Earlier this week, the Producer’s Guild announced it will bestow its David O Selznick award upon Scott Rudin. No big surprise there: This year alone, Rudin produced no less than three of this year’s Oscar favorites including “The Social Network,” Peter Weir’s “The Way Back,” and the Coen Bros’ take on the Charles Portis novel “True Grit.” I’d even go one step further and say that the Producer’s Guild has been a little slow on the uptake. Rudin is long overdue to receive his guild’s highest honor, whose previous recipients include Clint Eastwood, Laura Ziskin (“Spider-Man”), Brian Grazer (“A Beautiful Mind”), Jerry Bruckheimer (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), and John Lasseter, one of Pixar’s founding fathers.
Rudin is arguably the most prolific and powerful producer of high-caliber dramatic filmmaking in the history of moviemaking. And given that this is 2010, when big studio-produced adult dramas have all but vanished from most studio’s slates to make room for 3-D tentpoles and raunchy comedies, Rudin’s commitment to bringing substantive, thought-provoking storytelling to the big screen is nothing short of heroic. We have Rudin to thank for such exemplary adaptations as “No Country for Old Men,” “Julie and Julia,” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and “There Will Be Blood.” And that’s just in the past couple of years. Rudin’s back catalogue is as vast and varied as the trove of optioned books and unproduced scripts he’s ushering through various stages of the creative process. To cover either one comprehensively would be a brain-addling, carpal-tunnel-inducing experience. So what follows is a compilation, in reverse chronological order, of my favorite Rudin-produced films. Think of it as a virtual mix-tape, in the tradition of which I invite you to enjoy and weigh in on my picks and suggest a few of your own. Next up: I’ll pull my favorite projects from the rich cache of quality material Rudin’s nurturing along for future Oscar races.
“The Social Network” (2010): Based on: The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. And it made the cut because … :Rudin brokered a perfect marriage between screenwriter (“The West Wing’s” Aaron Sorkin) and director (“Zodiac’s” David Fincher) to tackle the juicy story behind the founding of Facebook, which touches upon psycho-social impact of digital communion on its founders and society at large.
“True Grit” (2010): Based on: True Grit by Charles Portis (previously adapted for the screen in 1969 starring John Wayne). And it made the cut because … : The last time the Coen Bros. adapted a Rudin-produced neo-Western crime novel the result was Best Picture-winner “No Country for Old Men.” “Grit,” also structured around a vendetta, follows a US Marshall (Jeff Bridges) and a fourteen-year-old girl as they hunt down whomever killed her parents.
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009): Based on: Eponymous novel by Roald Dahl. And it made the cut because … :Wes Anderson brings his fanciful anachronistic aestheticism and dysfunctional family romanticism to this stop-motion retelling of Dahl’s classic allegory about a wily fox patriarch (voiced by George Clooney) who wages war against a trio of farmers.
“Julie and Julia” (2009): Based on: Eponymous memoir by Julie Powell. And it made the cut because … :Meryl Streep dishes up another spellbinding performance as the impassioned predecessor to the food TV while Amy Adams plays Powell, a desk-jockey who finds her raison d’etre in cooking Child’s recipes.
“No Country for Old Men” (2007): Based on: Eponymous novel by Cormac McCarthy. And it made the cut because … : The Coen Bros’ existential Western defies categorization except to say that it cuts to the core of what it means to be the flawed creatures we are. Oh, and Javier Bardem, as the mop-topped angel of death, Anton Chigurh, is the most indelible screen villain since “The Usual Suspects’” Keyser Soze.
“There Will Be Blood” (2007): Based on: Oil! by Upton Sinclair. And it made the cut because … : Director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights”) handcrafted this period epic about a turn-of-the-century wildcat oil man (Daniel Day-Lewis), which doubles as an emblem of America’s obsessive romance with fossil fuel.
“Closer” (2004) Based on: Eponymous play by Patrick Marber. And it made the cut because … : A bleak, nihilist attack on the romantic ideal and the hegemony of monogamy, this is not an uplifting cinematic experience; but it’s a riveting one nonetheless. Clive Owen and Julia Roberts stage the most harrowing on-screen breakup since “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
“School of Rock” (2003). Based on: Original screenplay. And it made the cut because … : Jack Black and director Richard Linklater (“Before Sunset”) make a contribution to the man-child coming-of-age oeuvre with this story of a failed musician who finds his calling teaching kids the ABC’s of rock.
“The Hours” (2002). Based on: Eponymous novel by Michael Cunningham. And it made the cut because … : This triptych of interwoven vignettes about women struggling with the ways in which they’ve neglected their own happiness in the service of others, shaped and informed by the life and writings of Virginia Woolf, captures the modern female struggle to be authentic. Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore do what they do best as the three leads.
“Wonder Boys” (2000). Based on: Eponymous novel by Michael Chabon. And it made the cut because … :This film, in which Michael Douglas plays a rumpled professor floundering through mid-life, perfectly captures the redemptive rush of finding love on the tail end of a long string of rejection and failure.
“Clueless” (1995). Based on: Jane Austen’s Emma. And it made the cut because … : Director Amy Heckerling comes as close as anyone has to capturing Austen’s sly charm in a contemporary high school milieu.
“Searching for Bobby Fisher” (1993). Based on: Eponymous memoir by Fred Waizkin. And it made the cut because … : Making his directorial debut, screenwriter Steve Zaillian, who is most recently adapted The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for David Fincher, paints a moving portrait of the chess prodigy as a young man.