Film Intuition List: The Art of Adaptation

After being bombarded with 16 required texts to read in my 2.5 month quarter of grad school, I’ve found myself literally up to my eyeballs in words. As a lover of books, it’s been tough to forgo all of the great novels and works of nonfiction I'm longing to read when focusing only on what’s assigned and now, just past midway through the term, I’ve started to feel drowned in literature to such an extent that book reading for fun seems like a chore.

An alarming idea to think that books and me need to see other people so as an attempt of “couple’s therapy,” I’ve decided to make a constituted effort to fall back in love with books by coming up with the latest Film Intuition List of 20 novels I feel would make wonderful films.

When looking these up, I had to delete one—The Time Traveler’s Wife, which has actually been made starring the beautiful Rachel McAdams and gorgeous Eric Bana and drop one that has already been made for PBS (White Teeth). While I found that several of the selected works are in development or pre-production, some we’ve been hearing rumors about for years so I decided that they were fair game since nothing is set in stone.

A few of the works have a permanent place in my Top 10 favorite books of all time, some I just feel would make terrific films (and indeed be improved upon), and others would be refreshingly different fare for filmgoers. Even though I have no power to greenlight, I’m grateful for the opportunity to highlight.

Anyway, hope I’ve selected some of your favorites and feel free to comment or add your own!

1) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
One of my favorite books of all time, yet it’s one that has only been read by two people I actually know. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Michael Chabon’s book has all of the ingredients for a Best Picture winner including romance, war, mystery, action and humor. It's a uniquely humanitarian work that has been a labor of love for Chabon following the book’s publication as he continues work on the screenplay. In the latest news, it’s been attached to Stephen Daldry (The Hours) and while he is a great director, I always thought it may do well for a more innovative approach by a director such as Darren Aronofsky. And, if you've never read Chabon you must-- a man whose kind, sensitive nature and classically handsome appearance are as gorgeous as his prose, Michael Chabon is one of our most exciting authors working today.

2) The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
A humanistic masterpiece about the Vietnam war and another book with a permanent place in my top ten— I’ve either purchased this book or recommended it over a dozen times to the various men in my life from my dad to my friends as it was introduced to me from one of my favorite professors in my very first college course when I was sixteen. I’d always envisioned it completed by Terrence Malick although it’s probably far too similar to The Thin Red Line to interest the director. Haunting vignettes and drama with enough plot to interest some of our very best character actors; I’m amazed that nobody has purchased the rights yet as our society may be struggling to accept films about Iraq, but any look at war and how it affects people is something of the utmost importance today. It’s a difficult book to adapt but one that I wouldn’t hesitate to drop on Paul Thomas Anderson’s doorstep.

3) Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Gorgeous prose, passion and tension—its terror plot may be a tough sell but it’s one that I feel would reinvigorate Hollywood to create much needed thinking films for women as opposed to obligatory chick flick romantic comedies about biological clock worrying old maids. Director-wise, Joe Wright seems like the right fit.

4) Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Daring and bold-- it probably could never get made but man, would I love to see what Todd Haynes would do with it.

5) Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
It’s funny; when I read the book, the only actor I imagined in the role of the unlikely detective was Edward Norton and it felt like a dream come true when Edward Norton snapped up the rights… but that was several years ago!

6) On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The last I heard, this book was owned by Francis Ford Coppola. It may make the perfect opportunity for his son Roman Coppola—an amazingly creative visionary in his own right—to finally get noticed for himself. Over the years I always envisioned Matt Dillon, Jim Cavaziel (who looks amazingly like Kerouac but I can't stand his politics) or Billy Crudup for the lead.

7) Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
I’d say that someone of the caliber of Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze would be ideal for this fantastic novel of a young girl’s introduction to the works of our most famous philosophers… but we’d want to be sure to keep the heart of the book intact without worrying that it would run away with itself a la The Science of Sleep so I’d probably go for somebody like John August to write.

8) The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard
A guilty pleasure, Elmore Leonard novels have always been my favorite weekend books in that back in school, I’d pick one up from the library on Friday and return it on Monday. Hey, it was Minnesota in the frozen winter—what else were we going to do? And nobody does dialogue or style like Leonard who’s so gifted it’s a crime that writers don’t take him more seriously and recommend his books to those interested in the craft of storytelling. I’d love to see Curtis Hanson get back into the movie spotlight again with something like this one.

9) Jazz by Toni Morrison
I’d say Kasi Lemmons or John Sayles would be most able to do justice to this fast and fiery tale by Toni Morrison.

10) Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer Since he did such an amazing job on the underrated Everything Is Illuminated, there’s nobody else in my mind that seems more prepared to adapt than Liev Schreiber.

11) Niagara Falls All Over Again by Elizabeth McCracken
A sweet, funny and touching tale of comedians of yesteryear becoming film stars and a book that would be an amazing showcase for some of our talented young comical stars to show their serious side.

12) The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
I’ve started this book twice and both times was so blown away by the scope and prose that I was heartbroken when life became too busy to finish it. Because of the sheer New York energy of the piece, it has to be given to a New York director and most likely one who will take some true risks such as Spike Lee.

13) A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler
Another gentle and lovely work by Anne Tyler that I’m terribly surprised hasn’t already been made for Lifetime or the Hallmark Hall of Fame… which means it could be time for Ms. Tyler to get her big screen debut. I’d recommend Deepa Mehta who for the last several years has tirelessly worked on her Fire, Earth and Water trilogy so much so that people are forgetting she’s also capable of gentle romance like her adaptation of The Republic of Love.
14) Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen
Hiaasen, like Leonard, is one of the most imaginative writers from what has become known as “the south Florida wacko genre.” Although I'm not a huge fan, in Brett Ratner’s hands, this would be a blast since God knows he’d feel right at home with the Miami bikini beauties.

15) If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
Calvino, Calvino, Calvino— dare I say Minghella, Minghella, Minghella?

16) Timbuktu (or anything) by Paul Auster
One of our most unique and humanistic writers and for my money, America’s Kafka, Paul Auster’s heartbreaking book about a dog who loses his homeless owner offers not only a dog’s eye view of humanity but a glimpse of America that would be gripping to behold onscreen.

17) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
For the longest time, it was reported that Nick Hornby was asked to write the script but I haven’t heard anything about it since. It would be really great to star an up and comer—someone who’s a magician with dialogue like a Topher Grace, which begs to mind his In Good Company directors who also handled Hornby’s About a Boy—the Weitz brothers.

18) Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
Let’s get Rebecca Miller back to filmmaking with this tremendously written book that I must have started to read two dozen times before (as was the case with Fortress of Solitude) having to put it away when too much landed on my plate. It would be a terrific opportunity to highlight Hollywood's talented women with an actress like Evan Rachel Wood and a cinematographer like Ellen Kuras.

19) Because it is Bitter, and Because it is My Heart by Joyce Carol Oates
Mira Nair’s sociological background would benefit this tale of race, tolerance and hatred in the 50’s.

20) The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Alfonso Cuaron would be ideal for this thrilling and heartbreaking ode to books and love.

Hmm, so many books, so little time, and while there are several others I'd love to include, this first installment proved to be successful therapy. Not only did it remind me just why I love books but also brought back my deep admiration for people who can write as well.

All titles should be available at Amazon