PART ONE | PART TWO
I'm big fan of films adapted from novels. A few of my very favorites are Let the Right One In (based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist), Wonder Boys (based on the novel by Michael Chabon), The Ice Storm (based on the novel by Rick Moody), and Thank You For Smoking (based on the novel by Christopher Buckley).
When a great film is adapted from a great novel, it means I get to enjoy the story in my two very favorite storytelling mediums. It also means I get to see the author's original intent in comparison to the filmmaker's vision of that intent. I'm not sure if that sounds like fun to anyone else, but, for me, there are few things I enjoy more. But, sometimes a film has such a literary feel to it, I'm fooled into believing it was adapted from a novel.
6. Boogie Nights (1997)
I'm pretty well convinced that Paul Thomas Anderson is a novelist disguised as a filmmaker. Boogie Nights is the deceptively literary tale of Dirk Diggler, a young man with an intolerably tough relationship with his mother, who, consequently, finds a new family in the porn industry. It's something of a coming-of-age story, not unlike The Catcher in the Rye, if Holden Caulfield was packing twelve inches. Dirk Diggler's life in porn—from the glowing success of the early years to the painfully dark period of the final years—is so textured and authentic, I can hardly believe it didn't first exist on the pages of a brilliant novel.
7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Charlie Kaufman is arguably the most talented and original screenwriter in Hollywood, as evidecned by the fact he is the only person to appear on PART ONE and PART TWO of this list. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a love story told in reverse, involving an inventive sci-fi element that allows people to erase the memory of someone they loved from their minds. When Joel Barish finds out his ex-girlfriend, Clementine Kruczynski, has had him erased from her memory, he decides to seek revenge by doing the same thing, but in losing her he realizes how desperate he is not to forget her. It's got the sort of layers and complexities that are almsot always the exclusive terrain of great literature; and it's director—the imaginative and innovative Michel Gondry—weaves it together like a masterful author.
8. Se7en (1995)
David Fincher, one of the most succesful directors in Hollywood has adapated several movies from literature, including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Fight Club. So, it's ironic that Se7en, the one movie on his résumé with the most literary flair, was not adapted from a novel. On the surface, it's a relatively simple story about a rookie detective named David Mills who is transitioning into the position of retiring detective William Somerset. In the midst of their professional transition, they work together to hunt down a serial killer who murders his victims in accordance with the seven deadly sins. The film unfolds like a gritty detective noir novel that I desperately wish existed.
9. (500) Days of Summer (2009)
(500) Days of Summer is a delightful film that tells the story of Tom Hansen, a young man doomed to love a sweet gal named Summer who—through no real fault of her own—is incapable of ever truly loving him back. The story, told in the sort of nonlinear fashion that is more commonly reserved for literature, jumps about their 500 day relationship, juxtaposing the good times against the bad. The story reverses the cultural stereotypes of men and women, as Tom wants hopelessly to fall in love and be in a relationship, while Summer is aloof and non-committal. Despite knowing before the first scene begins that Tom and Summer will not work out in the end, the movie still manages to seduce you into believing they will live happily ever after.
10. The Big Lebowski (1998)
Despite Joel and Ethan Coen's affinity for film adaptations (i.e. No Country for Old Men, True Grit, and O Brother, Where Art Thou) their most literary film, The Big Lebowski, was not an adaptation at all. The film is a quirky masterpiece about an unemployed slacker and bowling enthusiast named Jeffrey Lebowski known as The Dude. When a millionaire, also named Jeffrey Lebowski, learns his much younger wife has been kidnapped, he recruits The Dude to help get her back. Aside from it's tightly woven plot and colorful characters, this film probably feels like a novel because the Coen Brothers were inspired by the novels of Raymond Chandler: "We wanted to do a Chandler kind of story—how it moves episodically, and deals with the characters trying to unravel a mystery. As well as having a hopelessly complex plot that's ultimately unimportant."