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Books to Read Before Watching the Oscars

These are the adaptations that got the Oscar nod in 2020.

By Jessica Dukes

So many fantastic movies are based on equally fantastic books, it’s no wonder that these titles get another moment in the spotlight during awards season. If you’re tuning in to the Oscars this year, these are the books to read before you watch.

Go Like Hell by AJ Baime

Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans by A. J. Baime

Movie: Ford v. Ferrari, nominated for Motion Picture of the Year 

In the 1960s, American tastes in cars were changing. Style and speed were all the rage, and Ford didn’t have it, but Ferrari did. When the Ford Motor Company claimed a spot in the 24-hour Le Mans car race in 1966, the automotive world took notice. This is the story of the team that built the car — Ford, Iacocca, and Shelby — and eventually transformed an industry.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Movie: Little Women, nominated for Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by a Lead Actress (Saoirse Ronan) and Supporting Actress (Florence Pugh), and Best Adapted Screenplay

Once again, the March sisters are on the big screen. Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth do their best to help their mother and live a happy life, while their father is serving in the Civil War. Time rolls on, and with it comes love, ambition, loss, and the next generation.

The Pope by Anthony McCarten

The Pope: Francis, Benedict, and the Decision That Shook the World by Anthony McCarten

Movie: The Two Popes, nominated for Best Performance by a Lead Actor (Jonathan Pryce) and Supporting Actor (Anthony Hopkins), and Best Adapted Screenplay

Pope Benedict XVI stunned the world when he resigned at the height of his power, something that had not happened in the last seven centuries. Little did he know that the College of Cardinals would name Francis, Benedict’s opposite in many ways, as his successor. The human drama of watching these two very different men exchange one of the most powerful positions in the world is a historical moment you won’t want to miss.

I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt

I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa by Charles Brandt 

Movie: The Irishman, nominated for Motion Picture of the Year, Achievement in Directing (Martin Scorsese), Best Performance by a Supporting Actor (Joe Pescié and Al Pacino), and Best Adapted Screenplay

For five years, Brandt recorded interviews with Sheeran, a professional hit man. Hired by Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa, as well as various crime bosses in La Cosa Nostra, Sheeran’s life seemed set. Eventually, though, Sheeran’s loyalties reached a crossroads when the mob ordered him to kill Hoffa, by then a family friend. Fearing for his life, Sheeran did the job. The most credible explanation of Hoffa’s disappearance yet, this is a thrilling book that all true crime fans should read.

Caging Skies by Christine Leunens

Caging Skies by Christine Leunens

Movie: Jojo Rabbit, nominated for Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by a Supporting Actress (Scarlet Johansson), and Best Adapted Screenplay

Johannes Betzler, member of the Hitler Youth, is the last person you’d expect to fall in love with the Jewish girl his parents are hiding in their home. When his parents are taken away, Johannes and Elsa must survive together. As only a child can, he daydreams about the future — especially his life with Elsa after the war is over. There’s only one problem: How will he convince her to stay with him?

These two Oscar-nominated movies are based on articles, and are a must-read before you watch.

“Can You Say…Hero?” by Tom Junod for Esquire

Movie: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, nominated for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor (Tom Hanks)

Junod’s piece is a touching account of the time he spent with Mr. Rogers for the series of interviews that make up the article. Like the movie, we get a glimpse into Mr. Rogers’ private life – his love of naps and his favorite bath robe, for example – but we also get to witness something else. Something quite magical. It’s Mr. Rogers’ quiet insistence that everyone matters, and Junod’s spiritual reawakening as a result of their friendship.

American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell” by Marie Brenner for Vanity Fair

Movie: Richard Jewell, nominated for Best Performance by a Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates)

Three months after he was arrested by the FBI for exploding a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Richard Jewell and his attorney began this interview with Brenner. Terrorism charges had just been dropped, and he was finally allowed to tell his story. Like the movie, the article is about how the rush to judgment upended Jewell’s life, leaving him in a fight for normalcy.

Three of this year’s contenders are biographical, and while they’re not based on a single book, these biographies should give you all the background you need before watching the films.

Harriet Tubman by Catherine Clinton

Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton

Movie: Harriet, nominated for Best Performance by a Lead Actress (Cynthia Erivo), and Best Original Song (“Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo and Joshuah Brian Campbell)

Epic biographies make good movies, and Harriet is proof. Born a slave in Maryland, Tubman made her daring escape to Pennsylvania at age 29 on the Underground Railroad. One year later, she did the unthinkable when she returned to the South to rescue members of her family, a trip she would make time and again, cementing her legacy as a hero.

Me and My Shadows by Lorna Luft

Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir by Lorna Luft

Movie: Judy, nominated for Best Performance by a Lead Actress (Renée Zellweger)

It’s no surprise that Judy Garland’s fantastic, troubled Hollywood life has generated Oscar buzz. Battling addiction and money troubles, Garland’s “the show must go on” drive came at a high price. Luft’s memoir doesn’t apologize for Garland’s bad behavior as a mother (or Liza Minnelli’s as a sister), yet it spares no detail in telling a sympathetic story of this tragically broken family.

Me by Elton John

Me by Elton John

Movie: Rocketman, nominated for Best Original Song (“I’m Gonna Love Me Again” by Elton John and Bernie Taupin)

When a living legend decides he wants to tell his story, it’s always worth the read. From his musical education as a child prodigy, to his early collaboration with Bernie Taupin, through his astronomical rise to fame and the addiction that came with it, and finally to his life as a married man and father — Elton John lets us see it all. Fitting, then, that this Oscar nomination is for his remarkable music.

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