What are the best movies based on books?

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'Anna Karenina'

Keira Knightley stars in the movie adaptation of "Anna Karenina." (May 8, 2013)

Least favorite: “I'll just go with the one I watched most recently, which was ‘Water For Elephants.' I was so underwhelmed with the film version. Sara Gruen's novel was rich and romantic, the movie felt lazy and flat (though often beautiful, it was still more beautiful in my imagination). The romance of the novel was completely lost in the film version. How a novel I adored turned into a film about depressed people on a train, I have no idea. Perhaps stories where plot movement is based on luck rather than choice and action is too banal to watch, and the casting was certainly off with the two leads lacking chemistry.”

David Grann
davidgrann.com

His non-fiction book “The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon” (about the early 20th century explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared while on the hunt for an ancient lost city) has been optioned by Brad Pitt's production company.

Favorite: “Perhaps my favorite adaptation of a book is ‘There Will Be Blood,' which was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and which is loosely based on Upton Sinclair's novel ‘Oil!' In contrast to many faithful adaptations, the movie is nothing like the book. And that is why it is so good.

“Sinclair's book is interesting but also didactic and episodic; it provides a fascinating window into a period of time and the world of oil and the corrupting force of greed, but it is not a great novel. In contrast, ‘There Will Be Blood' is a remarkable movie. Anderson achieves this by simply ignoring the book, by using it as a source of inspiration but never being weighted down by it. Sinclair explains over and over why greed can destroy the soul; Anderson shows that through a finely rendered character portrait.

“Perhaps nothing is more revealing than the change of titles. Would you rather see a movie called ‘Oil!' or ‘There Will Be Blood?'”

Robin Sloan
robinsloan.com

His novel “Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore” centers on a Web designer-turned-bookstore clerk who teams up with a pal at Google to solve a series of book riddles.

Favorite: “I thought ‘Cloud Atlas' was great, especially considering the source material. I would have classified that book as unfilmable, at least as a single coherent movie. But the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer — apparently with (author) David Mitchell's help — pulled it off; the way they braided those six stories into one continuous weave was impressive and, for me at least, quite engrossing.

“‘No Country for Old Men' is about as close to a perfect movie as I've ever seen. I hadn't read the book, actually, and when I did, I was amazed at the faithfulness of the Coen brothers' adaptation. It's one of the rare cases where the script is just waiting there on the pages. Also, there's almost no music in the movie, and the effect is striking. I wish more book-to-movie adaptations had the courage to forgo all those swooping cinematic strings.”

Emma Straub
emmastraub.net

Her novel “Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures” delves into the psychological tradeoffs required of a movie star in Hollywood's Golden Age of cinema.

Favorite: “My favorite adaptations fall into two categories — the costume drama (the BBC's ‘Pride and Prejudice,' Emma Thompson's ‘Sense and Sensibility') and the completely irreverent ones starring twenty-something actors pretending to be teenagers (‘Clueless,' ‘10 Things I Hate About You'). The former appeal to my occasional need to weep and laugh at the same time — Jane Austen can't be beat for that, and novels/movies that end with weddings are inherently satisfying. The latter appeal to my very base desire to stay in high school forever.”

Least favorite: “Any adaptation starring Keira Knightley is an automatic no-go. I cannot take that underbite. It's too bad, too, as she and I seem to have very similar taste in literature.”

Jeffery Deaver
jefferydeaver.com

The Glen Ellyn native is the author of the long-running Lincoln Rhyme crime series, which began with “The Bone Collector” (adapted into a film) and continues with “The Kill Room,” which comes out June 4.

Favorite: “I'll go with a film from the genre in which I work: ‘The Day of the Jackal' (1971) directed by Fred Zinnemann and based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth. For one thing, the book is naturally cinematic; it engages readers in much the same way a movie does viewers. I've often wondered why directors occasionally make it so hard on themselves, trying to adapt stories that are internal, digressive or ambiguous. Not every book, after all, has to find its way to the silver screen.

“Zinnemann's verite production value echoes the book's lean, gritty style. The film is nuanced and intelligent, two characteristics we don't see much in today's pyrotechnic and ultimately unengaging thrillers (speaking of which — if you can stand it — the 1997 remake of Forsyth's book, starring Richard Gere and Bruce Willis, ‘The Jackal').”

Least favorite: “I'm picking ‘Dune,' directed by David Lynch and based on the book by Frank Herbert. If you're going to tackle the adaptation of a lengthy novel or epic, there are two ways to handle it successfully: Pick a book whose core story can be told through a limited number of key scenes (‘The English Patient' or ‘Empire of the Sun'). Or shoot the whole damn thing (‘Lord of the Rings'), however many episodes you need.

“‘Dune' did neither. In a little over two hours, it attempted to recreate Hebert's sprawling fantasy novel in its entirety. Even a fine cast couldn't overcome the excessive explanation necessary to help readers make sense of the plot.”

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