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List Sunday - Movies better than the books they were based on

I originally wrote this article in anticipation of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby for the now defunct

Literary adaptations flood the film industry but when audiences are asked which was better, the book or the movie, the book often wins. Here are a few examples of films that reverse that trend. (Films like The Godfather and The Shining, which would definitely belong on this list, are overly discussed in other forums and are thus left out.)

5. Election

Book written by Tom Perrotta

Film directed by Alexander Payne

Book: The book is made up of somewhat blasé interlocking narratives with little to differentiate them stylistically.

Film: Alexander Payne brings a sharp comic eye and fills his film with funny visual gags that benefit from clever editing. Also, Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon give excellent performances.

4. Audition

Book written by Ryu Murakami

Film directed by Takashi Miike

Book: The book is a pretty decent thriller narrated by the protagonist who undergoes the worst revenge fantasy ever.

Film: It starts off very slow but it pays off brilliantly at the end. The images in this film are so powerful and visceral (and original to the film) that they stay with you long after you’ve watched it. This film is definitely not for the squeamish.

3. The Sweet Hereafter

Book written by Russell Banks

Film directed by Atom Egoyan

Book: The book is narrated by characters who are involved in the central incident: a bus crash that kills many of the young children of the town. Banks skillfully gives a picture of a community dealing with grief and loss.

Film: The movie is a great exercise in tone and introspection. Beautifully shot, the film manages to convey so many emotions through images rather than narration. Russell Banks even admits on the DVD commentary that Egoyan’s film was better than his book.

2. The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth (tie)

Books written by Edith Wharton

Films directed by Martin Scorsese and Terence Davies respectively

Book: While the stories Wharton writes are compelling, her prose can be a chore to read and not in a good way.

Film: The Age of Innocence is the most passionate movie where the two central lovers barely touch each other. The film is also beautiful to look at and all the actors give some of their best performances, perhaps most surprisingly Winona Ryder. The House of Mirth is a beautifully shot and staged film that is illuminated by a brilliant performance by Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame as a proper society woman who has been scandalized and consequently falls on hard times.

1. Howards End

Book written by E.M. Forster

Film directed by James Ivory

Book: E.M. Forster spends way too much time in his characters’ heads and the novel moves along at a plodding pace.

Film: The film manages to capture the characters’ emotional conflicts yet manages to be thrilling dramatically.

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