departed

Nothing Wahlberg says in the film is anything like the dialogue in the original film but damn it’s brilliant.

My Top 10

  1. The Departed
  2. Children of Men
  3. Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
  4. The Prestige
  5. Perfume
  6. Casino Royale
  7. Army of Shadows
  8. The Painted Veil
  9. Thank You for Smoking
  10. Notes on a Scandal

note:  An excellent Top 5 and Top 10.

Consensus Nominees:

  1. The Departed  (400 pts)
  2. Little Children  (144 pts)
  3. Notes on a Scandal  (112 pts)
  4. Last King of Scotland  (80 pts)
  5. Borat  /  The Devil Wears Prada  (80 pts)

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

  • The Departed
  • Borat
  • Children of Men
  • Little Children
  • Notes on a Scandal

WGA:

  • The Departed
  • Borat
  • The Devil Wears Prada
  • Little Children
  • Thank You for Smoking

Golden Globes:

  • The Departed
  • Little Children
  • Notes on a Scandal

Nominees that are Original:  The Queen, Babel

BAFTA:

  • Last King of Scotland
  • Casino Royale
  • The Devil Wears Prada
  • The Departed
  • Notes on a Scandal

CC:

  • The Departed
  • Little Children

Nominees that are Original:   Little Miss Sunshine, Babel, The Queen, Stranger than Fiction

BSFC:

  • The Departed

NBR:

  • The Painted Veil

CFC:

  • The Departed

My Top 10

The Departed

the-departed-quad-poster-1The Film:

There was a lot of discussion when this film came out over whether Marty would win the Oscar and whether it would be considered a “career Oscar”.  He did.  It isn’t.  It’s the best film of a very amazing Top 5, one that shows that Marty isn’t limited to New York and that cemented what has continued as one of the best director-actor collaborations of all-time in his work with Leo (who almost certainly would have been Oscar nominated had Oscar rules not prevented it since he was nominated for Blood Diamond).  After watching the film this time (for who knows how many times – I own the film), a few nights later, on our way through the entire run of The Simpsons, we hit the Boston episode and after hearing the kids do an a cappella version of “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” (which was so fucking wrong), I had to immediately hop over to the film and go right to the scene where the song is so brilliantly used just to cleanse that version out of my head.  I also own the soundtrack and for good reason.

infernal_affairsThe Source:

無間道, directors: Andrew Lau, Alan Mak, scriptwriters: Alan Mak, Felix Chong  (2003)

Chan (Tony Leung) is an undercover cop working among the Hong Kong underworld and he would be killed in an instant if anyone knew what he was really doing.  Lau (Andy Lau), on the other hand, is a member of that same underworld who has managed to make his way into the police force and even into an important position.  Both of them work hard (and the performances are solid) and the game is on for one to catch the other before death catches up to both of them.

The original Chinese title of this film translates to The Unceasing Path, a reference to Buddhism and the thought that in the lowest depths of Hell, one is never free from suffering.  The English language title (which was used when it was submitted to the Oscars from Hong Kong where it did not earn a nomination in spite of being substantially superior to three of the five nominees) is a play on “internal affairs”, the division of police work that deals with corruption.

Because this was a cop film out of Hong Kong, I suspect that a lot of people probably lumped it with John Woo films, as a shoot-em up thriller, which is both the wrong way to look at the best work of Woo (which this film does not equal) or and to look at this film which is much more of a character drama than an action film.  It’s all about the work that the men do, the way they keep themselves alive and try to stay one step in front of each other.  It’s not a great film but it is a very good one, where you would have been unlikely to know what was coming if not for the fact that the basic plot premise is followed very closely in The Departed and unless you are from Hong Kong, the odds are very high you saw The Departed first.  But don’t let the superior remake make you skip out on this film because it is definitely worth watching.

The Adaptation:

The basic plot premise of the film comes exactly from the original and some of the most indelible moments are almost straight from the original script including the scene in the movie theater, the bit with the envelopes, the captain being killed and the final confrontation.  Your first instinct is to note how unoriginal the script for The Departed is.  But then your second instinct is to notice the distinct Boston flavor to the film, to the dialogue, to the scenes between Baldwin and Wahlberg (or, really, any scene with Wahlberg) and to realize that Monahan took the plot from the original film and then really grafted another, deeper film on top of it.

The Credits:

Directed by Martin Scorsese.  Screenplay by William Monahan.  Based on the motion picture Infernal Affairs, directed by Andrew Lau Wai Keung / Alan Mak, screenplay by Alan Mak / Felix Chong.

Children of Men

ChildrenOfMen_quad_UK-1The Film:

I have already reviewed this film as one of the five best of the year.  It’s a fascinating film that is essentially a Sci-Fi film at its core (because it’s a Dystopia) but is also a social Drama.  It was one of the three films that helped launch the Three Amigos into the forefront of world cinema (although all of them were already on their way there).

Children-of-Men-bookcoverThe Source:

The Children of Men by P.D. James  (1992)

This is a bit of an odd book, especially coming from a writer who was far more known for Mysteries.  This deals with what has happened after society has stopped having children for over twenty years.  A man (who is cousin to the man despotically ruling Britain) is dragged into a conspiracy involving the first pregnant woman in years and trying to keep her alive and move towards a better society.  It’s a bit strange and it really starts to feel like a religious parable through the second half of the novel.

The Adaptation:

There are a lot of changes in the book.  The primary one has to do with the way that Theo is brought into the conspiracy (yes, he had a wife and a dead child in the book but he killed the child by accident, didn’t care that much about the child and neither the wife nor child are part of the conspiracy).  The Michael Caine character doesn’t exist at all in the book.  Also, almost everything about the second half of the book is changed in the film and really, to my mind, for the better, as this becomes about the concept of hope rather than a rather weird religious parable.  It’s not that James’ book isn’t that good but just that it doesn’t work for me and the film really does.

The Credits:

Directed by Alonfo Cuarón.  Screenplay by Alfono Cuarón & Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby.  Based on the book by P.D. James.

A Cock and Bull Story

a cock and bull story - cinema quad movie poster (1).jpg

The Film:

I had planned to begin this review by discussing how my English professor (and advisor) in college used to begin his Studies in Fiction course with this book (the course was chronological) but finally gave up with my year because no one ever read it but then I realized that was among the many things I wrote when I originally reviewed this film nearly a decade ago now as the under-appreciated film of 2006.  It’s still perhaps the most under-appreciated film of the year.  The full review can be found here.

tsThe Source:

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne  (1759-1767)

Tristram Shandy was a post-modern classic written before there was any modernism to be post about.”  That’s Steve Coogan in the film speaking to Tony Wilson, a man who, when played by Steve Coogan in 24 Hour Party People, a film made by these same filmmakers, said “I’m being post-modern before it’s fashionable.”  If that sounds very post-modern, well it is and the book elicits much of what would, over 200 years later, be called post-modernism.  But that doesn’t make it readable.

There are people who read this book or at least claim to read it.  I’ve technically looked at all the words on all the pages which means I can claim to have read it but I can’t claim to have penetrated the text.  I understand what Sterne is doing and the way he’s trying to bring humor to a new form (a form that hardly existed by this time by the way) in which we get a story about a man that begins with his birth and ends, 450 pages later (in the Norton Critical Text I’m using) just after he is born.  It’s exactly as is said in the final line “A COCK and a BULL, said Yorick – And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard.”  That’s also the final line of the film which is ironic because the film never gets around to filming much of the book but that’s okay because Sterne never gets around to writing much of it.

If you are now helplessly confused (and you should be), you can understand why the previous classes of Studies in Fiction had revolted against our professor and never managed to finish the book.  I doubt that many of them even started the book.  This was, after all, a professor who assigned us The Good Soldier Svejk and thought we might have it read for the first day of class.  In a fit of irony, I didn’t read hardly anything he assigned for Studies in Fiction at the time (because that’s what I was like in college) and I read all of them a few years later in a couple week frenzy which is fairly astounding since the syllabus included Dostoevsky, Woolf, Joyce, Faulkner and Morrison.  I can understand why he used to assign this book, because it really kicks off a new level of how to write fiction when fiction was still trying to figure out how it worked but it was so damn confusing that no one could grasp what to do with it which is why it took another 200 years for post-modernism to actually catch on (not to mention that it needed the invention of modernism).

The Adaptation:

Does the film adapt the novel?  Well, it’s hard to say since nothing much actually happens in the novel.  But in a sense nothing much happens in the film either.  There are a lot of moments that they make use of from the book, some dramatized, some discussed.  The ending, of course, is word for word from the ending of the book.  And there is much discussion about the book and what it means and what you can do with it.  If you have an unfilmable novel, this is about as you can do in terms of being faithful to it and still making a great film out of it.

The Credits:

director: michael winterbottom.  screenplay: martin hardy.  based on the novel the life and opinions of tristram shandy by laurence sterne.

The Prestige

ThePrestige_quad_UK-1The Film:

I have already reviewed this film in full.  Back when I wrote about Christopher Nolan for my Top 100 Directors post, I decided to write about this film precisely because it doesn’t have the same reputation as other Nolan films and is probably his most under-appreciated film because it is absolutely brilliant, in its conception (see below) and execution.  It is brilliantly directed, has great acting, a fantastic script and the kind of first-rate technical work (especially the editing and cinematography) that you have come to expect from Nolan.

prestigeThe Source:

The Prestige by Christopher Priest  (1995)

This is an interesting novel but I think it honestly becomes less interesting to me because of the film.  The same thing happens to me sometimes with songs; I loved the live version of “Be True” on the Chimes of Freedom ep but once I heard Springsteen’s original studio version, I almost never listened to that live version again.  This is the story of two warring magicians who end up battling professionally and personally because of circumstances that neither is fully aware of and they do great harm to each other.  Because of how things play out, their battle continues through multiple generations and in some ways can never really end.  It’s a bit of a mystery and a little bit of Sci-Fi and all very fascinating.  But this time, re-reading it for the first time since I originally read it (when the film was released) it definitely felt like it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the film.

The Adaptation:

I gave Nolan credit for the conception of the film above and that’s because while the basic premise and some of the details come from the book, it’s really what Nolan does with it that makes it shine all the more.  The biggest difference might be that in the film that the two men are friends and co-workers and I really enjoy the scenes of them together before their break.  Or it might be the way things come to a close, since the film drops the modern-day framing device for a different one (that does play upon their journals which the book used but in a different way as they use it to communicate with each other) and the film has a definitive end that the book just doesn’t have.  There are some details in the book that come through (the use of Olive as deception but she falls for Borden, the use of Tesla and the creation of a machine that does create a duplicate though in a different manner than in the book) but the book is really just a starting point for what Nolan does in the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Christopher Nolan.  Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan.  Based on the novel by Christopher Priest.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

perfumeThe Film:

This is the kind of film that is great and just slips by.  It was passed over not only for the things that no one was going to nominate it for (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay) but also the things that absolutely everybody should have nominated it for (Art Direction, Costume Design).  It was also my introduction to Ben Whishaw, one of my favorite actors and clearly it drove people to frenzies around Rachel Hurd-Wood because the picture of her I posted with my full review of the film was what drove web traffic to the blog for several years before Google retooled how they do pictures.  The film actually found its biggest audience in Germany by far which is both appropriate (the director and author of the original novel are both German) and ironic (the film is in English).

perfumeThe Source:

Dar Parfum by Patrick Süskind  (1985, tr. 1986)

I actually remember precisely where I bought this – in a wonderful, large antique shop on the North Shore on a day trip we took there in January of 2008.  I had seen the film probably a few months before (it can’t have been later than August of 2007 because I also remember the apartment I first saw the film in).  I had been intrigued enough by the film to read the book.  But what really says a lot about the book is that I still have it after all the downsizing I have done and I’ve read it at least three times at this point.  It’s a great book with a fantastic opening line (“In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages.”)  Süskind does a masterful job of bringing scents to life on the page and gives us this story of a man with a nose like no other, with no natural scent, with the desire to create a scent that will bring him happiness and what he does to ensure that and how that affects all those around him.

The Adaptation:

The film is an interesting very straight-forward and faithful adaptation with one notable exception in the story-telling and one in the details.  The one in the story-telling is that the book is in three parts (four, really, but the fourth is just the final chapter) and the film gives us most everything from the the first and third parts.  To keep the film from being too long (and because it wouldn’t work well on film), it simply skips the second part entirely.  Several years actually take place between him leaving Paris and arriving in Grasse on page 201 where he shuts himself off from the world (then gets another sponsor) and the film wisely skips it entirely as if they never happened.  As for the detail, well, Grenouille survives anthrax “leaving him disfigured and even uglier than he had been before.”  Ben Whishaw is too damn handsome for that description and if you don’t agree my wife will have some very cross words for you.

The Credits:

Directed by Tom Tykwer.  Screenplay by Andrew Birkin & Bernd Eichinger & Tom Tykwer.  From the novel by Patrick Süskind.

Casino Royale

casino-royale-posterThe Film:

I have already reviewed this film as part of my For Love of Film: James Bond series.  In it, I mentioned that when I originally saw this in the theater, I wondered if it was the greatest Bond film of all-time or just the second greatest (behind Goldfinger).  Watching it for that series made it clear that it was a far better film than Goldfinger, that Craig is the ultimate Bond and that Eva Green is far and away the best Bond girl, not the least of which because she gives a performance that is pretty much better than every Bond girl that came before her put together.  It is, quite simply, a phenomenal Action film, among the best of all-time and fantastic entertainment as well.

crThe Source:

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming  (1953)

This is, of course, the original James Bond novel, the one that introduced the character.  It establishes the character of Bond, his views on women (he doesn’t think much of them in the field), his addiction to alcohol and cigarettes (some 70 per day), the importance of breakfast to him and his manner of approach to his job.  It is surprisingly short on action because so much of it deals with the card game itself.  It is short (my copy runs 144 pages) with a lot of short chapters to keep things moving quickly (27 in all).  Fleming’s books are not great literature but they are compelling reading and fun to enjoy and very much a product of their time in regards to gender, race, sex and personal habits.  In a fit of extreme irony, I actually bought a different edition of the book than the one pictured on the same day and in the same place I bought Perfume.  However, I eventually replaced it with the edition on the right because it matches my old pulp Signet editions of all the other Bond books.  It sits on the same shelf with my old mass market editions of Chandler and Le Carre novels.  I love physical books.

The Adaptation:

While watching the film this time, I paused at the 66 minute mark as Bond was just arriving at Casino Royale and turned to Veronica and said “We’ve reached the beginning of the book.”  Yes, not a single thing in the first hour of the film is in the book.  The book is almost entirely taken up with the actions at the casino, some of which is done fairly faithfully but most of which has been changed, including the vast majority of the dialogue.  In fact, the only line that really stands out as being in the both the book and the film is “the bitch is dead” which is actually the final line of the book.  Having already established Bond for years on film, the filmmakers used the book as a blueprint for what to do in the film (and in the book, Le Chiffre works for SMERSH, the Soviet equivalent of MI-6).

The Credits:

Directed by Martin Campbell.  Based on the novel by Ian Fleming.  Screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Paul Haggis.

L’armée des ombres

army-of-shadows-larmee-des-ombres-vintage-movie-poster-original-french-1-panel-47x63-1766The Film:

It’s hard to make a comparison to what happened when this film opened in France.  I guess think about Lance Armstrong and if a film had been made that showed him in a positive light and it was a brilliant film but it happened to open right after he finally admitted to being a liar and a cheat.  During the war, De Gaulle was a hero to the French, the man from England who was helping to move the pieces in a resistance that wasn’t particularly organized.  But by 1969, things had changed.  De Gaulle was the reactionary leader of a country that was tired of him.  This is the kind of man whose assassination was planned in The Day of the Jackal and for a reason (though that novel and film are fictional there were several attempts on De Gaulle).  So when this film was released in the heart of an era of upheaval, the French critics just weren’t having it.  They shredded it and made certain it never made it to other countries and so eventually it was forgotten.  And then, as was rightfully so, it was rediscovered and revived.  It finally made it to the States in 2006 and won several critics awards though it wasn’t eligible at the Oscars in any category.

By 2006, things had changed.  Jean-Pierre Melville, who had never really gotten his rightful due as an important and very influential filmmaker was finally getting proper consideration from critics.  Army of Shadows was looked at, not as a relic that celebrated someone who was now the enemy but as the masterwork of one of film’s great directors.

The film is aptly named.  This army, the French Resistance, if an army it can be called, is most definitely made of shadows.  They have names, but the names mean nothing.  They wear no uniforms.  They have no ranks or identification.  They spy on the German masters who have occupied their land and the traitorous men who collaborate with them in the subjugation of their people.  They sabotage.  They resist.  They fight.  They die.  Most certainly do they die.  They knew that dying is perhaps the only real freedom left to them, to choose to die for this cause no matter that there be no glory in it.  For this is the call.

This isn’t really a fictional film.  It arises almost verbatim from the book by Joseph Kessel who wrote it while the war was still going and it was published in America also while the war was still going on by Alfred A. Knopf with an ad in the front “BE FULLY INFORMED: READ THESE BOOKS FOR WARTIME”.  Kessel himself based the book on his own experiences in France before he left for England.  It focuses on a small group of Resistance fighters who go through being captured, escaping, being rescued, running for their lives from the Nazis and in the end, often killing one another because that is what duty requires.  Yes, it has major French actors in some of the roles, stars like Simone Signoret and Jean-Pierre Cassel but not because they are the stars of the film but rather because they are great actors who bring these characters to life.

This is not an action film though there are some action sequences in it (though, the most notable action scene is when one man is forced to flee from Nazi machine gun fire and then is rescued by his comrades).  This is not really a War film either because it does not focus on the front lines.  It would almost be like a domestic film during wartime except France really is at war, just not really with the Nazis, but with itself.

Great films aren’t always appreciated when they are released.  But people will find them and their greatness will endure long beyond what the original critics thought of the films.

armee coverThe Source:

L’armée des ombres by Joseph Kessel  (1943)

As mentioned above, this is not fiction. This is Kessel’s memoir of working in the French Resistance before he escaped to England.  The book was published in 1943, partially to help make people understand what the French Resistance was going through and by 1944 was already being published in the United States almost two decades before Kessel’s Belle de Jour would make it to the States in spite of having been written 15 years before.  Like Belle de Jour, it’s a short (159 pages) but effective book and it’s clear how talented Kessel was.

The Adaptation:

This is an extremely faithful adaptation.  Almost everything in the film comes straight from the original book.

The Credits:

adaptation et réalisation de Jean-Pierre Melville.  d’après le livre de Joseph Kessel de l;Académie Française.

The Painted Veil

painted_veilThe Film:

Do we learn through loss?  Is that the only way we really ever learn?  Kitty and Walter Fane leave their lives in Hong Kong behind and travel to inland China where Walter will be working to stem the tide of a cholera epidemic.  They have already left their lives in London behind.  Kitty goes now, not because she wants to be there, but because the other option is that Walter will divorce her because she’s sleeping with the vice consul.  Having been discovered, she goes to her lover, hoping he will leave his wife, but he is just another loss for Kitty.  In fact, what Kitty is losing through the early parts of the film is her sense of self, as her husband is determined to hurt her (after being hurt by her), her life has been left behind twice and now a lover has turned out to be less than the man he seemed to her.

In lesser hands, this could be just a melodrama that doesn’t have a lot of weight to it and indeed that’s what we got in 1934 with even the great Garbo as Kitty and in 1957 with Eleanor Parker (in a version titled The Seventh Sin).  But here, it’s not just Naomi Watts, in a fantastic performance that lets us feel the weight of her mounting losses, but also a very good Edward Norton as her husband (much better than Herbert Marshall in 1934 or Bill Travers in 1957).  There is also Toby Jones as a drunken deputy commissioner, the one Englishman who hasn’t fled the epidemic and Diana Rigg as a Mother Superior who comes to have a better understanding of Kitty before Kitty finally gains some.  What’s more, we have a script that finds its proper way to the story, beginning as they are journeying inland and only then moving back and allowing us to see what has already passed between this couple to kill their love (or his love, as she hadn’t loved him yet) before they arrived.

What will come, of course, is probably no surprise, but it’s with great care that the film goes about it.  Kitty will learn the real depths of her husband as she watches him working with children, fighting the epidemic, and of course, eventually coming down with cholera himself.  It’s not in the cards for him to survive, of course, because this isn’t really a story about a relationship but about how someone (Kitty) learns through loss, not only what she is losing, but who she is and what depths she had.  That’s the only way this film can come to its final moments, moments that aren’t even in the book (see below) but which show that Kitty has finally learned who she is and who she was and what she is to become.  In this stretch of years, it was the odd years that generally gave us the really powerful Naomi Watts performances (Mulholland Drive, 21 Grams, King Kong, Eastern Promises) so we can be grateful that she made this film and didn’t make us wait once again for an odd year performance.

pvThe Source:

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham  (1924 (serialization), 1925)

Is this the best of Maugham’s novels?  Or is it perhaps the least annoying of them?  To be fair, I haven’t read a lot of Maugham (four novels, his short stories) but other than “Rain”, the short story that was turned into the film Sadie Thompson, I’ve never been much impressed.  But this novel isn’t overdone with the weight of its characters like Of Human Bondage and isn’t pompous like Razor’s Edge or just dull like Moon and Sixpence.  It’s the story of a woman, Kitty Fane, who, after being discovered in her infidelity by her husband in Hong Kong where he is a research scientist, travels with him into the heart of China to deal with a cholera epidemic only to lose him at the same time that she is discovering how much he actually means to her.  It’s succinct (less than 250 pages) and has some power to it, as she learns who she is through this journey as well, finding a measure of understanding to all of her relationships.

The Adaptation:

Like the novel, the film starts into the story.  However, while the novel begins with the infidelity just as its being discovered and then goes back to explain how Kitty ended up in this situation, the film actually starts farther forward, with them already having left Hong Kong and going back and giving all of the back story.  Norton worked (uncredited) with Nyswaner on the script, working to expand the character of Walter (he had already changed him a bit by being more handsome and thinner than the original character) and giving them more time together in China and having her actually nurse him (in the film she barely even makes it to see him after learning he is sick before he dies).  The film also changes the ending significantly.  In the book, Kitty stays with the Townsends in Hong Kong before leaving for England (even getting seduced by Charles again) and the pregnancy is not a surprise.  I actually prefer the film ending, not only for getting rid of that scene (which weakens Kitty’s character after so much strengthening of it) but for also giving her the powerful final scene (in the book, it ends with her talking with her father about going away with him to the Bahamas and her going with him to have the baby there).

The Credits:

Directed by John Curran.  Based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham.  Screenplay by Ron Nyswaner.

Thank You for Smoking

thank_you_for_smoking_ver2The Film:

There is a lot of irony in this film, not the least of which is that it is a film about the way an industry promotes itself in spite of all science on the subject and how it claims to be much less dangerous than it actually is and that the film is produced by two men who have continually used their wealth to attack anyone who would dare question them about anything (Peter Thiel, Elon Musk).  Did this irony escape them when they provided funding for this film or did they watch the film afterwards and think to themselves, hey, the tobacco industry survived so long by berating all of its opponents and beating them into financial submission and maybe that can work for me?

The tobacco industry spent a long time utilizing financial pressure to achieve its means but it also needed to work other angles.  That’s where a guy like Nick Naylor is so valuable.  He’s extremely handsome and he’s even more charming, not to mention quick-witted.  He manages to use all of those things in conjunction with each other to help push the ridiculous lie that tobacco isn’t particularly dangerous, a lie that’s made more palatable when people die of lung cancer long after they should have (I write this in the same week that Rush Limbaugh died of it at 70 and Bob Dole has stage 4 and is 97 and how either of them lived past 50 is beyond me).  But Naylor also must deal with trying to raise his son and actually getting his son to look up to him.  He wants to be a good father and in some ways, he surprisingly is, but that’s balanced against the very public role he plays at work.  It’s a role that is perfect for Aaron Eckhart and possibly the only person who could have played it better would have been Clooney.

But the film is not just about Naylor.  It also dives into the other kind of industries that he works with (he meets for a regular lunch with a gun lobbyist and an alcohol lobbyist and they call themselves the Merchants of Death).  It’s a full-on satire and deals with what can happen when a man lobbying for tobacco fends off a senator from Vermont by suggesting that his state’s cheese are clogging the nation’s arteries.  He heads out to California to get the film industry to make smoking on film glamorous again (that one definitely didn’t work as before too long after this, the MPAA finally added smoking as one of the reasons for a film’s rating).  He pisses people off so much that a group of radicals kidnap him and cover him with so many nicotine patches that, ironically, if not for his smoking habit, it would have killed him.  It’s the kind of movie where you can close out with a line like “Michael Jordan plays basketball.  Charles Manson kills people.  I talk.  Everyone has a talent.”

tyfsThe Source:

Thank You for Smoking: A Novel by Christopher Buckley  (1994)

Buckley is the son of the famous conservative pundit and interestingly, developed a sense of humor that his father never seemed to have, becoming known for a number of satirical novels.  This dark story skewers not just the tobacco industry, but every industry that gets involved with it, the media and the government itself.  It goes a bit off the rails at the end when its main character ends up in jail because of a plot that almost killed him but then he writes a book about it and heads back out into the world to promote it.

The Adaptation:

The main core of the storyline and the characters themselves come straight from the book.  Much of the early dialogue in the film also comes straight from the book.  But aside from some changes early on (the relationship with his son is emphasized much more in the film), the film really changes things in the second half.  The kidnapping and the fallout from it is what dominates the second half of the book, moving it a bit more from satire to absurdity, while the film keeps its focus a bit more and allows Naylor to kind of stay on top in a way he doesn’t in the book.

The Credits:

Written for the screen and directed by Jason Reitman.  Based on the novel by Christopher Buckley.

Notes on a Scandal

notes_on_a_scandalThe Film:

The older teacher, the one who takes no gruff, the one whose students know just because the bell has rung doesn’t mean they can get up and leave, is watching out the window on the first day of term.  She sees the new teacher arriving on a bicycle.  Her long skirt and slightly dowdy clothes can’t hide how beautiful she is or her long blonde hair, because, hey, she’s Cate Blanchett.  The older teacher, Judi Dench, will become quick friends with Blanchett, partially at least because Dench is attracted to her.  But, one night, when most of the school is an at a dance, Dench walks by a window and see Blanchett in with a student and she’s not helping him with his homework.

On one level, this film is a straight melodrama.  A beautiful woman makes the bad mistake of getting involved with a student that she finds refreshing (that he is also violent seems to be a mix of turn-on and turn-off).  Eventually, of course, this will have to come out and there will repercussions, not just involving her job but also because she’s married and has children.  Aside from that, there is the relationship that develops between the two women, made a bit more complicated because the film subtly plays up the older one’s attraction to the beautiful one, but also because the secret tears at them.  It gets more complicated when the secret gets out partially because of how the secret gets out and what it does to their relationship.

The reason this film doesn’t drop straight into melodrama is partially because the film deftly writes its way through the relationship and partially because this is an acting master class of Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett (with some able support from the likes of Michael Maloney and Bill Nighy).  Blanchett embraces the idiocy of her character’s decision to pursue an affair with a teenager and Dench gives us brilliant reaction after brilliant reaction because she knows more than Blanchett knows and we know that.  It can be hard to watch such great actresses make such poor decisions in their lives but the dialogue is well done and the acting is superb and you sit back and just try not to cringe too much.

wwstThe Source:

What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal] by Zoë Heller  (2003)

Much like the next book listed below, this book is extremely difficult to read.  That’s not because of any flaw in Heller’s writing but to watch the characters make such horrible self-destructive decisions is just not what I would want to read (which is why I hadn’t read it before).  Heller deserves credit for writing the book from the point-of-view of Barbara (Dench’s character) which gives us an interesting viewpoint on the events, not only because of what she knows and when she knows it but because we’re not sure how reliable a narrator she is when it comes to the judgment of other characters (something that plays into it a lot).  The ending in some ways is even more disturbing as Barbara, in spite of being found out, has manipulated things to actually make Sheba (Blanchett) more reliant on her.

The Adaptation:

Much of what is in the film does come straight from the book but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some notable changes.  In the book, Barbara doesn’t see Sheba and the student but is instead trusted with the information.  There is no hint of a lesbian subtext to Barbara in the book but the book is told from her point of view.  Most notably, the ending is completely different, with Sheba becoming more beholden to Barbara at the end rather than leaving her and taking her time in jail.

The Credits:

directed by Richard Eyre.  based on the book by Zoe Heller.  screenplay by Patrick Marber.

Consensus Nominees

Little Children

little_childrenThe Film:

Based on it not making the Top 10 for my list while it earned multiple awards nominations for its script, combined with my cool reception towards the original novel, you might think I am more down on this film than I actually am.  This film is burdened with being in a very strong year for adapted scripts and it just barely misses out on the Top 10.  What’s more, even putting the script aside (which there is no need to do), it is well directed and the acting, especially from Winslet and Haley, is superb.  That the film is awkward to watch from start to finish because of the characters and the way they interact is not to imply that the film isn’t well made.  It’s just uncomfortable.

Kate Winslet is Sarah.  She’s a mother of a young girl and while she’s still married, her husband has emotionally checked out of the marriage.  She hangs out with other mothers at the local playground where they drool over “The Prom King”, a man named Todd who shows up with his young son to play but who they are too frightened to even talk to (and find out his name).  Sarah, not enjoying her time with the mothers, and eager for something more out of her life, ends up not only talking to Todd but kissing him and therefore sets in motion a series of events that will lead to tragedies for many of the characters involved.

Aside from their affair, there is also the story of Ronnie, recently let out of prison after exposing himself and Larry, the ex-cop (he shot a kid) who has decided his job is to harass Ronnie and the way those intersect with the affair.

Sarah is played by Kate Winslet and it’s an inspired choice.  Sarah must be appealing enough to Todd that he is interested (her getting a red bathing suit and coming to the local pool, which is interesting since it’s a one-piece in the film but a bikini in the book) does the trick.  Jennifer Connelly plays Todd’s wife and she’s much prettier, but you can’t see her having sex in the basement in a passionate and erotic scene and that’s why Winslet works so well.  With her dowdy hair and clothes you can understand Connelly not feeling like her husband with sleep with her but you can also see precisely why he does.

Winslet and Jackie Early Haley (as Ronnie) are the core acting performances in the film though even the usually bland Patrick Wilson works well in a role that seems suited for him.  We watch these people, unable to cope with their adult lives and it’s small wonder why the title of the film works so well.  It’s depressing to watch them and their mistakes but it’s done so well that you also admire the way the film is put together.

lcThe Source:

Little Children by Tom Perrotta  (2004)

This film was extremely unpleasant to read which was a little surprising and a bit disappointing.  The surprise was because I had already seen the film (although not for over a decade as I try to read the books first before re-watching the film because it makes it easier) and the film hadn’t seemed as unpleasant.  The disappointment is because I not only met Tom Perrotta (and liked him) but also because I met him on December 13, 2006 and correctly predicted to him that he would be nominated for a Golden Globe the next morning (that’s how I know the date) which he seemed surprised about.  But there is also the disappointment because all of the rather nasty actions in this book seem to take place right near where I lived for 11 years.  Yes, the town in this book is called Bellington but that’s a very-easy-to-see-through amalgamation of the town of Belmont (where Perrotta lives) and the next door town of Arlington (where I lived).

This is the story of a variety of damaged characters and how their lives intersect.  A woman whose husband is emotionally absent, a father who can’t figure out who he’s supposed to be, his wife who is carrying the family, a sex offender who has just been released from jail and a former cop who still desperately wants to be one.  All of them come out of the book in much worse shape than they entered it and it’s disturbing to even read their story.

The Adaptation:

The film is really quite true to the novel (not very surprising since Perrotta co-wrote the film) and Field had already shown with In the Bedroom he was not averse to staying close to an emotionally damaging piece of fiction.  You get a bit more about some of the characters in the book but really you can pretty much follow closely along with the novel just by seeing the film.

The Credits:

Directed by Todd Field.  Screenplay by Todd Field & Tom Perrotta.  Based on the novel by Tom Perrotta.
note:  The title is the only thing in the opening credits.  These are from the end credits.

The Last King of Scotland

last_king_of_scotlandThe Film:

What makes a man follow someone who is evil?  It’s interesting that many of the worst men in history have had significant amounts of charisma, allowing their followers to be drawn in by their force of personality and fail to see how truly evil these men are.  There are also many who seem different when they first take power (as pointed out in this film, Idi Amin was initially supported by the British before they came to the realization that he was raving psychotic lunatic) and only later does the full extent of their brutality become apparent.  Idi Amin had another advantage in getting men to follow him in spite of horrific atrocities: he actually knew how to be funny.  Many in Uganda during his rule protested Western journalists laughing at his ridiculous statements and treating him like a clown because they felt that laughter undermined the very real threat of the man and helped Western powers who might have done something about his despotic rule to underestimate how awful and how much of a threat he was.  All of this comes through in the magnificent performance from Forest Whitaker that didn’t just win the Oscar, but won pretty much every award conceivable for his performance of a man teetered on the edge between insanity and brutality.

But, while this is really a story about Imin, who, of course, is the title character, it’s told through the eyes of a (fictional) Scottish doctor that befriends him, works for him and only slowly becomes aware of events that he has become drawn into and that he can’t escape from unscarred (literally).  Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) has run away from Scotland to try and find something more interesting and ends up in Uganda where, after failing to have an affair with the beautiful wife of the doctor he is working with (Gillian Anderson, who is worthy of a brief aside, because I rewatched this film and Tristram Shandy on the same morning and then several hours later watched her win a Golden Globe for The Crown and she looked like she hadn’t aged a day in the 15 years between the two), manages to come to Amin’s aid when he is in a car accident nearby.  Amin is impressed, both with Gaffigan’s skill and with his ability to take charge (distracted by the dying moos of a cow that Amin hit with his car, he grabs Amin’s gun and shoots the cow) and brings him into his fold as his personal physician.

That decision will both aid Gaffigan (for a short time) and destoy him, as Gaffigan will be caught up in Amin’s world for a few years (including a disastrously horrific end to an affair with one Amin’s younger wives) and come to a head during the Entebbe incident that will nearly see Gaffigan killed and will eventually manage to get him out of the situation altogether.  But it’s an interesting way to tell the story because Gaffigan, the white character in a nation full of blacks, not only is our viewpoint character, but manages to get other people killed along the way through his own carelessness, including the wife he has an affair with, the doctor who tries to help her and the doctor who does help him.  No wonder he would get caught up in the world of such a horrible despot; he can’t seem to get out of his own way with the horrible choices of his own life and the destruction around Amin is just the destruction around Gaffigan but at a larger and more deliberate level.

lkosThe Source:

The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden  (1998)

I’m not quite sure how I felt about most of this book.  I’ve mentioned before that I am not a fan of books like Schindler’s List (wrote a novel rather than do the research to make it non-fiction) or Compulsion (barely fictionalized a true story).  This is something different, as Foden actually creates a fictional character (Gaffigan has some loose traits of a couple of Brits who were around Amin but is basically fictional) to explore the real life atrocities of a real man.  It’s especially awkward since the book is written in first person as journal entries from Gaffigan so it really is his viewpoint.  What’s more, it’s the white man viewpoint into an African country (to be, Foden spent much of his life in Africa from a very young age and he is white, so write what you know) which gives it an extra level of awkwardness.  The book isn’t badly written though and we do get an idea of what Amin was like.  The last 100 pages of the book, however, are rather a mess, except for the final page which I will deal with in the next section.

The Adaptation:

With some exceptions that range from minor (Gaffigan’s father is a minister not a doctor in the book) to major (Gaffigan does have an affair with Sarah who is a different character than Anderson’s character and she comes back later in the book; he doesn’t have an affair with the wife – it is someone else who impregnates her – but he does refuse to help her), the film, for the most part, follows the course of the novel for about 2/3 of the length of the film and 1/2 the length of the novel.  Where things drastically diverge is in the Entebbe incident.  In the book, Gaffigan does not betray Amin, is not tortured and does not escape with the plane (which really did leave like that – aside from the presence of Gaffigan much of what the film tells us about Amin follows decently close to actual history).  In the book, instead, Gaffigan hangs around until the end of the regime (three years later), tries to escape, is bitten by a mamba, barely makes it alive to Tanzania, then ends up being dragged back with the invasion that overthrew Amin, has to deal with the Brits not wanting to take him back, then taking him back in a weird double-cross set-up that is more reminiscent of some of the aspects of The Constant Gardner.  The whole thing drags on for something like 100 pages (out of 335) and makes you wonder if Foden just didn’t really know how to end it.  It somewhat redeems itself on the final page (sadly not used in the film where it still might have worked) where Gaffigan, at home in Scotland, gets a phone call from Amin (in exile in Saudi Arabia) who simply speaks to him as if they are still friends and nothing has happened.  It’s a fascinating ending that speaks to the oddity of a man like Amin with his mixture of humor and atrocity.

The Credits:

Directed by Kevin MacDonald.  Screenplay by Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock.  Based on the book by Giles Foden.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

boratThe Film:

I.  Don’t.  Like.  Uncomfortable.  Comedy.

I don’t know how I can be more clear about this.  I don’t like sitting there squirming as I watch people interact in uncomfortable ways.  It’s bad enough when it’s a Ben Stiller film and it’s all about how awkward characters interact.  What Sacha Baron Cohen does is far, far worse for me to deal with.  In some ways, I barely even think these should count as films at all.  Yes, parts of them are scripted and they’re edited together, but in one very real way it’s a documentary, it’s just that one of the people involved in the documentary is playing a character and the rest of the people involved (in at least some of the scenes) are completely unaware of that.  They don’t know this is a film.  They think it’s real.

Granted, part of the point that Cohen is making is that the things he is doing and saying are so ridiculously outlandish that there’s no way that any rational person should be able to accept what’s going on as the truth and yet they do so anyway.  The role that Stephen Colbert played on The Colbert Report worked because the people he was interviewing understood that it was all an act.  The people here just far too often have no idea.  So I don’t really know what to write about the film.

Sacha Baron Cohen is an incredibly talented actor.  I am writing this two days after he won a second Golden Globe for playing this character and he was also nominated for playing Abbie Hoffman.  But the sequel to this film also won Best Picture and it hardly qualifies as a film to me.  So what to write?

Borat is a Kazakh man who comes to America to make a documentary but his notion of America is very confused because he’s in a post 9/11 world and he’s been badly inundated by propaganda from every level.  It’s a film in which the funniest scene is two men, one of whom is very overweight, old and unattractive (not normally something I would point out but it seems very relevant here) have an argument that turns into a nude wrestling match that isn’t even contained to their hotel room (which they have done a good job of destroying).  Every minute of it is designed to make you feel uncomfortable and I think maybe it says something that I felt the most relaxed during that scene that probably made a lot of people feel the most uncomfortable.

daaligshowThe Source:

Borat, character created by Sacha Baron Cohen (1997)

It’s hard to trace the exact lineage of what Cohen had already done and I don’t want to try.  There’s a reason that I’ve never watched Da Ali G Show and Borat pretty much encompasses all of that reason.  But he apparently originally created the character for a show called F2F (what a different name and nationality) then moved on to Comedy Nation (changing the name and nationality) before becoming a regular character in Da Ali G Show.  Yes, I read a lot of horrible books for this project and I’m punting on trying to track down any of Borat’s early appearances.  It’s my project.  Sue me.  Be prepared for similar comments when I have to do this all over again for the 2020 sequel review.

The Adaptation:

Other than that he apparently used to make references to a dead wife on the show and he’s got a wife that he leaves behind in the film, it doesn’t seem to be very different than what he did in the show.

The Credits:

Directed by Larry Charles.  Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Peter Baynham & Dan Mazer.  Story by Sacha Baron Cohen & Peter Baynham & Anthony Hines & Todd Phillips.  Based on a character created by Sacha Baron Cohen.

the devil wears prada

devil_wears_pradaThe Film:

Andy Sachs, a name that sounds like it should be a clothing brand, is apparently unschooled in the ways of fashion, which doesn’t stop her from applying for an assistant position at the most popular fashion magazine on the planet or from getting the job.  We’re supposed to believe she could be this clueless and still get the job in spite of the fact that her boss is a complete monster who would be sued in an instant for the kind of attitude she displays towards those who work for her and wouldn’t likely hire this person.  Of course, all of it is made more ridiculous by the fact that Andy herself has no interest in fashion (but is later willing to dive into it for the sake of the job) and looks down on the people she works with.  And then there’s the look of Andy herself.  All of the other women shown in the opening sequence are supposed to be contrasts to Andy who puts on almost no makeup, does little with her hair and wears a quasi business casual look to the interview, yet is better looking and has an outfit that is more sexually appealing (the sweater with a collar sticking out look) than anyone in the actual industry in the film.  I would gladly take the Andy out to dinner in an instant.

So, clearly, this is not a film made for me and it’s based on a book I would gladly have never touched but I set myself on this path and decided to follow it and, hell, it’s not as horrible to deal with than some other films which are more serious both in their content and their source material.  The reason to watch this film, I suppose if you’re interested in fashion at all, is to look at all the clothes and marvel at what you’ll never get to wear.  For me, the purpose of the film is to watch the master acting class of Meryl Streep, who even though she is ably supported by Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt, is holding the class frozen with just a withering look.  Streep plays Miranda Priestly, the awful woman who apparently doesn’t understand how the world works except for that she’s rich and powerful and so the world works as she wants it to work.  She demeans everyone and treats them like shit and they hang on her every syllable.  Everyone wants a piece of her.  And of course, Streep is masterful.  It’s likely her third Oscar would have come four years earlier had Helen Mirren not been sweeping every award thank to The Queen (actually Streep won the Comedy Globe and won supporting actress from one group).

Every aspect of this film is trite except the performances.  The dialogue isn’t very good, the story was cliche before anybody in it had even been born.  Plus, it is determined to give us Andy’s life (or lack thereof) and so we even have to deal with dueling relationships.  But Tucci is quite good as the art director who can get off a good line, Blunt wins her way through as the assistant and of course Streep is masterful.  But the film itself is just dreck.

Devil_Wears_Prada_coverThe Source:

the devil wears prada by Lauren Weisberger  (2003)

Bleh.  I understand why “Chick Lit” sells but that doesn’t mean I want to read it.  The novel is just awful, the characters are insipid and Andy is so sanctimonious it’s hard to root for her and Miranda is so awful she defies belief.  I didn’t care from start to finish.

The Adaptation:

Thank god someone beat me to it and wrote quite a bit on the wikipedia page about what was changed.  Hell, the script was being worked on before the novel was even finished.  I find it interesting that David Frankel, the director, is the only male involved below and he’s the one who wanted to soften Miranda because apparently “My view was that we should be grateful for excellence. Why do the excellent people have to be nice?”  What can I expect from such a terrible director?  Thank god he didn’t make The Social Network.

The Credits:

Directed by david frankel.  Based upon the novel by lauren weisberger.  Screenplay by aline brosh mckenna.

Other Screenplays on My List Outside My Top 10

(in descending order of how I rank the script)

  • The History Boys  –  Adapted from the hit stage play and it kept the cast together which is part of why it works so well.
  • The Pursuit of Happyness  –  Very well done, based on the book by Chris Gardner.  The ending is fantastic.  The look of pure joy with that music coming up when he goes to get his son absolutely overwhelms me.  Probably didn’t hurt that my son was just two when the film was released.  That moment is what it feels like to be a parent.
  • A Prairie Home Companion  –  The joke between Veronica and I for over a decade now is that I keep thinking Garrison Keillor is dead because of the end of this film.  Based on his endless meanderings on the radio and I’m surprised I like the film as much as I do.  I always complain that he’s the whitest man on the planet and my old boss Joe used to say “well, someone has to be the whitest man on the planet.”  The best film performance of Lindsey Lohan by a long way.
  • Tsotsi  –  Oscar winner for Foreign Film from South Africa.  Based on the novel by Athol Fugard.
  • Nanny McPhee  –  I cringe looking at Emma until the end but she’s fantastic in this adaptation of the Nurse Matilda books.  Emma wrote the script as well.
  • Fateless  –  Hungarian Holocaust film based on the autobiographical novel by Nobel winner Imre Kertész.
  • Dreamgirls  –  Headed for Best Picture until it wasn’t.  Based on the hit Broadway musical which was mostly based on the Supremes.  Like all the films listed here, this is ***.5.

Other Adaptations

(in descending order of how good the film is)

note:  The adaptations go up for the fourth straight year, adding another twenty films.

  • Paprika  –  The fourth and, sadly, last film from visionary animated director Satoshi Kon.  Based on the novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui.  The only ***.5 on this list.
  • Marie Antoinette  –  Sofia Coppola re-unites with Kirsten Dunst, giving her some of the most amazing costumes in film history.  Based on the biography by Antonia Fraser.  High ***.
  • Flags of Our Fathers  –  What was supposed to be Eastwood’s Oscar film until it wasn’t that big of a success and he got Letters finished before the deadline.  Based on the best-selling book.
  • Superman Returns  –  I was looking forward to this a lot because the teaser was so good and the special effects had come so far that we get a much better idea of Superman’s speed and power.  And the opening credits almost made me cheer out loud in the theater.  But the casting of Kate Bosworth was terrible and the involvement of Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer (both good at the time) has aged very badly.  But still a better overall film than most people remember (or admit) and I’m glad that the Arrowverse allowed Routh to play Superman again.
  • The Good German  –  Soderbergh’s adaptation of Joseph Kanon’s novel died at the box office and wasn’t loved by critics but is actually pretty good.
  • Curse of the Golden Flower  –  Zhang Yimou’s visual feast, based on the 1934 play Thunderstorm.
  • V for Vendetta  –  The only film from 2006 that I saw in the theater but haven’t seen again.  The graphic novel by Alan Moore is one of the reasons he’s among the best comic book writers ever.  Produced and written by the Wachowskis but not directed by them, probably to the film’s advantage.
  • Clerks II  –  Solid sequel is quite funny (with a great soundtrack) but not perfect.  I reviewed it here.
  • King and the Clown  –  South Korean Drama based on the play Yi.
  • The Yacoubian Building  –  Egyptian film based on the novel by Alaa Al Aswany.
  • Over the Hedge  –  This film really had a slow build because my third collection of the comic strip (published in 1997) had a foreword by Jim Cox, listed as the producer of the upcoming movie.  I loved the strip from the start (it started in The Oregonian, which I read daily at the time) but it really won me over with a line that is still one of my favorite punchlines ever, when a squirrel has become roadkill and RJ asks how it looks and we get the great line: “HIS THIRD DIMENSION DONE BEEN REVOKED!!!”  The film is enjoyable but not good enough to make my Animated Film list.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest  –  Given the success of the first one, this was inevitable.  Enjoyable but not great but of course it was an even bigger hit and overseas the franchise is still going really strong.
  • The Illusionist  –  The other magician film of the year.  Great cinematography but still far weaker than The Prestige.  Based somewhat on a short story by Steven Millhauser.
  • A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints  –  Dito Montiel adapts his own memoir and casts Robert Downey and Shia LaBeouf as himself.  Yet, it’s fairly good.
  • The Cave of the Yellow Dog  –  The 2005 Oscar submission from Mongolia, listed as adapted from a “tale” on the IMDb.
  • All the King’s Men  –  I think it’s a lot better than most people but it died at the box office.  Based on the Pulitzer winning novel which of course had already been made into the 1949 Best Picture winner.  With this we drop to mid ***.
  • The Black Dahlia  –  Another film I think much higher of than most others do, probably not hurt by the fact that it’s my second favorite of Ellroy’s books.  Hilary Swank’s casting was a bad idea but the cinematography is fantastic.
  • Sweet Land  –  Adaptation of the Will Weaver short story “A Gravestone Made of Wheat”.
  • Memories of Tomorrow  – Ken Watanabe reminds us that even after the success of Last Samurai, Batman Begins and Memoirs of a Geisha he’s still a Japanese actor in this adaptation of the novel by Hiroshi Ogiwara about a man dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s.
  • The Intruder  –  Claire Denis film apparently inspired by an essay by Jean-Luc Nancy.
  • Charlotte’s Web  –  With digital technology having caught up, it’s time to remake films that were animated the first time.  Decent version of the children’s classic.
  • Legend of the Black Scorpion  –  Chinese film that is kind of Hamlet and kind of Ibsen’s Ghosts.
  • Curious George  –  Well, they can still animate films.  Solid version of the children’s classic series which would inspire (but not be connected to) the PBS show that soon followed (and which eclipses this in the first season thanks to William H Macy’s brilliant narration).  Good soundtrack with one truly great song (“Upside Down”).  A major connection between Thomas and I because I had a stuffed Curious George as a kid (which Thomas now has) and Thomas has always loved the show and Boston Children’s Hospital sells a plush “Doctor Monkey” which we bought for Thomas when he was in the hospital back in 2017.
  • Welcome to Dongmakgol  –  South Korea’s 2005 Oscar submission, based on the stage play.
  • Heading South  –  A French-Canadian-Belgian film based on short stories by Dany Laferrière.
  • Strangers with Candy  –  If the original Comedy Central series from Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert hadn’t made you squirm with its brand of comedy the prequel to the series will.
  • Glory Road  –  True story of the first all-black team in NCAA history which also went on to win 1966 championship.  Based on the book by the real coach.
  • The Da Vinci Code  –  The ending of this film is an amazing accomplishment of when editing, cinematography and above all, score, can overcome absolute absurdity.  Based on the idiotic novel by Dan Brown that people would just not stop buying.  I remember a customer in 2005 asking where he could get it in paperback and I replied “London.”  “But I’ve seen people with it.”  “And they got it in London.  It’s not out in paperback in the U.S. yet.”  “It’s been two years.  Why isn’t it out in paperback?”  “Because for some reason people keep buying it in hardcover.”
  • Aquamarine  –  A YA novel by Alice Hoffman becomes a YA film with Emma Roberts.
  • X-Men: The Last Stand  –  Higher than most people would have it.  There are serious flaws (like the idiotic death scene for Scott) but some parts are still done well.  Maybe you don’t hand a big franchise over to a talentless piece of shit like Brett Ratner.
  • Miami Vice  –  Michael Mann returns to his television show with a feature film that isn’t bad but is completely forgettable.  The original television show is one of those odd shows (and it isn’t the only one) where I’ve only seen one episode but I’ve seen it twice (the one where Phil Collins plays a drug dealer).
  • Gabrielle  –  French adaptation of the Conrad short story “The Return.”
  • La moustache  –  Emmanuel Carrère directs an adaptation of his own novel.
  • Night at the Museum  –  Fairly fun film (in spite of Stiller) adapted from a 1993 picture book.
  • Gilles’ Wife  –  A 2004 French film based on a 1937 French novel.
  • Ice Age: The Meltdown  –  The second in the film series and if you pressed me, I couldn’t tell you a thing that differentiates any of them.  I only care about the squirrel.  This moves us to low ***.
  • Mission: Impossible III  –  Disappointing third installment (in spite of Philip Seymour Hoffman as the villain coming off his Oscar win) and weakest of the series before they ditched the numbering and started getting better.
  • Rocky Balboa  –  The first decent Rocky film in a long time, the sixth in the series.
  • A Good Year  –  Even though it’s directed by Ridley Scott, I can barely remember this film which is a problem since my mother mentions it all the time.  Based on Peter Mayle’s novel.
  • Garam Masala  –  Indian Comedy based on a previous Indian film which was based on the 1965 film Boeing Boeing which was based on a play.
  • Umrao Jaan  –  Bollywood Musical based on the Urdu novel.
  • Lage Raho Munna Bhai  –  Hindi Comedy sequel.
  • Lassie  –  Like most Lassie films, the bottom edge of ***.  Not bad but unnecessary.
  • Brothers of the Head  –  Mockumentary about conjoined twin rock stars (played by real life Treadaway twins long before I knew who they were) based on a Sci-Fi novel by Brian Aldiss.  This brings us to **.5.
  • Trinity Blood  –  Adapted from an Anime show.  That’s going to be common from this point forward, not just in this year, but in a lot of years.
  • Old Joy  –  For the first time, Kelly Reichardt adapts a story by Jonathan Raymond.  That will become a regular thing as she will adapted two more in later years plus have Raymond write or co-write two other of her films.
  • Flicka  –  Newest version of the children’s book.
  • Krrish  –  Like the Rambo films, this is the second film in the series but the first with the title character’s name and after that, they just take his name.  But these are better than the Rambo films.  Indian super-hero franchise that’s a sequel to Koi… Mil Gaya.
  • The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green  –  Down to mid **.5 with this film based on a comic strip I’ve never read.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist  –  See Trinity Blood.
  • Candy  –  Australian Romance based on the novel by Luke Davies.
  • Don  –  A Hindi Action film that’s a remake of a 1978 Hindi Action film.
  • Russian Dolls  –  The follow-up to Spanish Apartment (L’Auberge Espagnole) which will be completed by Chinese Puzzle, making the international rounds, which is appropriate given the international cast.
  • Omkara  –  Indian Crime adaptation of Othello.
  • Infamous  –  Toby Jones is good but the film is a pale imitation of Capote.  Based on a book by George Plimpton.
  • Evil  –  A 2003 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film from Sweden based on the novel by Jan Guillou.  I can’t fathom how they nominated this over Osama, Good Bye Lenin and Infernal Affairs.
  • Running with Scissors  –  Augusten Burroughs’ made-up book about his supposed life becomes a film with a good performance from Annette Bening and nothing else to recommend it.
  • Eight Below  –  Remake of the 1983 film Antarctica.
  • Lunacy  –  Jan Svankmajer loosely adapts a couple of Poe stories.
  • Art School Confidential  –  Terry Zwigoff adapts another Daniel Clowes comic collection with much weaker results than with Ghost World.
  • Dhoom 2  –  Second in the Indian Action franchise.  With this, we hit low **.5.
  • Crusade: A March Through Time  –  Also known as Crusade in Jeans which is the name of the children’s book the film is adapted from.
  • Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus  –  Adapted from a biography of Arbus but I don’t know how much of it is actually supposed to have happened.
  • Ask the Dust  –  For the fourth (and final) time Robert Towne actually directs a film, this one his adaptation of the 1939 novel by John Fante.
  • Opal Dream  –  Australian Drama from Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty).  Based on the novel Poppy and Dingan.
  • The Nativity Story  –  A rather dull version of The New Testament.  Oscar Isaac plays Joseph and it’s no wonder it took several more years before anyone really knew who he was.
  • Last Holiday  –  Let’s remake an Alec Guinness film with Queen Latifah and then totally undercut the ending.  Brilliant idea!
  • Fast Food Nation  –  The book is a fantastic example of investigative journalism.  The film is a big blah of nothing.
  • The Sentinel  –  My mother recently saw this and asked me if I had seen it.  It was so unmemorable that I had to look it up and even after discovering I had seen it, still remembered nothing about it.  Based on a novel by the guy who also wrote To Live and Die in L.A., a much more memorable film.
  • The Ant Bully  –  Animated film based on the children’s book.
  • Arthur and the Invisibles  –  Luc Besson, of all people, makes this quasi-animated / quasi-live action film based on his own series of children’s fantasy books.
  • Night Watch  –  Russia’s Oscar submission in 2004 is this vampire film based on the novel by Sergei Lukyanenko.
  • A Good Woman  –  We hit ** with adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play starring Helen Hunt and S-Jo.
  • The Pink Panther  –  Steve Martin takes over the role of Clouseau with very diminished results from even the later Sellers films.
  • The Omen  –  A remake of the 1976 film and at ** I think I may have rated it too high.
  • The Night Listener  –  I don’t know why Armistead Maupin wrote a Thriller and I don’t know why anyone thought it was a good idea to adapt it with Robin Williams in the lead role.
  • Blood and Bones  –  Japan’s Oscar submission from 2005, based on the novel by Yang Sok-il.
  • Pulse  –  Yet another remake of a Japanese Horror film.
  • Dragonball Z: Fusion Reborn  –  One of countless Dragonball Z films.  Who can tell them apart?  Mid **.
  • The Hills Have Eyes  –  I won’t complain that this remake sucks because I thought the original Wes Craven version sucked as well.
  • The Last Kiss  –  In 2004, Zach Braff took time between Scrubs seasons to write, direct and star in the wonderful Garden State.  This time, he wastes our time just starring in a remake of a much better Italian film.
  • Tristan & Isolde  –  James Franco and Sophia Myles in the romantic legend.  Skip this and watch Myles in this same year in “The Girl in the Fireplace”, the magnificent Dr. Who episode.
  • Poseidon  –  Wolfgang Petersen proves that Troy wasn’t the exception and that he was headed down.  Remake of the far superior Poseidon Adventure.  Petersen wouldn’t make another film for a decade and he went back to Germany for the first time since Das Boot to make that one.
  • Madea’s Family Reunion  –  I really do watch these horrid films; I don’t just look at the DVD and give it **.  Sometimes I give it * (after I watch it).  I can’t fathom why anyone thinks Madea is funny or interesting or anything other than god-awful annoying.
  • Strawberry Shortcake: The Sweet Dreams Movie  –  Not Oscar eligible but listed on the old oscars.org so I watched it because I was trying to get in all Animated films.
  • The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things  –  Asia Argento directs this adaptation of the book by “JT LeRoy” before the identity turned out to be fake.
  • Saving Shiloh  –  Third film in the trilogy about a dog named Shiloh.
  • Tideland  –  I’ve joked in the past that I never believe a Terry Gilliam film exists until I’ve actually seen it in the theater and thus can refuse to believe in Tideland because I saw it in on video.  The book was almost incoherent and I don’t know why Gilliam thought he could do something with it.  Though 23 points below all but one Gilliam film, not even his worst film thanks to Zero Thereom.
  • Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School  –  I once had a customer at Borders who came in looking for this and when we didn’t have it, then proceeded to tell me the entire plot in minute detail.  This film is the kind of thing where when the idea was pitched, it should have been stopped right then as being too stupid.  Based on a short film by the “director” Randall Miller and I use that word like that because he doesn’t get to direct anymore, having been found guilty of the death of a crew member on the set of a film that was then never completed.  Low **.
  • Gamera the Brave  –  The 12th and (so far) final Gamera film.
  • Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker  –  A Kids Spy film based on the series by Anthony Horowitz.
  • Shock to the System: A Donald Strachey Mystery  –  I think I dropped it a few points just because of the obnoxiousness of the full title, not listed that way on the IMDb but listed that way as an Oscar submission.  The fifth book in the series about a gay detective in Albany but just the second film.  Interesting that it’s set in Albany since author Richard Stevenson is from Pennsylvania and apparently lives in Massachusetts and for what it’s worth it was filmed in British Columbia.
  • The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause  –  The original film wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared it would be when I finally watched it.  This film, which adds in Martin Short as Jack Frost, is.
  • Freedomland  –  I think I might have read the book when it came out because I was a fan of Clockers but this adaptation of the Richard Price novel is just a mess in spite of having Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore.
  • Silent Hill  –  Who doesn’t love it when video games become movies?
  • Factotum  –  Adaptation of a Bukowski novel.  Hard pass.
  • Edmond  –  William H. Macy and Rebecca Pidgeon feel right for a Mamet adaptation but maybe if Mamet had directed it, it could have been good.  Or at least if it didn’t have Julia Stiles and Denise Richards.
  • The Lake House  –  I haven’t seen the original Korean version but I doubt it can be as dumb as this version with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.
  • Peaceful Warrior  –  Dan Millman’s book Way of the Peaceful Warrior has sold a bazillion copies so it was inevitable that someone would make it into New Age crap and someone did.
  • The Work and the Glory III: A House Divided  –  The third in a series of films made from a nine part series of books about the history of the Mormon religion and culture.  It’s boring in that preachy way that such films are.
  • Manderlay  –  Nicole Kidman wasn’t back as Grace for this sequel to Dogville, so of course let’s replace her with an actress over a decade younger in Bryce Dallas Howard.  No better than Dogville.  *.5.  As Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark prove, it’s not that von Trier can’t make good films.  He just doesn’t.
  • Underworld: Evolution  –  The original had been terrible but a financial success.  Plus Kate Beckinsale looked great in black leather and she was now married to director Len Wiseman instead of dating Michael Sheen (who had been killed off in the first film) so they made a second (five actually so far).
  • La mujer de mi hermano  –  That’s “my brother’s wife” for those without even a smattering of Spanish.  Peruvian film based on the novel by Jaime Bayly.
  • Pinocchio 3000  –  Terrible Sci-Fi Animated version of the classic Italian tale.  Mid *.5.
  • She’s the Man  –  Modern day update of Twelfth Night.  Makes 10 Things I Hate About You look like the work of Olivier.
  • Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties  –  A reminder that the film industry is a business and they made this film because the first one made money.  This one cost more and made less and they haven’t made another.  Low *.5.
  • Hoot  –  Terrible adaptation of a Carl Hiaasen novel but it does have the first major film role for future Oscar winner Brie Larson.
  • How to Eat Fried Worms  –  Adaptation of the kids book with a lot of kids but not a lot of young talent.
  • Unaccompanied Minors  –  A This American Life piece becomes a film with at least three former Daily Show correspondents.
  • School for Scoundrels  –  On the plus side, unlike the original, it doesn’t have Terry-Thomas.  On the minus side, it has an Alastair Sim role now played by Billy Bob Thornton.
  • Eragon  –  Fantasy fans went nuts because an 18 year old published a novel.  But it reads like a novel written by an 18 year old and then it was made into a shitty film.  Starring Jeremy Irons!  Dude, did you not learn anything from being in Dungeons & Dragons?
  • One Night with the King  –  The Biblical story of Esther as interpreted through a 2004 novel.  With this, we have reached *.
  • Final Destination 3  –  The third in the series.  People die.  The studio makes money.  They make more of these.
  • Night of the Living Dead 3D  –  Because Romero’s classic original wasn’t copyrighted, anybody can remake it and some crappy filmmakers did.
  • The Shaggy Dog  –  A remake of the 1959 Disney film that wasn’t nearly as bad as this one is.
  • An American Haunting  –  Horror film based on the novel The Bell Witch.
  • Trailer Park Boys: The Movie  –  A film based on the television series which my best friend’s wife’s family has some bizarre esoteric connection with.
  • The Celestine Prophecy  –  The novel by James Redfield, published in 1993, was New Age crap but it sold a lot.  I think my Mom might have a copy.  The film, which is New Age crap, was a critical disaster and financial failure.  Mid *.
  • The Grudge 2  –  Apparently not a remake of the sequel but just a sequel to the remake unconnected to the original sequel.  Really, people, just let Japanese Horror films be Japanese Horror films.
  • Beowulf & Grendel  –  It stars Gerard Butler.  Need I say more?
  • A Scanner Darkly  –  First, the original Dick novel is over-rated.  Second, director Richard Linklater is very over-rated.  Third, Keanu Reeves.  Fourth, roto-scoping.  I rest my case.
  • Scary Movie 4  –  Low * for this parody series which was pretty weak from the opening.
  • BloodRayne  –  One of the 40 lowest ranked films at the IMDb and based on a video game, so I don’t need to explain its ranking.  But this film is somehow written by Guinevere Turner, the wonderful writer behind Go Fish, American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page.  What the actual fuck?
  • The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift  –  The third in the series that seems like it will never end.
  • When a Stranger Calls  –  A remake of the 1979 film and the start of a very bad career slide for Camilla Belle.
  • Basic Instinct 2  –  Worst Picture at the Razzies and I’m not gonna argue with that even if it clearly didn’t make my bottom 5 for the year.
  • Saw III  –  See Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.  Now we’ve hit .5 films.
  • Black Christmas  –  Remake of the 1974 Horror film which would be remade again in 2019.
  • Romeo and Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss  –  Shakespeare as done by animated seals.  Really.
  • National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj  –  This is so bad I actually wish Ryan Reynolds had been in it.  He’s not, nor is his character which, of course, is in the title.
  • The Wicker Man  –  Fully reviewed here as the worst Mystery I hadn’t reviewed yet.
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  –  Bargain basement adaptation of the great Stevenson novel.
  • Zoom  –  Who would have guessed that neither Shaggy Dog nor Santa Clause 3 would be Tim Allen’s worst film of the year?  Here he trains teenage super-heroes in an adaptation of a children’s book.
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning  –  The sixth in the series and a prequel to the 2003 remake.
  • Doogal  –  Reviewed here as the worst film of the year, although that’s obviously no longer the case.
  • Big Momma’s House 2  –  At least when Tyler Perry does this crap he gives jobs to a lot of Blacks in the film industry.  When we watched One Night in Miami, Prime suggested because we watched it we would want to watch some Martin Lawrence films.  Why, because they’re both Black?  One film is brilliant and Lawrence is a pathetic comedian who’s never been funny and is a terrible actor and also thinks dressing in drag and a fat suit is funny.  Yet this film made more money than 8 of my Top 10 above and 4 of the 5 Best Picture nominees at the Oscars.

Adaptations of Notable Works I Haven’t Seen

  • none

I have seen every film in the Top 250 at the box office and every film that made over $500,000 domestically.  Of the ones I haven’t seen only Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds is obviously a sequel.  Of the 8 Oscar eligible films I haven’t yet seen, all are original.

But this is a good year, since I’m now caught up entering all the films I’ve seen on the IMDb and I’ve done culling through of the Oscar list (and the old oscars.org list) to give an idea of how many films are made nowadays.  There are 286 Oscar eligible films (not including 21 documentaries) and I am missing 8.  There are also 238 films listed from the old oscars.org site not including 7 shorts, 4 television films that must have had theatrical releases and another 108 documentaries and I am missing over half the 238.  The IMDb lists 779 U.S. made films in 2006 with at least 100 votes (and some of the ones I’ve seen are Oscar eligible and don’t have 100 votes) and I’m missing 512 of those.  In total, the IMDb lists 2156 feature films (not shorts, documentaries or television movies) from 2006 that have over 100 votes and I’m missing 1746 of them which means I’m at just below 20% for the year even having seen over 400 films.  It’s worth noting that of the 8 films I haven’t seen with over 25,000 votes (I’ve seen every film on the IMDb with at least 50,000 votes for this year – the only year after this that I can say that about is 2009), only one (Unknown) is listed on the old oscars.org list and none were Oscar eligible (the others are It’s a Boy Girl Thing, Severance, The Butterfly Effect 2, Bandidas, Big Nothing, Hatchet and Death Note and of those Severance and Hatchet are on the oscars.org list for 2007).  By comparison, by the way, there are only 2778 films on the IMDb with over 100 votes for the entire 1930s and I’ve seen all but 495 of them (over 80%).

The first film on the list is a good case study.  I’ve never heard of it (though apparently it’s viewable on line for free at both YouTube and Tubi).  It appears to have never had a US release.  It’s directed by a man mostly known for television and has almost no particularly well known cast members (the identifiable names to me were Sharon Osbourne and Maury Chaykin).  Yet, it has almost 40,000 votes on the IMDb.  It has more votes than all but 5 films from 1970 (Aristocats, Patton, MASH, Kelly’s Heroes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes).  It has more than 8,000 votes more than Love Story and over double that of Airport (both of which grossed over $100 million) and more than four times that of Five Easy Pieces, a classic of the decade.  It’s just an interesting example of what earns votes on the IMDb and what doesn’t.  It also shows how Kids films don’t get votes on the IMDb because it has more votes, in the same year, than Charlotte’s Web and Santa Clause 3, both of which were financial hits.  When I get to continuing the Nighthawk Awards once I catch up to 2011 with this series, I’ll probably include both Top 10 at the IMDb in terms of rating but also in terms of votes because they will be different and they will be interesting.