Saturday, May 7, 2011

LITERARY CINEMA : A List of Great Film Adaptations

Mediocre books make great films and great books make mediocre films. That's the general rule, the first half best exemplified by The Godfather (which even Mario Puzo admitted could've been a better book) and the last half by the career of Joseph Strick. Most film adaptations of great books succeed only as illustrated versions of the source novel. Here are a few exceptions to this rule, some truly great films from great books.
  1. Time Regained (Raul Ruiz). A beautifully photographed adaptation of Proust's endless novel that succeeds in finding a visual stylistic analogue for Proust's prose style.
  2. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Philip Kaufman). A great, smart, sexy adaptation of Kundera's great, intelligent, sexy novel.
  3. The Sheltering Sky (Bernardo Bertolucci). Bertolucci's beautiful film captures the beauty and menace of Paul Bowles.
  4. William Shakespeare's Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh). Branagh, not Olivier, made the only truly great Hamlet in cinema history.
  5. The English Patient (Anthony Minghella). Now that the Miramaxed hype has been forgotten, we can enjoy this great film without Harvey Weinstein's shadow hulking over us.
  6. Doctor Zhivago (David Lean). "How did you come to be lost?" A great exploration of the many ways people can be 'lost' in the whirlwind of revolution.
  7. The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese). Scorsese's truly impressive range has yet to be generally acknowledged. This guy went from Rupert Pupkin to Jesus Christ to Henry Hill to Edith Wharton to the Dalai Lama, and all five films were marvelous.
  8. Short Cuts (Robert Altman). Altman's masterful adaptation of several Raymond Carver stories was the best American film of the 1990s.
  9. The Wings of the Dove (Iain Softley). James would certainly not have approved, but it's still a great film.
  10. The Portrait of a Lady (Jane Campion). James would probably not have approved, but...
  11. Vanya on 42nd Street (Louis Malle). The My Dinner With Andre team reunites for this 'workshop' version of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya that will move you to tears.
  12. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick). A fairly faithful and endlessly ironic adaptation of Anthony Burgess's Finnegans Wake-influenced futuristic novel.
  13. The Tin Drum (Volker Schlondorff). Not a complete adaptation, but still a  great, one-of-a-kind film.
  14. Howards End (James Ivory). James Ivory's masterpiece.
  15. Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson). Brilliant adaptation of Chabon's excellent novel. How many other mainstream American films can you name that include a knowing reference to Jean Genet?
  16. The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese). This is the only Jesus movie worth watching. Even better than Pasolini's. All others drown in kitsch.
  17. The Decameron (Pier Paolo Pasolini). Beautifully filmed version of some tales from Boccaccio.
  18. Les Enfants Terribles (Jean-Pierre Melville). Silly beginning, brilliant ending. Melville's film has the strengths and weaknesses of Cocteau's story.
  19. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Martin Ritt). Classic spy film from a classic spy novel. Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, and the first cinematic representation of George Smiley make this one especially worth watching.

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