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)

Nathaniel Rich
nathanielrich.com

His books include the film guide “San Francisco Noir” and the novel “Odds Against Tomorrow,” a work of speculative fiction about a University of Chicago-trained mathematician who can predict disasters.

Favorite: “Great novels tend to go inward, into the darkest recesses of the mind — a place not easily reached by film cameras. The novels most readily adapted for film are those that are written like screenplays: high-stakes premises, with lots of action, dialogue, and plot. This is why noir novels are particularly well-suited for adaptation. My favorite is ‘Kiss Me Deadly,' which is much darker and stranger than the original Mickey Spillane novel. That film is actually an exception to the rule, as it's far more ruminative and eerie than the book.

“I stole the title of my new novel, ‘Odds Against Tomorrow,' from a 1959 film noir, which in turn was based on a novel (by William McGivern), also with the same title. But the title suits my novel a lot better than it does the original novel and film (which is about a heist), so I don't feel too guilty about the theft.”

John Green
johngreenbooks.com

The former Chicago-based author's YA novels include “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Looking For Alaska,” which was optioned a few years ago but has not yet been made into a film.

Favorite: “I'm tempted to say ‘Die Hard,' adapted from Roderick Thorp's novel ‘Nothing Lasts Forever,' because I do feel that ‘Die Hard' has been critically underappreciated, but I think the best book-to-film adaptation remains ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.' It captures the guts of the story while sacrificing very little of the story. Some of the adaptation's brilliance goes down to the book, of course: It's a short, visually evocative novel with a three-act structure. But the performances in the movie are also extraordinary.

Least favorite: “When I was in college I saw an old animated adaptation of George Orwell's ‘Animal Farm' that features a happy ending — the farm animals overthrow their communist oppressors. That was pretty awful. Most adaptations fail because it's so difficult to capture the voice of a story visually (if you've ever seen the movie version of ‘Running with Scissors,' you'll know what I'm talking about), but in the case of ‘Animal Farm,' it was just kind of an hours-long insult to Orwell himself.”

Jean Hanff Korelitz
jeanhanffkorelitz.com

Her novel “Admission” was recently made into a feature film. Her forthcoming novel “You Should Have Known” comes out next year.

Favorite: “Marilynne Robinson's ‘Housekeeping,' a book of almost unbearably beautiful prose, was especially fortunate in its Scottish director and screenplay writer, Bill Forsyth, whose visual choices were every bit as lovely as Robinson's written imagery.

“My other pick features a different Forsyth — Frederick Forsyth, author of my absolute favorite thriller, ‘The Odessa File.' I saw the 1974 adaptation before I read the book, but I have spent the last 40 years bouncing back and forth between the wonderfulness of each. Jon Voight was so perfect in the role of Peter Miller, a German journalist, that for years I refused to believe that the actor himself was not German.”

Least favorite: “Even without having seen every film adaptation of every novel that's ever been made I can definitely state that the worst one of all is ‘Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living In New York,' the excruciating 1975 adaptation of Gail Parent's 1972 novel of the same name. Why? Because the novel is — to this day — the funniest book I have ever read. The film adaptation threw out Parent's characters and plot, replaced them with entirely different people doing totally unrelated things, and then sucked every ounce of humor out of the endeavor, leaving a grim, flabby non-story. The final humiliation was that the film retained the novel's title. This dreadful miscalculation was directed by someone named Sidney J. Furie, who went on to direct many action movies and episodes of ‘Pensacola: Wings of Gold.' I would say more, but I'm still too upset about the whole thing.”

 nmetz@tribune.com | Twitter @NinaMetzNews

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