“As Laura sets the plates and forks on the table – as they ring softly on the starched white cloth – it seems she has succeeded suddenly, at the last minute, the way a painter might brush a final line of color onto a painting and save it from incoherence; the way a writer might set down the line that brings to light the submerged patterns and symmetry in the drama. It has to do, somehow, with setting plates and forks on a white cloth. It is as unmistakable as it is unexpected.” (p 207)

My Top 10

  1. The Hours
  2. Adaptation
  3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  4. Minority Report
  5. The Pianist
  6. The Quiet American
  7. About a Boy
  8. Road to Perdition
  9. Solaris
  10. About Schmidt

note:  A fantastic Top 5 and Top 10 as should be expected from one of the best years in film history.  There is also a very long list after that.  My #11 (Catch Me if You Can), #12 (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) and #15 (Chicago) are reviewed because of award considerations.  But my full list was 30 films long and the other 17 are listed down at the bottom.
note:  Until libraries fully reopen in San Diego, this is the list Adapted Screenplay post I can do.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. Adaptation  (536 pts)
  2. About Schmidt  (216 pts)
  3. The Pianist  (192 pts)
  4. The Hours  (192 pts)
  5. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind  (128 pts)

note:  For the first time ever, five different films win an award, something that won’t happen again until 2013.  In spite of that, Adaptation dominates.  It actually has a lower percentage total than A Beautiful Mind from the year before (because of so many more awards) but close to twice as many points with the highest wins, nominations and points since 1997.  In spite of losing the Oscar, WGA and Globe, it has the 5th highest point total ever (through 2019).
note:  This is the third time (following 1998 and 1999) that the Oscar, WGA and BAFTA go to three different films.  But, in those two years, the Globe went to an Original Screenplay.  This is the first (and because in 2013, again the Globe would go to an Original Screenplay, the only) time that those four awards would go to four different Adapted Screenplays.
note:  In sixth place is About a Boy with 120 points, still the highest number of points for a film not to earn a Consensus nomination (though American Sniper would later tie it), followed by Chicago in seventh place with 112 points (only Brooklyn and Fences have as many points without a Consensus nom and they both finished in sixth).

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

  • The Pianist
  • About a Boy
  • Adaptation
  • Chicago
  • The Hours

note:  About Schmidt is the first Globe winner that is adapted to fail to earn an Oscar nomination since 1980 and just the fourth ever.

WGA:

  • The Hours
  • About a Boy
  • About Schmidt
  • Adaptation
  • Chicago

Golden Globes:

  • About Schmidt
  • Adaptation
  • Chicago
  • The Hours

Nominees that are Original:  Far From Heaven

BAFTA:

  • Adaptation
  • About a Boy
  • Catch Me if You Can
  • The Hours
  • The Pianist

BFCA:

  • Adaptation  /  Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
  • About Schmidt

Nominees that are Original:  My Big Fat Greek Wedding

note:  After a year in which no critics awards went to an adapted script, all of the critics awards go to adapted scripts (although Human Nature, an original also written by Charlie Kaufman co-won the NBR).

NYFC:

  • Adaptation

LAFC:

  • About Schmidt

NSFC:

  • The Pianist

BSFC:

  • Adaptation

CFC:

  • Adaptation

NBR:

  • Adaptation  /  Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

My Top 10

The Hours

The Film:

At the moment I am writing this, I am looking at the Adapted Screenplay ranking which means I don’t have to think about where this film falls in the overall Picture race.  This is an amazing year with two films a notch above the rest (Two Towers, Gangs of New York) but then a bunch all together and sometimes when I do the list this becomes the very rare (one of just five) films to win Adapted Screenplay and not earn a Picture nomination.  But that’s only because this year is so stacked.  The film is brilliantly written, amazingly edited and has acting among the very best in film history.  And it manages to do all of that with a very literary subject and a cast dominated by females, two things which Hollywood has never been that inclined towards.  After writing all that, I am in the midst of preparing my Top 1000 of all-time.  I can sort the spreadsheet and see that this film does finish in 6th for the year.  The only other years where it would finish 6th are 1946, 1969 and 1996.  In only four other years would it finish as low as 5th (1960, 1962, 1974, 2003).  In twelve years it would have won the Nighthawk and in 27 different years it would have been the #2 film.  That’s how great this year is.

The Source:

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize, an award I gave an A- to.  It was the best of a strong group of three finalists (Cloudsplitter and The Poisonwood Bible were the other two) and it also managed to win the PEN/Faulkner Award.  It takes a brilliant imaginative look at the start of the writing of Mrs. Dalloway in 1923, at a woman reading the novel in 1949 and the way one woman kind of lives the life of the main character in 1999.  It uses the three different periods to not only look at the book but also the women themselves and the way sexual orientation can change and be liberated over time and how society reacts to that.  It is a very good book, all the more so because it moves with ease between three different time periods and yet creates a perfect blueprint for all of the characters and understanding them.

The Adaptation:

There are a few small moments in the book that are different (like how Louis is not expected but simply drops in in the original book or how Clarissa meets Mrs. Brown at the airport, rather than her simply showing up at the apartment and the meeting between Leonard and Virginia is moved from a street to the station) but for the most part this is a very faithful adaptation of the book.  The way the film moves with ease between the timelines and the way the final revelation works at the end both speaks to the quality of the original book and the ways the pieces worked as well as the magnificent screenplay and the first-rate award worthy editing that brings the film together as a coherent whole.

The Credits:

Directed by Stephen Daldry.  Based on the book by Michael Cunningham.  Screenplay by David Hare.

Adaptation.

The Film:

A few notes on the film Adaptation:

1 – This film has one of the greatest trailers ever made.  It is a perfect example of how to show all the things about the film that would make you want to see it (the creators, the actors, the bizarre surreal quality of it) and makes brilliant use of a fantastic song (“Under Pressure”) yet never really gives away the film itself.  Too many trailers either give you a hook that ruins the film, don’t give you a good enough hook or use a song that doesn’t work.  Here, everything works together in perfect conjunction.

2 – Before the awards started chiming in, it was unclear how Adaptation would be treated.  Yes, it made use of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief but it was more about how the film had even been made than an adaptation of the book.  But then it started getting listed as adapted and that was that.

3 – Pseudonyms had been used before and had even earned Oscar nominations.  Rodrick Jaynes is a fake name that the Coen Brothers use for their editing credit.  Robert Towne credited his script for Greystoke to his dog.  But Donald Kaufman is the first fictional character to earn an Oscar nomination.

4 – This film is proof positive that Tilda Swinton doesn’t have to look like a freak in films like Suspiria and The Grand Budapest Hotel but can actually be incredibly good looking.  The irony is that she actually resembles Susan Orlean much more than Meryl Streep does (though Orlean’s hair is a lot longer and she has a lot of freckles).

5 – This film is also proof that Judy Greer doesn’t always have to play the best friend or the mom.  She’s plenty good looking in her own right to have played romantic leads but even though she gets relegated to weird roles (think Arrested Development) and has a sense of humor about that (her memoir is titled I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star) you understand why Charlie is interested in her.

6 – After his early goofy but good roles (Raising Arizona, Moonstruck, Honeymoon in Vegas), Nicolas Cage moved on to serious acting.  But, other than Leaving Las Vegas (deserved Oscar win) and here (deserved Oscar nomination as two very different twin brothers) he’s actually been a mess of an actor.  But these two performances keep making people hope he can be better again and I think it’s mostly false hope.

7 – Even though this is a film that focuses on Florida, Hollywood and New York, it was a highly anticipated film in Portland where I was living at the time because Susan Orlean is the biggest success story from the Willamette Week, the weekly free alternative newspaper in Portland that she wrote for before graduating on to The New Yorker.  I like her a lot and was so glad when she finally wrote The Library Book, a book that is a pain to look up in a library system (ironically) but at least was on a subject I was interested in (see below).

8 – I remember the following year and my friend Tavis (who I talked to all through the anticipation of Adaptation) seeing the film Identity and telling me “Remember that film The 3 that Donald Kaufman wants to make in Adaptation?  It’s totally that film.”

After all of that, what is still left to be said about this film?  In spite of being technically an adaptation (and it’s true that much of the first half of the film that is about Orlean and Laroche is actually straight from the book) this is one of the most brilliantly original films ever made, ranking up there, of course, with Kaufman’s own other screenplays for Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  It is a better realized film than the former and while it can’t quite match up to the latter, has better direction because Spike Jonze is a far more talented director than Michel Gondry.

This film is, like the trailer says, about four lives that come into contact through some very strange circumstances: a repressed writer operating under great difficulty, a free soul who doesn’t really know who he is, someone who wants to learn how to feel passionately about something and a man who feels so passionately about something that he dedicates his life to it and then steps away so completely you would think he’s making it up.  What’s more in the three performances we are captivated, from Cage’s wondrous double take as the very different twins to Streep’s controlled passion early in the film to letting everything go later to Cooper’s unhinged take on a man who’s almost too real to actually exist.

In almost any other year, I would have ranted and raved that Adaptation hadn’t gotten its fair shake from the awards groups.  But the fact of the matter is that 2002 has never really been properly recognized as one of the greatest years in film history and Adaptation did do quite well (with Cooper winning an Oscar among four major Oscar nominations).  What’s more, this film manages to throw in everything that it very much states it doesn’t want thrown in, straight on to that wonderful ending that had Tavis and I both applauding and mentioning, for years, during various films, “Voiceover.  McKee would not approve.”, never mind the fact that Sunset Blvd. uses voiceover, it was a masterful revelation then and continues to be one now.

The Source:

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (1998)

It’s amusing to watch the scene in the film where Valerie says “Susan, we would like to option this,” holding a copy of the book.  The screen option to this story was purchased in 1997 (and not by the studio that ended up making it) before the book was even published when it was still just in progress having developed from the story “Orchid Fever” published in The New Yorker.  When the film was coming out, I tried to read the book and I failed.  Later, I would try to read the book again and I would fail again.  This time I succeeded, although I knew I could scan a lot of it.  For close to two decades now this book has been my barometer.  If you want to write about a subject I don’t care about (as, in this case, flowers), you have to be a better writer than Susan Orlean for me to get through it (the next level up apparently is David Halberstam since he wrote a book on Nissan and Ford and I read that with no problem).  The first part of the book is quite interesting as Orlean describes the initial article that made her go to Florida and seek out John Laroche and learn all about him.  But once she really gets into the history of the flowers and the way that people look for them and cultivate them and involves a lot of traveling to flower shows, I was completely lost and continue to be.  She’s a good writer but this book is just not for me.

The Adaptation:

Almost everything we see in the first half of the film that involves interactions between Orlean and Laroche (but not Orlean’s home life, which is completely fictional) is accurate and straight from the book, especially the descriptions of Laroche’s life.  The stuff about Charlie Kaufman may or may not be fictional but, of course, has nothing to do with the book.  Almost everything in the second half of the film is completely made up and is just part of Kaufman’s boundless imagination.

The Credits:

Directed by Spike Jonze.  Based on the book “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean.  Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Film:

There are some who consider this the strongest of the three films but those are in a clear minority.  This is a great film, like the other two, an amazing adaptation, a technological marvel and pure amazing entertainment with great directing and acting all around.  But it is stuck with telling a middle story, one without the pure story of the first one and without a real resolution as the third one has.  It also doesn’t have that single acting performance that really stands out above all the others like McKellen in the first film and Astin in the third.  But I really think it’s the quality of the year’s other works and the fact that the first film had been so rewarded and everyone knew that the real rewards would be waiting to be heaped on the third film that this film failed to earn a single nomination for its writing from any group.

The Source:

The Two Towers being the second part of The Lord of the Rings 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.

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 (the last two are actually ROTK tracks).  Because of the nature of the adaptation (many chapters are moved into their proper chronological sequence rather than the way Tolkien tells them), many of the soundtrack tracks aren’t in the same order that the chapters are.

Book Three

Chapter I  –  The Departure of Boromir  –  There are significant changes in this (Aragorn killing the lead orc, for one).  Also, it actually appears at the end of Fellowship instead of the beginning of this film.

Chapter II  –  The Riders of Rohan  –  Other than that the riders don’t notice them because they are out of sight rather than hiding with their cloaks, a fairly faithful adaptation.

Chapter III  –  The Uruk-Hai  –  Edited earlier into the story rather than the way Tolkien unfolds the story for us.  Pippin doesn’t free his feet and flee, but pulls the brooch with his teeth.  Their escape is at night rather than at dawn and more tense.

Chapter IV  –  Treebeard  –  A very different first meeting with Treebeard, of course, with him saving them.  Also, he doesn’t trust them at first and brings them to the “white wizard”, a revelation deliberately kept off-screen.  The hobbits don’t actually meet Gandalf again in the book until after the sack of Isengard.  The song about the ent-wives is wisely excised as is much of the dialogue (though there is more in the EE than in the theatrical cut).  This is the longest chapter in TTT but not so much when it comes to screen time.  It is also probably my least favorite chapter in the entire book.

Chapter V  –  The White Rider  –  Mostly faithfully put on screen.

Chapter VI  –  The King of the Golden Hall  –  We actually get to Edoras before the characters in the film, seeing some things that were only background information in the book (and seeing even more in the EE).  The biggest differences here, of course, are that Eomer was banished and thus isn’t in Edoras and that Aragorn has no problem with leaving his weapons because he is not yet carrying Anduril.  Also, at the end, only the warriors ride to Helm’s Deep while Eowyn and the people of Edoras stay there in the book.

Chapter VII  –  Helm’s Deep  –  Quite different in several ways.  There is no battle on the way so Aragorn is not thought lost.  Eowyn does not make the journey so there is no potential love story (although I think the film changes this for the better – Eowyn’s love for Aragorn is far more developed in the film than in the book).  Gandalf leaves in the film before they leave for Helm’s Deep rather than during the journey, he goes to get Eomer (not to go to Isengard) and that’s because Eomer is banished not because Gandalf needs to see to Erkenbrand and get the Huorns.  The battle is mostly the same with one problem.  In the theatrical cut, the end of Legolas and Gimli’s competition isn’t shown because, of course, to be true to the book, Gimli has to win 42 to 41 (even though the tally is given in the next chapter).  But in the film, Legolas clearly kills far more than 41 (just with the ladder shot alone, which, if you can’t tell, was actually a post-production change) which is perhaps why that scene was left only for the EE.  At the end, of course, it’s Eomer who shows up in the film, not Erkenbrand (though to me, one of the few flaws in the film is that clearly Karl Urban wasn’t available for the final shot looking towards Mordor).

Chapter VIII  –  The Road to Isengard  –  The tally is given here (cut from the theatrical but in the EE).  Most of this chapter is cut completely and the end of it is pushed to the beginning of ROTK.

Chapter IX  –  Flotsam and Jetsam  –  This entire chapter is exposition explaining where Pippin and Merry have been.  Instead of giving it to us like that, we see it happening edited with the shots of the Battle of Helm’s Deep.  It’s mostly faithful to what we saw (except, of course, that Merry has to convince the Ents to go to battle (which doesn’t work) and then Pippin has to trick them (which does)) in the film.

Chapter X  –  The Voice of Saruman  –  Parts of this appear in the theatrical cut of ROTK but most of it (all the scenes with Saruman and Wormtongue) are only in the EE.  It’s somewhat similar (in concept) but takes a very different turn by killing off Saruman and Wormtongue here instead of at the end of ROTK.

Chapter XI  –  The Palantír  –  Presented faithfully in concept but very different in the details.  Also, in ROTK, of course, not in this film.  In the book, Pippin looks into the Palantír while on the road, not at Edoras and it prompts the split-up then (Gandalf and Pippin to Minas Tirith).

Book Four

Chapter I  –  The Taming of Sméagol  –  Like all the chapters, actually edited into the action above instead of being presented separately but I don’t think anyone would have wanted a movie like that (a good example of something that works on the page but not on film).  The dream / memory that starts the film, of course, isn’t in the book, but is a good reminder of where we are at.  Fairly faithfully presented on-screen.

Chapter II  –  The Passage of the Marshes  –  Fairly faithfully done on-screen.

Chapter III  –  The Black Gate is Closed  –  Other than Sam’s fall and the quick rescue by Frodo, mostly faithfully put on-screen though shortened a little bit.

Chapter IV  –  Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit  –  The biggest difference is that in the film, they don’t get to actually eat the stew while in the book they do.

Chapter V  –  The Window on the West  –  In the film, Faramir is much more resistant to trusting Frodo and more willing to do his father’s bidding so as to provide some dramatic tension and allow for Faramir’s growth at the end.  It’s also Sam who accidentally reveals the knowledge of the ring in the book not Gollum (in this chapter, even though Faramir learns that in the next chapter’s action in the film).

Chapter VI  –  The Forbidden Pool  –  Mostly faithful in what happens with Gollum.

Chapter VII  –  Journey to the Cross-Roads  –  Where things take a very different turn.  I have the same feelings as Igor here.  Again, for dramatic tension, they take Frodo to Osgiliath and have the whole scene where Frodo offers the ring to the Black Rider.  I understand why they did it but I really like Faramir, so it’s hard to watch this stretching of his character.  There are a few lines from the film (mostly in the EE) that came from the book, but this is, by far, the least faithful part of the whole trilogy of films.  A small part of this appears in ROTK (the crown scene appears in the EE) and everything from here forward is pushed into that film.

Chapter VIII  –  The Stairs of Cirith Ungol  –  Somewhat similar but of course also very different in what happens with Sam.  That’s done to heighten the tension for Frodo’s scene with Shelob and it works quite well in the context of the film.

Chapter IX  –  Shelob’s Lair  –  Somewhat the same in concept (Frodo abandoned by Gollum, thinks he’s free of Shelob, stung, saved by Sam, thought to be dead) but also very different (the scene with Gollum after Shelob, the way Sam has left him).  Includes one of my favorite scenes that it’s in the film but not the book (the scene with Galadriel after he first faces Shelob).

Chapter X  –  The Choices of Master Samwise  –  Sam doesn’t hear nearly as much from the orcs as he does in the book but it’s mostly the same in concept.

The Credits:

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

Minority Report

The Film:

Would a different year had made the result different?  Minority Report was certainly not a bust – it made well over $100 million and got really good reviews and several award nominations.  But it wasn’t a smash hit (it made less money domestically than Scooby-Doo for fucks sake and it’s really the international figures – where it was 7th for the year instead of 17th like it was domestically – that really made it a hit) and it certainly wasn’t taken seriously among the awards groups.  In 2001, before A.I. made people a bit leery of Spielberg, in a year not as filled to the brim with great films (this film is 8th on my list for the year but would be in the Top 5 in most), in a year where its visual effects would have stood out more, would it have been a bigger hit?  Possibly.  Would people have taken it more seriously?  It’s one of the greatest Science Fiction films ever made (I rank it 10th all-time but three of the films above it were released after this film) but it’s a genre that has always struggled to get the proper level of respect.  But it is, nonetheless, not just a **** film but a fantastically innovative and original film, brilliantly directed, fantastically acted and a sign once again that film history has had no director like Spielberg for the combination of effects with greatness.  What’s more, this film has some first-rate political commentary to make its story all the more timely.

What if we knew what was going to happen?  What if there were some way to prevent a murder before it happened?  Do you take it?  Then what do you do with the potential murderer?  Do you lock them up for what they intended?  How do we know they would have done it?  It ends up with all sorts of questions about free will and intention and individual rights.  Many of the great Sci-Fi writers over the years have attempted to address topical questions like this through the measure of Sci-Fi and through the prism of Philip K. Dick, we get this film that looks at it.  In the future, we have psychics who know about a murder before it happens.  Thus we get Pre-Crime, the unit let by John Anderton that has made Washington D.C. essentially murder-free.  But suddenly, a little ball rolls down with Anderton’s name on it and he learns that he is supposed to kill a man, and what’s more, a man he has never seen or even heard of.  So now, we’re not only inside a political allegory, we’re not only inside a fascinating Sci-Fi film that gives us a fascinating look at the future (we see people who have custom ads and other such things that work off scanned retinas and the importance of ones retinas becomes paramount even though this is a Fox and DreamWorks film) but we’re also inside a suspenseful chase film.  Anderton has to run in a world where running is even more difficult, chased by the men he has trained and relied upon to do their jobs properly.

This film works so well partially because Spielberg has such a masterful hand over all the effects (fantastic editing, cinematography, score and especially visual effects and its snub at the Oscars in that last one was a big sign that the Oscars were way overdue in expanding the visual effects category to five nominees) and because Tom Cruise is so perfectly cast as Anderton.  Cruise has an inherent righteousness to his performance and we know he’s great at being chased and getting out of chases thanks to his continuing role as Ethan Hunt.  But this role requires much more acting as he is forced to figure out what’s going to happen and for that he needs one of those psychics.  So, in addition to Cruise on the run, he’s also dragging along poor Samantha Morton and we get one of the most fascinating chase scenes ever put on film as she knows precisely what to do with her visionary abilities (at one point she grabs a woman walking by and says “He knows.  Don’t go home.”) and how to use them to get them out of the jam.

Minority Report seems to have been over-looked in the Spielberg oeuvre.  It wasn’t a smash hit as so many Spielberg films have been (with a domestic gross of $132 million which many directors would be ecstatic to get, it’s the 15th highest grossing film on his list).  It wasn’t nominated for major Oscars like so many of his films have been.  Instead, it’s just, quietly, one of the most under-appreciated films he ever made, far better than the vast majority of the films above it on the box office list for the year, it looks magnificent, tells a great story and is entertaining from the first minute down to the last.  Other directors should be so lucky that a film like this could be over-looked among their work.

The Source:

The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick  (1956)

This is a great example of what Dick did best – using his ideas to paint a portrait of a future in which many strange and wondrous things have come to pass but with a severe stroke of darkness around it that makes you wonder if you even want to make it to the future.  John Anderton is the head of PreCrime, the division in charge of finding murderers before they commit murder (thanks to mutants who can see them beforehand).  But Anderton finds himself predicted to kill a man he’s never met.  From there, it’s a chase to not kill the man and to keep his division intact while the Army, which has been sidelined since the last war and because of PreCrime, tries to take things over.  It’s not great prose (Dick wasn’t a great writer but he was a visionary one) but it’s fascinating and wondrous to ponder over his ideas.

The Adaptation:

Anyone who’s seen the film can tell that it diverges considerably from the original story just based on my short description of the story above.  The basic concept of the story is kept intact but almost everything else is different, from who sets Anderton up and why, the issues with his wife, even down to Anderton’s description (he’s older and overweight).  In the film, the main issue is that Agatha, the precog played by Morton was kept with PreCrime thanks to a horrible crime while in the story it’s all about how Anderton is able to keep himself from committing his crime precisely because he knows he’s supposed to commit it.

The Credits:

Directed by Steven Spielberg.  Screenplay by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen.  Based upon a short story by Philip K. Dick.
note:  The only thing in in the opening credits is the title.

The Pianist

The Film:

People love to express moral outrage that suits the moment and their own insular beliefs.  I remember The Oregonian, that piece of shit paper I was forced to deal with for years because Portland had no other daily, ran an op-ed blasting the Academy for rewarding Polanski at the same time that they were blatantly supporting W in his road to war based on nothing but lies and I wrote a letter to the editor saying as much (which of course wasn’t printed).  But, whatever your views on its director, the film is a masterpiece, perhaps because it does mirror so much of Polanski’s actual experience during the war.  Though he doesn’t win the Nighthawk, it deservedly pushed Adrian Brody from a relative unknown to a solid star.

The Source:

Śmierć Miasta. Pamiętniki Władysława Szpilmana 1939–1945 by Wladsylaw Szpilman  (1950

If you were to just read the U.S. printing of this book (the translation by Anthea Bell), you wouldn’t realize that the book was originally printed in Poland in 1946, that its original Polish title was Death of a City and that there is controversy over how much was actually written by Szpilman and how much by his collaborator Jerzy Waldorff who is not mentioned at all on the title or copyright pages.  This is a well-written memoir about the way Szpilman managed to survive World War II, first in the ghetto (even making it to the ghetto was luck and chance) and then on his own in Warsaw as the city was being destroyed around him.

The Adaptation:

As far as I remember (I’m doing this based on memory because I’ve read the book before but haven’t been able to do this time), most of what we get in the book is really right from Szpilman’s memoir.  Of course the Nazi officer played by Thomas Kretschmann really did exist and later would be proclaimed Righteous Among the Nations (in 2009 long after the film was released).  And of course, the look of the film was inspired at least somewhat by Polanski’s own experiences in Poland surviving the war and what it looked like in the aftermath.

The Credits:

Directed by Roman Polanski.  Screenplay by Ronald Harwood.  Based on the book by Wladyslaw Szpilman.
note:  There are no opening credits at all, not even the title.

The Quiet American

The Film:

I have already reviewed this film when I wrote about the book back in 2011 (see below).  It’s a great film stuck in a great year so it doesn’t do nearly as well at the Nighthawk Awards as it should (at one point Caine was actually my Nighthawk winner before I settled on Day-Lewis).  It’s the less common example of a great film made from a great novel that is also quite faithful.  Delayed a year because of 9/11 and then was going to be dumped on video until Michael Caine managed to convince Harvey Weinstein otherwise.

The Source:

The Quiet American by Graham Greene  (1955)

As mentioned above, I have already written about the book.  Indeed, I ranked it at #56 all-time which many might see as too high but it’s a great book that manages to tell a painful love story at the same time that it tells a political thriller wrought with intrigue that was all too timely.  Indeed, it was too timely and predicted all the ways in which in the U.S. would fuck things up in Vietnam (and, ironically, the film would kind of presage some of the same ways the U.S. would fuck things up in Afghanistan and Iraq as well).

The Adaptation:

This is a really faithful adaptation, certainly more so than the toothless version that was made in 1957 and had to focus much more on the love story than the political side of the novel even though the U.S. was still years away from really getting seriously involved in Vietnam.

The Credits:

Directed by Phillip Noyce.  Based on the novel by Graham Greene.  Screenplay by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkan.

about a boy

The Film:

Years ago I wrote a piece called “10 Movies that are Awkward to Watch Now That the Actress Has Grown Up to be Hot”, featuring such actresses as Anna Paquin, Emma Watson and Scarlett Johansson.  In some ways the most interesting actress on the list was Rachel Hurd-Wood specifically because she went, in just three years from being awkward looking (Peter Pan) to stunning (Perfume).  If there’s a corresponding male list to be made it would focus almost certainly on two actors who went the Hurd-Wood route, starting out as kids who were really awkward looking (Matthew Lewis, who went from geeky Neville in the first Harry Potter film to a hunk in the final one that my sister-in-law looks at longingly is the other one aside from the example I’m about to give) and the prime example, not only because he went from being extraordinarily odd-looking with one of the worst haircuts in the history of film and odd eyebrows to, not only a really good looking guy but a really talented actor as well, is Nicholas Hoult, the ostensible title character of about a boy, depending, of course, on who you think the boy of the title is.

Will and Marcus are friends.  But how they become friends, given that Will is a pretty cool, relaxed, laid back type who doesn’t have to work (his father wrote a Christmas standard and Will lives off the royalties) and Marcus is one of the most awkward kids imaginable (disastrous haircut, mum who embarrasses him but doesn’t realize it, he sings in class without realizing it) and they are not related is an interesting story in and of itself.  The story is that Will likes single moms (they’re grateful for sex) so invents a child of his own to get in with a single parent group and Marcus is sent off with the girl Will goes on a date with so his mum can off herself.  Not exactly the normal formula for a comedy but it actually works because afterwards what happens is a bizarre and improbable friendship, but one that helps shape both Will and Marcus.  Over the course of the film they will have to deal with the bizarre way they met, the oddity of Marcus’ mum, Will’s inherent narcissism and the new woman that Will starts dating.  Oh, and the interesting older girl that Marcus develops a crush on and odd friendship with at school (and he meets her in a highly entertaining way that makes use of Will’s knowledge of current music and Marcus’ tendency to sing out loud without realizing it).

This is actually a great film and it becomes that way for a variety of reasons.  First of all, it had a good and very entertaining novel as source material that understood and genuinely liked all of its odd characters and gave them realistic dialogue which helped pave the way for a very good and funny script.  Second, it has some perfect casting in the roles of Will and Fiona (Marcus’ mum).  Will is played by Hugh Grant and he very much sinks into the role of a guy who is cool and knows it but then finds himself in situations outside his ability to control (and sinks into another one late in the film when he falls for Rachel Weisz).  As Fiona we have Toni Collette, just three years after she played another single mother with a child who had some serious problems and it’s a measure of Collette’s fantastic acting that she is just as real as a British mum as she was as a Philadelphia mother given that she’s actually Australian.  If Collette is the only Nighthawk nomination for the film that’s a measure of her performance but also just how completely stacked this year is in pretty much every category.

It also gives a very satisfying ending that resonates much more with me now than it did back in 2002.  Marcus explains that it’s not about couples anymore, but about a whole group of people who come together to form a support system for each other.  I write this review just a few days after the first Christmas in over a decade that I spent with more than just three other people and living in a state that I moved back to precisely because it offered that kind of system.  The film is a reminder that in the end, we all need each other, no matter how weird we are and that sometimes we’re just weird enough for each other.

The Source:

About a Boy by Nick Hornby  (1998)

Hornby’s not a great writer but most of the time he’s a very good writer (at least if you don’t read Juliet, Naked).  His books are entertaining and they contain real characters who actually speak in realistic and recognizable dialogue.  About a Boy is no exception, a fascinating story about the friendship that strikes up between a may who acts like a boy and an actual boy and the way the relationship ends up saving both of them (though not literally like in Hornby’s All the Way Down).  It’s a book I’ve held onto and it’s clearly because of the book itself because I have it in an omnibus with High Fidelity and Fever Pitch and I have a separate copy of the former and I never re-read the latter because it’s about soccer.

The Adaptation:

For most of the way, the film follows the book with the exception that it updates the time period from late 1993 into early 1994 to the present.  For the most part that doesn’t affect anything until we get to dealing with Marcus’ friendship with Ellie (which comes in later in the film that it does in the book) because that friendship focuses around Kurt Cobain with the climax of the book coming after Cobain kills himself and the two of them getting in trouble afterwards.  That’s changed to the school concert instead (though it still has to unite Will and Fiona in hoping to save Marcus).  It also means that the meeting between the two kids is handled very differently than in the book (I remember wondering when I saw the film in the theater how they would do that).  But, on the whole it’s a very faithful adaptation and even when it moves away from the actual parts of the book it definitely sticks to the spirit of the book.

The Credits:

directed by paul weitz and chris weitz.  based on the book by nick hornby.  screenplay by peter hedges and chris weitz & paul weitz.

Road to Perdition

The Film:

It’s interesting that Sam Mendes, who is British, started his film directing career by directing two very American films: American Beauty and Road to Perdition.  Indeed, it would not be until he was asked to take over the Bond franchise that he went home and started making films there.

Michael Sullivan is a dark man.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t a light in his life.  He loves his wife and his sons and he is a good father and husband.  He is a man who lives by a code of honor and works hard.  The problem is that what he works hard at is being a killer for the man who rules the underworld of Rock Island, Illinois, John Rooney.  Rooney is a darker version of Sullivan.  He tries to be a good father but it has only worked with Sullivan, his spiritual son, and not his actual son, Connor (a dark, disturbed man who relishes the role of killing).  He seems to have a code of honor but his work is such an entanglement of illegal and immoral activities that it’s hard to know where honor can come into it.  They feel a strong affection for each other but they are also pulled in by their own ties of blood.  So, one night, when Michael’s older son, Michael Jr., tags along in the car to watch his father and Connor work it cascades into a series of dark choices that tear apart the fabric of spiritual father and son and pits both fathers, desperate to save their sons, into struggling against each other.

This was an interesting choice, not just for Mendes, doing a combination of the gangster sub-genre of Crime films with the chase sub-genre of Action films but also for Hanks.  By this time, Hanks was long established as Hollywood’s everyman, the man you wanted as a father or a friend or a mentor, a five time Oscar nominee and two time winner and none of those roles contained so much as a hint of darkness.  Now suddenly people were being asked to look at him as a killer, but one that played on his old roles by focusing on that sense of honor.  When he strikes back against the men who have wronged him by robbing banks, he makes certain only to take money from the gangsters and not any from the loyal bank customers.  He doesn’t kill when he doesn’t have to and he makes every move that he can in order to protect his son.

Both the film and Hanks himself were expected to contend for Oscars.  But, unfortunately, this was 2002 and there just wasn’t enough room for either one of them, in spite of Hanks giving what might be his best performance up to this point (it contends with Saving Private Ryan).  In fact, this would be the start of a string of great Hanks performances that would fail to get him back into the Oscar race that wouldn’t break until 2019 and included Charlie Wilson’s War, Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, Bridge of Spies and The Post.  The film would also contain a magnificent supporting performance from Jude Law as a man who is hired to track Hanks down and kill him and is fascinated with the visual image of death.  Law would also be passed over though Paul Newman as Rooney would earn his final Oscar nomination and Daniel Craig would make an indelible impression as the blue eyed killer Connor a decade before he would work with Mendes again as Bond.

What’s more, this film was the final work from Conrad L. Hall, one of the great cinematographers in film history.  Hall’s dark work would actually win him one final Oscar, which, when you consider the other nominees (including Gangs of New York and The Pianist) is all the more impressive.  Just look at the way that the film approaches things from Michael Jr.’s view point, especially early in the film when we see things from a lower angle and only get glimpses of his father through doorways and in shadows.  It’s a testament, not just to Hall’s brilliance, but to the great work of the film as a whole and one that shouldn’t be forgotten even in a year filled to the brim with such great films.

The Source:

Road to Perdition, written by Max Allan Collins, art by Richard Piers Rayner  (1998)

For a number of reasons (which he explains in the introduction to the book), Collins decided that he would do a graphic novel about the Looney family (yes, Looney – the name was changed for the film because it sounded odd in spite of being a real name) that ruled the underworld of Rock Island during the Capone era.  The story was based on real incidents in Looney’s life and Collins took inspiration from the Japanese manga (and film series) Lone Wolf and Cub to portray a killer on the run.  The art is nicely done by Rayner and Collins brings a solid hard-boiled noir sense to the writing (he had been writing Dick Tracy for 15 years before this).  A lot of the story in the book is taken from historical accounts of what really happened to Looney.  It’s a fairly good (though not great) graphic novel.

The Adaptation:

The original graphic novel is broken into three books and most of the first two books are transferred fairly faithfully to the screen (with the exception of the name change).  There are a few minor changes but they are mostly minor.  But the screenwriters essentially tossed the entire third book (in which Looney flees to New Mexico where he is hunted down by Elliot Ness and thrown in jail) in favor of a much more emotionally climactic ending.  What’s more, the character played by Jude Law doesn’t exist at all in the book and was merely a creation of the filmmakers to give a heightened sense of tension to the film (and it works) and after creating him they simply had him be the killer from the end.  Basically though everything after the killing of Dylan Baker in the film is completely new.

The Credits:

Directed by Sam Mendes.  Based upon the graphic novel written by Max Allan Collins and illustrated by Richard Piers Rayner.  Screenplay by David Self.

Solaris

The Film:

There’s not much I need to write here because I wrote a full review of the film already way back in 2012 in my Year in Film post.  In one of the best years in film history, certainly one of the most under-appreciated years in film history, this is the film I wrote about, not only because it was mostly ignored by the awards, not only because the critics weren’t big on it, but because audiences simply hated it.  They didn’t just not care for it; they intensely hated it.  But this is actually a great film if you can be bothered to watch the film that it is and not the film that you think it was supposed to be.

The Source:

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem (1961)

Just like the film, there’s not much that I need to write here, because I already covered this novel when I wrote about the original film version for my 1976 post.  It’s really a good novel, a cerebral science fiction novel that really makes you think far more than it takes you into a new world.  Such novels are often hard to get through and this one, even as short as it is (200 pages) is certainly no quick read but the rewards make the time spent worth it.

The Adaptation:

It is indeed adapted from the novel, but there’s no question that Soderbergh also looked at the Tarkovsky film as he was working on the film as well.  Certainly the early scenes on Earth are far more a reflection of the first film than the novel.  Soderbergh said at the time that it was supposed to be more in the spirit of the novel than Tarkovsky’s film and the kind of small moments of thrilling aspects certainly hearken more to the mystery of the novel than the original film, but still, it’s definitely got a lot of echoes of the first film.

The Credits:

Written for the Screen and Directed by Steven Soderbergh.  Based on the book by Stanislaw Lem.

About Schmidt

The Film:

A man lives his whole life in a small box.  That box could consist of his office which is quite small with no window and just a clock to tick away the seconds of his life.  Or the box could be his house where he lives with his wife, with his daughter not only having left but now having gotten engaged to a man who’s not only a bore but also a bad investment on multiple levels.  Or perhaps the box is just Omaha, the city where he has trapped himself in this life.

Boxes, however, while often looking strong, can suddenly become weak and a small flaw can take down the whole structure.  This man, Warren Schmidt, retires and that part of the box comes undone.  Soon, the rest is disappearing as well.  His wife dies suddenly of a blood clot just after they have bought a Winnebago.  His old job doesn’t want him around, his wife was having an affair and he’s decided to send money to help raise a child in Africa and sends him long, often inappropriate letters.  He sets off early for the wedding but his daughter doesn’t want him there early so he’s just drifting through life trying to find any point to hang onto.

In the hands of other people this film could have been a dreadful bore.  However, we’re in the hands of Alexander Payne (thus the film being set in Nebraska – see below for more) and so what could have been a boring drama about a man trying to find himself or an awkward comedy about a man falling apart as he reaches middle age becomes a film that straddles the line so brilliantly that the Globes gave Jack Nicholson (the other reason the film is such a success – he gives a magnificent performance that actually still can’t manage to make my Top 5 for the year because that’s how incredibly stacked to the gills this year is with great performances) the award for Best Actor – Drama and Nicholson himself commented “I thought we made a Comedy”.  And both are right.  That is part of what is so remarkable about this film.

This is the story of a man whose box comes undone and he finds himself exposed to everything around him.  Sometimes it causes massive embarrassment (he tries to hit on a married woman in a camper park, mistaking her conversation for interest), sometimes it brings tears (as a suburban boy my entire life, I forget sometimes what a remarkable thing it is to be out in the country and to look up at the stars) and sometimes it brings you a sight you could not possible be prepared for (like a naked Kathy Bates, who plays the mother of the jackass fiancee, climbing into the hot tub with Nicholson).  But it’s always of interest, partially because Payne does such a good job creating the character (it really does belong to Payne and his co-writer Taylor – see below) and Nicholson does such a magnificent job of bringing him to life.

The Source:

About Schmidt by Louis Begley  (1996)

When I worked at Powells and it was easy to just grab a novel that was being adapted, I often did that.  This was one of the ones I remember grabbing and then putting down before I got to the end.  It didn’t fill me with anticipation for the film but then the film overcame any trepidations I had by being so good.  The novel itself is about Warren Schmidt, a man who retires, his wife dies and then he must deal with his daughter being engaged to a jackass.  But it’s far too much about the richer lives of people in suburbia and the characters aren’t all that interesting and the next section will explain that.

The Adaptation:

So, if the book is so boring and the film is so good, how can that be?  Well, because they’re really not that connected.  Apparently, before he ever directed a film, Payne wrote a script about a guy who retires and realizes he’s wasted his life.  However, he didn’t manage to sell it.  Years later, after the novel was released, Payne decided to combine his original script with aspects of the novel, which is why, for example, a novel set in Connecticut became a film set in Nebraska and Colorado.  There are certainly aspects of the novel in the film (bare bones plot) but the real characters and much of the story itself (the journey in the Winnebago, the letters) are actually just from the screenwriters and have nothing to do with the original novel.

The Credits:

Directed by Alexander Payne.  Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor.  Based on the novel by Louis Begley.
note:  The title is in the only thing in the opening credits.

Consensus Nominee

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

The Film:

I’m not a watcher of game shows.  I used to watch Jeopardy a long time ago because I like knowledge, but the concept itself never interested me.  So I barely had any notion of who Chuck Barris was before this film came out.  He’d created two of the most popular game shows of all-time and had hosted a third one that perhaps helped pave the way for the wave of shows today that highlight random people and their talents (or lack thereof).  He also killed for the CIA.  Or so he claimed, at least, in a book that he had written (see below).  The whole idea appealed to a man who wanted to break into directing and who also grown up in a world of television, around a newscaster father (who also worked with some game shows) and a show business aunt (who is actually mentioned in the film).  So, George Clooney showed that he had a wry eye, an interest for tales that were outside of the ordinary and a solid flair for directing that would take him through a variety of genres, though comedy would often rear its head unexpectedly (at least for the viewers).

Let’s get back to Barris.  Or the actor playing him, Sam Rockwell.  I had already seen Rockwell in a number of films by the time this film was released at the end of 2002 but he had never really stuck out.  His role here is almost tailor made for his odd quirkiness which is unfortunate for me because while I admire his talent (at least in this film), I don’t particular like him and this performance would propel him into a number of roles in films that I liked and wish had less of him.  But Rockwell is rather perfectly suited to play a man who is all about being insincere, all about the shallowness, not only on the surface, but that runs all the way through to the core.  That works even better if Barris really is a killer because that shallowness makes it so much easier for him to kill people because there is just no depth to his soul.

It’s Clooney, anyway, who is the real star of the film.  Or maybe it’s Charlie Kaufman, although to hear Kaufman tell it, Clooney tossed most of what was innovative about the screenplay and rewrote a lot of it and Kaufman refuses to even really acknowledge the film as his.  He might not like what Clooney did but this is a hell of a lot better than Human Nature, another Kaufman film that was released this year (although neither film is as good as Adaptation).  Clooney tells the story in a fascinating way, bouncing back and forth between the present and the past, moving effortlessly between Barris creating his crass, tasteless game shows and his traveling around the world to kill people.

I don’t really know what I want to say about this film.  It’s a very good film but in one of the great film years of all-time the film itself doesn’t make my Top 25 and the screenplay is only being reviewed because the BFCA and NBR gave a combined award to Kaufman for all of his work during the year and not just Adaptation.  It’s got the performance from Sam Rockwell, that if forced to watch one of his performances, would be the one I would choose (it would have been his performance in Vice but then I would remember that I loathe W more than I dislike Barris).  It tells an interesting story that probably has bare levels of truth involved and tries to pass it off as non-fiction but that’s just part of the fun of it.  Most importantly, it showed that Clooney could really direct and that this was only going to be a first start to a much better career which hasn’t completely panned out at the level I would have thought, but it did give us Good Night and Good Luck, the best film in another excellent film year.

The Source:

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: An Unauthorized Autobiography by Chuck Barris  (1984)

I use the 1984 date because it can be found numerous places although it either had a very small print run or sold very little or both because no library has copies of that edition and there are very few online.  The 2002 edition, printed by Miramax Books, has only the 2002 date on the copyright page and has a dedication to several people involved with the film as if the book hadn’t existed before then.

What about the book itself?  Well, I had no use for it.  Aside from having no interest either in the (probably) accurate parts of Barris’ life (creating his various shows) and no interest in the made up parts of his life (oddly his Wikipedia page claims he was a CIA assassin in spite of a description down below that makes it clear that Barris has admitted that the whole book is a “hey, what if I had joined the CIA” concept rather than accurate), there is the Barris personality as well and it’s rather detestable.  He’s an appalling person and I wanted as little to do with him or even read about him as possible and plowed through the book so I wouldn’t have to think about him anymore.  It’s not very good and its attempt to pretend to be what really happened to him is rather ridiculous.  If not reading it for this project I wouldn’t have come near it.

The Adaptation:

The film does a fairly decent job of staying to what Barris writes about his experiences in creating the game shows.  It strays quite a bit when it comes to the CIA missions but since it’s all bullshit anyway, I can’t really be bothered to care.

The Credits:

Directed by George Clooney.  Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman.  Based on the book by Chuck Barris.
note:  The title is the only thing in the opening credits.

Multiple Nominations

Chicago

The Film:

I have never been able to understand or explain the venom that people spew at this film.  As mentioned in my full review, there are a lot of people out there who have decided not just that this is a bad Oscar winner (which it’s not – the wrong winner, yes, but not a bad winner) but a bad film.  That’s ridiculous.  This is a fantastic film, among the 20 greatest Musicals ever made, with fantastic acting and great energy.  One thing I did write in that review was about how Rob Marshall has never recovered his directorial balance, starting with a massive bang and then headed straight down.  However, since I wrote that review, he has also directed two fantastic film musicals (Into the Woods, Mary Poppins Returns) so he’s in a much different position than he was in at the time I wrote that review.

The Source:

Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville, Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb  (1975) based on the play Chicago by Maurine Dallas Watkins

A really good, even inspired stage musical.  It was a solid hit on Broadway, running for two years (and the energy Fosse put into it gave him a heart attack as he was putting it together while also finishing his film Lenny, as documented very loosely in All That Jazz) about Roxie Hart, the infamous murderess based on a real case created for the 1926 play Chicago and turned into the terrible 1942 film Roxie Hart before this stage musical.  Chita Rivera was supposed to be very good in the original production as Thelma Kelly (the role massively increased from the first two versions of the story) with Gwen Verdon playing Roxie.  It didn’t completely win over the critics or Tony voters though.  But in 1996, the show was revived by Bebe Neuwirth as Velma and that version was a massive success, still playing today as the second longest running musical on Broadway (behind only Phantom) and setting a new record at the Tonys for a revival by winning six awards.

Chicago by Maurine Dallas Watkins  (1926)

A fairly decent play written by a Chicago reporter using a couple of real murders to talk about how crooked the entire system was and how cynical everyone was about it.  It’s an interesting play and was turned into a film fairly quickly (in 1927) and then made again in 1942 (as the terrible Roxie Hart with Ginger Rogers).  Though the play makes use of the Velma Kelly character, she’s mostly peripheral and it isn’t until the stage musical that she becomes such an important part of the story.  You can find the original play complete with a solid introduction and a lot of newspaper bits by Watkins herself printed in this edition.

The Adaptation:

It’s rather easy to see what was changed simply by looking at the soundtrack for the film and comparing it to the original play.  A few songs were moved around (“Cell Block Tango” was originally third in the show and that really would have made it peak too quickly while “Tap Dance” is a first act number) and a few were cut (“Class” was filmed but then cut though you can see it on the DVD – it’s because it was a song set in the moment as opposed to the cutaway numbers outside of reality that work for the rest of the songs while “A Little Bit of Good”, “Chicago After Midnight”, “My Own Best Friend”, “I Know a Girl” and “Me and My Baby” were all cut entirely) but those cuts I think actually help the film because Chicago, unlike most stage musical adaptations actually clocks in at less than two hours (which probably also helped it at the box office).

The Credits:

Directed by Rob Marshall.  Screenplay by Bill Condon.  Music by John Kander.  Lyrics by Fred Ebb,  Based on the Musical Play “Chicago”.  Directed and Choreographed for the Stage by Bob Fosse.  Book of the Musical Play by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb.  Based on the Play by Maurine Dallas Watkins.
note:  There are no opening credits aside from the title.

BAFTA nominee

catch me if you can

The Film:

When you can’t find enough room in your Top 10 for this film you know it’s a great year.  And that, of course, is just on the Adapted Screenplay list, bearing in mind that the full list includes Talk to Her, Spirited Away, Gangs of New York and Y tu mama tambien.  Steven Spielberg had become known by this time for his double whammies, his big summer blockbuster and his Oscar season serious film.  In 1993, it had been perfection, with a new box office champ and a film for the ages.  In 1997, it had been a stumble, with a dud of a blockbuster and a film that couldn’t quite catch on at the Oscars.  In 2002, he delivered the films perfectly – the summer blockbuster was actually one of the best films of the year and his Oscar season bait was something different, with a lot more entertainment value.  That didn’t mean that either of them quite earned the success they deserved but they were a different way of doing things for him.  This was also a year of double whammies for the stars of the film.  Leo was trying to go to a new level of acting (which he didn’t quite pull off in Gangs of New York, at least partially because of having to act opposite Daniel Day-Lewis but he does much better here, going with the charming rogue act that he does better than almost anyone) and Tom Hanks was trying on some very different roles (see above for one of those and there’s the accent here which isn’t quite in his wheelhouse).  There was also Christopher Walken, playing more of a charmer than the menace he had been focusing on for so many years and finally returning him to the Oscar race after over two decades.

This is the somewhat true story (more on that below) of Frank Abagnale, Jr., the man who lived for several years without doing an honest day’s work.  It’s not accurate to say he did no work because he worked very hard at what he did.  But what he did was forgery, deception and lying, creating a different identity for himself every time he made it to a new city.  He was a pilot, just grabbing a hop to another city.  Or maybe he was a doctor who was taking some time off.  Or perhaps he was a lawyer and was ready to settle in with a new life and a new girl (Amy Adams who is proof that some people get better looking with age because as the ditzy blonde with braces I didn’t give her a second thought in this film but five years later in Enchanted I thought she was one of the most glorious actresses I had ever laid eyes upon).

He got all of this from his father.  That father taught the magic of appearances, that how we look at someone is at least as important as what substance they have behind them.  Both men were just trying to make life better for themselves but just couldn’t quite figure out how to do it the right way.  So Frank Jr. sets out on a journey that eventually finds him in a chase.  That’s because there’s an FBI man (a very tried and true in his ways man, a humorless man who, when asked to tell a joke, says “Knock knock.  Go fuck yourself.”) who has picked up his trail and now it’s not just the fun of making money or going all over the world and sleeping with beautiful women (like the model who sleeps with him for $1000 only to discover that she actually paid $400 for the sex).  Now it’s a chase and there’s really one way it can end.

Spielberg does all of this with class and style.  We get the style of high living in the sixties.  We get a magnificent John Williams score that really makes you feel like it was written in that era.  We get solid performances from both leads and a masterful one from Walken as the dad.  But most of all, we get a film that is fun and stylish and also great all at the same time.  It’s just too bad that it had to compete with a year that was overwhelmingly full with great films.

One last note about this film: because I do due diligence on the credits, I often am fast forwarding through the credits in order to get to what I need so I can get it typed.  But one of the great things about this film are the fantastic credits, used in conjunction with John Williams’ masterful score, that make this film so much fun.  It’s a throw back to the credits (and posters) of the sixties, a wonderful fun time that allows credits designer Nexus Studios to really show their stuff.  It’s one of the great opening credits sequences ever made and a good sign that this was going to be a fun film, in the manner of caper films of the era.

The Source:

Catch Me if You Can: The Amazing True Story of the Youngest and Most Daring Con Man in the History of Fun and Profit! by Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding  (1980)

This is a fascinating book about Abagnale’s time as a con man, starting when he was a teenager and moving through much of his twenties.  Abagnale has been accused of making up most of the story because most of the people he defrauded won’t corroborate his stories.  That’s a combination of companies not wanting to admit to being fleeced (especially by a teenager) and that Redding seems to have exaggerated things.  Abagnale himself has mentioned that he only met Redding a few times and Redding went off and wrote the book based on that.

The Adaptation:

Aside from Redding not necessarily sticking to the facts, the film takes things a step further.  Hanratty, for instance, the FBI agent played by Hanks, is partially based on a real agent (Joseph Shea) who didn’t want his name used and is partially just fiction.  Indeed, there is not really a sense of being chased by a particular agent in the book.  Also, while some of the details do come from the book (studying for the Louisiana bar and passing it – though it took three times in the book; the model one-night-stand though in the book it’s an unnamed famous actress), a lot is different (like how Frank had multiple full siblings, how his father wasn’t really a con man like he’s portrayed in the book or that he was in prison in America when his father died and he knew his father was dying).

Credits:

Directed by Steven Spielberg.  Based upon the book by Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding.  Screenplay by Jeff Nathanson.

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.

  • 25th Hour  –  Spike Lee directs this taut adaptation of David Benioff’s novel with the future Game of Thrones showrunner writing this script himself.  High ***.5.  Edward Norton makes my Top 10 for Actor in a very tough year.
  • El crimen del padre Amaro  –  Very good Mexican adaptation of the 19th century Portuguese novel by José Maria de Eça de Quierós.  Stars Gael García Bernal and Ana Claudia Talancón (the answer to the question, what if Neve Campbell were Mexican?).
  • Insomnia  –  Christopher Nolan reminds us that sometimes remakes are really good as he remakes the 1997 Swedish Suspense film.  High ***.5.
  • 8 Women  –  Yes, this blindingly original Musical is an adaptation (of a 1958 French play) starring several of France’s greatest (and sexiest) actresses.  The film that really announced François Ozon as a major international film presence.  ****.
  • Nicholas Nickleby  –  Low ***.5 for this satisfying Dickens adaptation with an all-star cast with Christopher Plummer, Jim Broadbent and Nathan Lane as the stand-outs.
  • Rabbit-Proof Fence  –  High ***.5 for this Drama about the racist policies in Australia that lead to half-white, half-Aboriginal children being taken from their homes.  Based on the non-fiction book by the daughter of the main girl portrayed in the film.  Great soundtrack from Peter Gabriel.
  • Happy Times  –  Lesser known Zhang Yimou film based on a short story by Mo Yan, whose Red Sorghum had already been filmed by Yimou.  Low ***.5.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets  –  Low **** for the weakest film in the whole Wizarding World series, marred by an unbearably sappy ending.  Fully reviewed here with the book reviewed here.
  • Elling  –  Interesting Oscar nominated (in 2001) Norwegian Comedy based on the novel Brødre i blodet.  Low ***.5.
  • Possession  –  Fully reviewed here where I wrote about how brilliant the novel is (I did rank it #41 all-time).  High ***.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest  –  Solid version of the classic Oscar Wilde play once again teaming up Rupert Everett and Colin Firth.  High ***.
  • Personal Velocity: Three Portraits  –  Rebecca Miller adapts her own short stories into three different stories in this film she also directs.  High ***.
  • The Emperor’s New Clothes  –  High *** for this adaptation of the novel The Death of Napoleon.
  • Spider  –  David Cronenberg directs this high *** adaptation of Patrick McGrath’s novel.
  • Frida  –  I rated this high *** back when I saw it and my only experience with Julie Taymor was Titus (which I didn’t like).  But I don’t like Salma Hayek (even though she is quite good) and I don’t like Frida’s art so would I like the film any more than I did back then?  Based on the biography by Hayden Herrera.
  • Spider-Man  –  X-Men had paved the way for the Marvel comic book era on film and this film (low ****) just cemented it.  Makes some use of Ultimate Spider-Man in the ways it goes with MJ from the start as opposed to the original 1963 origin.  Some perfect reactions can be found here, here, and here.
  • Secretary  –  Disturbing but also sexy version of the short story by Mary Gaitskill.

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)

note:  A big leap up in total films (over 30 more than any previous year and currently 370 total) but only a handful more adapted than the year before.

  • Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones  –  The rare **** film on this part of the list but the script is the biggest problem with the film (well, that and Hayden Christensen’s performance).  But yes I still think it’s a great film for a lot of reasons (interesting story, great action, magnificent score, solid editing, compelling villains).
  • Bloody Sunday  –  True story film about the 1972 shootings in Ireland, directed by Paul Greengrass (very well directed, I might add) based on a non-fiction book.
  • Metropolis  –  Low ***.5 for this anime version of the 1949 manga which had been inspired by the original Fritz Lang film.
  • The Truth About Charlie  –  A loose remake of Charade that gets a bad rep because the original is a bit over-rated (very good but not really a classic) and this is better than people give it credit for.  High ***.
  • Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams  –  Fun sequel to Robert Rodriguez’s very fun original.  This series will have diminishing returns though.
  • The Guys  –  The original play, about an FDNY captain who has to write eulogies after 9/11 debuted less than three months after the horrible attacks.  In a change from Hollywood history, the film version used the female star (Sigourney Weaver) but not the male one (substituting Anthony LaPaglia for Bill Murray).
  • Blood Work  –  This Suspense film from Clint Eastwood based on Michael Connelly’s novel is a reminder that even when Eastwood was doing less memorable work between his Oscars it was still good.
  • Skins  –  Set on a reservation and mostly filled with Native American actors, this Drama is based on the novel by Adrian C. Louis.
  • The Bourne Identity  –  Robert Ludlum’s first Bourne book (he only wrote three) had already been a television movie but now it became a feature film and franchise.  The solid work on this and the second film would give no inkling of how good the third would be.
  • Enigma  –  A Suspense novel by Robert Harris gives a fictional version of events more faithfully depicted in The Imitation Game.
  • The Piano Teacher  –  When I watched this film in grad school because a fellow student was doing a paper on it I had no idea that its director, Michael Haneke, would one day be an Oscar nominee or that the novel’s author, Elfriede Jelinek would shortly thereafter win the Nobel Prize.  I just knew it was very disturbing with a good performance from Isabelle Huppert.
  • Safe Conduct  –  Solid French Drama from Bertrand Tavernier based on the memoirs of French director Jean Devaivre and his work for the Resistance during World War II.
  • The Lady & the Duke  –  More French (director Eric Rohmer) and more memoirs (Grace Elliott, a Scottish spy during the French Revolution).
  • The Cherry Orchard  –  Michael Cacoyannis makes his first film in a long time and his last film ever and instead of a classical Greek tragedy, it’s a Russian one.
  • Tully  –  Drama based on an O Henry Award winning story by Tom McNeal (an author who apparently lives just eight houses down from the house where my mother grew up).
  • Real Women Have Curves  –  America Ferrera has apparently been around a lot longer than I thought since she makes her film debut here in a film based on the play by Josefina López.  We’re down to mid *** with this film.
  • Red Dragon  –  Great cast (Hopkins, Norton, Fiennes, P.S. Hoffman) and a solid book by Thomas Harris (the one where Hannibal Lecter originally appeared) but the film’s still not as good as Manhunter even with the far superior cast so I blame director Brett Ratner (and this is the best film he’s ever made).
  • Big Trouble  –  I used to love reading Dave Barry and had all of his books at a time (until I realized how repetitive he gets).  So I got his first novel as soon as it came out and really enjoyed it.  Because the plot involves having a bomb on a plane,  the film was pushed back from its 21 September 2001 release to April and then got buried (and bad reviews).  But I think it’s quite enjoyable, most notably Zoey Deschanel as a high school girl and Janeane Garofalo and Patrick Warburton as cops.
  • Les Destinees  –  Olivier Assayas directed Drama based on the novel by Jacques Chardonne.  This is the title both on the poster on Wikipedia and that it was submitted to the Oscars under.
  • Morvern Callar  –  I’m not a fan of Lynne Ramsay’s films but Samantha Morton gives a compelling performance in this adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel.
  • Men in Black II  –  The original was funny and fascinating and none of the sequels have been close to that but I also think they’re better than their reputations.  What I mainly remember about this was how adorable Rosario Dawson was
  • Tuck Everlasting  –  Alexis Bledel was 20 when she starred as a 15 year old in this adaptation of the massive selling children’s novel by Natalie Babbitt and you absolutely believe it because she looks more like 13.
  • Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra  –  The sixth Asterix book had already been adapted into a 1968 Animated film but this time it’s live action, the second in the series with Christian Clavier and Gerard Depardieu.
  • Esther Kahn  –  Arnaud Desplechin makes a film in English for some reason, adapting the short story by Arthur Symons.
  • Merci pour le Chocolat  –  Not surprising that Claude Chabrol would direct a Suspense film or that it would star Isabelle Huppert.  Adapted from the novel The Chocolate Cobweb by Charlotte Armstrong.
  • Return to Never Land  –  Going against their recent trend, Disney actually releases one of their Animated sequels into theaters.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo  –  We drop to low *** with this somewhat disappointing version of the great Dumas novel.  I think I would have liked if Guy Pearce had played Dantes instead of Mondego.
  • Tosca  –  French feature film version of the Puccini opera.
  • Quo Vadis  –  Some 50 years after Hollywood made its version, we finally get a Polish version of the classic Polish novel.  And to be fair, it’s actually better than Hollywood’s version, which still doesn’t make it all that great.  Poland’s Oscar submission.
  • Austin Powers in Goldmember  –  This might actually be too generous for a film in which all the funniest scenes are in the first few minutes (though the filmmaking scene is very funny).
  • Star Trek: Nemesis  –  Before you watch Star Trek: Picard (and you should watch it – it’s fantastic), you should watch the ending of this film again.  But skip most of the rest because as I explain in my full review, it’s not that good and it killed the franchise.
  • The Triumph of Love  –  A Romantic Comedy based on the 18th Century play by Marivaux.
  • Eden  –  Hard to find film based on a lesser known short story by Arthur Miller (“Homely Girl”).
  • Blade II  –  Yes, it’s directed by Guillermo del Toro but it’s still got Wesley Snipes and there’s only so much del Toro can do with him.  Sequel to the 1998 film but based on the character from the groundbreaking Marvel series Tomb of Dracula created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan.
  • Devdas  –  There have been no less than a dozen films based on the classic Bengali novella by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and in fact there were two even in 2002 (this is the Bengali one, not the Hindi one).
  • We Were Soldiers  –  Vietnam movie with Mel Gibson starring as the Colonel who wrote the non-fiction book the film is based on.  Directed by Gibson’s buddy Randall Wallace who wrote the awful script for Braveheart.
  • The Wild Thornberrys Movie  –  Feature length film based on the Nickelodeon show which earned an Oscar nomination for “Father and Daughter”, a wonderful song by Paul Simon that I also rank above Eminem’s Oscar winner (and which Simon would stick on his next album several years later).
  • Die Another Day  –  More franchise disappointment (and also already reviewed also for For Love of Film) and this one killed Brosnan as Bond.
  • The Cat’s Meow  –  Now we’ve reached **.5.  Kirsten Dunst is good as Marion Davies in a Mystery about the death of Tom Ince but the film never rises above mediocre.  Based on the play by Steven Peros.
  • Scotland, PA  –  A modernized version of Macbeth set in Scotland, Pennsylvania in 1975.
  • Welcome to Collinwood  –  Clooney’s in it and he and Soderbergh produced it but you’d never watch this and think the Russo Brothers were going to go on to be the directors of key films in the biggest financial film franchise of all-time.
  • Alias Betty  –  French Drama based on a novel by Ruth Rendell.
  • The Grey Zone  –  Tim Blake Nelson does it all, starring, directing and writing (based even on his own play which was based on a non-fiction memoir about the Holocaust) but he would have done better to find a better lead than David Arquette.  Down to mid **.5.
  • Warm Water Under the Red Bridge  –  Shohei Imamura’s last film is a rather bland Comedy adapted from the novel by Yo Henmi.
  • The Four Feathers  –  Once a parody has been done (back in 1978) maybe you don’t want to make yet another version of a film already done several times.  The latest (and hopefully last) adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s novel.
  • The Time Machine  –  Maybe Guy Pearce as the lead couldn’t have been an improvement for Count because he’s the lead here in this version directed by H.G. Wells great-grandson.  Good Visual Effects and very good Makeup but not a faithful adaptation nor a good one.
  • Gangster No. 1  –  Just another British Gangster film, this one based on the play.
  • The Ring  –  The Japanese version is a great film.  This one just tries to scare you and fails.
  • The Mystic Masseur  –  Merchant-Ivory (but with Merchant directing) adapt V.S. Naipaul’s novel.
  • Treasure Planet  –  The concept is a good one (taking a classic novel, in this case Treasure Island, and setting it in space) but Disney did almost nothing else right with it, with a bland look, boring characters and a weak script.  Fully reviewed here because of its Oscar nomination.  In terms of gross against cost, the least successful official Disney Animated film.
  • Escaflowne  –  Not a great idea to take a 26 episode anime show and then try to remake it as a two hour film.
  • Stuart Little 2  –  The first film was fine and charming enough with good effects.  This sequel was just kind of pointless.
  • The Weight of Water  –  An odd bit of film.  The book by Anita Shreve was interesting but the film never quite pulls off the two different parts (a modern marriage contrasted against a 19th century murder mystery).  It was directed by Kathryn Bigelow but after its debut at Toronto in 2000 it took two years before it made it to theaters and then it disappeared almost instantly.  This brings us down to low **.5.
  • Big Bad Love  –  One of a couple of movies that I look at with Arliss Howard and Debra Winger and wonder that he’s been married to one of my biggest childhood crushes for almost 25 years.  Howard also wrote and directed the film, based on short stories by Larry Brown.
  • Auto Focus  –  Now I’ve never watched an episode of Hogan’s Heroes but do we really need to keep looking into the creepy private lives of stars?  Based on the non-fiction book by Robert Graysmith (the guy who wrote the Zodiac book and was played by Jake Gyllenhaal in that film) about the murder of Bob Crane.  Does have solid performances from Greg Kinnear as Crane and Willem Dafoe as the man who may or may not have killed Crane.
  • Bartleby  –  Crispin Glover stars in this modern day version of the classic Melville story that I had to read in college.
  • Crime and Punishment  –  Crispin Glover stars in this future-set version of the Dostoevsky novel that I actually read in the same class in college as I read “Bartleby”.
  • Rain  –  Disturbing New Zealand film about a 13 year old coping with her mother’s infidelity and the man’s interest in her.  Based on the novel by Kirsty Gunn.
  • The Sum of All Fears  –  I read this in college but for fun not for a class (no self-respecting professor would ever assign this) back when I still enjoyed Tom Clancy novels (before he went off the deep end and made Jack Ryan president).  This film makes Ben Affleck the third of five actors (to date) to play Ryan.
  • The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys  –  Visually interesting and good young actors (Emile Hirsch, Kieran Culkin, Jena Malone) aren’t enough to keep this disappointing adaptation of Chris Fuhrman’s semi-autobiographical novel from falling into mediocrity.
  • Hey Arnold! The Movie  –  Another Nickelodeon series gets a feature film.
  • The Scorpion King  –  High ** for this prequel to the first two Mummy films gives Dwayne Johnson (back when he was still just The Rock) his first lead film role.  It would take over a decade before he would finally find the right roles on film to become a leading contender for one of the great charismatic action stars.
  • White Oleander  –  Ah, the Oprah Book Club.  They helped bookstores with sales but they were also the bane of bookseller’s lives.  They were also often made into crap movies and this novel, written by Janet Fitch, was no exception.
  • The Mothman Prophecies  –  Based on the book by John Keel which was supposedly based on true events but since Keel was a “parapsychologist” that shows how much you can buy into his book.  True or not (not), the film is quite dull.
  • Tristan & Isolde  –  James Franco and Sophia Myles star in this version of the classic romantic legend.
  • The Powerpuff Girls Movie  –  As should be clear from where this film is on the list, I have no use for it or the original show.  But I will allow Veronica a dissenting opinion: “My love for the show is not something that I can articulate.  If you don’t understand it, then you don’t understand it.”
  • Murderous Maids  –  One of a number of films based on the real-life Papin sisters, this one based on a non-fiction book about their crime by Paulette Houdyer.  Down to mid **.
  • Alibaba  –  Boring and rough to look at, this is an Animated version of the classic tale.
  • Unfaithful  –  Don’t be fooled by the Oscar nomination for this remake of a 1969 Chabrol film.  First of all, Lane was good but shouldn’t have been nominated and second, the film itself is still crap in spite of her performance.
  • El bosque animado  –  Animated remake of a 1987 film and based on the novel by Wenceslao Fernández Flórez.
  • The Princess and the Pea  –  The Hans Christian Anderson tale gets a crappy Animated film.
  • Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla  –  The 27th Godzilla film and the 4th in the Millennium series sees him taking on Mechagodzilla for the fourth time though this film ignores the first three.  This, sadly, brings us to low **.
  • The Santa Clause 2  –  I expected the original to be crap and was somewhat pleasantly surprised.  There was no pleasant surprise for this sequel.
  • A Walk to Remember  –  Schmaltzy crap based on presumably schmaltzy crap (since I don’t read Nicholas Sparks).  I actually saw the first few minutes in the theater when I went to see Fellowship (for like the fifth or sixth time) in a theater that was showing this for one showing first thing in the morning then Fellowship the rest of the day and they accidentally started this film again (and we quickly complained).
  • Jonah — A Veggietales Movie  –  My nephews were into Veggietales when they were kids because my brother and his wife gave them videos.  I wouldn’t realize until years later that Veggietales was an explicitly Christian children’s show.  Sadly, it’s also a pretty terrible one and this film is no better.
  • Pokemon 4Ever  –  The fourth Pokemon film and sadly it seems like these films really will go on forever.
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood  –  I actually saw this in the theater because Veronica wanted to go for her birthday.  I think we even had the Rebecca Wells novel for a stretch but a few pages of it made it clear it was nigh on unreadable.
  • Charly  –  Small Indie comedy based on a novel by Jack Weyland.
  • Zig Zag  –  Crappy Drama from David S. Goyer based on the novel by Landon J. Napoleon which proved that Goyer’s directing abilities weren’t much above his writing abilities.
  • The Rules of Attraction  –  That other screenwriter from Pulp Fiction adapts that other book from Bret Easton Ellis.  This low *.5 film is what you get.
  • Pinocchio  –  I don’t know what’s more awful, that Benigni wasted our time with this crap or that somehow Italy chose it as their Oscar submission.
  • Resident Evil  –  Based on the video game series which I’ve obviously never played.  Better than most of the films that follow in the series which doesn’t say much.  This is a high *.
  • Blue Crush  –  Very bad acting mars another Susan Orlean 2002 adaptation but I definitely wouldn’t read this because I care less about surfing than I do about flowers.
  • I Spy  –  My parents loved the original series enough that it’s where they got my brother Kelly’s name from.  Of course, being me, I’ve never seen the show but I saw this film and I wish I hadn’t.  Drop to mid *.
  • The Mesmerist  –  Boring and forgotten version of a Poe story.
  • Queen of the Damned  –  The third in the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice but this film version is lacking all the talented people involved in Interview.  The film that Aaliyah made before she died and the film that Stuart Townsend made after he was fired as Aragorn.
  • Halloween: Resurrection  –  The eighth in the series and the last of the original story before the films started getting remade and/or rebooted.
  • Scooby-Doo  –  Admittedly, Matthew Lillard was so perfectly cast as Shaggy that they kept him on as the voice after Casey Kasem retired.  But when Matthew Lillard is the best thing about your film you are in very bad shape.  Low *.
  • Mr. Deeds  –  We drop straight down to low .5 with one of the worst remakes in history and I believe (baring actually trying to figure this out), the lowest drop from an original by a remake.  This film (combined with her shoplifting arrest) killed Winona Ryder’s career for several years (kind of deservedly at the time) in spite of the fact that this film was the highest grossing film of her career until Star Trek.  If you paid to see this film you deserve to be punched in the face.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • none

This is one of the most successful years for me in film history for what I’ve seen as detailed in the next two paragraphs.

The highest grossing film I haven’t seen, American Adobo (#270, $344,992), is original.  After 1994, the only years with a film in this position with a lower rank for the year are 2007 and 2009 and the only year with a lower grossing film is 2009.  I’ve seen 99.96% of all the box office for the year (counted by money, not by films) and after 1994 the only year that beats that is 2009.  The highest grossing adapted film is some version of Hansel and Gretel (#318, $154,642).  If there is a sequel I haven’t seen it’s deceptively named.

There are only two Oscar eligible films I haven’t seen (Divorce: The Musical, Only in Hollywood), both of them original and both of them with fewer than 30 votes on the IMDb.  That puts me at 99.28% of the Oscar Eligible films, the highest percentage (even beating 1994 for which I did a whole seven part series trying to see all the films).