Friday, March 11, 2016

Spotlight on printed words at the Oscars 2016

A large number of movies celebrated at this year’s Oscar started their lives as books. Dibyajyoti Sarma looks at the written words behind the screen success

This year, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to a film with a newspaper at its heart – Spotlight. This is the first time a film centred on a newspaper has won the award. Both Citizen Kane (1941) and All the President’s Men (1976) failed to win the coveted prize.

Spotlight tells the story of a long investigation by a group of journalists from Boston Globe, the Spotlight team, to uncover the systemic child abuse in the Catholic Church.

Aside from Spotlight, a number of Oscar winners this year started out as humble books. Here are some examples.

The Revenant
Michael Punke’s The Revenant (2002) tells the real-life story of Hugh Glass (played by DiCaprio), a far trapper, in Rocky Mountains in 1823, where a grizzly bear attacks him and then his men abandon him. Glass survives, fuelled by his passion for revenge, and travels 3,000 mile across the harsh American frontier, to find the men who betrayed him.

Director Alejandro G Iñárritu turns the film into primal tale of survival, which may not reflect the emotional density of the books, but it is visceral, to say the least.

Patricia Highsmith named the book The Price of Salt, later republished as Carol. The 1952 novel is a dazzling lesbian romance, which was a daring act during the time of sexual repression, especially since it has a happy ending.

Todd Haynes’s film, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, observes the scandalous romance from the equivalent of a cinematic close-up, making it one of the most romantic movies ever made.

Irish master Colm Tóibín is one of the most celebrated writers working today, and the 2009 novel won a Costa Award. The book tells the story of a young Irish immigrant (Saoirse Ronan) in America, and how she falls in love and how she has to return and has to choose between two countries and two lovers.

John Crowley’s film version retains the power of Tóibín’s calm, unhurried tone in a journey from innocence to acceptance.

The Martian
Andy Weir published The Martian himself in 2011. When the sale picked up, it was re-released in 2014. The story follows Mark Watney, stranded alone on Mars in 2035, who must improvise in order to survive. The book has been praised for its realistic description of the future technologies.

Ridley Scott made the movie as much realistic as possible, with no small help from NASA itself.

Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue’s novel was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010, among other awards. This is a harrowing story of a five-year-old boy and his abused and captive mother, told with finesse and literary perfection.

Lenny Abrahamson’s film keeps the focus on the mother-son duo (played by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay) and the film works chiefly due to the performance of these two actors. No wonder, Larson took home the Best Actress Oscar.

The Big Short
Michael Lewis’s book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2010) is about the build-up of the housing and credit bubble during the 2000s. The book describes several key players in the creation of the credit default swap market, who ended up profiting from the financial crisis of 2007-08.

The star-studded film works mainly because the director Adam McKay infuses enough drama and eccentricities while at the time explaining the intricacies of the financial market.

The Danish Girl
In a year when former Olympic gold medallist Bruce Jenner reinvented herself as Caitlyn Jenner, the story of Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery, does not sound exciting, but it is. In The Danish Girl (2000), David Ebershoff attempts a fictionalised account of Elbe’s inner life, and he has been successful in most parts, with critics calling it fascinating and humane.

Tom Hooper’s film has been praised for the acting of Eddie Redmayne as Elbe, and Alicia Vikander as his wife (she won an Oscar.), but has been criticised otherwise, as all gloss, without real human emotion.

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