The Ghost Writer (2010) directed by Roman Polanski
This screenplay was adapted side-by-side by Robert Harris (who wrote The Ghost) and Polanski, who was forced to finish editing the film from a Swiss jail in 2009. Ripped from the front pages of real life, the movie centers around a political figure (Pierce Brosnan) and the man helping to pen his memoir (Ewan McGregor) in the midst of political turmoil surrounding the use of torture in fighting terrorism. This Kafkaesque tale mirrors post-9/11 politics as we the viewers scramble to put together the pieces along with the nameless main character. A thriller in every sense of the word, a maze of twists and turns will keep you on your toes.
Infamous (2006) directed by Douglas McGrath
This film follows the relationship between author Truman Capote (Toby Jones) and convicted murderers Dick Hickock (Lee Pace) and Perry Smith (Daniel Craig,) who served as the inspiration for his best-selling book In Cold Blood. Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning portrayal of the author in Capote (released the same year) cast a long shadow over this stellar film which delivered a much more in-depth look into the writer's process. Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird) is also present in the film and played by Sandra Bullock as we see some insightful conversations between these childhood friends.
Barton Fink (1991) directed by Joel Coen
The Coen Brothers never disappoint and certainly delivery their usual slapstick awesomeness in the tale of Barton Fink (John Turturro) as he travels from New York to Hollywood to pen a movie script. Hilariously enough the creative team came up with this story as they developed a case of their own writer's block (the central theme of the movie) while working on Miller's Crossing. The great center of debate surrounding the film is whether Fink's Hotel confinement is a metaphor for Hell. Look for the signs, listen for the sixes and tell me if Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) is the devil. The film was the first to win all three major awards at Cannes.
The Hours (2002) directed by Stephen Daldry
The unique story line of this film is based around author Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) and two subsequent generations of women dealing with suicide and the strife of modern life. Woolf's novel, Mrs. Dalloway serves as the backbone to weave these three stories together fusing fiction with biography. The novel by Michael Cunningham used as the source material for this story was previously thought to be unfilmable. The creative team proved this wrong by garnering several Oscar nods including Best Actress which was awarded to Kidman despite having the least screen time of the three leading ladies in the acts of this masterpiece.
Wonder Boys (2000) directed by Curtis Hanson
Professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) faces the sophomore curse of his long-awaited novel following up the success of his literary venture seven years prior. This is a coming of age film for both the main and supporting characters. Their THC fueled journey of self-discovery is a heartfelt riot spun around college life and the growing pains of both the young and the old. After a very limited initial release, the film was considered a flop but has gained a certain cult status since. One of the last scenes (the fate of Tripp's manuscript) mirrors the final scene in The Ghostwriter only with very different consequences.
American Splendor (2003) directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
When Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) meets cartoonist R. Crumb (James Urbaniak,) his life is transformed by the artist's offer to translate his everyday observations into a visual form. The film serves as an intimate portrait into the creative process and how the inner-thinkings of a person become art. Not afraid of the warts and wrinkles, the filmmakers show the true form of the author on screen. Giamatti is brilliant as always in showing us the story and motivations behind this cult writer's publication. Pekar's verse is an homage to the frustrations of American life through the comics and subsequent film.
Naked Lunch (1991) directed by David Cronenberg
Here we find a film unique and very much off-the-tracks as is Cronenberg's style. Naked Lunch is by no means true to William S. Burroughs' novel by the same name. The movie goes beyond the approach of a simple adaptation by fusing elements of the author's literary creations with his own real-life antics. A truly surreal journey, the film certainly plays like a Burroughs story and his deranged sci-fi and drug inspired alter-worlds. Exterminators, drugs, aliens and murder are just a few ingredients in the cocktail. Hold on to your hat and remember it's not real... or is it?
Barfly (1987) directed by Barbet Schroeder
Charles Bukowski is the working-man's poet- a true dreg of society. He wrote the screenplay for this film about author Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke) but we all know who Henry really is as this is the autobiography of Bukowski himself. The obscene and often clairvoyant drunken rantings of Henry echo the lines and madness of the poet's own work. Schroeder was nominated for the Palm d'Or at Cannes for his directing and Faye Dunaway was nominated for a Golden Globe in her role opposite Rourke as his barfly girlfriend. Bukowski himself has a cameo at the bar (but you have to find him!)
Almost Famous (2000) directed by Cameron Crowe
High School student and aspiring writer William (Patrick Fugit) is given the opportunity of a lifetime to follow the band Stillwater and write about his experience for Rolling Stone. First acting and then becoming older than his real age, he faces the harsh realities of life on the road in the rock circus. The movie is very much a coming-of-age movie but much more as William faces a tough decision on how to present the band in his own words. Written by Crowe himself, the film is a psuedo-autobiography about the director's younger years as a rock journalist drawing inspiration from tours with The Allman Brothers, The Eagles and The Who.
Piñero (2001) directed by Leon Ichaso
The life story of urban poet and playwright Miguel Piñero is one which traces the roots of hip hop and spoken word as we know it today. The author revolutionized the way poetry is conveyed. With an inner city flair, he harnessed and built upon everything the Beat Generation accomplished. Both life in New York City and the confines of Sing Sing inspired the writer to portray his experiences to the world. His Tony-nominated play Short Eyes gained him wide-spread fame in 1974. This docudrama exposes the trials and triumphs of one of the godfathers of the Nuyorican Movement as he struggles with addiciton, fame and living life in the concrete jungle.
Stranger than Fiction (2006) directed by Marc Forster
IRS Auditor Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) awakes one day to find his life being narrated by an unseen voice in his head. Author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) soon discovers as well that she is pulling the strings of a real life character. This fun flick is rich with imagery related to mathematics (connected to Harold's life organized by numbers) and also Magritte's Son of Man painting (look for green apples and Harold sitting in front of clouds.) The entire cast of the film including Dustin Hoffman and Maggie Gyllenhaal shine in this tragedy and convey the unorthodox journey of the author telling her tale.
Hemingway & Gellhorn (2012) directed by Philip Kaufman
HBO truly delivered an epic telling of the relationship between Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) and WWII war correspondent Martha Gelhorn (Nicole Kidman.) Many scenes stand out in this movie and I had a hard time leaving it off my Top 10 Movie Picks of 2012. Perhaps the most incredible bedroom scene ever filmed sets the two authors making love in the midst of their hotel being bombed as debris litters their bed and the air around them. The power of the scene lies within a passion so intense it mutes a war. The actors fulfill the legacies of their subjects befitting of endless praise.
Misery (1990) directed by Rob Reiner
Bestselling author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) descends into terror, suspense and certainly misery when he's held captive by his "biggest fan," Annie (Kathy Bates) after saving him from a car crash. Annie puts her nursing and obsession skills to work in caring for Paul until things go awry after discovering he's about to kill off the heroine of his novels in the final volume of the series. Well, not if Annie has anything to do about it. The portrayal of Annie's killer passion for literature earned Kathy Bates an Oscar for Best Actress in this adaptation of the Stephen King novel..
Slam (1998) directed my Marc Levin
Levin employed Nuyorican legend and slam champion Saul Williams to play Ray Joshua in the lead role of this film. Here is a touching portrait of the struggles of inner city youth utilizing poetry, flowing and freestyle rapping to escape their everyday strife. A poignant scene which stands out in my mind is when Joshua is incarcerated and takes turns improvising lyrics with the inmate in his adjacent cell. The sheer power of Williams' delivery in and out of the film is what makes him a bridge builder between music, performance art and the spoken word. The final scene of the movie is pure deliverance as he takes a stage for the first time to release himself.
Before Night Falls (2000) directed by Julian Schnabel
The life story of Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem) follows his childhood with Castro and imprisonment up to his journey to New York City where he found a home and lived the remainder of his life. The themes of this movie are woven beautifully beginning with Arenas discovering his homosexuality during one of the world's most famous social revolutions. Keep an eye out for not one but two outrageous cameos by Johnny Depp as well as one by Sean Penn. Bardem's stunning and emotional performance landed him an Oscar nod for his role.
Howl (2010) directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
This film finally offeres us a fitting look into the life of the Beat Generation through the eyes of one of its greatest poets. Centered around Allen Ginsberg (James Franco,) the film captures the flair and brilliant tone which made him the voice of a generation. Here you'll find a unique combination of docudrama covering Ginsberg's life and obscenity trial mashed up with animation and Franco reciting the poet's verse. Howl was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and topped my Top 10 Movie Picks of 2010! (Click the link to read a much more in-depth review!)
Permanent Midnight (1998) directed by David Veloz
Veloz's solitary directing venture is a wild ride based on the addiction and depravity of screenwriter Jerry Stahl (Ben Stiller) who wrote the TV sitcom ALF (turned into Mr. Chompers in the film for copyright reasons.) Stahl's $6K a week heroin addiction spins his life out of control as Stiller has never performed so well looking so terrible. Keep an eye out for Stahl himself in a cameo as Dr. Murphy. Jogging on junk, babies on drug runs and slamming into skyscraper windows make a mundane addiction an interesting thrill ride which garnered Ben Stiller critical acclaim for this dramatic role he certainly wasn't typecast for.
Adaptation (2002) directed by Spike Jonze
In their followup to Being John Malkovich, director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman re-team to create a beautifully orchestrated path of adaptation. The film takes on Susan Orlean's (Meryl Streep) book about an orchid hunter John Laroche (Chris Cooper) which seems a simple enough concept on the surface. As with Kaufman's scripts, insanity prevails though as the screenwriter pens not only himself but a nonexistent twin brother (both played by Nicolas Cage) into the film to show the struggle in adapting a true story to a book to a screenplay to a movie about the entire process. Confused yet? It only gets better from there!
Hunter S Thompson gave birth to Gonzo journalism in the 1960's and 70's by writing himself into his adventures which often became drug-fueled and prophetic of the times. His masterpiece novel from which this film is based was originally published in the pages of Rolling Stone. Gilliam's zany directing style brought life to the absurd walking circus which was Thompson (played by Johnny Depp.) What begins as a trip by the author to Las Vegas to cover a dirt bike race descends into depraved madness courtesy of a suitcase full of drugs. Read MUCH more about the good doctor and see my portrait of him by Clicking HERE.
Quills (2000) directed by Philip Kaufman
Painted on the backdrop of 18th century France ruled by Napoleon, this final film tells the story of the The Marque De Sade (Geoffrey Rush.) The notorious writer took Europe by storm with his erotic stories bootlegged to the public by private publishers. The movie follows his exploits in the Charanton Insane Asylum where he sneaks his works out of his confinement with the help of a young laundress (Kate Winslet.) As restriction after restriction is placed on DeSade, he must resort to the ingenuity of writing in his own blood and feces on the walls, his bed sheets and even his clothes. This multi-faceted story also shows the horrors and torture endured by institutionalized patients of the time. The great cast including Michael Caine and Joaquin Phoenix deliver a brutal yet seductive portrait of one of history's most vile and infamous authors.