To read or not to read? That is the question posed by many movie fans when talking about movies that are based on well-known source material. There is one camp that believes that source novels should be avoided to prevent spoiling any surprises that the filmmakers have in store. Others would argue that having read a novel before seeing the film it is based on enhances the experience, providing additional details to the story that do not fit in the 2-hour running time.
I tend to go back and forth between the two camps. I often find a knowledge of the source material advantageous, but a filmmaker should never have the expectation that viewers are familiar with the source. A film is a work of art all its own and it should stand up regardless of a viewer’s background knowledge.
For those of you who like to read the book before seeing the movie, this Fall’s crop of new releases offers a rich variety of fantastic source novels. Readers have the opportunity to discover or revisit many classic pieces of literature before the film adaptations hit theatres in the Fall. Below are ten books to enjoy while on a brigh, sunny beach this Summer to prepare you for a dark, cold movie theatre in a couple of months:
Film Misery Presents:
Summer Reading List 2012
1) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
If you are like me, you have only read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece once as assigned reading in 11th grade. However, the release of a new film adaptation offers a great opportunity to rediscover this classic piece of American literature. Set in the 1920s amid the moneyed class of New York, The Great Gatsby follows Nick Carraway and his newly forming friendship with mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby. The characters deal with prohibition, post-War trauma, and other attributes that defined the Roaring Twenties. Moulin Rouge! director Baz Luhrmann will helm the adaptation, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the title character along with Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, and Joel Edgerton. [Watch the Trailer]
2) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
If I am remembering correctly, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was the first novel I ever read (excluding Goosebumps) and it has been over a decade since I last read it. I have long been an enthusiastic fan of the Lord of the Rings books and movies and I cannot withhold my excitement that Peter Jackson is bringing The Hobbit to the big screen. The story follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins as he travels with a pack of dwarves in search of treasure and glory. It features many of the fantastical elements present in The Lord of the Rings and many more (including a climactic battle with a dragon). The film stars Martin Freeman as the main Hobbit and Sir Ian McKellen reprises his role as Gandalf. [Watch the Trailer]
3) On the Road by Jack Kerouac
I am ashamed to admit how unfamiliar I am with Jack Kerouac and other beat poet works from the 1950s and 60s. This may be an excellent opportunity to change that with the impending release of On the Road, an adaptation of one of Kerouac’s most famous works. The novel is an autobiographical work based on several cross-country trips made by Kerouac and several of his friends. It is largely regarded to be one of the best American novels of all-time, but I suspect it has been read by fewer people than the above two titles. Motorcycle Diaries director Walter Salles will helm the adaptation, which stars Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen, Garrett Hedlund, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, and many more. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to mostly positive reviews. [Watch the Trailer]
4) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
I would imagine that most people are at least familiar with the story in Anna Karenina, whether or not they have read the book. Countless works of fiction reference Tolstoy’s seminal work from Chekhov to Nicholas Sparks (even Goosebumps, according to the Wikipedia page). The novel follows the title character through the existential struggles of Russian high society including a scandalous affair with a young count. Atonement director Joe Wright returns to period pieces and re-unites with Keira Knightly who takes the title role. The film also stars Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, and Kelly MacDonald.
5) The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
This is one of the most recent novels on the list, having first been published in September of 2001. Shortly after being released it became a runaway bestseller and took home numerous book awards. The Life of Pi tells the story of an Indian boy named Pi who survives a shipwreck for nearly a year while stranded at sea with a Bengal tiger. Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee directs the film for his first 3-D effort with a cast that includes Tobey Maguire, Irrfan Khan, and Gerard Depardieu. I saw an extended clip from the film before screening Prometheus and it appeared to be more interested in showing off the 3-D then telling a story. Still, I have high hopes for the movie and have heard great things about the source novel.
6) The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
According to the Amazon description of Matthew Quick’s novel, NPR chose the book as one of the top Summer reads of 2009. It follows the story about a former mental patient who believes that his life is a movie being directed by God. When he completes the missions that God has given him, he will be rewarded with a happy ending. It sounds like a perfect premise for a film adaptation and it will be interesting to see how David O. Russell translates the story. Bradley Cooper stars as the protagonist with a supporting cast that includes Julia Stiles, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, and Jacki Weaver. The Weinstein Company will be releasing the film, so expect an Oscar push come this Fall.
7) Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
If you prefer nonfiction, this book has been recommended to me numerous times by friends. It has been described as one of the best nonfiction reads of all-time even for people who are not history or Civil War buffs. It details Lincoln’s interaction with the members of his cabinet, who, as the title suggests, were not always on his side. It is not unfair to say that Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln may be the film that Oscar watchers will be paying closest attention to this Fall. Daniel Day-Lewis will be portraying the 16th U.S. president with a supporting cast that includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jared Harris, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, James Spader, Sally Field, and many more.
8) Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins
George V. Higgins novels are almost written like plays with dialogue dominating much of the text. His debut novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle was adapted into a movie by Peter Yates and now Andrew Dominik will try his hand at translating Higgins’ Boston grit to the big screen. Cogan’s Trade tells the story of a professional mob enforcer who investigates a heist and gets caught up in several underworld conflicts. Dominik’s film, which will be titled Killing Them Softly, stars Brad Pitt as Jackie Cogan along with James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Richard Jenkins, and Sam Shepard. It got great reviews when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and is certainly one of my most anticipated films of the Fall movie season. [Watch a Clip]
9) Rust and Bone by Craig Davidson
Rust and Bone is actually a series of short stories from author Craig Davidson. Included in this collection is a story about a boxer who breaks his hand and struggles to maintain a career, a story about underworld dog fighting, and a story about a repo man with a kind heart. From what I understand, Jacques Audiard’s film Rust & Bone is loosely based on the various stories in Davidson’s book and adds some characters of its own. Marion Cotillard is the star of Audiard’s film as a dolphin trainer who loses her legs in an accident. She stars with Matthias Schoenhaerts and a number of other European actors. The film also played at the Cannes Film Festival and was highly acclaimed by the journalists in attendance. It is also a likely choice to represent France in the Best Foreign Language category at this year’s Oscars. [Watch the Trailer]
10) The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant
Matt Bondurant is the grandson of this book’s protagonist, a Depression-era bootlegger who faced off with law enforcement about their illegal business. The story follows three brothers who tried to run a legitimate, yet illegal operation while crooked police officers attempted to get a piece of the action. The Road director John Hillcoat is bringing us the film adaptation with a cast that includes Tom Hardy, Shia Labeouf, Dane DeHaan, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Gary Oldman, and many more. The film received a lukewarm reception at the Cannes Film Festival and may not be a major award contender, but I’m still looking forward to it. [Watch the Trailer]
What books do you plan to read this summer?