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die hard is a xmas movie | by maryann johanson

daily list: 10 great cinematic adaptations from Shakespeare

Keira Knightley is gonna be starring in a new movie version of King Lear? Not as the king, I hope, but okay. (She’ll be Cordelia, actually, to Anthony Hopkins’ Lear.) I’m starting my Summer of Hamlet, in preparation for my trip to England in the fall to see David Tennant play the mad Dane, as well as for the upcoming Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead and Hamlet 2. So it looks like it’s time to do a roundup of the greatest movies ever made from the Bard’s work:
1. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996). Baz Lurhmann’s stunning adaptation of the Bard’s best-known love story — starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes — keeps all of the writer’s language but sets the tale among warring mob families in contemporary Miami. Striking modernizations — the chorus asides become TV news reports, for one — highlight how modern and relevant Shakespeare remains. [my review] [buy at Amazon]

2. Much Ado About Nothing (1993). Shakespeare is never as full of life as when Kenneth Branagh takes him on, and his mounting of the comedy, set in a Tuscan villa, positively beams with sunshine and laughter and romance. Great cast, too: the director himself, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Kate Beckinsale, Imelda Staunton, Keanu Reeves (yes, he’s perfect here), etc. [buy at Amazon]

3. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990). Based on Tom Stoppard’s play, this is pretty much Hamlet fan fiction, asking the question, Just what do the Prince’s pals get up to when they’re offstage? The answer: a lot of philosophizing about the meaning of life. Tim Roth and Gary Oldman star. [buy at Amazon]

4. Scotland, PA (2001). It’s MacBeth done up comic-style — the action revolves around a small-town burger joint in the 1970s — and it’s hilarious. Maura Tierney may well be the most devious Lady MacB ever… and she’s certainly the funniest. [my review] [buy at Amazon]

5. Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000). Branagh again, turning the comedy into a musical by interspersing 1920s and 30s standards with the romantic topsy-turvy. The result: some of the most dramatically entertaining juxtapositions you’ll find on film — when lovesick Berowne segues from “And when love speaks, the voice of all the gods / Make heaven drowsy with the harmony” directly into a chorus of “Heaven, I’m in heaven”… well, it’s one of the greatest movie moments ever. It’s yet another example of how fresh and timeless Shakespeare still is. [my review] [buy at Amazon]

6. Shakespeare in Love (1998). It’s all fictional, of course, and bears little resemblance to the writer’s actual life, but what the hell. This is a delightful story, however invented, not just about the creation of one of his plays but about how life influences art. [my review] [buy at Amazon]

7. O (2001). The machinations of Othello are transferred to a high-school basketball team in the American South, where racial animosity runs high yet stays hidden until sexual jealousy drags it out. The young cast is spectacular: Julia Stiles, Mekhi Phifer, and Josh Hartnett, in a performance that proves he can act, it’s just that he mostly doesn’t bother. [my review] [buy at Amazon]

8. Forbidden Planet (1956). It’s The Tempest in space (sort of). What more do you need? Okay: the sprite is a giant robot. [buy at Amazon]

9. King of Texas (2002). Actually a TV movie, this moves King Lear to the frontier American West, and stars Patrick Stewart as a wealthy rancher and Marcia Gay Harden as one of his scheming daughters. [my review] [buy at Amazon]

10ish. Hamlet (2000). I’ve never actually seen Ethan Hawke’s performance as the mad Dane — it’s on my list for my Summer of Hamlet — but everyone raves about his “to be or not to be” soliloquy delivered in a video store, and about Bill Murray’s Polonius. So it should be good stuff. [buy at Amazon]

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