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And the Oscar Should Go To…

We all know there are no new stories left in the world — hell, Shakespeare himself had trouble coming up with something original 400 years ago when he was writing Romeo and Juliet. But it’s a problem that is running particularly rampant over the movies today. There are the obvious: sequels, reboots, adaptations of the novel based on the Broadway play. But beyond those, every story we’re being told has been told before. Producers just dress them up in different clothes, or reverse the genders, or set it on the moon, and hope nobody notices. So while the Oscars have an official category to recognize adapted screenplays, we’re pulling back the curtain to recognize the debts all the other Oscar nominees owe to literature.

The Master / Going Clear

  • As director Paul Thomas Anderson and Best Supporting Actor nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman have said over and over again in interviews, The Master is not about Scientology. It's a fictional film about the 1950s founding of a cult-like religion by a charismatic writer, an organization based on a potent combination of supernatural backstory, atomic-age science and tight-fisted, often violent control that just happened to call a massive ocean liner home base for... tax evasion purposes. Nope, nothing at all like the Scientology Lawrence Wright describes in his expose, Going Clear. Wright's book is a brilliantly thorough look at the short, fascinating history of the religion, with stunning revelations about the early days of its pompous, fame-obsessed founder, L. Ron Hubbard, that could serve as blueprints for Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd. Was it the fictional character or the real-life leader who invented naval medals to claim he was a decorated war hero? Only one way to find out.

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Zero Dark Thirty / No Easy Day

  • While the Kathryn Bigelow-directed Best Picture nominee is ostensibly based on a very well-known true story, its version of the CIA's hunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the years after 9/11 has been criticized by everyone from the current CIA director to anti-torture journalists and Republican senator John McCain. Rather than wade into that moral morass, get your facts from one of the guys who was there on the day:... "Mark Owen," a member of the storied SEAL Team 6 who stormed bin Laden's compound in Pakistan and killed him. The book was published under a pseudonym without undergoing review by the Department of Defense in order for "Owen" to tell the full story without redaction; when the author's identity was revealed, a response written by a number of ex-SEALs criticized the author for fame-seeking, but not one of them questioned his version of the events.

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Django Unchained / The Count of Monte Cristo

  • A man spends years unjustly imprisoned, gains his freedom, then embarks on the single-minded pursuit of the bad dude who stole his woman? Could be Quentin Tarantino's newest genre-skewing blockbuster, sure, but it could just as easily be Alexandre Dumas's classic tale of revenge. While Tarantino's slave Django is freed by Best Supporting Actor nominee Christoph Waltz's German bounty hunter, Dumas's Edmond Dantes is unfairly sentenced to 14 years in prison by... some conniving so-called friends and has to break out on his own. Both set in times of political turbulence, both stories follow our heroes on their epic quests for revenge. But while Django's hunt takes him into a couple of small-time gang fights, Dantes's full vengeance takes years of life under assumed names, accumulating a massive fortune, and ruining the lives of multiple conspirators, driving one to suicide. Even Waltz's character has to acknowledge their mirror-image stories in the film, during a conversation with main baddie Leonardo DiCaprio. Advantage: Dumas.

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No / To Sell Is Human

  • As Daniel Pink so convincingly explains in his book To Sell is Human, sales is not a distinct industry but a behavior that we all engage every single day. You sell your girlfriend on seeing the movie you want to see. You sell your boss on letting you take over the big project. You sell your kids on eating their broccoli. It's all a question of strategy — and Pink's book is... all about new strategies to go about the old business of selling, no matter what you do. In No, a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, ad exec Rene Saavedra is hired in 1980s Chile to use his marketing and sales savvy to run a referendum campaign against the ruling dictator Augusto Pincochet. His controversial ads focus on selling the public on the image of democratic freedom rather than relying on the soapbox rhetoric of the past, opening up a new world of political messaging we can see today. Looks like he could have taught Pink a thing or two about innovative selling.

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Frankenweenie / The Island of Dr. Moreau

  • Of course Tim Burton's Best Animated Feature-nominated stop-motion kids' romp is based on Mary Shelley's granddaddy of corpse-reanimating horror stories, Frankenstein. But take a step back and you'll see that this tale of a young boy whose success at reanimating his dearly departed dog, Sparky, leads the neighborhood kids to try their hand at playing god with their pets, creating a pack of mutated monsters who wreak havoc on the town,... owes a lot to H.G. Wells's early grotesquerie, The Island of Dr. Moreau. Rather than by accident, Moreau's half-animal, half-human monsters, the Beast Folk, are created in the cold name of science. But both tales have the same, powerful message: Don't mess with nature, or nature will mess you up. Unless it's to get your best friend back, that is.

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eMusic Features

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Interview: George Saunders

By Amanda Davidson, Contributor

George Saunders's newest story, published only as an audiobook and Kindle Single, is told from the point of view of Fox 8, the title character who pens his tale of friendship and loss by way… more »

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