The best, and likely only, way to experience the life of an author is to watch their biopic – although reading their autobiography trumps watching a movie about them, we will admit. Authors don’t just write wonderful pieces for readers to enjoy; their lives, interests, and personalities tend to be equally as enthralling. There are many movies based off the life of a writer, some better than others, that give us an hour or so to soak up a momentary slice of their lives. Here are some of our favorites:
My Left Foot (1989), directed by Jim Sheridan
Starring Daniel Day Lewis, who won his first Oscar for his role as Christy Brown, this movie is inspiring and extremely well acted (which is the perfect recipe for an excellent movie). My Left Foot tells the heartwarming true-story of Christy, a man born with cerebral palsy from Ireland, who uses his left foot to paint, play sports, and – you guessed it – write. The movie was inspired by Christy’s autobiography, My Left Foot.
American Splendor (2003), directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Comic-book author Harvey Pekar wrote a series of autobiographical comics, entitled American Splendor, and was one of the first writers to use the illustrative, comedic medium to create an autobiography. The film adaptation, starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar and winner of six film awards, is inventive (Giamatti breaks the fourth wall a number of times), charming, and thoughtful. Pekar is an intriguing yet relatable man who spews tidbits of humorous wisdom.
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), directed by Alan Rudloph
Jennifer Jason Leigh gives a stunning portrayal of writer Dorothy Parker, a sharp, satirical writer and poet known – outside of her excellent writing, radical left-wing politics, and engaging personality – for helping to found the Algonquin Round Tables and is an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter. Seem like a lot? The wonders of Parker’s life do not stop there. She was put on the Hollywood blacklist during the McCarthy era and suffered from romantic and emotional woes. What truly makes the film is Leigh’s acting (much of which was improvised) as the quick-witted writer.
Capote (2005), directed by Bennett Miller
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of one of the most famous authors of the 20th century was absolutely stunning, and won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. Capote chronicles Truman Capote’s endeavor to write In Cold Blood, about the infamous, gruesome murder of the Clutter family in Kansas. The investigation had a profound effect on Capote, and the film capture’s his genius and complex workings of his personality.
An Angel at My Table (1990), directed by Jane Campion
Named after Janet Frame’s autobiography, An Angel at My Table, the film version of the New Zealand writer is straight-up beautiful. Just as Frame’s autobiography is candid and real, Campion’s film adaptation portrays the remarkable life of the author in a raw and realistic manner. Told in three parts, each outlining the immense struggles Frame faced in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, the movies provides a haunting look at one woman and how society deals with those deemed mentally ill.
The End of the Tour (2015), directed by James Ponsoldt
After the crazy success of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Rolling Stones reporter David Lipsky convinced his boss to let him go on tour with Wallace, interviewing him along the way. Rather than focusing on the devastating death of Wallace, the film focuses on the conversations between the two authors. It simultaneously captures the isolating circumstances of Wallace’s life, his perspective on fame and writing, and the inherently competitive-yet-supportive relationship that exists between writers. Known funny-man, Jason Segel, is astonishing in his dramatic portrayal of Wallace.
Before Night Falls (2000), directed by Julian Schnabel
Director Julian Schnabel has a knack for films about writers with incredible stories. Before Night Falls follows poet and novelists Reinaldo Arenas from his Cuban youth to eventual death in New York City. Although he originally supported Castro, Arenas was openly gay, which got him imprisoned for ‘ideological deviation,’ and he eventually became a rebel. His life was filled with trouble; his survival tactics (mostly involving his wonderful skill with pen and paper) and fearlessness are wonderfully portrayed by Javier Bardem.
The Hours (2002), directed by Stephen Daldry
The Hours celebrates author Virginia Woolf, played by Nicole Kidman who won the Academy Award for Best Actress, in a truly innovative way. The film takes a look at three different women, all living in different times and places, each struggling with life and ideas of suicide. Their lives are all somehow connected through Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway. The outcome is a moving and emotional look at Woolf’s life and struggles, and the challenges women have faced through the decades.
Honorable mention: Midnight in Paris (2011), directed by Woody Allen
While Midnight in Paris is fiction, about a man who mysteriously goes back to the 1920s every night while visiting Paris, it features a number of beloved authors, including Hemingway, Zelda and F.Scott Fitzgerald, and T.S. Eliot, and captures their distinct personalities. The outcome is a film filled with boisterous charm and memorable characters. Any literary lover will be plunged into a sentimental state while watching this fun film.
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