For the fifth year in a row, Film Misery is celebrating the suddenly warm weather with our annual Summer reading list for movie fans (view past iterations: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012). The objective of this list is to offer a glimpse of books that are currently available that will have film adaptations coming out in the Fall. I try to focus specifically on book to film adaptations that have an increasing amount of Oscar buzz and are likely to be hotly discussed when awards season rolls around.
There are benefits and drawbacks to reading a book before seeing its film adaptation. Some might argue that it makes you a more informed reader and allows you to grasp subtleties that other moviegoers might not notice. Others might say that reading the book before seeing the movie spoils important plot points and may inspire a compare/contrast study instead of a critical reaction. Personally I enjoy the increased knowledge that books supply and feel that they enhance my movie watching, as long as I am certain to separate them in my mind as two individual works of art.
This year’s crop of literature is a compelling one with a cornucopia of genres and time periods. Take a look at the list and be sure to share what books you plan to read this Summer in the comments below!
Film Misery Present:
Summer Reading List 2013
1) The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort
This book was published several years ago and is set during the early 1990s, but it tells a story of greed that should hopefully come across as timeless. Jordan Belfort wrote the story about his own experience rising to the top of a shady investment firm and then falling hard thanks in part to excessive partying and being too self-assured. The story sounds like the typical Wall Street greed fable, but I imagine Martin Scorcese will adapt it to reflect the current economic climate. Reviews of the book indicate that its author and main character Jordan Belfort is a little too in love with himself, but that quality should make him a very interesting on screen character to be portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio.
2) The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel
You would think with all of the World War II stories that have been told, there is nothing original left, but this nonfiction story by Robert Edsel is pretty unique. The Monuments Men tells the story of the art historians and museum curators who were tasked with saving classic artwork throughout Europe that Hitler’s regime was trying to capture or destroy. As someone who is far more interested in art than warfare, this sounds like it is right up my alley and would be a fascinating and educational read. It’s also a movie that everyone will be talking about this Fall considering it has a dynamic cast that includes George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin and many more.
3) A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips and Stephan Tatty
It seems that adaptations of nonfiction books are becoming increasingly popular (following Oscar success of movies like Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, and Lincoln). This true-life story is about a ship captain who sacrificed himself as a hostage to save his crew after his ship is boarded by Somali pirates. The way the story is written intercuts between Phillips’ firsthand experience and his family watching the news and managing their own inner conflict. Everything about this description sounds very cinematic, which is why I can’t wait to see Paul Greengrass bring the film to the big screen.
4) August: Osage County by Tracy Letts
The more theatrically inclined might be interested in reading this award-winning play from Tracy Letts. I love reading plays because they don’t take long and usually have minimal stage descriptions, which allows the reader to create the entire set in his or her imagination. Typically whenever a play is adapted for film it inspires several productions of it on the local level (colleges and regional theatres). If you’re not interested in reading it, I would definitely suggest seeking out a local production and checking it out while simultaneously supporting live theatre. The movie will feature a stellar cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, Juliette Lewis, and Abigail Breslin.
5) Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
This fascinating memoir was published in 1853 and tells the story of Solomon Northup, a northern black man who was kidnapped and sold as a slave in the deep south. This is considered one of the definitive texts in documenting American slavery and is often consulted by historians and educators. It also might be the most accessible book on this list since it is out of copyright. It can be downloaded for free on Google Books. The film version will be coming out this fall from Shame director Steve McQueen and featuring a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Paul Giamatti, and the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch.
6) The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith
When an unwed woman becomes pregnant in Ireland in the 1950s, the church decrees her a “fallen woman” and takes her child to be put up for adoption in America. Decades later her adult son is a successful lawyer and closeted gay politician who has contracted AIDS. The mother and son never knew each other, but they spend much of their lives searching for one another. The premise here sounds rather Oscar bait, but the political hypocrisy dealt with by the characters sounds very relevant. This adaptation joins the long list of nonfiction stories this year and will be brought to the big screen by The Queen director Stephen Frears from screenplay by comedian Steve Coogan.
7) Railway Man: A POW’s Searing Account of War, Brutality and Forgiveness by Eric Lomax
A British soldier who was captured and tortured by the Japanese during World War II comes face to face with one of his captors 50 years later. Like so many films on this list, Railway Man is an autobiography. From what I understand, the book covers both the story of his capture and the events surrounding his meeting with one of the people he must decide to forgive. Based on the premise alone this sounds like one of the least interesting books on this list, but its potential to make a great movie is certainly there. Newcomer Jonathan Teplitzky will direct with a cast that includes Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgaard, and Jeremy Irvine.
8) Labor Day: A Novel by Joyce Maynard
Much like Up in the Air, this adaptation seems like a good marriage of comedy and drama for director Jason Reitman. The book is about a worn down single mother and her socially awkward son who offer a ride to a creepy looking man and soon learn that he is an escaped convict. The story is told through the perspective of the young boy who is reflecting on the events as an adult. Different actors will portray the boy at multiple ages for the movie including Tobey Maguire who will play him at his oldest. Other members of the cast include Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet, and Clark Gregg.
9) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
This classic book was on last year’s list and I can almost guarantee it will be on next year’s list. Even if you don’t care for Peter Jackson’s three film adaptation, it’s hard to deny the genius of J.R.R. Tolkien’s delightful book. This is one of my favorite books of all-time and one that I try to revisit every couple of years. A voracious reader could probably finish the entire book in the length of time it would take to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I am not going to argue which would be the more satisfying experience, but the bottom line is that I can’t recommend the book highly enough.
10) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
The little I’ve seen of the movie for Ender’s Game doesn’t look very good and it’s probably not a film that will be present on any award shows next year. However, Orson Scott Card’s book is one that has long been on my “to-read” list and the release of a film adaptation may be the catalyst I need to finally do it. Card’s novel was rated the third best Science Fiction/Fantasy Novel of all-time by NPR’s fantastic poll and many of my friends have recommended it. The film stars Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, and Hailee Steinfeld. I hope the movie is decent, but if the book lives up to the hype it may create unattainable expectations.