A Book Lover’s Guide to the 2017 Oscar Nominees

Author’s Note: A Man Called Ove was inadvertently left off this list. The post has been corrected.  

It’s no secret that books are a rich source of inspiration for movies. And if you find that you rarely disagree with the “the book is better than the movie” premise, the 2017 Oscar nominees will give you plenty of fodder to fill up your TBR shelves. Every year I see every single nominated film, and of the 62 nominated films across all categories that I’ll attempt to watch, 18 have bookish origins. Alphabetically by film, here’s a breakdown of all the book-to-movie info:

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

  • Nominations: Sound Mixing
  • Adapted from: 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff (2014)
  •  13 Hours tells the story of the events of September 11, 2012 when terrorists attacked the US State Department Special Mission Compound and a nearby CIA station called the Annex in Benghazi, Libya.

A Man Called Ove

  • Nominations: Best Foreign Language
  • Adapted from: Fredrik Backman’s novel, A Man Called Ove (2014)
  • Ove is a curmudgeon. He seems to hate everyone and everything in his small Swedish community. He has staunch principals, strict routines, and a short fuse. But behind this grumpy facade is a heartbreaking story and a lovable man, if only he would let someone see it. I cried my way through the back half of this book and a solid 75% of the movie. Both are exceptional.

 

Arrival

  • Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography, Film Editing, Production Design
  • Adapted from: Ted Chiang’s 1998 short story “The Story of Your Life” from the collection Stories of Your Life and Others
  • Without giving too many spoilers,the film and Chiang’s acclaimed story upon which it is based follows a woman who, as a linguistics expert, is tasked with figuring out how to communicate with an alien race that has unexpectedly shown up on Earth. Both the film and the story provide a “nuanced examination of language, humanity, and the nature of time” that is as exquisite on screen as it is on the page.

Blind Vaysha

  • Nominations: Best Animated Short
  • Adapted from: a short story of the same name by Georgi Gospodinov, in the collection, And Other Stories (Writings from an Unbound Europe)
  • The film, based on Bulgarian Gospodinov’s story, tells story of a girl who sees past out of her left eye and the future from her right—and so is unable to live in the present.

Doctor Strange

  • Nominations: Visual Effects
  • Adapted from: Marvel Universe’s Doctor Strange character, which has been part of MCU for decades. For something most similar to the movie, Jason Aaron’s most recent run, in Doctor Strange Vol. 1: The Way of the Weird and Vol. 2: The Last Days of Magic is the best place to start. Vol. 3: Blood in the Aether is forthcoming this March.
  • Basically, the origin story is that surgeon Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, learns the mystic arts from the Ancient One, played (controversially) by Tilda Swinton, after a career-ending car accident and after becoming brilliantly magical, faces off against a former pupil of the Ancient One, played by a criminally misused Mads Mikkelsen. Come for Cumberbatch, stay for the visual effects.

Elle

  • Nominations: Best Actress (Isabelle Huppert)
  • Adapted from: Oh… by Philippe Djian, a 2012 French thriller that is unfortunately not available in an English-language translation.
  • Trigger warnings abound: A woman is brutally raped in her apartment by a masked intruder and promptly cleans up the mess and goes back to her life. I’m not going to lie, this film is incredibly difficult to watch, for reasons beyond the attack. But Isabelle Huppert gives the chilling performance of her life.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

  • Nominations: Production Design, Costume Design
  • Adapted from: …isn’t it obvious? Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, this is part of the Potter-verse, and based on the book of the same name, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by her Rowling-ness
  • Set in 1920s New York City, in the magical world of Harry Potter, British wizard Newt Scamander arrives on a ship, intending to head to Arizona to drop off one his many magical creatures. But his trip is interrupted by something mysterious leaving a path of destruction in the streets, threatening to expose the wizarding community to the No-Majs (American for Muggles), including the Second Salemers, a fanatical faction bent on eradicating them. To top it off powerful, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, after wreaking havoc in Europe, is nowhere to be found. Even if you’re not a fan of HP, the costumes and production design are incredible and the story stands well on its own.

Fences

  • Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Denzel Washington), Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis), Adapted Screenplay
  • Adapted from: August Wilson’s 1983 play, Fences. While not strictly a “bookish” adaptation, the play is worth reading on its own.
  • Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning sixth part of Wilson’s 10-part Pittsburgh Cycle, the film was adapted by the playwright before his death in 2005 and examines race, family, and ambition in the 1950s. Denzel starred in the Broadway revival and both he and Viola have earned well-deserved nominations in this adaptation.

Hidden Figures

  • Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), Adapted Screenplay
  • Adapted from:  Margot Lee Shetterly’s 2016 nonfiction book, Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race
  • Though the film takes some historical liberties, both it and Shetterly’s book are fist-pumping celebrations of brilliant women of color who transformed NASA and sadly were unacknowledged beyond the scientific and mathematics community. The movie is an amazing achievement, both for cheering these women but also for the black actresses that portray them: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe. See the movie, applaud with the rest of your audience, then read the book ASAP.

I Am Not Your Negro

  • Nominations: Best Documentary Feature
  • Adapted from: James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House. While this manuscript is unavailable as a standalone work, the filmmaker Raoul Peck has released a companion to the film that is primarily made up of this text.
  • Peck mined James Baldwin’s vast published and unpublished archives to create a documentary that not only reflects on Baldwin’s feelings about his assassinated friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, but about race and society in America. Though he was writing in the 196os, Baldwin’s words (as narrated by Samuel L. Jackson) provides a striking commentary about modern day racial conflicts. (If you’re looking for more Baldwin once you’ve seen this doc, James Baldwin: Collected Essays is a good place to start.)

The Jungle Book

  • Nominations: Best Visual Effects
  • Adapted from: Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories, The Jungle Book
  • While its been done and redone, this live-action adaptation of Kipling’s tales about Mogli, a “man cub” raised in the jungles of India, is just as delightful and terrifying as the original animated Disney version. Keeping your favorite musical numbers from the 1967 film (you’ll totally want to sing along to Bear Necessities), the visual spectacle of this story as a live-action production is worth the price of admission alone.

Life, Animated

  • Nominations: Best Documentary Feature
  • Adapted from: Ron Suskind’s 2014 memoir, Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism
  • Suskind’s son, Owen, who can only communicate through the language of Disney movies, is at the center of this story, told by his Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist father. At three years old, the once-chatty Owen stops speaking completely and his family is at a loss for how to reach him…until Owen’s love and obsession with Disney films provides a pathway to language and a sense of being and empathy for the whole family.

Lion

  • Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Dev Patel), Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Cinematography
  • Adapted from: A Long Way from Home by Saroo Brierley (2014)
  • Based on Brierley’s memoir, the film starring Dev Patel follows a five-year-old Saroo who, accompanying his big brother to work, falls asleep on a train that takes him hundreds of miles away from his home. Unable to read or write or even remember his own last name, Saroo survives in Calcutta before being adopted by an Australian family. As an adult Saroo is haunted by a family he misses and sets out on a quest (via Google Earth) to find his mother and brother. Bring tissues.

My Life as a Zucchini

  • Nominations: Best Animated Feature
  • Adapted from: Autobiographie D’une Courgette by Gilles Paris
  • Sadly another entry that is not available in English, this story of a boy – nicknamed “Courgette” (French for zucchini, hence the film’s title) – who is shuttled off to a foster home after his mother disappears. Befriend by a police officer who accompanies him to this foster home filled with other orphans his age, Courgette struggles to find his place in this sometimes hostile environment and the world at large.

Nocturnal Animals

  • Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Michael Shannon)
  • Adapted from: Tony and Susan by Austin Wright (1993)
  • Not only is Tom Ford’s film based on a thriller by Austin Wright, the movie’s primary narrative device is a novel. A story within a story, the real world story revolves around an ex-husband and wife; he has written a novel, the manuscript of which he sends to her and which she becomes consumed by, that is the other half of this film. Moving between both the real world and the fictional story, these characters are forced to reckon with their own past misdeeds. I haven’t read the book this movie is based on, but if its anything like its twisty adaptation, it deserves to be rediscovered by a new readership.

Silence

  • Nominations: Best Cinematography
  • Adapted from: Silence: A Novel by Shūsaku Endō (1966)
  • Languishing for decades in development limbo, Martin Scorsese’s passion project follows two Jesuit priests from Portugal into 17th century Japan, where Christians are routinely slaughtered, to find their missing mentor and spread Catholicism. I can’t speak to the novel upon which the movie is based, but let me save you three hours, Silence is a plodding (mostly very boring) examination of the dichotomy of faith and prudence.

Suicide Squad

  • Nominations: Best Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Adapted from: DC Comics’ team of villains of the same name. Your best bet is to wait until March for Suicide Squad Vol. 1: The Black Vault (Rebirth).
  • Yes, Suicide Squad was nominated for an Oscar. I…have no words.

Sully

  • Nominations: Best Sound Editing
  • Adapted from: Highest Duty by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow (2009)
  • Also known as Sully: Miracle on the Hudson, this film (based on the pilot’s memoir) follows Sullenberger’s January 2009 emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, in which all 155 passengers and crew survived with only minor injuries, and the subsequent publicity and investigation. Also, its Tom Hanks.

 

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