Books [Mostly] Win the Oscars: And Not Just Because Hollywood is Out of Ideas

This past Sunday’s Oscars, hosted by Billy Crystal were pretty damn boring, and not just because a silent movie took home a bunch of undeserved awards. Thankfully, after being bombarded with jokes from the 90’s and poorly planned musical numbers (Hugh Jackman did it better) literature won big. From five Academy Award winning Hugo to Midnight in Paris and the animated short “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” each snagging an award, it was a good night for literature. Even Lords of the Rings and Flight of the Conchords member Bret Mackenzie won an Oscar. That’s right, Figwit: Oscar Winner is now a thing. Mind = blown.

With Hollywood constantly green lighting remakes and adapting books into film, it was no surprise that The Invention of Hugo Cabret was properly molded to form Hugo. However, two big wins for literature came in the form of original films about books. While not a giant award winning movie buff, I could nonetheless experience joy in the form of literary Oscar wins.

Hugo based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Won: Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, and Best Cinematography

Summary: After the death of his father and disappearance of his uncle, Hugo Cabret secretly takes up the job of clockmaker, repairing the time pieces in the train station where he lives. While trying to repair an automaton his father worked on, a series of circumstances bring him together with a young girl named Isabelle and her godfather/toymaker Georges Méliès, a long lost filmmaker.

This is the only film on my list that relies on source material, in this case a children’s book, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Told through both prose and a series of pictures, Hugo Cabret is a quick, easy read with a whole lot of heart. The film is equally adorable, fully fleshing out the very small plot provided in Brian Selznick’s novel. The young actors bring their characters to life, and it’s easy to fall in love with the blossoming relationship that Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz create. A special shout out also goes to Sacha Baron Cohen who always does a fabulous job with his character acting.

Midnight in Paris
Won: Best Original Screenplay

Summary: Screenwriter Gil Pender is working on penning his first novel, when he and his fiancee visit Paris with her uber-conservative parents. He quickly discovers a street corner where at midnight the area becomes a gateway to the 1920’s, where he meets his idols F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein who help him work on his novel and discover what his life is missing.

This film, directed by Woody Allen was on of my favorites of the year, almost exclusively because of the 1920’s era that Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson, continually flocks to. We get to witness firsthand the flighty nature of Zelda Fitzgerald, the alcoholic womanizing tendencies of a young Ernest Hemingway, and even hear the works of Cole Porter. It’s easy to become jealous of Gil and the fun adventures he goes on with his idols, even more so when in the 1920’s he discovers another time slip that takes one to Moulin Rouge era Paris. There is so much to enjoy in this movie, from the performances to the nostalgia that it’s hard not to love. For a more in-depth look at the film, see Kelly’s post here.

“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”
Won: Best Animated Short Film

Summary: After a hurricane interrupts Mr. Lessmore’s memoir writing, he finds himself in a strange library, where literature is alive and he can give people a new life through books. With themes of books as friends, writing granting immortality, and some damn beautiful imagery, this short animation is a wonderful combination of visually stunning artwork and a heartwarming narrative.

This CGI short starts off simple enough, with the protagonist writing his life story, when a hurricane picks up his house and drops it in a black and white wasteland that feels extremely Wizard of Oz. He sees a beautiful woman flying off into the sky before coming upon a library, which houses a picture of this same woman on the wall. Morris takes over where this previous caretaker left off, caring for the anthropomorphic books inside and giving fellow citizens the gift of words. There are some beautiful moments a la Pleasantville whereupon the people holding these books change from black and white into startling color. This short will have you laughing and crying simultaneously. Sheer perfection.

Watch “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”

With two of these selections taking place in Paris, one of them being based off literature, two exploring literature itself, and all three being at least partially set in the 1920’s and 1930’s, these three winners have more in common than being well made and released in 2011. They’re also visually appealing, have wonderful stories, and are deserving of every award they were given (and then some).

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2 thoughts on “Books [Mostly] Win the Oscars: And Not Just Because Hollywood is Out of Ideas

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