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Bill Paxton

Gaining something in translation; Good novels are often turned into mediocre films, but exceptions prove how good adaptations can be.

The worse the book, the better the screenplay." Not always. In 1998, at least, quite a few movies disproved the age-old Hollywood adage that there's many a slip between a great book and a great movie, an adage proved true over and over again, from "War and Peace" to "The Bonfire of the Vanities."

Some of last year's adaptations even succeeded against seemingly insurmountable odds. Screenwriter Stephen Schiff adapted "Lolita," Adrian Lyne's screen version of Vladimir Nabokov's brilliant novel, with a sharp ear for the author's devastating irony. And "Mrs. Dalloway," which starred Vanessa Redgrave as the title character, did a good job of...