The Best Book Adaptations of 2011 Ranked from Best to Worst

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With David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hitting theaters today and Spielberg’s Hergé-inspired The Adventures of Tintin arriving at the movies tomorrow, we have book adaptations on the brain. It’s no secret that we’re avid readers here, but we can also appreciate great cinema inspired by books and other printed sources. You’ll often hear people discussing why a page to screen translation doesn’t work. That’s understandable since Hollywood often appears to be out of original ideas, turning to the shelves in order to make a fast buck. When it is successful, however, most lit fiends are thankful for filmmakers that show reverence to the source material, but made smart sacrifices that make sense for a visual narrative. We looked back at several of the year’s book to movie adaptations and ranked them in order from best to worse. Let us know your picks below.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Lynne Ramsay directs a story about a mother tries to come to terms with the murderous actions of her son Kevin and their strained relationship. Based on Lionel Shriver’s book of the same name, the moody drama is beautifully shot and features stellar performances from Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, and Ezra Miller. It’s a haunting character tale that seems almost impossible to adapt since the novel is written in letter format and from a single perspective — that of Swinton’s character Eva. Her viewpoint in the novel doesn’t always feel completely reliable, but the film delivers this ambiguity more concretely. Thankfully it works, capturing a sense of horror without sensationalism. Kevin stands as one of the strongest films of the year.

Drive

James Sallis’ noir novella (just under 160 pages) Drive is a gripping and brutal crime story with a Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a getaway driver at its center. It’s a non-linear narrative that is darkly poetic and stark — something screenwriter Hossein Amini has admitted he found challenging to work with when writing the script. We are treated to more of Driver’s backstory in the book, but director Nicolas Winding Refn maintains Sallis’ gritty, powerful punch through minimal dialogue, focused details, fierce violence, and a cool minimalism that Ryan Gosling plays perfectly.

The Skin I Live In

At just 120 pages, French novelist Thierry Jonquet manages to intensely unnerve just as Pedro Almodóvar’s adaptation does — but the two are still different. The director uses part of Jonquet’s twisted narrative about a successful plastic surgeon that performs questionable surgeries on his own personal (human) guinea pig. It’s hard to describe the psychosexual thriller without revealing everything, but the Spanish director was most inspired by the Doctor’s vendetta in the novella. The filmmaker continued to develop his version of the tale over a ten year span, finding other works influential to his script including Eyes Without a Face and the films of Fritz Lang. More people have been inspired to seek out Jonquet’s story after seeing the film, which definitely counts as a positive in this case.

Hugo

A love letter to the golden age of filmmaking, Martin Scorsese’s remake of Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a visual feast that even found several movie geeks admitting that 3D might not be a completely useless thing. The coming-of-age story was vividly translated to screen, making several changes and additions — including a significant development of the book’s villainous station master. Even the clockwork details are faithfully depicted in Scorsese’s movie, which could have been tricky given Selznick’s dedication to details.

War Horse

Steven Spielberg was drawn to Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse for its universality and powerfully moving story, which is exactly what early reviews of the recent film reassure we can expect. The drama is said to depict the ugliness of war in a naturalistic way (while keeping in the mostly bloodless confines of its PG-13 rating). The World War I children’s novel seems to take a gentler approach to tragedy. Overall it appears to be a faithful and commendable adaptation that audiences can take in when the film has its wide release in theaters on December 25.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

It’s difficult to imagine a time when the world wasn’t under the spell of boy wizard Harry Potter. The eight-part fantasy film franchise has been a widespread pop culture entity that has transcended languages and cultures everywhere. Fans owe it all to the books, where British author J.K. Rowling created a sprawling and highly imaginative world that drew readers of all ages. The final chapter of the saga ended up being the most satisfying for many that admired David Yates’ emotional send-off. Other fans lamented various subplot omissions, but slavish devotion isn’t always required as long as the high points are met. The films and books are great companions and will undoubtedly see fans turning back to both for years to come.

Moneyball

Readers who loved Michael Lewis’ 2003 baseball book Moneyball cringed when they found out the story would be adapted for a sports drama starring Brad Pitt. Visions of Oscar bait plagued them (Lewis also wrote the award-nominated The Blind Side), but many were pleasantly surprised. Director Bennett Miller remained true to the original story, without transforming anyone into an unrealistic hero and left the melodrama out of the picture. Baseball fans still found a lot to be happy with, but the film was able to appeal to all audiences, which made it a winner.

The Lincoln Lawyer

Michael Connelly’s legal thriller revolves around a defense attorney who operates his business out of a Lincoln Town Car. Matthew McConaughey delivered an engaging performance in Brad Furman’s adaptation, which aims to be briskly paced and in some ways more intense. It still reads largely like a by the numbers courtroom drama with boiled down characters that many fans of the book only caught cameo glimpses of. Is Furman’s book any more original than the standard Grisham novel? Chime in below.

The Rum Diary

Any Hunter S. Thompson adaptation is a tricky thing. The Good Doctor’s unique voice and surreal adventures walk a fine line between alienating the mainstream crowd — particularly when box office stars like Johnny Depp are drawing them in — and being a watered down mess for the masses. Some audiences thought Bruce Robinson’s adaptation of Thompson’s 1960’s story felt too similar to Fear and Loathing and was average at best. HST fans speak up — did we get this one wrong?