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Feature: Best Biopics

Biopics Redux

Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in The Doors

We took a look at some of the greatest biographical movies. Didn't see your favourite film in the mag? Never fear – because here are some more…

Nixon (1995)
Real Life: Former US president Richard M Nixon
On Screen: Anthony Hopkins
Oliver Stone’s film spans the whole life of disgraced President Nixon, from boy to leader of the free world. Hopkins perfectly portrays the political powerhouse who watches his presidency fall apart, while Stone’s mix of colour and black and white binds this contemporary movie in a real sense of history.

Amadeus (1984)
Real Life: Classic composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
On Screen: Tom Hulce
Mozart remains one of history’s greatest composers, and Milos Forman’s colourful story tells of the man and his music. Narrated by Antonio Salieri (F Murray Abraham) and told through flashbacks, what unravels is an energetic story of passion and revenge. Hulce is perfectly cast as the music maestro in a role that almost went to Mel Gibson.

Elizabeth (1998)
Real Life: English monarch Elizabeth I
On Screen: Cate Blanchett
In Shekhar Kapur’s retelling of the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, religious and political intrigue, questions of loyalty and monarchical pressures combine to create a thrilling snapshot of British history. The key to the success of the film is Blanchett's performance, embodying as she does both regal power and intense vulnerability.

Goodfellas (1990)
Real Life: Mobster turned informant Henry Hill
On Screen: Ray Liotta
Truly the greatest mob film ever made (and yes, that includes The Godfather), this is also one of the most entertaining biopics out there. Liotta is on career best form as Hill, the young lad who rose through the ranks of the New York mafia only to turn police informant when the net closed in. A colourful supporting cast plus inspired direction from Martin Scorsese earns this film its place in the top films of all time.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Real Life: The controversial British military figure TE Lawrence
On Screen: Peter O’Toole
David Lean’s Oscar-winning biography of TE Lawrence stars O’Toole as the young British lieutenant who becomes an observer with an Arab tribal army while stationed in North Africa. Although Lean originally wanted Albert Finney for the role, it is now hard to imagine anyone other than O’Toole embodying the eccentricity and dedication of Lawrence.

Born on the Fourth of July
Real Life: Paralyzed Vietnam veteran and peace protestor Ron Kovic
On Screen: Tom Cruise
Before his ill-advised look at the life of Alexander the Great, Oliver Stone fared much better with this powerful look at Vietnam vet Ron Kovic who, after being paralyzed in combat, becomes a fervent anti-war activist. Regardless of your views on the recent behaviour of Cruise, there’s no denying his exceptional performance in an emotionally and physically demanding role. Kovic himself collaborated with Stone on the screenplay.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Real Life: Wild West robbers Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid
On Screen: Paul Newman (Butch) & Robert Redford (Sundance)
This classic Western comedy adventure details the exploits of legendary gang members Butch and Sundance, whose combination of brains and brawn allow them to carry out daring robberies. The film-makers search for authenticity was helped no end by the real Butch Cassidy’s sister, who used to regale the crew with details of the duo’s escapades.

Evita (1996)
Real Life: Actress and Argentinean President’s wife Eva Peron
On Screen: Madonna
After a series of flop movies, Madonna seriously needed a hit. And Alan Parker’s biography of actress Eva Duarte who became the wife of Argentinean President Juan Peron proved to be it. Nailing the dramatic facets of the character, as well as the musical elements, Madonna puts in a career topping performance and does Peron proud.

The Straight Story (1999)
Real Life: Elderly American man Alvin Straight
On Screen: Richard Farnsworth
After The Elephant Man, director David Lynch surprised yet again with this understated yet delightful look at remarkable senior citizen Alvin Straight. When his brother fell ill, the 73-year-old travelled hundreds of miles across rural America to see him – on a lawn mower. The late Farnsworth puts in a restrained yet emotional performance, while Lynch’s simple direction allows this remarkable tale to take centre stage.

The Doors (1991)
Real Life: The Doors charismatic lead singer Jim Morrison
On Screen: Val Kilmer
Yes, it’s another Oliver Stone biopic and this time the object of his attention is rock singer Jim Morrison. Kilmer’s snake-hipped turn as the lizard king is spot on –a far better choice than Tom Cruise, Jason Patric and John Travolta, all of who were considered for the role. The film could have been made with the real-life Jim Morrison, however, if he had agreed to Stone’s movie pitch 20 years before this film was made…

by Nikki Baughan

Check out our other top biopics in
Film Review (Mar)

Image © Momentum Pictures Home Ent
Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

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Film Review (Mar), see below for ordering options
Film Review (Mar)
#667, March 2006
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