ESSAY: A Book-Lover's Guide to the 2018 Academy Awards

By Noah Benjamin-Pollak


This year’s Academy Awards have a lot to offer bibliophiles, starting with the Best Picture category.  There were more book-based Best Picture nominees last yearHidden Figures, LionArrival – but the 2018 Best Picture category makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. The source of that literary quality: the much acclaimed Call Me By Your Name.

It has been years since there has been a Best Picture nominee based on such a critically acclaimed literary source.  André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name, a novel about a romance between a young man and a younger one, set in the summer of 1987, was showered with praise when it appeared in 2007 -- from The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post, among others -- and it won the Gay Fiction award at the 2008 Lambda Literary Awards.  Call Me By Your Name, the movie, in addition to competing for Best Picture, is also nominated in the Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay (James Ivory), and Best Original Song categories, among other awards.

Aciman's doleful novel of young love may be the most literary of this year’s nominees, but it is far from the only book-derived movie up for an award this year.  Netflix’s much-lauded sharecropping drama Mudbound, which was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (Mary J. Blige), Best Original Song, and Best Cinematography is based on the novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan. Mudbound  the novel, which Jordan spent seven years writing, has won numerous awards including the biennial PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

All the Money in the World, which has Christopher Plummer in the running for Best Supporting Actor, is based on the nonfiction book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John PearsonPainfully Rich did exactly not scoop up the big literary awards when it came out.  The New York Times panned it, but with a review that showed its Hollywood potential: “Despite purple prose and unconvincing pop psychology, no one will be bored by these vivid, gossipy tales of greed and redemption among the rich and famous.”

Molly’s Game, nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin's handiwork, is based on the memoir of the same name by professional skier and underground poker maven Molly Bloom. Her wild  rags-to-riches written account of her life did not get as much attention as it arguably deserved, but no one was surprised when the book was snapped up by a studio. The three-year timeline from the book’s publication to the movie’s theatrical debut is notably short.

The Disaster Artist, nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) is based on the book of the same name by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. The emotional-underdog story of a mysterious rich man who decides to produce a movie himself—which turns into a flop, which is later recognized as a cult classic—won a number of awards and prizes for best work of non-fiction, including at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards in Las Angeles.

Both Boss Baby and Ferdinand are nominated for Best Animated Feature. While Boss Baby is based on the relatively recent (2010) picture book of the same name by Marla Frazee, Ferdinand is of a more antique vintage, the 1936 children’s book The Story of Ferdinand written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. There is also a third literary animated feature nominee -- more than half of the category's nominee's this year are book-derived -- The Breadwinner, based on a novel of the same name by Deborah Ellis.

Of course, even some of this year's nominees that are not directly based on books have literary pedigrees.  The Shape of Water emerged from the fertile mind of then-15-year-old Daniel Kraus in Fairfield, Iowa -- an idea for a story about the Creature from the Black Lagoon taken home by a janitor and placed in her bathtub. Twenty years later Kraus met filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, and the rest is movie history.  It will be book history, too -- the book The Shape of Water, which Kraus and del Toro collaborated on, will be published next month.