Biopics come in all varieties. Throughout cinema’s history we’ve seen cinematic biographies of prominent historical figures all the way to inspirational individual stories. Often times biopics fall into similar trappings and the results aren’t always pretty. But sometimes we get amazing stories of people both good and bad which translates into a fantastic movie experience. So this week I’m looking at biopics that really worked for me. I’m also looking for as much variety as possible so hopefully you’ll find something on here you didn’t expect. Now with that goal in mind it would be wrong to call this the definitive list. But I have no problems calling these five biopics phenomenal.
#5 – “BRIAN’S SONG” (1971) – I’m a huge sports fan. Whether it’s baseball, football, or hockey I really love following sports. But I’ve sometimes been mixed when it comes to sports movies. There are a ton of biopics in the sports genre but only a few real standouts. One of the great ones is “Brian’s Song”. It’s based on the true and touching story of Brian Piccolo as told by his lifelong friend Gale Sayers. The film chronicles the rivalry which turned to friendship all while weathering storms of racism and terminal illness. The film stars James Caan and Billy Dee Williams and they are fabulous. If you’re not familiar with the story I won’t ruin it for you. But let me just say you will be moved. It’s a rare sports biopic that shouldn’t be missed.
#4 – “MASK” (1985) – Some may have forgotten the 1985 drama “Mask”. I know I never will. The movie shares the story of Roy “Rocky” Dennis, a teenage boy suffering from an extremely rare disorder called craniodiaphyseal. It leaves Rocky with a severe cranial disfigurement but you would never know it by his vibrant love for baseball cards, aspirations for world travel, and a general love for life even though he faces difficulties most never will. Eric Stoltz is amazing as Rocky. He masterfully brings this young boy to life. Cher is nothing short of brilliant as Rocky’s struggling single mother as is Sam Elliott as a loyal and protective family friend. I adore this film and if it doesn’t affect you emotionally something may be wrong. It may not be a traditional biopic, but it’s one of the best.
#3 – “LA VIE EN ROSE” (2007) – Anyone familiar with the story of acclaimed French singer Edith Piaf knows it was a life filled with highs and lows. In “La Vie en Rose” it is brought to life through the eyes of director Olivier Dahan and through a stunning Oscar winning lead performance from Marion Cotillard. The film’s fractured narrative structure and use of flashbacks may not appeal to everyone. But I think it comes together beautifully to show what a difficult life this extremely talented woman had. But I always come back to Cotillard who literally loses herself in this role. Both physically and emmotionally, Cotillard gives a master class in acting. She is tremendous and this was a performance that made her one of my very favorites.
#2 – “A BEAUTIFUL MIND” (2001) – If anyone ever doubted Russell Crowe’s amazing range as an actor, “A Beautiful Mind” should easily cure that. Crowe is fantastic here but so is the story of John Nash. Nash is a genius and a master in economics and mathematics. His brilliance takes him on a remarkable journey to Princeton University and eventually to the U.S. government where he serves as a code breaker. But we also learn that John is a paranoid schizophrenic whose intelligence is hindered by delusional episodes. His troubles effects every area of his life including his family. It’s a difficult and heartbreaking story to watch yet there’s a wonderful warmth that director Ron Howard brings to the table. Simply put, it’s a beautiful film.
#1 – “SCHINDLER’S LIST” (1993) – Over the years I’ve found myself drawn to movies about the Jewish Holocaust. It marked one of the darkest times in our world’s history and I’m thankful that cinema gives us an avenue to always remember. There have been many films on the Holocaust but none better than “Schindler’s List”. The story of Oskar Schindler is heroic, troubling, transformative, and deeply stirring all at the same time. Liam Neeson delivers a career defining performance as he transforms this self-absorbed business opportunist into a man desperate to save as many Jews as possible from the Nazi barbarism. “Schindler’s List” is one of the toughest films to watch but it’s also one of the most satisfying and rewarding. An incredible film. An incredible story.
There are my five phenomenal biopics. Now it’s your turn. I would love to hear what would have made your list. What did I get wrong? Please take time to share your thoughts in the comments below.