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The Green Knight
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is perhaps the best known Arthurian tale, a 14th-century ode to chivalry and mortality drawn from Welsh, Irish and English folklore. “What hooked me about this story, aside from its heavy-metal weirdness, is that it’s about a knight who willingly embarks upon on a journey toward his own death,” says writer-director David Lowery, whose stylish A24 film adaptation stars Dev Patel as Gawain. “The ways in which both the hero and the anonymous author wrestle with mortality and mortal fallibility is as fresh and relevant now as it surely was when it was written over 700 years ago.”
Author: William Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s classic tale of ambition, power, corruption and murder has been referred to as “The Scottish Play” by superstitious actors for centuries, but it’s likely that Oscar-winning titans Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand had little to fear when taking on the roles of Lord and Lady Macbeth in this latest film version. McDormand’s husband, Joel Coen, who wrote and directed this adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy (or “tragedie,” as it was known when first performed onstage in 1606), goes hard on the source material’s supernatural undertones and presents a stark, brutalist, black-and-white interpretation of the Bard’s play.
Author: Nella Larsen
Larsen, a literary icon of the Harlem Renaissance on the strength of publishing two standout novels in her career, penned this tale of two childhood friends — Irene, who identifies as Black, and Clare, who passes for white — who reconnect as adults and find themselves becoming intimately involved in each other’s lives. “In adapting Passing, I discovered that the questions Nella Larsen was grappling with in 1929 — questions of identity, race, sexuality, gender and class — are just as compelling and deeply personal today,” says Rebecca Hall, who made her directorial debut with the Netflix adaptation of Larsen’s book. “I hope my film has a fraction of the enduring power of her indelible novel.”
Cyrano de Bergerac
Author: Edmond Rostand
“This felt so timely to me,” says Erica Schmidt of Cyrano de Bergerac, which she reimagined first as a stage musical before director Joe Wright brought her new vision of the tale to the big screen. In Wright’s adaptation, Peter Dinklage plays the eponymous playwright and romantic (forgoing the character’s iconic elongated nose) who aids his friend Christian’s pursuit of the beautiful Roxanne — even though Cyrano also is in love with Roxanne. “Cyrano felt vital to me because of that deep, timeless, urgent desire to have everything we want — and the hideous fear underneath that we are actually unworthy of being loved at all.”
Author: Frank Herbert
Herbert’s landmark 1965 sci-fi epic was largely considered unfilmable (case in point: David Lynch’s 1984 version). Dune mega-fan Denis Villeneuve, however, achieved the near-impossible with his latest film, which tackles the tome’s first half. “Frank Herbert wrote Dune as a warning about charismatic heroes and the danger of messianic figures,” the director says of the book’s timelessness. “We can still observe political powers weaponizing religion and, conversely, religions infiltrating politics. But what makes this book even more relevant are the ecological concerns, which became, over time, tragically prophetic.”
The Power of the Dog
Author: Thomas Savage
Savage’s 1967 novel is the basis for Oscar winner Jane Campion’s first feature film in 12 years. The Power of the Dog follows a mean and ornery rancher named Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), who makes life hell for his brother and new sister-in-law. “I couldn’t guess what was going to happen,” says Campion of the novel. “It’s not just a cowboy story from 1925 of ranch life; this is a lived experience, and I think because of that, I felt a real trust for the story. I wanted to honor Thomas Savage with this film. When I read a book like this, I don’t take the adaptation lightly. I want it to be as good as it can be. I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist, but I do like to do things really thoroughly.”
The Lost Daughter
Author: Elena Ferrante
This book from the pseudonymous writer — whose best-selling Neapolitan novels sparked “Ferrante Fever” on both sides of the Atlantic — is the basis for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut. Telling the story of a woman (Olivia Colman) who becomes obsessed with a young mother (Dakota Johnson), Ferrante’s book offers an intimately internal look at motherhood. “Some secret piece of my experience as a mother, as a lover, as a woman in the world was being spoken out loud for the first time,” says Gyllenhaal, who also wrote the script. “I thought, ‘How exciting and dangerous to create an experience like that — not quiet and alone with a book — but in a room full of living, feeling people.’ “
Author: William Lindsay Gresham
Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro credits actor Ron Perlman for introducing him to Gresham’s dark novel, which was the basis for the 1947 film noir of the same name. Del Toro’s version, co-written with Kim Morgan, is a second adaptation — not a remake of the earlier film — of Gresham’s tale of a grifter turned carnival barker, Stan Carlisle (portrayed in the film by Bradley Cooper), with a talent for manipulating the people around him for his own gain. Toni Collette, Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett play three women in Stan’s life as he schemes his way to success.
The Tender Bar
Author: J.R. Moehringer
George Clooney directs the adaptation of Moehringer’s memoir, from a script penned by Oscar winner William Monahan. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Moehringer looks back at his childhood, during which he was raised by his single mother (played in the film by Lily Rabe) and her extended family — and writes lovingly of finding a father figure in his literature-loving bartender uncle, Charlie (Ben Affleck). The coming-of-age film sees Moehringer hopping back and forth in time, with Tye Sheridan and newcomer Daniel Ranieri playing the author (and actor Ron Livingston providing his omnipresent narration).
This story first appeared in the Nov. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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