The Best Picture nominations for the 2016 Oscar’s were announced last week, and films based on books make up the majority of the list. If you are a read-it-before-you-watch-it kind of person, then your to-read pile just got much bigger.
“The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine” by Michael Lewis
This nonfiction work investigates the 2008 stock market crash and economic crisis, citing such factors as expanded home ownership and risky derivative elections in the face of increasing shareholder demands, and profiles responsible parties in government, financial and private sectors. An unlikely basis for the plot of a riveting drama, but there you go.
The film is nominated for Best Picture, Director (Adam McKay), Supporting Actor (Christian Bale) and Adapted Screenplay.
“Brooklyn” by Colm Tóibín
Leaving her home in post-World War II Ireland to work as a bookkeeper in Brooklyn, Eilis Lacey discovers a new romance in America with a charming blond Italian man before devastating news threatens her happiness.
The film adaptation is nominated for Best Picture, Actress (Saoirse Ronan) and Adapted Screenplay.
“The Martian” by Andy Weir
After a bad storm cuts his team’s Mars mission short, injured astronaut Mark Watley is stranded. Now he’s got to figure out how to survive without air, shelter, food or water on the harsh Martian landscape until the next manned mission in four years.
The film adaptation is nominated for Best Picture, Actor (Matt Damon) and Adapted Screenplay.
“The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge” by Michael Punke
A story of survival on the American frontier chronicles the exploits of fur trapper Hugh Glass. Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his fellow trappers but survives and treks through the wilderness to seek justice.
The movie adaptation is nominated for Best Picture, Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu), Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy).
“Room” by Emma Donoghue
A five-year-old narrates a story about his life growing up in a single room where his mother aims to protect him from the man who kidnapped her when she was a teenager and has held her prisoner for seven years.
The film is nominated for Best Picture, Director (Lenny Abrahamson), Actress (Brie Larson) and Adapted Screenplay.
As the old saying goes, “…judge a book by its cover.” The eye-catching cover of “A Hanging at Cinder Bottom” by Glenn Taylor caught my eyes, and the contents held them. If my team of editors, web developers, interns and chefs has done its job, the cover should be to the right. A keen eye will spot a monkey on a pedestal. Beware though: the monkey doesn’t show up until deep into the novel, and he doesn’t appear on a pedestal, but the wait and subterfuge about his standing gear is worth it. He’s a brave and loyal little rascal, and he wins his owner’s bets by being able to drink a bottle of beer and smoke a cigarette in under two minutes. Now, we’ve all seen our share of smoking, alcoholic monkeys, but this monkey is special. His owner, Tony Thumbs (he’s missing a thumb), loves him, and this gentleman reader was moved by the revelation that Tony, out of concern for the monkey’s health, only asked his little pal to pull the trick on occasion, when it might prove useful in making friends.
While it shouldn’t take more than a quality monkey to sell you on “A Hanging at Cinder Bottom,” it is a ripping yarn written with a poet’s dedication to word choice, and it is about much more than an awesome monkey. There is also a stage show featuring a man perfectly playing the tune “Yankee Doodle” with his farts.
The novel opens in 1910 with life-long loves Abe Baach, a card sharp and conman, and Goldie Toothman, a brothel madam capable of throwing a playing card with deadly precision, awaiting the gallows for murdering the mayor. With ropes around necks and Abe’s promise to “tell the truth before I die” or “walk out of hell in kerosene drawers and set the world on fire” ringing in the crowd’s ears, the evil sheriff collapses on the stage and lets loose some profound flatulence, and with that ringing in the crowd’s ears:
“The sun came free of the clouds then, and the people looked skyward, and there was only the north-born sound of the tardy noon train’s wheeze. The engine was not yet fully stopped at the station when men began to jump from inside the empty coal hoppers. They hit the hard dirt beside the railbed and rolled and got to their feet quick. They ran on wrenched ankles, headlong into the people staring at the heavens.”
And there, as we hope those men are injuring their ankles in an effort to save our charming heroes, the novel leaps back to 1877, and then to 1897, so that we might better understand why our protagonists would run afoul of the most powerful people in the county. Then the novel returns to 1910 and the months leading up to the hanging, where the bulk of our time is spent, and we get the story of the long con that puts them in the nooses we find them in at the beginning. While you might guess the general thrust of the ending, the specifics will delight you. Someone will eventually film the closing sequence, and while it will be impossible to improve on the novel and a reader’s imagination, it will be great fun to see someone try. Here’s hoping they cast the right monkey.