Life is better when someone makes a movie out of it.
Doug: Patton (1970; dir. Franklin J. Schaffner) While I dig Walk the Line more for the music than the story (Johnny Cash is the bomb, even when impersonated by Joaquin Phoenix), Patton is probably my favorite biopic (pronounced by-YAH-pic, only if you're an idiot like Dean Richards). Did you know that Francis Ford Coppola wrote (or co-wrote, depending on who you talk to) the screenplay? The man makes some great wine too! He's responsible for the famous opening scene in which George C. Scott (as General George S. Patton) delivers a motivational speech to the Third Army in front of a giant American flag. It almost never happened, however, as Coppola explains here. It's hard to imagine this film without its most iconic scene. Patton holds up -- even 42 years(!) later -- and moves much quicker than its 170 minute runtime would have you believe. If you like war movies and haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for?
“Eddie's the only fella in town who doesn't pass judgment on people. “
“That's right. If I did, I wouldn't have any friends.”
American Splendor (2003, dir. Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulci) One of the cable movie channels has been showing this all month, so I have been able to see it about five more times. Needless to say, it is “re-watchable.” Co-directors and co-screenwriters Berman and Pulci not only adapt Harvey Pekar’s ground breaking comic book to the screen, but they pull off a cinematic tour-de-force and provide film classes everywhere with a neat, convenient definition of META. The film is part documentary (the real Harvey Pekar appears and narrates), part biopic (Paul Giametti stars as the “fictional” Harvey Pekar), and part animated comic book. At one point the fictional Harvey goes to California to see a play based on his comic book and watches a scene we have just witnessed in the movie -- this time acted out on stage by Donal Logue as a second fictional Harvey Pekar. The real Harvey Pekar’s voice-over explains how he felt seeing his life fictionalized and wonders what he will think about the movie we are watching. “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.”
There seems to be some dissent on the interwebs in relation to what defines a bio pic. I see Goodfellas on a bio pic list and think, “Well, of course it’s the best. ONE of the best.” But it is one of the best MOVIES… I’m not sure it counts as a biopic just because it is based on a true story. Same with The Social Network, Hotel Rwanda… the list could go on.
1. Raging Bull (1980; dir. Martin Scorsese) I got to see this on the big screen a couple years ago when a suburban Chicago theater ran old MGM movies once a week in the summer. I LOVED it -- what a timeless Scorsese film. I was late to the party with Raging Bull, but so lucky to see it in the theater.
2. Into the Wild (2007; dir. Sean Penn) Emile Hirsch’s performance is so believable; I could not stop thinking about this movie (or Christopher McCandless) for weeks after it came out. I don’t have a desire to live alone in the wild, but this film made me understand someone who did… (Side note: I’m still genuinely heartbroken that Eddie Vedder’s music for the movie did not get any Oscar recognition. I guess “Hard Sun” did not qualify for Best Song because it is a cover.)
3. Persepolis (2007; dir. Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi) Animated feature version of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel. It’s smart, sad, educational, funny, and moving.
Do those count? I think I broke my own rule… What do you guys think? Do you have rigid definitions for a biographical movie?
Let me be perfectly clear. We tend -- with good reason -- to avoid hot-button political issues here at F This Movie!, but I carry an unblemished record of staunch anti-cold-blooded-murder values with me. I'm speaking on this issue purely from a storytelling perspective. Jenkins -- who, astonishingly, is without a feature credit to her name before OR since this movie -- is downright masterful at building a world in which the deck is so decidedly stacked against Aileen Wuornos that it's a wonder she made it as far along in life as she did before everything went completely off the rails.
Jenkins does this chiefly by juxtaposing Wuornos's horrific crimes with her tumultuous union with troubled youth Selby. Charlize Theron rightly earned the lion's share of critical praise and Academy hardware for her performance, but the film also contains some of the best work Christina Ricci has ever done. The sheer vulnerability she exudes is overwhelming in that perfect way that makes you think maybe you shouldn't even be watching, like your observation is an intrusion into these characters' personal hell.
In a movie so steeped in the absolute worst parts of humanity, it's a wonder that Jenkins is able to give us even one hint of something optimistic. But she does, with spades, in a near-perfect sequence in a roller rink set to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'." Just watch it. Speaks for itself.
Finally, because her performance became noteworthy for "uglying it up," I think Theron's work in Monster is actually underrated. If the true measure of great acting is very simply making the viewer believe that you ARE the person you're portraying, then this is one of the better performances in the history of movies, right? It's more than goofy makeup gimmicks and funny accent. Theron is living inside Wuornos's skin.