Movies are rarely as good as the written word that inspired them. But every now and then, Hollywood gets it right. I cannot even watch a film based on a book if I haven’t read it first. It just feels wrong! So grab your library card and get ready to do some reading, because your Netflix queue is going to be full after this!
1. “Like Water for Chocolate”
The novel by Laura Esquivel takes place during the Mexican Revolution, where young Tita falls madly in love with the dashing Pedro. In Tita’s family, tradition calls for the youngest daughter to care for her parents until their deaths, thus forbidding her to marry and raise a family of her own. Her mother cruelly arranges for Pedro to marry her older sister, Rosaura. Seemingly by some kind of magic, all of Tita’s emotions are poured into her cooking, and anyone who eats the food she has prepared will become overwhelmed with intense sadness, longing, happiness or lust as Tita pines for the love of her life. A classic tale of star-crossed love, “Like Water for Chocolate” may be one of the most sadly beautiful films I have ever had the pleasure of viewing over, and over, and over.
2. “Into the Wild”
“Into the Wild” tells the true story of a young man named Christopher McCandless. Wandering under the moniker Alexander Supertramp, McCandless donated his entire savings to OXFAM before leaving a life of privilege behind, working odd jobs here and there and foraging for food, until he made it to Alaska. A few months after his arrival a hunter found his emaciated body in an abandoned van he had been using as shelter. Sean Penn wrote and directed the 2007 film based on Jon Krakauer’s account of Christopher McCandless’ story. Breathtaking scenery, an all star cast and a haunting soundtrack by Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder all lend to an experience that will stay with you.
3. “The Virgin Suicides”
In 1993, Jeffrey Eugenides rocked the literary world with his controversial and much debated debut novel. In 2000, “The Virgin Suicides” surfaced again in the film beautifully directed by Sofia Coppola. The story takes place in the 1970s and is told from the perspective of neighborhood boys who are infatuated with the mysterious and beautiful Lisbon sisters. Over the course of a year, all five sisters (who are between the ages of thirteen and seventeen) disturbingly end their own lives. The hazy, romantic visuals on the big screen and an ethereal soundtrack courtesy of the French band Air lend to the uneasy yet enchanting feeling of this tragic coming of age tale.
4. “Powwow Highway”
I dare you not to fall in love with Gary Farmer. He steals the show as Philbert in this 1989 adaptation of David Seals’ novel produced by the Beatles’ George Harrison. Follow Buddy Redbow and Philbert Bono as they take off on adventure to rescue Buddy’s sister Bonnie from the slammer. Like “The Virgin Suicides” and “Into the Wild,” Powwow Highway’s soundtrack adds quite a bit to the film, thanks to the talent of legendary performer Robbie Robertson (formerly of The Band).
5. “Lord of the Rings”
Of course I am going to include Lord of the Rings. I have been in love with the trilogy (and The Hobbit) ever since I was a little girl. When you hear that they’re going to be making a film of something that epic, it can be hard to wrap your head around. Part of it is exciting, but if the movie is rubbish… Well, let’s just say when they’re bad, they’re bad. But when I heard that Peter Jackson was the man behind these adaptations, I felt all was right in the world. An earlier Jackson movie (and one of my all time favorites), “Heavenly Creatures,” gave us all a taste of just how visually captivating he was capable of being. “Lord of the Rings” took that to the next level, and the level after that, and the next level, too.
6. “The Last Unicorn”
In 1968, Peter S. Beagle published The Last Unicorn. In 1982 it was made into a full length animated feature. This film was released the year I was born, and I have watched it more times than years I have been alive. When I was a little girl I was petrified of the red bull and I believed that he was responsible for the lack of unicorns in my neighborhood. As an adult I can appreciate the beauty and the sadness of what so many people brush off as a children’s film. Kids may enjoy The Last Unicorn, but it is definitely not a children’s tale. Beagle’s book is a fantastical masterpiece that translated beautifully onto the screen. A breathtaking score and songs by the band America tie it all together in a gorgeous little package.
I know this kind of strays from the so-called “seriousness” of this list, but what can I say? I love “Clueless.” All girls my age do. It is like an unwritten law or a secret club. Password: As if! The story, based on Jane Austen’s Emma, follows a privileged high school girl named Cher. Like Emma, Cher is too busy playing match-maker and meddling in everyone else’s business to realize that she is missing out on her own potential happiness. I love Jane Austen with a passion, but Emma is a completely unlikable character. She is shallow, silly and annoying. In this modern day adaptation, Cher is adorable, lovable and quirky. And we cannot forget to mention all the one-liners. “Clueless” is fun, clever and witty to boot.
8. “Total Eclipse”
Okay, so this is cheating. “Total Eclipse” isn’t actually based on a book, but it is based on two real life writers. I think that is a valid enough reason to include it in this list. And besides that, some of their letters have been published, so it kind of counts. I’m talking about the French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, whose tumultuous relationship and controversial works rocked the literary world during the mid 1800s. They were all sex, absinthe and art, romance and tragedy, love and hate. Actions and emotions are superbly acted out by boy wonder Leonardo Dicaprio (this was before his teen heart throb/“Titanic” days) and the talented David Thewlis (who would later be known as Professor Lupin to Harry Potter fans around the world.)
9. “Harry Potter”
It seems logical to follow up one David Thewlis flick with another. Oh, Harry Potter. Credited with making reading cool again, the Harry Potter series brought renewed interest in the fantasy genre. I was already a little older when the first book in the series was released, and I dismissed it with the apathy of teen angst. Little did I know that a couple of years later I would adopt full-on Harry Potter fan-girldom. The first two films were spot on, but the longer the books got, the shorter the films were. For fans of the series, this was disappointing. The fact of the matter is, Harry Potter fans are so dedicated that they would happily sit through a four hour film. Luckily for the franchise, its fans are also so ardent that despite their groans and gripes, they love every single movie no matter how much it is missing.
10. “High Fidelity”
“Only people of a certain disposition are afraid of being alone at twenty-five.” That quote pretty much sums up the tone of this story. The American film based on the British novel stars John Cusack as Rob, a record store owner and obsessive list maker, going through a quarter-life crisis. When his girlfriend leaves him and ends up moving in with a patchouli-smelling, pony-tail-sporting Tim Robbins, he revisits his Top 5 Break Ups to try and learn why he cannot maintain a successful relationship. Though the movie is about love and heartbreak, it manages to stay away from the sappiness of your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy and speaks to its audience in a more realistic manner.
11. “Everything is Illuminated”
Jonathan Safran Foer’s impressive debut novel translated beautifully onto the big screen in the film starring Elijah Wood. Wood portrays Jonathan, who travels to the Ukraine in search of the woman who rescued his grandfather from the Jewish shtetl of Trachimbrod during the Nazi massacre. He is accompanied by his Ukrainian guide Alex, Alex’s outspoken, anti-Semitic grandfather, and his grandfather’s “seeing eye bitch” Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. Yes, that’s two juniors. Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz is hilarious as Alex, as is Boris Leskin in the role of his grandfather.
There are so many other movies made from books that I absolutely love. Like “The Lovely Bones,” “Atonement,” “The Cement Garden,” “No Country for Old Men,” and on and on and on. I hope this makes you want to read a book or watch a movie!
Melissa Rae is travel writer, book nerd, and movie fan from Portland, Maine. She recommends picking up one of these books or films, as well as a car rental, to enjoy on your next vacation.