This isn't particularly a list of "the best" -- it's simply a list of adaptations, for which we've both seen the movie and read the book, which stand out for us.
Read Part One Here
11. Boy A -- This painful novel by Jonathan Trigell was definitely one of my favorites of the year.
At 24, Boy A is released. Guided by his mentor, Terry, who has been his lifeline throughout his years of incarceration, he christens himself "Jack" and begins a new life under his new identity hoping to outrun his past and possibly find some measure of redemption.
I liked the novel more than the film adaptation, but the movie is excellent. It includes skillful use of flashbacks, which are not overdone, and offers stand-out performances by Andrew Garfield. Peter Mullen, and Katie Lyons. Andrew Garfield really shines. I'd seen him in The Social Network and Never Let Me Go -- I thought he was adorable and certainly a capable performer. But until I saw Boy A, I hadn't realized he was truly an actor to keep an eye on.
12. We Need to Talk About Kevin -- This is another painful novel about a troubled and violent child. However unlike Boy A, Kevin does not seem redeemable. It also differs in that we see his story through the eyes of his mother rather than from his own perspective.
The novel and movie could not be more different in style, yet they both succeed remarkably. Shriver's book is an epistolary novel -- a series of letters written to her husband Franklin, reliving her inability to bond with her son, from the moment of conception, his troubled childhood, and her husband's fierce denial of his issues. The style is quite literary, the letters of a woman who has always lived in her intellect and makes sense of life through words.
The movie, in contrast, is very visual and sparing in its use of words. Each image -- including Eva's bereft haggard face, the gratuitous use of blood red, the coldness she sees in the eyes of her son, and the disappointment in her husband's face -- speaks volumes. And in contrast to the novel's articulate, logical account of Eva's memories, the movie is a bit disjointed with rather jarring scenes and jumps in time. While the novel guides us slowly and deeply through Eva's inner world, the movie brilliantly mirrors her pain, exhaustion, and confusion.
Both the book and movie left me wondering about Eva's reliability as a narrator. Again, the film showed us, in a few frames, what the book described through slow, eloquent prose. The novel made me wonder, is it really possible for a baby to deliberately reject his mother's breast? Can a toddler refuse to play, learn from his mom, or potty-train out of pure hostility? No. That's developmentally impossible. Surely these distorted memories were a product of Eva's addled brain, her projected ambivalence toward her child, and the distorting power of hindsight, given who Kevin became. Yet at what point did her perceptions of Kevin's callous, troubled mind become real? The line was never clear.
The movie -- which I saw before reading the book -- raised those questions in my mind first, showing me in a matter of seconds what the novel took many pages to help me grasp. Seeing the creepily incongruous look of glittering malice in the eyes of a toddler, when he wouldn't roll a ball back to his mom, was deeply unsettling. Clearly this was seen through the lens of a mentally disturbed mother's memory. Wasn't it? I didn't accept Eva's perception of reality, but I couldn't dismiss her either.
This is definitely an unsettling and thought-provoking story, and one that has been stuck in my gut for a while.
13. All the Little Animals -- My co-blogger and I read this novel and she saw the movie adaptation, featuring Christian Bales in one of his lesser known roles -- both are among her favorites.
According to Roger Ebert's review:
The performances are minutely observed, which enhances the movie's dreamlike quality ... Here's an intriguing question: What is this movie about? It's not really about loving animals, and indeed it's creepy that Mr. Summers (and Bobby) focus more on dead ones than living specimens. Is it about death? About fear, and overcoming it? About revenge? The appeal of archetypal stories is that they seem like reflections of the real subject matter: Buried issues are being played out here at one remove.
14. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas -- This deceptively simple holocaust novel and its film adaptation -- which the book's author described as a parable -- dramatically shows a juxtaposition between evil and innocence.
As Sarah wrote in her film review, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is about a regular kid -- not a child prodigy, not particularly wise beyond his years. The only thing that separates him from the willfully blind adults who surround him is that he has not yet learned to hate." This is a story that's hard to forget, and the ending hits you on a visceral level.
15. Choke - Despite my affection for the spectacularly fucked up movie adaptation of Fight Club, I am not a huge fan of Chuck Palahniuk.
I wrote: "So, dear readers, I wouldn't presume to recommend this book or steer you away from it. The author is clever, even gifted, or his book is just bent, pointless and painful to read. Or maybe both. Your mileage may vary." The movie is equally bizarre and twisted.
There's a sex addict who goes to support group meetings because, well, what better place to hook up with sex-addicted chicks? His best bud is a compulsive masturbator. Our intrepid hero has hatched a plan to weasel money out of unsuspecting Good Samaritans by pretending to choke in restaurants. He visits his insane, senile mother at a nursing home, where he plays the role of scapegoat for dementia-stricken patients who need to rage against people who have hurt them in the past. Then there is that whole business of our hero being told he's the Messiah because he was conceived with DNA from the Holy Foreskin. Umm ... yeah.
It is confused, disturbing mess of a story, touching on some interesting themes that never seem fully developed. However, it is nothing if not memorable. My co-blogger seems to have appreciated this movie more than I did.
On to Part 3