Prestige Format: 10 Comic Book Films That Won Major AwardsA column article, Top Ten by: Nick Hanover, Dylan Tano
Over the weekend, Blue is the Warmest Color made waves at Cannes, where it became the first film based on a graphic novel to win the prestigious Palme d’Or, the top honor at the festival. Julie Maroh’s Blue Angel is the source for the film, and though it has made history, it’s not the only graphic novel to lead to an award winning film adaptation. Here are ten other films that are based on comics that have won prestigious awards.
Ghost World (2001)
What It Won: Independent Spirit Awards for Best First Screenplay (Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff) and Supporting Actor (Steve Buscemi), nominated for Academy Award for Adapted Screenplay.
Why It Won: Terry Zwigoff’s masterful take on Daniel Clowes’ beloved graphic novel Ghost World isn’t just a widely acclaimed film with an Academy Award nomination and two Independent Spirit Awards under its belt, it has also served as a perfect introduction to comics for an entire generation since it came out more than a decade ago. Featuring excellent performances by Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi and a then-relatively unknown Scarlett Johanssen, Ghost World succeeds because of its cast, smart writing (courtesy of Zwigoff and Clowes himself) and the impeccable aesthetic vision of its director. Zwigoff had previously made his name with the comics documentary Crumb, which debuted seven years prior, but Ghost World still stands as his greatest work, the rare comics adaptation that truly gets its source material and is faithful to it while also showcasing its own unique tone and style.
- Nick Hanover
The Dark Knight (2008)
What It Won: Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor.
Why It Won: In short, Heath Ledger. He was the first actor to win an Academy Award for a role in a comic film. His portrayal as the Joker received wide critical praise from Roger Ebert to Emanuel Levy. Even those who disliked the film, like David Denby of The New Yorker, described Ledger as “sinister and frightening,” “mesmerizing in every scene.” But beyond that, Heath Ledger reenergized a Batman villain who had been waning over the last couple of years. When an onscreen performance changes the way a character is written you know you’ve delivered a potent performance. Just ask Robert Downey Jr.
- Dylan Tano
Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (2010)
What It Won: Cesars for Best Actor (Eric Elmosnino), Best First Film, Best Sound, also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Film, Best Production Design, Best Supporting Actress.
Why It Won: The Cesars are the equivalent of the Oscars for France, and it’s not that surprising that a film about a genuine French music legend-- Serge Gainsbourg-- that was directed by a genuine French comics legend from his own comic-- Joann Sfar-- would do well at the ceremony. Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life follows the incredible life and adventures of Serge Gainsbourg and its star Eric Elmosnino rightly received great acclaim for his take on the singer. But Sfar’s efforts as a first time director didn’t go unnoticed either, and while the film never really caught on in the states, it’s nonetheless beloved by fans of the singer and French pop in general.
The Rabbi’s Cat (2011)
What It Won: Cesar for Best Animated Feature, Annecy Crystal for Best Feature.
Why It Won: Speaking of Joann Sfar, the comic creator’s next film didn’t do so badly, either. Another adaptation of his own work, The Rabbi’s Cat is the story of a cat that miraculously gains the ability to speak thanks to a parrot it swallows, but beyond that it’s about Jewish culture in 1920’s Algeria and the divisions within society at the time. With its Fleischer studios-look and unique take on complex social issues, Sfar’s film gained favorable comparisons to Persepolis, though it never caught on outside of France like Marjane Strapi’s work did.
The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
What it Won: Golden Globe for Best Animated Film.
Why it Won: Combine the involvement of folks like Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish with Pixar releasing the ill fated Cars 2. What you get is a recipe for the first non-Pixar winner of the Golden Globe for Best Animated Film since the award’s addition to the award show. It wasn’t just a poor showing on Pixar’s part that propelled Tintin to the top spot that year, it still had to go up against the likes of Rango, another acclaimed animated feature that starred Johnny Depp. How did it win? It was simply better, with outstanding performances by the likes of Daniel Craig and Andy Serkis combined with 3D motion capture technology that allowed everyone to act out what they were doing as opposed to just reading their lines. This of course added a bit of realism to the animation as well. It was a wonderfully fun experience akin to a light hearted take on Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you haven’t seen it, I definitely recommend sitting down with your inner child and watching it sometime.
Sin City (2005)
What It Won: Technical Grand Prize at Cannes, was in competition for Palme d’Or.
Why It Won: It may be surprising to hear but back in 2005, Sin City was a hit at Cannes, where it not only took the Technical Grand Prize for the expressive style Robert Rodriguez used in his adaptation of Frank Miller’s equally expressive original comic, but was also in the running for the Palme d’Or. The Cannes committee almost certainly made the choice when they awarded the Palme to the Dardenne Bros. for their excellent film L’Enfant, but it was nonetheless exciting to see a film as straightforwardly entertaining as Sin City get the attention of the international critical community. The Technical Grand Prize was a perfect fit for the film, though, as Rodriguez’s exceptional ability to transplant the look and the feel of the comic to the screen seamlessly was a far more interesting talking point than its pulpy plotting and acting.
What It Won: Grand Prix at Cannes.
Why It Won: Have you seen it? It is a violent portrayal of the depths some men will go to for revenge with not only pain inflicted upon the body, but upon the heart and mind as well. The film unwinds at a frantic pace but it doesn’t reveal itself slowly. The plot ticks away all the way to the very last moment. Park Chan-wook doesn’t waste a scene, instead choosing to convey and move the plot forward, backwards and sideways, in time every step of the way. It could have been confusing and its message of revenge could have fallen flat. Instead it soars violently and sadistically to heights that I rarely see in a film. It isn’t violent so much for the sake of violence as it is violent as a response to the main character’s external stimuli. The film is wonderfully woven together and leaves you guessing up to the climax. It doesn’t hold your hand or even assume you’d need hand holding. Oh, and there is a fight scene with a hammer. It is gruesome.
Road to Perdition (2002)
What it Won: Academy Award for Cinematography, BAFTA for Cinematography.
Why it Won: When you can thematically deal with things like the consequences of violence and father-son issues without using a terribly large amount of dialogue you may have one hell of a director/cinematographer combination on your hands, as was the case with Road To Perdition, helmed by Sam Mendes and arranged by the late Conrad Hall. They managed to take a largely visual graphic novel and transform it onto the big screen. That is rarely even attempted, let alone done successfully. The film borrowed several shots from the source material, including the scene as Sullivan and son enter Chicago and the city is reflected on the windshield of the car. Beautifully shot, the film depicts what happens between fathers and the sons they try to raise, coping with a life of violence and the speed with which it occurs.
What It Won: Cesars for Best First Work and Best Writing- Adaptation; Jury Prize at Cannes; was in competition for Palme d’Or at Cannes; nominated for Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Foreign Language Film; nominated for Cesars for Best Editing, Best Film, Best Music Written for a Film and Best Sound; nominated for Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
Why It Won: Persepolis is rightfully held up as one of the greatest comic adaptations of all-time thanks to its incredible story, unique visuals and masterful directing by Marjane Satrapi (who also created the graphic novel) and Vincent Paronnaud. The film of course did best in its native France, where it took Cesars for Best First Work and Best Writing while netting an additional four nominations, and tied with Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light for the Jury Prize at Cannes, where it was also nominated for the Palme d’Or. But it received major accolades outside France as well, including Best Animated Feature and Best Foreign Language nods at the Oscars and it’s easy to see why. As a thoughtful, intimate take on the Iranian Revolution and its fallout that happens to be animated, Persepolis isn’t the kind of film you see everyday. It stood out in 2007 as a truly incredible animated experience that helped bring respect to animation and comics and was a hit in the process. In that time, comic adaptations have only become more popular, but no other adaptation has come close to matching its artistry and insight.
American Splendor (2003)
What it Won: Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Critics Award at Cannes, Academy Award Nomination for Adapted Screenplay.
Why it Won: Well, it was really good. Acting as part documentary, part comic book adaptation, American Splendor follows the life of Harvey Pekar as dramatized in the comic of the same name. It is heart clenchingly realistic. It makes no attempt to beautify the protagonist Pekar nor the life of a comic writer. The film is aware of itself as both Pekar and his third wife appear in the film and actually talk about what it is like to make said film. This adds a bit of surrealism to a fairly realistic comic series. The movie itself focuses on the ups and downs depicted in the comics of Pekar’s life as a file clerk and part time sad sack. Brilliantly performed by Paul Giamatti, there isn’t one thing that stands out above the rest in the film. It simply deals with life through the eyes of Pekar and has no shame in that. The beauty is this a story about a real guy just trying to be happy and in the end that is what we all are.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, where he reigns as the co-managing editor, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter ego at Fitness and Pontypool.
When Dylan Tano isn't floating amongst the clouds in his beautiful balloon, you can find him up to his ears in work at Comics Bulletin. As a fellow writer once said, if he gets paid in the morning, then he's drunk in the afternoon. He dwells in the realms of video games and comic books, writing about both till he is either drunk or delirious. He has yet to confuse the two but his editors are working on it. If he had it his way, all robots would have pain receptors.
You can follow him on Twitter as @BroSpider. You can join him on PSN at Blues_Doc and Steam at Frostbite21251. You can read some of his musings on Blogger and he keeps a list of short stories on his Tumblr.