Before they were Oscar darlings…
Another year, another slew of prestige Oscar contenders — and, in all likelihood, another group of books you probaly haven’t read, but should. These 15 titles, inspiring everything from period piece If Beale Street Could talk to of-the-moment The Hate U Give, are extremely worthy reads on their own. And, yeah, they make for pretty good movies too.
Black Klansman, by Ron Stallworth
Stallworth’s memoir, about infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan as a black cop, was published years before Spike Lee turned it into one of his biggest movies. There are plenty of differences between the book and film versions, but both earned strong reviews for ably telling a remarkable story. (They’ve also incited a bit of controversy.)
If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin
Remarkably, Beale Street is the first book by the legendary Baldwin to hit the screen as an English-language film. The author’s potent mix of social and personal drama translates nicely in Barry Jenkins’ lyrical follow-up to Moonlight, which looks to be a significant player in this year’s Oscar race. (Already, Jenkins’ screenplay and Regina King’s supporting turn have netted prizes from the National Board of Review.)
Can You Ever Forgive Me?, by Lee Israel
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty cleverly realized this biting, rather divisive autobiography for the screen, with stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant considered major acting contenders this year. It’s the second film by Marielle Heller, who emerged as an indie darling with her debut, Diary of a Teenage Girl.
First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, by James R. Hansen
Biopics can be tough, but Damien Chazelle’s cinematic take on astronaut Neil Armstrong dazzled critics upon its premiere in the fall. Unfortunately, with a relatively weak box office gross, once-expected Oscar nominations for Chazelle and star Gosling now seem a bit more up-in-the-air.
A Morte de Stalin, by Fabien Nury (author) and Thierry Robin (illustrator)
Yes, that’s right: The latest biting satire from Veep mastermind Armando Iannucci is based on a graphic novel. The film hit theaters at the beginning of 2018, but shouldn’t be counted out for an adapted-screenplay nom: Iannucci and his team scored one for their previous movie, In the Loop.
My Abandonment, by Peter Rock
Rock’s heartbreaking novel about the relationship between a veteran struggling with PTSD and his daughter makes for an equally affecting film in Leave No Trace, the latest from director Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone). Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie is a certified breakout in the role of the daughter, scoring Gotham and Independent Spirit Award nominations.
Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction, by David Sheff
The Beautiful Boy movie certainly doesn’t sugarcoat Sheff’s frank, painful story of struggling to help his addict son, Nic. Just a year after earning his first Oscar nomination, Timothée Chalamet looks likely to earn a second for his devastating performance as Nic. Bonus reading: The film also draws from Nic’s own account of the experience, Tweak.
Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan
Safe to call this the most successful adaptation of the bunch, at least profit-wise. This smash-hit film starring Henry Golding and Constance Wu was such a box office sensation that some awards love looks surprisingly possible, whether for the script or Michelle Yeoh’s standout performance as the family matriarch. And if this movie doesn’t deliver much gold, good news: Kwan has two equally beloved sequels ready for the screen too.
All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, by Matt Bai
Jason Reitman’s political drama The Front Runner has been pushed into the conversation for its timeliness, speaking to the current political climate as well as the #MeToo movement. This adaptation is quite different from Bai’s broader depiction of a crazy moment in American political history; expect its center, Hugh Jackman, to be in the conversation for a Best Actor nom.
Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family, by Garrard Conley
Conley’s remarkable book about entering and surviving gay-conversion therapy gets a sensitive treatment in the movie of the same name, directed by Joel Edgerton. (It helps that Conley was actively involved in the process.) Lucas Hedges does standout work in the lead role, while Nicole Kidman (playing his mom) has a shot in the supporting field.
Wildlife, by Richard Ford
Ford’s novel about an American family in 1960 breaking apart was first published in 1990, making it an interesting choice for Paul Dano’s directorial debut. But critics have certainly approved of his take on the book, co-written with his partner Zoe Kazan. In what EW’s Chris Nashawaty calls a performance “that sticks with you,” Carey Mulligan does award-worthy work.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
One of the biggest YA books in years, Angie Thomas’ harrowing, prescient exploration of police brutality and young black life has sold more than 1 million copies in the year-plus it’s been in print. The film adaptation features a breakout performance from Amandla Stenberg, though it may be tough for her to crack a competitive Best Actress field. As her father, Russell Hornsby delivers several heartbreaking monologues, and hopefully has a shot.
You Were Never Really Here, by Jonathan Ames
Lynne Ramsay, best known for We Need to Talk About Kevin, maintains the taut intensity of Jonathan Ames’ novella. Joaquin Phoenix won the prestigious Best Actor prize from the Cannes Film Festival, but is more of a dark horse for awards stateside.
The Wife, by Meg Wolitzer
Will one of Meg Wolitzer’s earliest novels lead Glenn Close to her long-overdue Oscar? That’s the hope for fans of this well-received adaptation, the saga of a Great Literary Man and the woman who has long stood by his side. Close wows in the titular role, and the only question now is whether she can maintain the momentum from the movie’s early 2018 release.
Annihilation, by Jeff VanDerMeer
Alex Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina, which scored a pair of surprise Oscar nominations including Best Original Screenplay, was much more of a hit with critics than mainstream audiences. But both works stand apart as seriously good sci-fi.