Chiwetel Ejiofor in ’12 Years a Slave’/Image © Fox Searchlight
Now that the nominations have been announced, here’s your reading list to be fully prepared for the 2014 Academy Awards. Movie adaptations of fantastic books – and other not-so-direct inspiration-based fare – have kept us all entertained over the course of this past year. Now that you’ve seen the movies, what more to do between now and Oscar’s big night? Catch up on your reading, of course. Here are our picks for where you should start.
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
Originally published in 1854, Solomon Northup’s memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, tells the story of how a free African American from New York was captured and sold into slavery in Louisiana. The memoir is a riveting account of Northup’s experience as a slave on a cotton plantation, from arrival straight through his fight to regain his freedom. What separates this book from, say, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave or Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery is its perspective. Northup was born a free man, he was educated prior to his enslavement – his writing reflects that – and the juxtaposition between his experience as a slave and the perspective of those around him, who’d known no different, makes his story all the more stunning. “Twelve Years a Slave” is an important American story and had it not been for Steve McQueen’s film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, it might never have resurfaced.
The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort
Jordan Belfort’s memoir The Wolf of Wall Street is a great example of how not liking the main character as a person doesn’t always take away from the interest in the story. Jordan Belfort is despicable. But his story is fascinating. Wolf recounts Belfort and his shady investment company’s relatively meteoric rise to wealth and subsequent fall from Gomorrah. The wild ride of the Wall Street King is full of stories of unfathomable wealth and the reckless lifestyle that ultimately brought it all crashing down. The Martin Scorsese film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill – and although the film itself is up for best picture, more attention is being paid to the possibility of Leo’s first Oscar.
The Sting Man by Robert W. Green
Although not the direct source material, The Sting Man tells the story of a real-life American Hustle. Robert Green, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, introduces us to Mel Weinberg, a convicted con artist who ends up assisting the FBI in a famous sting operation in the 1970s called Abscam. Sound familiar? David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” had a successful run at this year’s Golden Globes taking both Best Picture and Best Actress (Amy Adams) in the musical or comedy category – and with ten Oscar nominations on its plate, March 2 could be a potentially huge night for the movie.
The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith
“Philomena,” the film starring Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, tells the true story of a mother’s lifelong search for her son. After becoming pregnant as a teenager in Ireland in the 1950s, Philomena Lee was sent to a convent, and from there her son was sold to the United States. Both she and her son spent the better part of their lives trying to find one another. This film – brought to the big screen by Stephen Frears – has Oscar sleeper written all over it, with four nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress.
85 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards by Robert Osborne
If it seems that every five years there’s a new commemorative history of the Academy Awards – that’s because there is. Just in time for this year’s show, film historian Robert Osborne brings us the updated edition of 85 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards. On top of the full lists of nominees and winners from all the years, the 464-page book is packed with photos and stories from the ceremonies as well as Osborne’s own commentary. Anything and everything you wanted to know about the Academy Awards is in this book.
August: Osage County by Tracy Letts
Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts’ play, August: Osage County, first premiered in 2007 in Chicago. Before long, it landed on the Great White Way, ultimately logging 648 performances before it took to the road. The story centers around one of the most dysfunctional families you’ve likely ever encountered. Though the play is still being featured on stages worldwide, Hollywood thought it prime to snatch up for the silver screen, and released the movie adaptation starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard and others. Though the film itself didn’t pull in nods for best picture, writing, or director, both Roberts and Streep are up for Oscars for their performances.
A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea, by Richard Phillips
A Captain’s Duty is Richard Phillips true-life account of a harrowing five days at sea. Phillips is at the helm of the Maersk Alabama when the ship is overtaken by Somali pirates. In an effort to keep his crew safe, Phillips makes the ultimate sacrifice – his own captivity in exchange for the crew’s release. Though Tom Hanks wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of the captain, the film has garnered multiple other nods – including best adaptation and best picture.