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An Especially Bookish Oscars

The Literature Behind This Year's Academy Award-Nominated Films

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • March 24, 2022

The Academy Awards are happening this weekend on March 27 and we’re pleased to note that the nominations include a lot of films adapted from literature. Here we tell you about the source material behind the nominated films.

The Power of the Dog

The 1967 novel by Thomas Savage has been compared to East of Eden and Brokeback Mountain. It is the story of two brothers running a ranch in 1920s Montana. When one brother marries and his wife and her son come to live on the ranch, it shatters an already tenuous peace. The Jane Campion-directed film tops the competition with twelve nominations including best picture, director, and adapted screenplay.


This obviously isn't the first time Frank Herbert's 1965 masterpiece has gotten the big-screen treatment. Adaptations include the David Lynch-directed 1984 film. The sci-fi epic tells the story of Paul Atreides, a messianic figure who must undertake a perilous journey to ensure the future of his people. Denis Villeneuve's visually stunning film (part one of two installments) is nominated for nine Oscars, including best picture and adapted screenplay.

Drive My Car

A short story from Haruki Murakami's collection, Men Without Women, inspired this three-hour Japanese drama, a tale of love, grief, and friendship. Nominated for four Oscars, including best picture, director, adapted screenplay, and international feature film, the story centers on an actor and theater director who is grappling with the death of his wife. Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya figures prominently in the story.

Nightmare Alley

William Lindsay Gresham's 1946 noir novel about a 1940s grifter who joins a traveling carnival and develops his own mentalist act has inspired several adaptations, including this 1947 movie. Guillermo del Toro's stylish, seedy neo-noir update nabbed three nominations, including best picture, cinematography, and costume design.

The Lost Daughter

This edgy novel by Elena Ferrante served as the basis for the Maggie Gyllenhaal-directed film. It is the story of Leda, a middle-aged divorcée, taking a solo vacation on the Ionian coast. When she strikes up a conversation with Nina, a young mother on the beach, dark secrets begin to emerge. The film is nominated for three Oscars including best adapted screenplay.

The Tragedy of Macbeth

William Shakespeare's play is, of course, the basis for this film, directed by Joel Coen. This one is also nominated for three Oscars. Actors speak the verses as Shakespeare wrote them, but in a conversational style with their natural American accents. Clean minimalist set design. Some of our other favorite adaptations include Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and this 2015 version.

House of Gucci

Sara Gay Forden's true crime account of the 1995 murder of Maurizio Gucci is filled with murder, intrigue, glitz, and glamour. Ridley Scott's adaptation features some big names like Adam Driver as the slain fashion mogul and Lady Gaga as his ex-wife, the prime suspect in his murder.

Cyrano de Bergerac

The 1897 French play by Edmond Rostand is based on a man with charm and wit, but an unfortunately large nose, so to woo his dream girl, he relays messages via a handsome surrogate. In addition to this musical iteration starring Peter Dinklage (the issue here is height), there are several other inventive takes, including Roxanne, a 1987 modernization starring Steve Martin.

tick, tick . . . BOOM!

Jonathan Larson's semi-autobiographical musical depicting an aspiring composer struggling to establish himself is made all the more poignant by Larson's untimely death at age 35, on the eve before his award-winning smash hit Rent premiered. The Lin-Manuel Miranda-directed film is nominated for two Oscars. Along with the play, you can pick up a copy of the soundtrack.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Based on the Marvel comic book series, this Marvel movie, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, has the distinction of featuring the first Asian superhero. Nominated for Best Visual Effects, it tells the story of a young martial arts master forced to confront his past when he's drawn into the mysterious Ten Rings organization.

In Case You Missed It

Here are some of the great books that have inspired Best Picture winners during the last quarter century.

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