12 Best Book-to-Film Adaptations of 2011

Mia Wasikowska in
Mia Wasikowska in "Jane Eyre"/Photo © 2011 Focus Features; Ryan Gosling in "Drive"/Photo © 2011 FilmDistrict; Kate Winslet in "Mildred Pierce"/Photo © 2011 HBO

As the year 2011 winds down and we begin to look ahead to awards season, let’s take a moment to look back at the year in adaptations. And what a year it was. High drama met high-brow in more than a few book-to-film/tv adaptations, and gave us plenty of fodder for the “What’s better – the book or movie?” conversation. Herewith, in no particular order, the dozen productions from television and theaters that Signature considers the best of this year. Take a read through our picks and then agree with us -- or argue with us -- below.

To say that “Drive,” based on the book by James Sallis and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, was captivating would be the understatement of the year. This Los Angeles-based, noir-esque surrealist escapade was brutal and bloody – and beautiful. The pairing of Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan is one worth revisiting – as is the soundtrack.

"Mildred Pierce"
This was, perhaps, the role Kate Winslet was born to play. Todd Haynes’ remake of the 1945 film starring Joan Crawford, based on the book by James M. Cain, was nominated for myriad Emmy Awards, and it was Ms. Winslet and co-star Guy Pierce who took home the statuettes for their roles.

"Jane Eyre"
Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of the Bronte classic Jane Eyre was visually stunning and dramatically breathtaking. It was also somewhat of a surprise, as Fukunaga’s work on "Sin Nombre," while brilliant, sat on the opposite end of the genre spectrum. Ultimately, Mia Wasikowska’s Jane and Michael Fassbender’s Rochester got under our skin and into our hearts – as Jane and Rochester are historically wont to do.

"The Descendants"
One of the more recent additions to the 2011 adaptation lineup, Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel of a tragically befallen father grappling with two exasperatingly infuriating daughters, an inheritance like no other, and a comatose wife, translates perfectly to the big screen. Alexander Payne guides George Clooney, newcomer Shailene Woodley, and the rest of the stellar cast through all the right choices, culminating in a tissue-clutching slice-of-life experience.

"One Day"
Though the critics didn't love it, "One Day" was one of the adaptations we were most excited for, having fallen in love with the story of Dex and Emma in David Nicholls’ bestselling novel of the same name. It was indeed one of those movies that stayed quite true to the pages of the book – and Patricia Clarkson’s performance as Dex’s ailing mother was classic Clarkson, in all the right ways.

"The Help"
Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 bestselling novel, which was initially rejected by 60 literary agents, hit the big screen in 2011. The movie, starring Emma Stone as Skeeter and Viola Davis as Aibileen, was a huge success, pulling in nearly $200 million. The film was beautifully brought to life by director Tate Taylor, who grew up with Stockett.

"Game of Thrones"
Expectations for HBO’s undertaking of adapting George R.R. Martin’s epic first novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series only grew higher as the buzz grew louder leading up to the early-2011 series premiere. HBO had quite the dream team of directors assembled to guide the series through its first season, and with George R. R. Martin himself at the writers' table, the series exceeded our greatest hopes. And now we wait with bated breath for the premiere of season two.

"A Dangerous Method"
Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen brought their incredible talents together and took on the intimidating roles of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Based on the book A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr, this is the story of their collaboration, friendship, and their later feud – over a woman, no less.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
We’d seen stills and editorial spreads of the American iteration of Stieg Larsson’s Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, brought to life by Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. But no preview could have prepared us for the onscreen pairing of these two and while Niels Arden Oplev’s version was so close to perfection, Fincher’s version has earned its place alongside it.

"Project Nim"
We were biased going into this one – it’s chimps, after all. But with James Marsh (“Man on Wire”) running the show for the adaptation of the book Nim Chimpsky by Elizabeth Hess, we felt justified in getting our hopes up.  This story of a chimp raised as a human and taught sign language is smart, captivating, and touching, so it’s no surprise that it opened Sundance 2011 with a bang earlier this year.

Michael Lewis’s story about the Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane and his use of statistical analysis to put together a dream team made for high drama on the big screen, and turned out a baseball movie for fans of the sport everywhere.

"Water for Elephants"
The year 2011 brought with it a marvelously mixed bag of movies, from fantasy to romance to family to thrills – so it only makes sense that a circus should round out the offerings. Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of Sara Gruen’s bestselling novel of the same name was quite magical in its cinematography – and in its presentation of Robert Pattinson as something other than a bloodthirsty Romeo.