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Read the Books that Inspired the 2017 Films

ninetieth-oscars-logoThis year the 90th Academy Award nominations were announced a few weeks ago and, as usual, there are dozens of nominations. The final voting won’t begin for a few weeks on February 20.  The Oscars will be awarded when they are televised on March 8th in Los Angeles and Jimmy Kimmel will host for the second time.

At least thirteen of the nominated films in all 24 of the categories, including Best Picture, Actor and Actress, are based upon books, or have spawned books. Most of the DVDs for these films have not yet been released, yet all of the books are in the library. They can be found on the library’s fiction or non-fiction shelves, on the Speed Read shelf, and on a special display devoted to all nominated films. Six of these nine films were nominated for Best Picture along with eleven nominated for best actors and actresses. Others were nominated in the Best Song, Best Director, Best Cinematography or other categories.

One of the most-talked about films of 2017 is The Post (starring Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee), based on the Pentagon Papers. The 1971 drama of the papers leaked by Daniel Elsberg has been recently referred to as the WikiLeaks of its day. While the New York Times was the newspaper that defied President Nixon in 1971, and exposed the secrets of the Johnson administration and the secret government study of the Vietnam War, it was the local paper, The Post, headed by Katharine Graham that got its hands on the Papers and printed the stories about them. Both newspapers had to risk the ensuing battle in Supreme Court and their reputations. The most recent (2017) publication of The Pentagon Papers is an informative account writted by five authors – historians, political scientists and journalists. It includes chapters on the history and build-up of the Vietnam War during the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Two of the authors, Neil Sheehan and James Greenfield, worked secretly with Daniel Ellsberg to release the Papers. Director Steven Spielberg (not up for an Oscar this time) will probably be thrilled with a Best Picture win.

A handful of other films based on other historical moments were nominated for awards this year. The Miracle of Dunkirk: The True Story of Operation Dynamo and The Darkest Hour: How Churchill Brought England Back from the Brink were published in 2017 and are the history behind the films.  Another, Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams was first published in 1998 and inspired the 2017 film, Marshall. It is a biography of Justice Marshall, his victory in the Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and his subsequent appointment to the Supreme Court. The film stars Charles Boseman and Kate Hudson and is nominated for Best Song, “Stand Up for Something.”

Another biographical film, The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman, is nominated for best song, “This is Me.” The film follows the life of P.T. Barnum. Obviously, the book that inspired the film is Barnum’s autobiography Barnum’s Own Story, actually published in 1927.

Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant by Shrabani Basu was published in 2011. Abdul, and Indian Muslim, arrived in England as a waiter at Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. What followed is a story of tender love between them.

John Pearson wrote a biography of the Getty family, Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty in 1995. The book included the anguished tale of the kidnapping of grandson Paul Getty and the refusal by his grandfather to pay the ransom. The film, All the Money in the World, is based on Pearson’s book, republished as a movie tie-in of the same name.  Molly’s Game was also published in 2017 as the movie tie-in. It stars Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner and is the memoir of Molly Bloom who “gambled everything, won big, then lost it all.”

The Disaster Artist is a most ironic choice for a nomination. The film was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Interestingly, it is a film about a disaster of a 2003 film that cost over $6 million to make: The Room earned $1800 at the box office. The book, The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero is subtitled My Life Inside the Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. And IT’S up for an Oscar! (James Franco was snubbed for a Best Actor nomination due to allegations of sexual misconduct.)

Best Picture nomination, The Shape of Water, was followed by a 2018 novelization by producer and director, Guillermo del Toro and his co-author Daniel Kraus. The publication of the screenplay of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri by Martin McDonagh followed the release of the film starring Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson. That film is up for seven Oscars, including ones for both McDormand and Harrelson. It is the story of a mother’s frustration that there has been no resolution about the death of her daughter and her struggle with the local police force.

Two novels inspired 2017 films: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, an international bestseller in 2008 and Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman (2007). Mudbound was the debut work that earned Jordan the Bellwether Prize for Fiction. Aciman is a professor of comparative literature at CUNY New York. Mudbound is a drama of hatred in the South. Call Me By Your Name is a “powerful romance.”

Those of us who stayed up late last February 26 – until the last minute of the Academy Awards ceremony – are hoping there won’t be THAT drama this year. As I prepared to turn off my TV, I watched dozens of people on the Dolby Theater stage in a state of confusion. LaLa Land had been announced as Best Picture when it was suddenly divulged that Moonlight had actually won the award. Warren Beatty tried to make sense out the error, and LaLa Land producer Fred Berger exclaimed on the microphone “We lost by the way.”

I chuckled as I made my way up to bed. My husband Gerry had given up at least an hour earlier. He’s just not THAT into films. Or Academy Awards. I shook my head as I climbed into my side of the bed mumbling something about having witnessed an unbelievable mind-boggling mix-up of the Hollywood kind. Gerry didn’t even wake up.

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the February 8, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Lydia Sampson

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