In finding a topic for this article I found myself thinking back on some of the films I’ve watched and re-watched over this year-long quarantine period. In that rumination, I found a bit of a trend – I happen to watch a lot of biopics. So, allow me to yell at you in a textual form about why you should watch my recommendations. These films depict everything from entertainers to politicians. Now, please sit back and allow me; a pretentious undergraduate film major to tell you what to like… because I’m right (in no particular order).
#1 – Walk the Line (2006)
This Johnny Cash biographical drama is a true modern classic. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a masterful performance in the titular role. Personally, I believe he deserved an Oscar that year but hey, I was six – so clearly, I was about two years from having an academy vote at that point. While having a number of memorable scenes and musical performances, the film also succeeds in providing a very human depiction of Cash’s struggles with substance abuse. Verdict – watch it and learn that not all country music sucks.
#2 A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)
Who doesn’t love Mr. Rogers? Rhetorical question – everyone loves Mr. Rogers. Even better, Tom Hanks plays him. That’s probably enough to get any rational human being to put this on their watch list. BUT! I have a bit more to say. The film has an interesting composition given that the real main character is Lloyd Vogel, a pseudo-fictional journalist played by Matthew Rhys. His very relatable performance combined with Tom Hanks’ very tender showing as Mr. Rogers as he guides Lloyd through his growth is a heartwarming and thought-provoking journey. Verdict – watch and cry at the end of this film
#3 Vice (2018)
You might know Adam McKay from directing films such as Old School and The Big Short. In his second-up bat at the historical drama plate, he knocked it out of the park with his depiction of everybody’s early 2000s, love-to-hate-him politician – Dick Cheney. The film follows his career and personal life up to his puppet master-esc vice-presidential term alongside George Bush: the president you could have a beer with. Christian Bale and Amy Adams deliver stellar performances as Dick and Lynne, but Sam Rockwell’s bumbling Bush is a standout as well. And hey, you literally get to see Cheney’s heart removed, so that’s fun. Verdict – watch and feel disgusted by American politics for a whole slew of new reasons.
#4 Mank (2020)
The most recent entry on this list is a depiction of Hollywood screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz. For the uninitiated, that’s the guy who wrote Citizen Kane and if you didn’t know, talking about Citizen Kane is like crack cocaine to a 20-year-old, pretentious know-it-all film major such as myself. The story follows Gary Oldman’s Mank as he penned the script for the legendary film while jumping around the era to give greater political and personal context to the film’s inspirations. To simplify, it shows how much of an a**hole a 1930s newspaper mogul could be. The supporting cast fills out nicely with excellent turns by Amanda Seyfried as a friend and confident Marion Davies and Tom Burke doing his best Orson Welles impression. Verdict – watch and blame all of society’s problems on the media.
#5 Get on Up (2014)
If you watch any movie on this list, please let it be this one. Here’s the pitch: A nonlinear tale of the life and times of THE King of Soul – James Brown. Even better, he’s played to perfection by Chadwick Boseman. The late actor kills it with the impression and the dancing, for my money this is one of the gone too soon but not soon to be forgotten actor’s best roles. It’s good pacing and funky soundtrack will keep you glued to your seat. Verdict – watch, try and fail to dance like James Brown.
So that’s my list. All great for a movie night or entire day or whatever, time has been meaningless for almost a year now. So kick back, grab a drink and have a good time with one of these great biopics.