Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies.
Best of the Oscars' Best Adapted Screenplays From the 2010s
Best Family Film
Hugo, adapted by John Logan; directed by Martin Scorsese (2011). Although I consider myself a Scorsese completist, I went to the theaters somewhat begrudgingly, knowing the film was based on a children’s book published well after my own childhood.
Breaking from typical form, Scorsese directed a wonderful, whimsical mystery set in the 1930s featuring the title character orphaned in a Parisian train station. The author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick described his work as “not exactly a novel, not a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip-book or a movie, but a combination of all these things.”
This lack of defining his project made for a confusing and scattered story. Scorsese, however, while acknowledging the multimedia quality of the source material, knew he was adapting the story into one thing: a movie about moviemaking
The heart of the film features Hugo helping passé real-life director Georges Méliès recover his creative film magic in providing hope to a hardened, skeptical post-WWI France.
Best Source Material
Room, by Emma Donoghue. The author adapted her own novel into the acclaimed 2015 film of the same name, which tackles grisly material: a disturbed man kidnaps a woman and holds her captive in a toolshed.
Jack, a boy conceived in rape, is about five years old when readers enter the story. Thematically, I found the novel makes the best case for the right-to-life cause, similar to the what Dead Man Walking did for abolition of the death penalty. In the Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ, book (also made into a hit movie), she movingly portrays a guilty and mostly unrepentant death row inmate as still worthy of life. Similarly, Donoghue illumines a seemingly unwanted child, conceived in the most horrific circumstances, as nevertheless deserving of a mother’s love.
“Ma," Jack’s mother, creates a world for her son, animating the few objects in the shed by excising the articles. "A room" or "the room" becomes “Room,” as if another being inhabits their tiny world.
True Grit, adapted and directed by the Coen Brothers. The rather ordinary Western novel by Charles Portis receives a religious upgrade in the 2010 film. The balance between justice and mercy pervades the whole story.
Farmhand Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) seeks revenge for the murder of her father. She hires a U.S. Marshal (Jeff Bridges). who leads the search. A Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) joins the duo and, in exacting justice, the three allies leave a trail of dead bodies in their wake.
The film catches up with an embittered Mattie in middle age, now incapable of using one of her arms. As the lyrics of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” echo over the credits, the Coens effect the most bittersweet of emotions, singularly headstrong with the arm of justice, Mattie neglected the other, better arm of mercy.
True Grit is available to stream on Amazon Prime video.
Best of the rest by year: Life of Pi (2012)/novel by Yann Martel; Philomena (2013)/book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith; American Sniper (2014)/memoir by Chris Kyle; Arrival (2016)/short story by Ted Chiang; Logan (2017)/Marvel comic book; The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)/short stories (various); Little Women (2019)/novel by Louisa May Alcott
Image: Adobe Stock
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