The annual high point of film awards season, the Academy Awards (aka Oscars), happened last Sunday night. It was one of those evenings when a lot of different movies won, making it more fun and interesting than the years where one movie walks off with all the awards. I was surprised to see that six of the nine films up for Best Picture were either based on novels or had non-fiction books associated with them. If you enjoyed the movies and you want to experience the material in another form, why not check out the following titles?
The Life of Pi
Before Ang Lee won an Oscar for directing his visually stunning masterpiece, The Life of Pi was a novel written by Canadian Yann Martel. Published in 2001 and winner of the Man Booker Prize, it is an adventure fantasy bordering on magic realism. It tells the story of Pi, a young Indian boy who is shipwrecked along with a hyena, zebra, orangutan and Bengal tiger called “Richard Parker.” From Pi’s perspective, we examine the nature of God and the complexities of faith and belief.
Tom Hooper’s film is an adaptation of an adaptation: it’s based on the 1980s smash hit musical, which in turn was based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel. First published in 1862, it’s widely regarded as one of the most influential novels of the 19th century. Touching on universal themes such as love, sacrifice, honour, villainy, and freedom, it follows the life of Jean Valjean from 1815 up to the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris. Anne Hathaway won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Fantine.
Silver Linings Playbook
More recently, Silver Linings Playbook was based on Matthew Quick’s debut novel, The Silver Linings Playbook published in 2008. This movie was my favourite of all the Oscar contenders this year, and I was surprised at how different the novel was from the screenplay. The novel focuses on the relationship between Pat and Tiffany, whereas the movie gives more weight to the supporting roles of Pat’s family and Danny, his friend from the hospital. The dramatic climax of the “dance contest” comes at the end of the movie, but only part-way through the novel. I enjoyed the novel, but nothing compares to the on-screen chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, in my opinion. Jennifer Lawrence definitely deserved the Best Actress award. Too bad about the “tripping” business.
Although Ben Affleck was snubbed for a directing nomination, his Argo went on to earn seven nominations and took the Best Picture prize. The movie was based on a 2007 article in Wired magazine which explained how the CIA came up with an incredible plan to get six American hostages out of Iran during the 1979 Hostage Crisis, using a cover story that the hostages were actually Canadian film-makers scouting Iran for exotic locations for a “Planet of the Apes” style sci-fi movie. The story has also been elaborated on in Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood pulled off the most audacious rescue in history. Written by Tony Mendez, the CIA consultant who came up with the plan, this non-fiction account goes into way more detail than the movie ever could.
Zero Dark Thirty
The world watched in amazement when US President Barack Obama announced in May 2011 that Osama Bin Laden had been found and killed. Zero Dark Thirty, the most controversial of the movies nominated for Best Picture this year, looks at the decade-long mission to find Bin Laden. The movie focuses on Maya, a young CIA officer who has spent her entire career on the hunt for Bin Laden. Maya is an amalgam of a number of female agents who played crucial roles for the CIA in this story. The movie received much criticism for its graphic and realistic portrayals of torture, and possibly overemphasizing torture’s role in the process of gaining valuable intelligence. While this movie is obviously a dramatization of real life events, you can read more about the hunt to find Bin Laden in Peter Bergen’s Manhunt: The Ten Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad.
Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited biopic of American President Abraham Lincoln earned 12 nominations. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role, the story focuses on the last four months of Lincoln’s life and his efforts to end the Civil War and abolish slavery. Day-Lewis was a favourite to win the Best Actor award, so it was no real surprise that he did. (I can’t explain why I had Bradley Cooper in my Oscar pool, though.) A large part of the story was based on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Spielberg knew the book would be a winner. Back in 1999, Kearns Goodwin was consulting with the director on another project and mentioned that she was thinking of writing Team of Rivals. Even before it was written, Spielberg said that he wanted the movie rights, and the deal was finalized in 2001–four years before the book was actually published!