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The words in pictures
Dibyajyoti Sarma | Saturday, 12 March 2016 AT 07:49 PM IST
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A large number of movies celebrated at this year’s Academy Awards started their lives as books. Here’s taking a look at the written words behind the screen success.

This year, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to a film with a newspaper at its heart — Spotlight. This is the first time a film centred on a newspaper has won the award. Both Citizen Kane (1941) and All the President’s Men (1976) failed to win the coveted prize.

Spotlight tells the story of a long investigation by a group of journalists from Boston Globe, the Spotlight team, to uncover the systemic child abuse in the Catholic Church.

Aside from Spotlight, a number of Oscar winners this year started out as humble books. Here are some worthy mentions:


Irish master Colm Tóibín is one of the most celebrated writers working today, and the 2009 novel won a Costa Award. The book tells the story of a young Irish immigrant, Saoirse Ronan, in America, and how she falls in love and has to choose between the two countries and her two lovers.

John Crowley’s film version retains the power of Tóibín’s calm, unhurried tone in a journey from innocence to acceptance.

The Martian-

Andy Weir published The Martian himself in 2011. When the sale picked up, it was re-released in 2014. The story follows Mark Watney, stranded alone on Mars in 2035, who must improvise in order to survive. The book has been praised for its realistic description of the future technologies.

Ridley Scott made the movie as much realistic as possible, with no small help from NASA itself.

The Danish Girl-

In a year when former Olympic Gold medallist Bruce Jenner reinvented herself as Caitlyn Jenner, the story of Lili Elbe, one of the first people to undergo sex reassignment surgery, does not sound exciting, but it is. In The Danish Girl (2000), David Ebershoff attempts a fictionalised account of Elbe’s inner life, with critics calling it fascinating and humane.

Tom Hooper’s film has been praised for Eddie Redmayne as Elbe and Alicia Vikander as his wife (she won an Oscar), but has been criticised as all gloss.


Patricia Highsmith named the book The Price of Salt, which was later republished as Carol. The 1952 novel is a dazzling lesbian romance, which was a daring act during the time of sexual repression, especially since it has a happy ending.

Todd Haynes’s film, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, observes the scandalous romance from the equivalent of a cinematic close-up, making it one of the most romantic movies ever made.


Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue’s novel was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010. The Room is a harrowing story of a five-year-old boy and his abused and captive mother, told with finesse.

Lenny Abrahamson’s film keeps the focus on the mother-son duo (played by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay) and the film works chiefly due to the performance of these two actors. No wonder, Larson took home the Best Actress Award.    

The Revenant-

Michael Punke’s The Revenant (2002) tells the real-life story of Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a far trapper, in Rocky Mountains in 1823, where a grizzly bear attacks him and is abandoned by his men. Glass survives, fuelled by his passion for revenge, and travels 3,000 mile to find the betrayors.

Director Alejandro G Iñárritu turns the film into primal tale of survival, which may not reflect the emotional density of the books, but it is visceral, to say the least.

The Big Short-

Michael Lewis’s book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2010) is about the build-up of the housing and credit bubble during the 2000s. The book describes several key players in the creation of the credit default swap market, who ended up profiting from the financial crisis of 2007-08.

The star-studded film works mainly because the director Adam McKay infuses enough drama and eccentricities and at the same time explaining the intricacies of the financial market.

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