6. Argo (2012)
On paper, it looks ludicrous: a group of CIA agents, having funded and publicised a fake Sci-Fi movie, pose as Canadian filmmakers to smuggle a group of American embassy workers out of Iran, which is in the early stages of a civil uprising. And yet, it is all true.
Detailed in Joshua Bearman’s May 2007 article for Wired, “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran”, it tells of how Tony Mendez spearheaded a mission to rescue six American embassy workers who had taken shelter in the home of the Canadian ambassador.
The article is given a slick reworking by screenwriter Chris Terrio and director Ben Affleck (who also plays the role of Mendez) whose taut thriller treatment turned the article into a Best Picture Oscar-winner.
Though it was a financial and critical success, both Canadian and Iranian audiences were unhappy with the film, believing they were severely misrepresented. In any case, the audacity of the plan makes for exciting viewing.
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Yes, the film centred around a severely burnt vengeful ghoul who terrorises children in their nightmares is partially based on a true story. Fortunately, Freddy Krueger is (mostly) a figment of Wes Craven’s imagination.
Craven says that he came up with the inspiration for the film from a series of L.A. Times stories from 1983-87 regarding the “nightmare deaths” of over 130 South-East Asian refugees, who spanning the space of four years died in reasonably similar fashion: during the night they would scream out in terror, and in the morning would be found dead of a sudden heart stoppage.
As for the film itself, “Nightmare on Elm Street” is considered to be one of the first major entries in the “slasher genre”, following John Carpenter’s “Halloween”. It is also responsible for consolidating a number of the tropes regularly associated with the genre, particularly the sexual promiscuity of those who die, and the purity of those who live.
Arguably the biggest contribution to pop culture offered by the film is the character of Freddy Krueger himself. An immortal monster with steel-clawed gloves and a seemingly Christmas-themed sweater, Krueger was based on a homeless man who scared Craven when he was 11.
4. Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Nik Cohn’s 1976 article for New York Magazine “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” follows a young man, Vincent, as he works through his humdrum weekday job with one eye on the weekend, where he is the undisputed king of 2001 Odyssey, a club in Brooklyn.
Though eventually proven to be a work of fiction (Cohn, a recent migrant from England to the United States, admitted that he based the article off a Mod friend from back home), the article captured the zeitgeist; a new generation of young people more concerned with their financial stability and status in the world than the former decade’s free love and shunning of materialism.
The film that was based on the article, “Saturday Night Fever”, would prove to be a major box office and critical smash, with gushing reviews from notable film critics such as Pauline Kael and Gene Siskel helping to establish it as a cultural touchstone.
The popularity of the film led to a boost for disco music as a whole in the United States; the soundtrack for the film is still one of the best-selling albums of all time. Furthermore, John Travolta’s Oscar-nominated role in the film would see his career skyrocket, and establish him as a leading man for years to come.
3. Almost Famous (2000)
When Cameron Crowe was sixteen, in 1973, he was already established as a feature writer for Rolling Stone. He was a part of the magazine when it was at its peak, publishing work from some of the most prominent individuals of the era, such as Hunter S. Thompson, Annie Leibovitz, P.J. O’Rourke and Tom Wolfe.
Crowe was at the centre of it all, touring with the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Yes and the Allman Brothers Band. It was his time touring with the latter, and the subsequent article “The Allman Brothers Story”, which formed the spine of “Almost Famous”. Though the story is drawn from all of his experiences as a roving journalist, “The Allman Brothers Story” stands as the most obvious influence due to the fact it was Crowe’s first tour, which is paralleled in the film.
The film (which Cameron Crowe also directs) depicts a fictitious band, Stillwater, as a young wannabe journalist tours with them, which serves as a formative period for his transition from childhood. Patrick Fugit stands in for Crowe in his debut performance, and he is surrounded by talent: Kate Hudson, Frances McDormand and Philip Seymour Hoffman just to name a few.
Crowe captures a perfect nostalgic tone with this film; equal parts melancholic and amusing, he is able to capture not only the aesthetic of the period, but the attitude as well.
2. On the Waterfront (1954)
In 1949, Malcolm Johnson won the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting for his 24 part series “Crime on the Waterfront”, which appeared in the New York Sun throughout 1948 and 1949. It detailed the organised crime element of the New York and New Jersey shorelines, particularly how it affected the average longshoreman. Facing death threats for himself and his family, Johnson continued to report the facts, which led to a major reformation of the shipping trade in New York.
Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg adapted these pieces into one of the most universally acclaimed films to come out of the Hollywood system. Winning eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Marlon Brando(who according to Roger Ebert “changed acting forever” with this performance), Kazan’s exploration of the deep corruption prevalent on the New Jersey docks is still regarded as a powerful statement.
Indeed, it is widely considered to be a response to Kazan’s critics over his decision to name colleagues in front of the House Committee for Un-American Activities, which saw him face widespread condemnation among his peers, even to this day.
1. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
On August 22nd, 1972, in New York City, two men robbed a bank. To the NYPD and FBI, this was a regular occurrence, with often several banks targeted per day. However, none could have foreseen what was to be one of the strangest, most compelling and, at times, most hilarious bank robberies to ever occur.
The whole tale was captured in P.F. Kluge’s September 22 1972 article article for Life Magazine “The Boys in The Bank”, which detailed how two perennial losers named John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturale captured the hearts and attentions of an entire city.
“Dog Day Afternoon” was a critical success on release, with tight, energetic direction from the always reliable Sidney Lumet, and an Oscar-winning screenplay by Frank Pierson which captured the crackling language of 1970’s New York.
The film is also buoyed by tremendous performances from Al Pacino as Wojtowicz, who was mentioned in the original article to have “the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman” and, in arguably the best performance of his short yet golden string of films (he would also appear in The Godfather I and II, The Deer Hunter and The Conversation before sadly succumbing to lung cancer in 1978), John Cazale as Naturale.
Author Bio: Daniel Pollock is a Sydney-based writer, actor and director. In other words, he’s chronically unemployed. Please send money.