With 2014 having come to a swift close, we at TCJWW thought it would be appropriate to give you a year in review; in particular, I wanted to draw your attention to some book-to-movie/television show adaptations of note for 2014. Some of these have been reviewed through our site and others may be coming down the pike—take a look below and let us know if this is what YOUR Top Ten list looks like.
Stick around after the Top Ten in 2014 to get a look at our Five Most Anticipated for 2015! And please—if you have a favorite book adaptation coming out this year, drop us a line and let us know all about it.
Top Ten Book Adaptations From Female Authors in 2014
As a trilogy that made a lot of waves, nobody was surprised to hear that the film rights to The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, had been acquired for major distribution. Perhaps a surprise was the casting: the highly popular and very talented Jennifer Lawrence was suddenly in a franchise below her pay-grade (and also a bit too curvy for the role of the emaciated Katniss Everdeen, not that I normally don’t love the heck out of someone who is my height and weight and dress size, holla at your girl J-Law). Aside from Lawrence, the boy-toys Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson, this franchise offered much needed mass-exposure but I fail to see (for the third movie now) what an actress of Lawrence’s caliber brings to the role when the screenwriting just isn’t supporting her. I also find that Collins’ series got weaker as it went on and the movies have followed the same pattern—Katniss went from being a relatable character in Hunger Games to a character with confused and convoluted motives by Mockingjay. Worth mentioning in that vein is that of all the Hunger Games books and films Mockingjay also falls the shortest on the Bechdel Test… connected? Maybe. The Bechdel Test is an assessment of gender bias in films and has three notable components: a film must have at least 2 female characters, they must have names, and they must talk to one another about something other than a man/love-life related problem. While Hunger Games and Catching Fire both see more concern for family, politics, and self-preservation, the love plot emerges more in Mockingjay (we’ve also killed a lot of the female friendships that Katniss has…. or separated her from them for the majority of the action, *cough* Prim *cough*). Regardless of gender bias, both book and movie series are record breakers and well-worthy of mention on any Top Ten list for this year.
This movie, by all accounts, should have been everywhere, made tons of money, and generally brightened a lot of days much like the beloved children’s book, but unfortunately didn’t perform well at the box office. There doesn’t seem to be a great explanation for this as it pulled a good cast with Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner. Perhaps part of the fault lies with timing; children’s books are short and might be great filler for a 20 minute post-lunch, pre-nap time slot, but fleshing it out to make a 90 minute movie might not always work in everyone’s favor. Still, most book adaptations can do worse than Jennifer Garner so this should still make a must-see/must-read list of 2014.
Who hasn’t read this book in school? I still remember turning the pages of it during 8th grade and feeling like I was getting a glimpse at what smart books looked like. I later felt the same way the first time I opened Ayn Rand as a fledgling high-schooler. The Giver was an instant classic in science fiction circles and has the staying power among the masses to be applicable to every generation. Major star-power came to take part in this film adaptation: Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgard… and yet it was oddly marketed as an action film for teenagers (*cough* Taylor Swift *cough*) when it should have been marketed as a serious drama for adults. Still, it is always worth a trip down memory lane. If you have never read The Giver, I suggest reading it before you watch the movie for the best comparison.
Like Collins, Roth took the YA world by storm with her gigantic series Divergent (literally, those books are huge). With a better casting call in Shailene Woodley than Hunger Games had in Jennifer Lawrence, it was surprising that it did half as well in theatres for overall gross income. This might also be an adaptation length issue: at 576 pages (for just the paperback) there is no way to fit everything from the book into the film without making each film close to three and a half hours (and even that’s pushing it). It’s a shame because Divergent was a great competitor against Hunger Games and it is certainly the heir apparent when Hunger Games finishes it’s last release in 2015. For my money, Kate Winslet—who is the main antagonist in Divergent, Jeanine, is the leader of the Erudite clan who leads an attack manipulating the Dauntless and attempting to assault the selfless Abnegation—has never made a bad movie so her faith in this project is my faith in this project… keep it classy Ms. Winslet. Also worth mentioning, Bechdel-Test wise, this movie performs better than the comparable Mockingjay as there are more female characters actively involved with Tris and her conversations with them, are not about relationships with men.
How many people realized that this was a book? Probably not enough. Chloe Moretz received endless amounts of publicity for this movie but it didn’t stop it from being horribly overshadowed by the earlier released Fault In Our Stars. I suppose the studios (MGM for If I Stay and Fox for Fault) were competing for best tragic teen love story of the summer… and sadly, this Gayle Forman adaptation lost out to the juggernaut of John Green (seriously, can the man be taken down by anyone?). While Gus and Hazel in Fault were everyone’s summer couple, Mia and Adam from If I Stay are heartbreaking. Mia’s family has been in a deadly car crash and she is in a coma, trying to decide to live or die, with Adam playing a role in that choice. Competition aside, this adaptation, like its novel, has staying power (it was published in 2009 and its sequel, Where She Went, came out in 2011). The book was subject to wide critical acclaim and was honest, gritty, and self-aware. The sequel takes the perspective away from Mia and gives it to Adam—I won’t say more because hopefully both books make their way onto your shelves.
With a review on the novel Outlander coming soon to TCJWW, I will focus your attention on the Starz Original Series—much like the bodice ripper, it pulls its story from the show, is upfront about what it offers, honest in its recreation, and a darn good time. Sure, some of the Scottish accents are less than authentic but, to be fair, they are more understandable to the casual listener this way so we shouldn’t complain too much. I have nothing against this genre with its predictable plot and healthy dose of naked Scottish lovin’ and I have to say that in terms of adaptations it is really damn close—if you like either the book or the series, I think you’ll be sure to like the other. Outlander is part of an 8 book series, so Starz has plenty to pull from for the future without boring the audience. It looks like we will have plenty to look forward to until, comfortably, 2022. Outlander did a mid-series break about a month ago, so if you missed in it 2014, look for it in the spring of 2015!
A Bechdel Test grand-slam is this Netflix Original series—OITNB took off like a bat out of Hell upon release and really hasn’t stopped soaring. The show is vastly different than the memoir of the same name (see my thoughts on the memoir coming up on TCJWW) but this series has got everyone talking. Happily, the talk is about more than the hot and heavy lesbian action: Laverne Cox has brought great awareness to the transgender community and there is more conversation coming out about drug offenses, incarceration conditions, and race privilege in the system thanks to OITNB. Also, Netflix showed serious grit to release an original show and go against the likes of HBO, Starz, and even NBC—and this grit paid off in Emmy nominations. Who would’ve thought it was possible for that to happen even 5 years ago? If you haven’t watched it, the show alone is worth the monthly streaming fee. It has a third season coming in 2015, so you still have some time to curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and catch up on all the action from seasons 1 and 2.
I first heard about this biography when it was released in 2010 on CBS’s Sunday Morning (my father watched it every week). Louis Zamperini was interviewed and gave the background on the book that Hillenbrand was ultimately to write (though she credited huge chunks of it to Zamperini and worked closely with him—this could definitely toe the line to memoir if one was generous with the authorship). Zamperini’s life is just amazing—he is one of those rare individuals you imagine simply can’t be real; a boy with a tough upbringing, he turned to track and field to avoid getting into trouble, and found himself at the Olympics. When the war came, he went to fight and was shot down in the Pacific, then spent years in a POW camp only to survive. His survival was punctuated by forgiveness and acceptance: Louis handed his life over to God and became devote, selfless, and unfalteringly strong as a result. Hollywood A-Lister Angelina Jolie directed this (though her direction is less interesting to me than the Coen Brothers having a hand in the script). The critical reception has been mixed on the film (many blaming Jolie for this) but the story itself–the beautiful, hard-to-believe story—should be appreciated. Skip the movie if you’re worried you’ve seen this type of war-epic before, but don’t skip out on the book.
Ever have a moment where you realize that you’re not connecting two very obvious dots? That was me with Wild until today, so I’m making up for it now. Wild was on the top of the New York Times Best Seller list for 7 weeks following its 2012 release and is the first book of Oprah’s 2.0 Book Club. If Ms. O doesn’t convince you to read this, just go to Barnes and Noble: this book has been on their best-seller shelves for well over a year. I’ve been drawn to it time and time and time again, always thinking that it looks good and always with too many books still on my bedside table, but Strayed has gotten nothing but glowing reviews. It is a bit in the family of Eat, Pray, Love where Strayed seeks to find herself by going on a seemingly endless hike through the Pacific Crest Trail, and succeeds. Now, time travel to about a month ago when I started getting my Oscar Ducks in a row (every year I play the Oscar Pool, every year I love it, and I’m going to get every category correct before I die) and Reese Witherspoon comes up as getting Oscar Buzz with the just released movie Wild. Here I am, thinking this must be some art-house flick she is making to rebuild her A-List credentials… and today I found out that SHE IS CHERYL STRAYED. OH MY GOD, MY EXCITEMENT EXPLODED. Witherspoon optioned this book for film production before it was even released, which allowed for this sort of fast-paced turn around. This movie is top-shelf (regardless of your stance on Witherspoon) because good actresses who don’t come out for just any project (like Laura Dern and Gaby Hoffman) are in this as well and all the filming was done on location in the Pacific Northwest. Rotten Tomatoes has this film holding at 92% (for comparison, Unbroken has yet to break 51%) and you need to get the film, the book, and a strong cup of coffee… before Oscar Night.
Some books go viral and Gone Girl was one of them. Since the last book to go viral was 50 Shades of Grey, I kept my distance from Gone Girl until it could prove it wasn’t a poor man’s 50 Shades and had some meat on the bones. This book has got meat for days: a wife goes missing, the husband might be suspect, but truly the focus is on how nobody is a trustworthy narrator. This October 2014 movie had huge names: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, and Neil Patrick Harris, for starters. I can take or leave Affleck (I’m having issues with his Batman casting that I can’t get past) but Rosamund Pike hasn’t made a bad film and, honestly, neither has Neil Patrick Harris. Gone Girl was an instant New York Times Best Seller and the film has a slew of Golden Globe nods. This was undoubtedly the film to bring people not into the theatre, but into the bookstore. If you haven’t seen either iteration of Gone Girl, there is still time before Oscar Night. This is yet another book that hasn’t budged from Top Sellers charts in well over a year.
Five Most Anticipated Adaptations by Female Authors For 2015
This is undoubtedly on many people’s To Watch list and while I doubt it will garner critical success, this has to be the biggest series since Twilight for non-readers to suddenly pick up more than one book and love. I’ll take book loving where I can get it—this might not win any awards, but fans of the erotica series by E. L. James will be happy to see their favorite characters come to light.
Maybe Frankenstein has been done enough, but with a classic so full of engaging plot and characters, it can always be done again—especially when James MacAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe get attached to the project!
Yet another book I see all the time at the bookstore and always feel like I don’t have the room for on the bedside table is The Light Between Oceans, a tale about a lighthouse keeper and his wife who find an abandoned baby and a corpse after WWI. Michael Fassbender is signed to this adaptation and he has proven himself to be an actor with taste, and it has also attracted Rachel Weisz (a personal favorite). If done well, this could be award season material!
This is a memoir about a woman who helped save Jews during the Holocaust—and Jessica Chastain has signed on for the lead. I think many of us believe that the Holocaust seems to come back to theatres every year, and not that each of these stories doesn’t deserve to come to light, but many feel very similar. The last Holocaust story to truly stand out as a unique take on the genre was Inglourious Basterds, though Taratino’s shock-value antics didn’t have the mass appeal some would’ve liked (though, for the record, I loved it). Zookeeper’s Wife is about a husband and wife who smuggle Jews to safety using their zoo—which just isn’t a story you hear about everyday. It takes place in the Warsaw Zoo and thus has set itself apart from other Holocaust narratives by location alone. If WWII European Front material is in your wheelhouse, you’ll flock to this.
YES! YES! A THOUSAND TIMES YES! I just reviewed and interviewed Emma Donoghue (and yes, I was excited beyond belief for both) and THEN I SEE THAT ROOM IS GOING INTO PRODUCTION. AND WILLIAM H. MACY IS SIGNED! WHY AM I SCREAMING… I’M SO HAPPY I CAN’T CONTAIN MYSELF. ROOM is a unique and haunting narrative, and in the hands of seasoned actors and delicate directors, could easily be The Oscar Movie next year. Mark my words: this will soar high or flop hard, but life’s best outcomes come from that sort of a dice roll.