Oscar movie season is upon us, which means a whole lot of derivative prestige pictures and a scattering of more interesting indy and auteur films, with many of both likely based on best selling books. It will be difficult to separate the good from the bad from the merely boring, but one thing that can help is to know the books on which these upcoming movies are based. I will be honest and say that so far I have read only half of one of these, but I did my best to choose a collection of varied and interesting books that have been adapted into movies for release this Fall. Knowledge is power, and you’ll need it to be informed and critical film viewers during this Oscar season.
The Martian – Andy Weir
This is the book that I am currently reading, and let me tell you that it is a lot of fun to read. Those less science minded might find the technical and scientific explanations of events or survival tasks tedious, but I just eat it up. It is no surprise that Andy Weir is a scientist by trade. While the plot and main character – astronaut Mark Watney fighting for survival after being stranded on Mars – are thrillingly compelling and fun, the prose is competent but nothing special. The best parts of the book are Watney’s mission logs because they are presented in his voice and because he is a fun and interesting character. Everything else lacks personality and style by comparison. The film adaptation stars Matt Damon as Watney – and in my mind the perfect choice to play him – and is directed by Ridley Scott. The first trailer looks awesome. I am also happy that the trend of prestige sci-fi seems to be continuing, as does the trend of “real science” sci-fi.
The Revenant – Michael Punke
Early buzz about Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s adaptation of Micharel Punke’s novel of frontier revenge has been electric with anticipation. The Birdman director and last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner has people wondering what wondrous cinematic treats Inarritu has in store next. The answer is a gritty, violent tale of a frontiersman (Leonardo DiCaprio in another desperate grab for Best Actor) who seeks revenge after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by thieves. The movie also stars Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson and was apparently a nightmarish experience to shoot. Based on the true story of Hugh Glass, Punke’s gripping revenge drama is written in a matter-of-fact manner that makes Glass’ relentless pursuit of his sympathetic betrayers all the more frightening.
Into Thin Air (Everest) – Jon Krakauer
While not specifically based on climber Jon Krakhauer’s personal account of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, Everest – directed by Baltasar Kormakur and starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Jason Clarke as famed Everest guides Scott Fischer and Rob Hall – is the film adaptation of the events described in Krakhauer’s book. Krakhauer himself is portrayed in the film by Michael Kelly and tells the story of how eight climbers died in a rogue storm on Mount Everest. While Krakauer’s book is a good starting point to learn more about the events of the story, there are elements of his account that draw criticism and remain controversial – specifically his movements on that day and his criticism of the decisions made by climber and guide Anatoli Boukreev during his rescue attempts.
Black Mass – Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill
I am looking forward to this movie for a number of reasons. First, I love Boston based movies because I love Boston. I called Boston home for two wonderful years and was living there during Whitey Bulger’s arrest and eventual conviction. Secondly, I have a soft spot for Johnny Depp and want desperately for him to make a comeback from whatever career purgatory he’s fallen into. Thirdly, Benedict Cumberbatch. Black Mass is based on the true crime book written by Lehr and O’Neill and is directed by Scott Cooper, known for depressing, atmospheric, and personal movies like Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace. The trailer makes it look like Goodfellas, which is a huge style and tone shift from what one might expect from Cooper. Then again, trailers can be misleading depending on the demographic one wants to capture.
The Danish Girl – David Ebershoff
As a supporter and student of LGBT culture and a fan of director Tom Hooper, I am most intrigued by this adaptation of the life of Lili Elbe, a transgender pioneer and the first to undergo male-to-female reassignment surgery. The film stars Eddie Redmayne as Elbe and focuses on the love story between her and her wife as she transitions from male to female. Ebershoff’s books is a fictional account of Elbe’s life with the same romantic focus and received a lot of attention and praise when it was published in 2000. Knowing Hooper, the film will likely be beautifully shot, perhaps with an ethereal and existential quality to the directing. Costumes will obviously be fabulous.
Room – Emma Donaghue
The premise of this story reminds me vaguely of Bad Boy Bubby as a child grows up in a single room without any experience of the outside world. Rather than the child growing up in an abusive and controlling home, however, this is more about the love between mother and child as a captive woman protects her child from the truth of their situation. The movie is directed by Lenny Abrahamson who directed the odd and poignant Frank last year. Like Frank, Room looks to be the tale of someone discovering the world and how they fit in it, albeit in completely different circumstances. Frank was a gloriously different and beautiful movie, so I have high hopes for Abrahamson’s adaptation of Donaghue’s novel, which is told entirely in the voice of five-year-old Jack.