In honor of the soon to be released On the Road film adaptation, I decided to make a list of my favorite films about writers and writing. I’m sticking with fiction and poetry here, because a list of films about screenwriters, playwrights and journalists would certainly make this list longer than 10 titles. In somewhat of a particular order, here are my 10 favorite films about authors and writing.
One of my favorite films, period. Probably because it has Robert Downey Jr playing an ambiguously sexualized character, which will get me every damn time. I love this honest and unromanticized look at the life of an aging writer staring down his sophomore slump and buckling under the pressure. I also have a great affection for Michael Chabon, and his energy is quite present in this film.
Stranger than Fiction
I was a bit surprised as to how much I enjoyed this one. Despite the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl that is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character, and the two-notches-from-magical-negro that is Queen Latifah, this movie manages to be clever, laugh out loud funny, and touching all at once. Emma Thompson as the blocked best-selling author is entertaining in a way quite like Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys- capturing both the romanticised idea of tortured artist, whilst demonstrating the unhealthy, unattractive self-destruction inherit in this trope.
Henry and June
One of the best literary affairs put to paper is adapted elegantly (and sexily) for screen. Fred Ward NAILS IT (so to speak) as Henry Miller and the rest of the cast (including Uma Thurman, Richard E. Grant, Maria de Medeiros, and Kevin Spacey) adds a lush and easy air to a time when apparently being a working writer meant nearly constant holidays in Europe.
Ms. Parker and the Vicious Circle
Some say Jennifer Jason Leigh was woefully miscast, but I think she did an admirable job taking on one of the most iconic writers in contemporary American history. Plus, the film is full of such great bon mots, you wish you had your own seat at the Algonquin Roundtable.
Midnight in Paris
Another film about an era most artists wish they could visit, though thoughtfully commenting on that very urge, Midnight in Paris is chock full of the usual hateful stock characters Woody Allen seems to favor (particularly the harpy variety). And of course, these characters serve only to heighten the romance and fertile art scene of turn of the century Paris. Cory Stoll KILLS it as Hemingway.
I fucking love this movie. It’s one of the rare films that not only captures the life of an author, but the life of his work. Howl was a revolutionary poem, and this film does it justice by unmaking and remaking the film around its lyricism. With splendid animations that capture an bygone era whilst bringing it up to the present, this film represents both a time that is blessedly in the past (when publishers could be prosecuted for printing “obscenity”) and themes that are just as relevant today.
Modern classic, this film did meta before meta was cool. Chock full of enough silliness to entertain cynical writers, seemingly every sort of trope is touched on in this treatise of the mental instability of the gigging writer. This clip is more or less exactly what Robert McKee is like in real life, only with better voice training.
Oh, Neruda, you licentious old sensualist. This film captures some of Neruda’s most beautiful poetry, all in service of a hapless postman trying to woo the woman of his dreams.
Throw Mama from the Train
I grew up watching this movie, as it’s one of my father’s favorites. I love its irreverence and the sometimes odd relationships that form between writing coaches and their students.
Boy, the Marquis de Sade was a hoot, wasn’t he?
The Pillowbook, The Hours, The World According to Garp, The Player, Barton Fink, Bullets Over Broadway, The Dying Gaul (seriously, I could make a list about screenwriters and playwrights), Shakespeare in Love, Before Night Falls, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Capote, The Door in the Floor.
I can’t believe I haven’t seen it. . .
I Capture the Castle, Factotum, Barfly, Misery.
So, what did I miss? Which are your favorite films about writers?