I'm jazzed about the upcoming Oscars. I thought 2007 was a great movie year, but I didn't click to the reason why until I read David Ulin's interesting article in the LA Times on Sunday. Ulin points out that a lot of noms are tied to great books, which makes it pretty ironic that writers continue to suffer from Rodney Dangerfield syndrome in Hollywood.
In a Jan. 28 post on the National Book Critics Circle blog Critical Mass, former San Francisco Chronicle Style Editor Paul Wilner lamented that at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, "almost no actual writers were acknowledged for their contributions" to the winning films. "I waited in vain to hear . . . Cormac McCarthy mentioned in conjunction with the multiple honors for 'No Country for Old Men,' " Wilner wrote, "or a nod to . . . Alice Munro for the short story upon which 'Away From Her' was based. . . . Daniel Day-Lewis' tribute to Heath Ledger was moving, but somehow Upton Sinclair's role as the progenitor of 'There Will Be Blood' was not noted. [The film was inspired by his 1927 novel 'Oil!']"
This is an old story; Ken Kesey, Wilner notes, went unacknowledged when "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" won the best picture Oscar in 1976, and 19 years later, Winston Groom was similarly slighted after "Forrest Gump" took the top prize.
Such a disconnect is particularly ironic this year because so many films, nominated and otherwise, have roots in literary work. Not only is there "No Country for Old Men" and "Away From Her" but "The Namesake" and "Atonement"; not only "There Will Be Blood" but "Persepolis." Literature figures even in "The Savages" and "Margot at the Wedding," which deal, in part, with the struggle to come to terms with writing, its odd and at times parasitic connection to the world.
What does this signify? I have a friend who believes people tend not to trust something that lacks an established lineage, that there is a cachet -- for producer and audience -- in a film that comes from an iconic book.