Born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens, college in Austin, lived in Los Angeles, currently a Houstonian. Working on my first feature film endeavor!
I recommended Cool Hand Luke the other day and the person who watched it just didn't connect with it - and it drove me absolutely nuts.
Always an impossible question, but fun to at least think of five of my favorites - even if they aren't my top five. Or maybe they are. Or maybe not. I never know!
1. There Will Be Blood - The Greatest Ever - Daniel Day Lewis
2. Paths of Glory - Stunning and Horrifying - Stanley Kubrick
3. Mafioso - Hilarious and Sweet - Alberto Lattuada/Sordi
4. La Strada - Madness of Love - Giulietta Masina
5. Jaws - Exciting, Frightening, Perfect - Steven Spielberg
Of course, I wish I could add Spaceballs, The Third Man, The Shining, Rope, Brazil, This Is Spinal Tap, Young Frankenstein, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, Manhattan, Sleeper, Annie Hall, and a million more.
I'm not a copyright lawyer, but plenty of people write fan fiction and make fan films. Have you've seen that recent fan film made for the Power Rangers? They didn't accept any money for it, I believe. That was even just to make it, no distribution or anything like that. Ultimately, you can't profit from making the movie or writing the script, etc - but it's how the copyright owner defines "profit" though that can always cause trouble. As far as just writing something for yourself - my first script attempt was Spaceballs 2 lol but after about 12 pages I realized I didn't like sequels anyway.
As far as rewriting for the screen, just look at some great novels/adaptations. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Shining, even Jurassic Park. You need to outline the whole novel with detailed notes, find the core tension and themes in the novel, the cinematic impulses of the characters, the lines of dialogue that every fan of the novel would melt over, and then boil it all down to an abbreviated version of the novel that runs 100 pages or so. It's difficult, especially cutting stuff that would affect the movie.
Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining though. And look how difficult The Great Gatsby has been. Some novels don't translate well. Some do.
Best of luck, Matt. I think adapting as a writing exercise could be very cool.
You need to see if the novel or play is out of copyright (in public domain) or secure the rights from the property owners.