and $2.3 mil  And I flat out refuse to watch Left Behind.  This will become a theme from here on out – with a couple of exceptions that are more personal, in general the highest film I haven’t seen from here forward is preachy Christian crap.  Unless there are sequels that are not obviously named Karmina 2: L’enfer de Chabot (#230, $508,969), a French Canadian Horror film is the only sequel listed at BOM that I haven’t seen.

Of the 10 Oscar eligible films I haven’t seen in this year only three of them are adapted: A Song for Martin, Lakeboat and Anarcadium.