Your Top Three: Best Biopics

Your Top Three: Best Biopics

Jan 21, 2014

Your Top Three is a series here at Movies.com where we choose a topic and you give us your top three picks.


Depending on your favor for movies like Nixon, W. and The Doors, you might be disappointed about Oliver Stone's Martin Luther King Jr. biopic falling apart. Or perhaps you've been satisfied enough with so many portrayals of the civil rights leader in numerous theatrical and TV movies in the past that you don't mind at all. If there is room for another exhaustive effort, though, maybe it'd be better directed by someone like Lee Daniels or Steve McQueen.

Daniels actually just featured him in his latest movie, The Butler, and could maybe spin the biography off from there. McQueen's latest, 12 Years a Slave, is one of the best biopics in decades and also involves a matter of human rights for African-Americans. McQueen has also made an even greater biopic of sorts: Hunger, about IRA hunger-strike leader Bobby Sands.

I tend to want to not call something a biopic if it's not an extensive life story, as in the case of Hunger and many other movies that blindly receive the label simply for being about real people. Nixon is a biopic but not Frost/Nixon, basically. D.W. Griffith's Abraham Lincoln but not Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. It doesn't have to include a birth and a death, but it should span more time than a single major event. 

I also exclude biographical documentaries (one of the best of which just debuted at Sundance: Life Itself). To me, biopics are dramatic, sometimes exaggerated portraits starring an actor doing something that borders impression. I probably could include some roman a clef movies since they fit that description, though if I count Velvet Goldmine, I really ought to also count its model, Citizen Kane, and it's difficult to defend that as an actual Hearst biopic. 

Here are my top three biopics:

1. American Splendor - Harvey Pekar was mostly only known for the autobiographical graphic novel that this movie is based on, so it's easy to forget that this is still a biopic and not just a comic book adaptation. It's still one of the most clever films of this genre, especially in the way it employs a mix of the real Pekar with animations of his comic book self and the actor portraying him (Paul Giamatti).

2. Lenny - Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce! Sure it's one of those biopics where a lot of the movie is just reenactments of familiar performances, something that has been very interesting but sort of weirdly unnecessary, too (I believe Man on the Moon is basically a satire of the practice). I don't know if this is the first to really do that, but it remains one of the very best and most underrated. 

3. The Doors - This is just a guilty pleasure because I really, really love the Doors and don't care that it strays very far from facts. It's still the only movie about the myth of the rock star we ever need. And Val Kilmer does a great Jim Morrison. 

Your Picks (the top three being Ed Wood, Lawrence of Arabia and I'm Not There):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Agent Frank Hurd