Friday 1 May 2015

The Top 5 Biopics

It is often said that biographical films demand the most from actors and actresses, due to the subjects being known to the public and their characteristics being heavily documented or even available to see, through archive footage or if they’re still alive. Because of this, biopic films contain some of the finest performances in cinema. Let’s explore 5 of the best the genre has to offer.

Man on the Moon (1999)

Let’s start with Man on the Moon. Say the name Andy Kaufman to someone, and 9 times out of 10 you’ll get ‘Who?’ in response. Kaufman was an extremely eccentric self-labelled ‘song and dance man’ who, whilst often referred to as a comedian, strongly disliked ‘jokes’ and traditional comedy. However, his work still stands today as some of the funniest ever and, even if performed freshly today, would STILL be ahead of its time. But even after all this time, many people still don’t know him. If you are one of these people, he left behind a huge body of work to explore which is easily accessible, and Man on the Moon is a good place to start when learning about the man. Jim Carrey is incredible as Kaufman, delivering one of the finest performances of the past 20 years in cinema. Wrongly snubbed at the Academy Awards, Carrey still picked up a Golden Globe for his performance. He’s never been better. Man on the Moon is definitely worth a look.

Lenny (1974)

Who is your favourite stand-up comedian? Chances are they were inspired in some way by Lenny Bruce; the ‘Godfather of modern stand up’. Performing ‘vulgar’ comedy in a time when public obscenity was a punishable crime, Bruce spent most of his time fighting for freedom of speech in court. But the constant legal fees, court hearings and arrests took their toll on Lenny who fell into drug abuse and unfortunately overdosed at age 40. The saddest part? The stuff he was saying is nowhere near as bad as some of the things you hear from respected and embraced comics of today. In Lenny, Dustin Hoffman delivers one of his finest performances as Bruce, making you forget you’re even watching a film. You forget its Hoffman. As far as you’re concerned, you’re watching Lenny’s life unfold in front of you. The film was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. But the film was released at the same time as The Godfather Part II so you can imagine who took all the Oscar glory that year.

Set Fire to the Stars (2014)

Making its second appearance on the CeX Blog is the phenomenal Set Fire To The Stars. Telling the story of renowned Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and his first tour of America, the film has been described as ‘the must see Dylan Thomas film’. Many actors, including Tom Hollander and Matthew Rhys, have played Thomas in various productions. But nobody has ever been quite as good as Celyn Jones is here. As I said in my initial review of the film for CeX, Jones displays phenomenal talent in the role and the film arguably belongs to him. I was lucky enough to meet Jones after a special screening of the film recently, and he spoke of ‘finding the man in the monster and the monster in the man’ with his performance. Even at Dylan’s nastiest and most careless, you can see his heart and his vulnerability. Despite an apparently low budget, the film feels like a lavish production and is a beautiful piece of cinema. Whether you’re a fan of poetry or not, Set Fire To The Stars is highly recommended.

Ed Wood (1994)

One for fans of old-school Hollywood! Are you a fan of ‘so-bad-they’re-good’ films? If so, you’ve most likely spent a couple of hours chuckling away at Plan 9 From Outer Space. With it’s awful special effects, continuity errors, poor script and abysmal acting; Plan 9 from Outer Space is an unintentional comedy classic. Ed Wood tells the story of the director of said film – Edward D. Wood, Jr. A quirky and eccentric transvestite, Wood wouldn’t let anyone or anything stand in the way of his film-making dreams. But budgetary constraints and a general lack of support from Hollywood meant that all of his films turned out a little…shit. Tim Burton’s biopic of the man is the complete opposite though, and is a true classic of the genre. Despite critical acclaim and Oscar wins, the film was a major financial flop and was forgotten about almost as quickly as its subject. I usually can’t stand Johnny Depp, but he delivers a near-perfect performance here as Wood and despite not being a fan of Burton’s films either, I couldn’t imagine a better director for this project. Check it out.

Walk The Line (2005)

One for you music fans now. Everyone knows Johnny Cash’s music. Play the opening seconds of ‘Ring of Fire’, and you know what’s coming. You can see the dark hair, the dark suit, the man. But not everyone knows his story. Walk The Line draws heavily from the great man’s autobiographies focuses on Cash’s early years; from his troubled childhood through his military time to his ascent in the country music scene and romance with June Carter. Cash had some dark times and the film captures them very effectively, forever changing our perception of the man and our understanding of his music. Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely phenomenal in the role and becomes Johnny Cash, in the same way Dustin Hoffman became Lenny Bruce in Lenny.

In conclusion, one should never take biopics as history lessons but they stand as interesting introductions to subjects with rich histories to explore.
Sam Love

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