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The 411 Movies Top 5 12.20.13: Top 5 Biopics
Posted by Shawn S. Lealos on 12.20.2013

Welcome to Week 405 of the Movie Zone Top 5. My name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world.

The 411mania writers were given the following instructions: With Saving Mr. Banks expanding into a wide release (as well as Mandella), lets count down our Top 5 biopics. These just need to be movies that tells the story of a real life person, either their life story or an important event in their life.


Bryan Kristopowitz


5. Walk the Line (2005)

This great biopic about country music legend Johnny Cash features top notch performances by Joaquin Phoenix as the man in black himself Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as the love of Cash's life June Carter (Witherspoon won on Oscar for her work here) and great music. Of course, you'd expect that kind of thing when it comes to Johnny Cash, but instead of just having Phoenix and company lip synch to the original recordings they all actually sing on their own. Phoenix doesn't really sound like the real Johnny Cash, but he sounds good enough for the sake of the movie. Yes, the moviemakers take some liberties with the facts, but then, in the end, it's just a movie and isn't meant to be documentary. This has become one of the few movies that I can watch again and again and never get tired of (just for the record, 48 Hrs and Nuns on the Run are two more movies I can never get tired of).


4. The Ron Clark Story (2006)

This TV movie stars Mathew Perry (in one of his best performances as an actor) as Ron Clark, an idealistic small town teacher that decides to take a job teaching troubled students at a public school in New York City. The movie plays out pretty much like you'd expect it to: the troubled students don't like Clark and don't understand why he's so interested in them, school officials don't understand what Clark is doing and don't want him "rocking the boat," and Clark almost quits due to frustration. But it all somehow works out in the end. Clark succeeds, the kids succeed, and just about everyone lives happily ever after. It's the kind of story Hollywood usually shits its pants over. But it was a TV network that made it, that decided to tell Clark's story. I'm kind of surprised that the network didn't instead attempt to tell the story of the founding of Clark's school in Georgia, the Ron Clark Academy, but perhaps they're waiting to do that as a sequel. My favorite thing about the movie is


3. Greased Lightning (1977)

"Greased Lightning" stars Richard Pryor as Wendell Scott, the first black driver to ever win a major NASCAR race. It's a biographical movie that, yes, plays a little loose with the facts of Scott's life and moves some things around and invents stuff for dramatic effect, but it's still essentially accurate. Scott had to deal with a lot of bullshit as a driver throughout his whole career but he managed to overcome it all and win anyway. Quite inspiring. The movie and Scott's essentially story is also an indictment against NASCAR and auto racing in general because the wall Scott broke down was quickly rebuilt. In fact, NASCAR didn't have a second black driver win a major race until 2013. Why the hell did it take fifty years for it to happen again? Why is diversity such a dirty word?


2. Ed Wood (1994)

The great thing about Tim Burton's biopic on the prolifically bad but enthusiastic anyway movie director Ed Wood is that Burton never tries to sugarcoat just how bad a director Ed Wood was. Burton clearly loves Wood and his attitude about making movies (do whatever it takes to get what you want to see up on the screen, even if you don't know what you're doing) but he can't make Wood's movies seem better than they actually are. But then, even with that reality, you still kind of end up rooting for Wood anyway. Think about the film premiere scene, where the audience turns against Wood's movie and all Wood can really do is accept it and move on. Or the scene where Wood's leading lady freaks out and essentially says that the movie Wood is making is terrible. His ineptness never seemed all that important to him, or real. One of Burton's best.


1. Hoffa (1992)

Hoffa is Danny DeVito's best movie as a director and one of star Jack Nicholson's best performances. While the movie is sympathetic to Jimmy Hoffa's ultimate goal of mass unionization and helping the working man achieve a better standard of living it doesn't shy away from how nasty he could be and the kind of people he ended up hanging out with, mainly ruthless mobsters. DeVito finds the right balance between the two sides of Hoffa's life and it's just a joy to watch. I am still in awe of this movie twenty plus years later. I am also in awe of Robert Prosky's performance as the incredibly foul mouthed Billy Flynn. In fact, I am in awe of the level and kind of profanity on display in this movie. I don't think I've ever heard the word "cocksucker" so many times in one movie.

Shawn S. Lealos

5. The Elephant Man

When Elephant Man is considered a directors most mainstream movie, that should tell you everything you need to know about David Lynch. Joseph Merrick was a man born with serious deformities that would have made him fit in better at a traveling carnival than in normal society, which is where he spent much of his adult life until being betrayed robbed and left alone. Lynch created a movie that perfectly displayed his unique and tragic life, a movie that received eight Oscar nominations and helped create the Academy Award for makeup effects one year too late.

4. American Splendor

American Splendor is a semi-autobiographical, animated comic of the late Harvey Pekar's life. In this graphic novel, Pekar introduces us to the interesting characters he meets and the strange conversations he overheard when he worked as a filing clerk in a dead-end job. When his comic hit the mainstream, he added some interesting takes on how the media referenced his once mundane life. The movie stars Paul Giamatti as Pekar, providing a brilliant look at the normal, everyman who turned himself into a celebrity.

3. Lawrence of Arabia

Even if this wasn't one of the best movies ever made, I would still put in here in honor of Peter O'Toole, who passed away this week. O'Toole just a few short years after making his film debut, starred as T.E. Lawrence in David Lean's spectacular movie that follows his excursions in Arabia during World War II. When looking at epic movies, none are more epic than Lawrence of Arabia. RIP, Mr. O'Toole.

2. Raging Bull

While Rocky was a movie about an underdog fighting for respect, Raging Bull was a movie about a boxing champion fighting his own demons and the fact it was a biopic of a real man makes this a very scary movie. Robert De Niro stars as Jake La Motta in this movie based on the life of the real life fighter. Director Martin Scorsese does not avoid the controversy as the movie focuses on the personal life of La Motta as his wife-beating, paranoid ways marked the end of his successful career. The boxing scenes are also some of the best ever filmed, shot in black and white and framed beautifully to show the violence inflicted on the boxers.

1. Ed Wood

In Plan 9 from Outer Space, Tor Johnson starred as one of the main antagonists, a monstrous man. In the biopic of that movie's director, Ed Wood, WWE superstar George "The Animal" Steele took on the role as Tor. The movie was fantastic, with Burton shooting it in beautiful black and white and Johnny Depp turning in a great performance as Ed Wood. Burton is a polarizing filmmaker, but this movie remains his true masterpiece, one that he doesn't rely on his gothic crutches to pull off and one that it was clear he made out of a true love for his subject.


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