I will be the first to admit that if any genre swings heavily to my personal bias and taste, it’s the Bio-Pics. Many of these films, good acting/directing aside, capture me because the subjects capture me, though there are a few surprises. The amazing thing about the successful Bio-Pic is that if the subject didn’t interest you before you saw the film, you’ve suddenly been awakened to a new interest in this person or subject. I have a love for this genre specifically because I have a love for the past and our relationship to it. Yes, I’m a romantic, guilty as charged. I will also put in a side note – many of these films offer exceptionally powerful acting, which I will undoubtedly mention again and again. However, all these acting performances are matched with brilliant direction. Without further adieu – my Top 10 Bio-Pic Choices. Again, in no particular order.
1. Amadeus, Directed by Milos Forman
Amadeus was one of the first Bio-Pic’s I ever saw, I’m not even sure what age I was when I saw it – it was most certainly one of the first films I’ve ever owned. From start to finish Amadeus really tells you a thrilling story of an amazing man. There is am operatic feel to the journey, you are taken through a gamut of emotions, laughing one minute and crying the next. The Director and Designers of the film catapult you into another time and place, where style rules and anything seems possible. The costumes are simply stunning and the music…well, its Mozart. The cast is colorful and well-rounded. Every moment of the film is a well-orchestrated dance, clean and precise in execution. This is a beautiful film of electric energy and impeccable style. Amadeus has been a favorite of mine for years and is one of the most well-rounded films out there.
I was skeptical at first, to learn that Robert Downey Jr. would be portraying a personal idol and one of the greatest character actors of all time, extremely skeptical. And, I was pleasantly surprised. The script is not amazing but the legend certainly is. There is something about Charlie Chaplin that is endlessly entertaining and effortlessly lovable. Downey Jr.’s performance is one filled with great respect and love for Chaplin. The portrayal is clean and unforced. The honesty of Downey Jr.’s approach offers a small glimpse into the life of a legend from another world. While I will never rave about the script, Director Richard Attenborough transports the viewers into the golden age of early Hollywood and romances us with the world of film. There is something exceptionally nostalgic about Chaplin, even if the era is one you may not have a relationship to – you do now.
3. The Hours, Directed by Stephen Daldry
It could be possible that the reason I love this film so much is because of my love affair with Virginia Woolf, her work, her life, her letters, her eccentricities, her demons, her thoughts, her words, with – her. It could be that I love this film because of the powerhouse of actresses, Meryl Steep (who cannot seem to do anything but exceptionally brilliant work), Julianne Moore (the very definition of modern elegance and grace), Ed Harris (a Bio-Pic champion, thanks to Pollock), Toni Collette (spot on) and Nicole Kidman (who does not always thrill me but certainly did in this performance)? It could be the beautifully crafted script, adapted from a chillingly moving novel? Or perhaps it was the seamless direction? There are many reasons to love The Hours, many reasons to watch it again and again. However, its so good, you really only need one. Before you think that the above text it a little overindulgent, please see this film and judge for yourself.
4. Elizabeth, Directed by Shekhar Kapur
This genre happens to function as a bit of a lovesong to many of my favorite actors, which brings me to Cate Blancett and her thrilling performance as the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth. Despite the subject of royalty, Elizabeth is a raw, fast-paced, politically fueled film that introduces us to the aggressive tension surrounding the English court during this time. This film is Blancett at her very best, strong, passionate, willful, honest and breath-taking. Surrounded by power-hungry, aggressive and untrustworthy men, Elizabeth makes her stand in the English court and in history. The powerful performances from the stunning cast, strong direction and soaring script is supported by some of the most gorgeous period costumes we’ve seen in film, Oscar worthy, if my memory serves me right. I love this film because it is both masculine and feminine, severe and soft, loud and quiet, horrific and beautiful. Inspiring and classic, Elizabeth is a film fit for a Queen.
5. Schindler’s List, Directed by Steven Spielberg
Most of Spielberg’s films are a bit too epic for my taste, he certainly has a knack and the taste for large scale films about larger scale questions. I enjoy Schindler’s List because while the events are certainly epic and historical, the film has an intimacy about it that we don’t often see from this director and he does intimacy rather well. I feel like its a given that this film is on the list, right? I mean, most of the general public, artists and critics alike agree that it is an unbelievable film, touching and beautiful, correct? The reason I place this film on my list is because, while it does maintain an exquisite intimacy that I enjoy, every time I watch this film, I discover some new detail that makes it come to life in a whole new way. Spielberg has not left his massive scale behind him, he has just molded it to create a whole new experience for his viewers, one that is ever evolving and consistently singing in your ear. P.S. Need I mention Liam Neeson’s performance?
6. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Directed by Julian Schnabel
First of all, don’t know who this film is about? Check it out – this story will blow your mind. This is a French film that I heard about in French class and the small French language portion of my brain spinning (a portion that is rather lacking and small, I might add). The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a film about two things, the compelling story and the superb directorial execution (actors aren’t bad either, though they are secondary to these components). The pace of the movie fluctuates between extreme high speed and dragging one’s feet, it really messes with your sense of time in the best way and quite on purpose I’m sure, considering the subject matter. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly puts the viewer in the driving seat of the subject, it is a film about the experience and you certainly have a strong after viewing.
Alright, alright – you’ve had enough raving about the actor’s right? Well…I’m sorry, I can’t help it. When I first saw this film, I really felt that The King’s Speech was one of the most well-rounded, near-perfect films that I have seen in a long time. I still feel much the same way. As an actor, I was specifically impressed with the voice work accomplished by Colin Firth (who deservingly won the Oscar). I could go into a large geek-like schpeel about the technical difficulties of what Firth accomplished through the stutter but for the sake of time and your sanity let’s put it this way; it was DAMN impressive. As I watched the film and after, I felt the tension in my jaw/mouth that this man was plagued with through a majority of his life. Any film that you can walk away with and have a physical sensation…pretty impressive. The King’s Speech is truly the best of the best.
If you don’t know Edith Piaf or have never experienced her sorrowful music, Cotillard brings her to life in one of the most impressive transformations in film. Piaf’s life is one of great struggle, pain, sorrow, passion, love and intrigue, all captured perfectly in this heartfelt portrayal. I love how Marion Cotillard really stormed out of the gates with this film, she transformed in the most impressive way, she truly shed her skin and stepped into the life, body, voice, heart and soul of the tragic Edith Piaf. Do I need to mention the soundtrack? Piaf’s music inspired generations in France all over the world and continues to do so – she is a singer that truly bares it all and sings from her heart. This film will put a smile on your face and tears in your eyes.
This film is astoundingly touching, intensely moving and profoundly impacting. To me, this is one of the most important films that has been made. I will leave you with the words I uttered to my viewing partner as we left the theatre, “This is an important film. This is a film that every should see.” I cannot watch this film without tears of joy, sorrow and empathy. See. This. Film.
10. Frida, Directed by Julie Taymor
I’m beginning to sound like a broken record with this genre because in complete honesty, I love all good Bio-Pics for many of the same reasons. Those reasons being; magnificent transformations, strong directorial presence, the ability to transport to another time and place that did once exist, looking into the richness of another admired life and fascinating life and…a good soundtrack. Frida accomplishes this and much more. I don’t think I’ve seen Salma Hayek in anything else that I’ve enjoy so much or seen another performance of hers that I thought so well played. A great bio portrayal, I believe is marked by great love and respect for the character, this is clearly evident with Hayek as the rapturously talented Frida Kahlo. You can see the love Hayek has for the great painter with every gesture, ever smile and word spoken – with every drop of paint. Taymor takes us into the colorful, lush world of Frida and her paintings in an innovative and intimate way. If this film were a painting…it would be a masterpiece.
Honorable Mentions: Walk the Line, Directed by James Mangold and Pollock, Directed by Ed Harris