4. “Then We Came to the End” by Joshua Ferris
This, the award magnet debut novel of Joshua Ferris, is actually supposedly “in development.” So, maybe I’m wasting a good nomination. It has, however, been so categorized for a while, so I’m still putting here, near the top of my list.
No one knows us quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts. Every office is a family of sorts, and the ad agency Ferris depicts is a family at its worst and best, as the cast of colorful copywriters try to cope with a business downturn in the time-honored way – gossip, pranks, depression, desperation and increasingly frequent coffee breaks – while also trying to wrap their heads around a super strange, seemingly impossible job from an anonymous client.
The book is noteworthy for the author’s unique perspective choice: Ferris writes in the first-person plural — the collective “we” — making the snarky, gossipy, terrified employees into a kind of Greek Chorus and collective narrator.
As such, I think it would be a good idea to present the film as a series of short vignettes (think “Clerks” or “Coffee and Cigarettes”) with recurring characters but no main protagonist.
I’d like to see it cast with mostly unknowns and/or familiar character actors to heighten the reality of it all, and maybe shoot the work scenes in black and white and the exterior scenes in color, as such a large topic of the story is the separation of work and life.
Ideal director: Werner Herzog. Hear me out, okay? It’s been a while since the mad genius German picked up a camera for a non-documentary project, but I think this is the perfect candidate. Think about it: he loves quirky characters and he loves examining professionals in their element. Nothing makes Werner happier than surrounding himself with people weirder than himself. This book is chock-full of strange and poignant moments among characters everybody things they know so well, but actually turn out to only know “work well.” And it’s a wonderful look at an oft-misunderstood industry at a time of terrifying transition. 5. “Assault on Tony’s” by John O’Brien
If I could vote in some kind of pop culture election to determine the American author whose work most deserves a revival — the most overlooked American author, you might say — I’d cast my ballot for O’Brien immediately.
You may know his name from the award-winning film version of his first novel “Leaving Las Vegas,” starring Nicolas Cage (in a performance that earned him a Golden Globe and an Academy Award) and Elisabeth Shue. What you might not know is that the story of a suicidal alcoholic who travels to Las Vegas to “drink himself to death” was, sadly semi-autobiographical.
That book was published in 1990, the film made in 1995, and O’Brien ended a suicidal bender of his own with a self-inflicted gunshot in 1994, just two weeks after learning the movie was to be made.
His other works were published posthumously, including a short story in the Las Vegas edition of the popular Akashic Books noir series and three other novels, including “Assault on Tony’s.”
Barricaded in a bar called Tony’s while a race riot rages outside, the characters that people the story are united by their desire to drink to the end — no matter what the consequences. Social alliances are forged and challenged as each member of this macabre party ignores his fears and better judgment in favor maintaining a buzz and keeping their glass full. As time goes by and the liquor supply starts to dwindle, hard choices have to be made and nobody is safe.
A tense, claustrophobic tale of addiction and delusion, this book is at least as good as “Leaving Las Vegas,” and because of the themes of racial and economic tension, gender roles (the sole woman in the place, the waitress, is also the only sober one), addiction, and the philosophy of gun ownership (all the patrons are packing), more timely than ever.
Ideal director: Kathryn “Boom” Bigelow. 6. “Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill
This is another one that’s supposedly “in development,” but has been stuck so long in “development hell” that I figured a little public show of support can only help.
This was the first novel from Hill (now a two-time Bram Stoker award winner), and his work lives up to the hype. This is horror for people who think they don’t like horror. It’s smart, it’s heartfelt, it’s scary without being overly gruesome and it’s fresh. I loved this book and it needs to be a movie.
The publication of this “beautifully textured, deliciously scary debut novel … was greeted with the sort of overwhelming critical acclaim that is rare for a work of skin-crawling supernatural terror. It was cited as a Best Book of the Year by Atlanta magazine, the Tampa Tribune, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and the Village Voice, to name but a few. Award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling Neil Gaiman of ‘The Sandman,’ ‘The Graveyard Book,’ and ‘Anansi Boys’ fame calls Joe Hill’s story of a jaded rock star haunted by a ghost he purchased on the internet, ‘relentless, gripping, powerful.” (Amazon.com).
Middle-aged rock star Judas Coyne collects morbid curios for fun, so doesn’t think twice about buying a suit advertised at an online auction site as haunted by its dead owner’s ghost. Only after it arrives does Judas discover that the suit belonged to Craddock McDermott, the stepfather of one of Coyne’s discarded groupies, and that the old man’s ghost is a malignant spirit determined to kill Judas in revenge for his stepdaughter’s suicide.
That’s not a totally fair description, as Coyne isn’t quite the sociopathic playboy nor McDermott the avenging dark angel they at first appear. Things are more complicated than that, but you won’t mind uncovering the truth because the story is so well paced and the characters vivid.
I read that Hill himself wanted Russell Crowe to be the has-been rocker, and I think that’s a great idea. As the demonic McDermott, I’d cast Lance Reddick or Eamonn Roderique Walker.
Ideal director: Mary Lambert, because she’s no stranger to heartfelt — but effective — horror (see “Pet Semetary”).