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.
I haven’t seen most of those but I agree that Schindler’s List is truly brilliant. My list would definitely include Milk, Coco Before Chanel and Kinsey.
There are just so many good biopics. Hope you get a chance to check some of these other films out too.
I’m definitely going to add them to my list. But I also want to add a Royal Affair to my previous list. I’ve got to do this as a top 10 soon!
Love Cotillard in La Vie En Rose and Schindler’s List. Terrific post Keith!
Thanks! I’m with you. Love both of those! And there are many others that could have easily been mentioned. Hollywood lives the biopic!
So true, maybe you should expand the list ;).
What? No Raging Bull? I’m shocked, man. 😉
Brian’s Song sounds interesting, though. I’ve never actually heard of that before.
Brian’s Song was originally a TV movie. But the huge reception eventually granted it a theater release. Strong film.
Raging Bull is absent mainly because of what I mentioned on your recent review – I really need to rewatch it. I remember I loved it but I don’t remember enough about it. Plus I kinda figured it would get mentioned! 😉
Fair enough! I do remember you saying that now.
I must check out Brian Song, though. Sounds like something I could get into.
Brian’s Song was available on YouTube at one point. The whole movie. I don’t really care for watching movies on such small screens but it’s one avenue for checking it out.
Nice one, man. I’ll try that.
Great post, Mask is such an emotional film that really touches you.
Glad to hear someone else really loves Mask. It’s extremely powerful. It’s funny, I haven’t seen it in a while yet I remember almost everything about it. I’ve probably watched it 10 or 15 times, just not recently. Really want to check it out again.
Nice list. My favorite would be between Raging Bull and GoodFellas, followed by 8 1/2.
That’s an excellent list itself. Appreciate the mentions.
I’m guilty of not having seen 3 of ’em Keith 😦 I haven’t heard of Brian’s Song but that sounds wonderful. Of course I really need to see La Vie en Rose. Glad to see Schindler’s List on here, it’s on my top 5 as well 😀
What about Mask? I really had to put it on here. Have you seen it by chance?
No I haven’t yet, but there are sooo many biopics out there I’ve missed out on as well.
Oh please see it. Mask really is great. So much emotion. I’m really wanting to see it again soon. Would live to see a Flixchatter review of it! 🙂
Embarrassed to admit I’ve only seen A Beautiful Mind out of these. Definitely agree with you about Crowe’s performance; it’s a great one. I have always felt that he should have won an oscar for it instead of his performance in Gladiator the year before. I really have to see Schindler’s List one of these days, but I’ve been too scared to so far.
Hope you get to rewatch Raging Bull at some point! Great great film, I need a rewatch as well. Another great biopic from Scorsese is The Aviator, the first film I saw of his. Leo gives a great performance as Howard Hughes and Cate Blanchett is also great as Katharine Hepburn!
Though my favorite biopic has to Lawrence of Arabia! One of my favorite movies of all time, great cinematography, great performances all around, especially from Peter O’Toole. Fascinating character study of a man you never fully get to know.
Great list! I’ll have to check out some more of these films! There are so many biopics to choose from, it’s nice to get some other recommendations.
Love the mention of Lawrence of Arabia! That’s another film I’m hungry to revisit. And Leo was fabulous in The Aviator wasn’t he. Still wondering when his Oscar is going to come.
Aren’t we all? ha ha! I’m hoping it’ll be this year with The Wolf of Wall Street. I don’t know what the internet will do if he gets passed over again!
This is an excellent list, no problems with it except it leans recent. Brian’s Song is a perfect inclusion even though it was a TV film. I can’t believe the number of people who said they’d never heard of it. Come on, it’s one of the few movies guys are allowed to cry at. Here are some other suggestions from the fabulous 1970s:
Coal Miner’s Daughter
The Buddy Holly Story
Bound For Glory
all of them are worthy of your readers attention.
Technically Coal Miners Daughter is 1980.
Great list especially Patton which would have easily made it except I wanted a little more variety. I’m a huge fan of that film.
Brian’s Song did get a brief theater release after its TV success.
I’m just not a fan of the biopic. I can’t really think of one off the top of my head I have truly enjoyed. I much prefer watching documentaries about the real people. Biopics… eh. Milk was good. Ali was excellent come to think of it. Maybe I just need to see some more!
Biopics are really hit or miss. When they’re good they can be great. They can also be really, really flat if not done well.
Brian’s song always chokes me up.
You old softy!!! 😉
Ah “Brian’s Song”, the movie that makes all manly men cry–and not have a problem about it.
LOL! Exactly! Such a good story and two really good lead performances.
I’m ashamed to admit I have only seen Schindler’s List off this list, though I do have A Beautiful Mind coming soon for my project. One of my personal favorite biopics is Capote, but I may be somewhat biased since I watched it immediately after reading In Cold Blood.
Isn’t “In Cold Blood” great?
Hopefully you’ll get a chance to see some of these soon, especially Mask. It’s one that many may not remember or be at all familiar with. It’ll hit ya hard though. Very good film.
Very nice list. Great to see John Nash’s story there, really fascinating one. My list would have included the film ‘The Pianist’ – the life of a Polish pianist Wladek Szpilman, and, although there is nothing too inspiration here, I love the way they portrayed the life of George Jung in ‘Blow’ with Johnny Depp.
I’m so glad someone mentioned “The Pianist”! I love that film and it would have made this list except that it will be appearing on a different one really soon. Such a great movie.
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Have to admit I only saw your top 2 picks, but have heard good things about La Vie En Rose…
Check out Rose whenever you get a chance. It’s such a good movie built around a truly brilliant performance.
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