/Answers: Our Favorite Biopics Of All Time

Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. Tying in with the release of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (which tells the story of how William Marston, Elizabeth Marston, and Olivia Byrne created Wonder Woman), this week's edition asks "What is your favorite biopic, or movie about the life of a real person?"

Man on the Moon Documentary

Ethan Anderton: Man on the Moon

Andy Kaufman was one of the most unique talents in the history of comedy, so it only makes sense that the biopic telling his life story follows suit. Infused with the spirit of Kaufman's meta comedic approach, the film not only acknowledges the audience, but pranks them throughout, especially those who aren't familiar with Andy Kaufman's antics in the 1970s and the early 1980s. It's a rare biopic where there are intriguing and hilarious twists, but they're not just for the sake of pulling the rug out from under the audience. Instead, these surprising turns create a sense of uncertainty that many felt about Andy Kaufman, making us unsure of the true identity of this brilliant mind. Who was the real Andy Kaufman?

Jim Carrey delivers a career-defining performance, one that will soon be chronicled in a documentary about the actor's choice to stay in character throughout the film's production, even when the cameras weren't rolling (you can find out more in our review of the doc from TIFF). The performance Carrey gives feels fueled by his own off-screen antics. At the height of his carer, Carrey was a total goofball, but as we've learned in recent years, as the actor gets more existential about life, we may not truly know the real Jim Carrey, much in the same way we never knew the real Andy Kaufman. That's a huge part of what makes his portrayal in this film so brilliant.

Director Milos Forman creates such a convincing portrait of Andy Kaufman that it's hard to imagine anyone doing it better. Using the real life celebrities who became embroiled in Kaufman's controversial comedy, as well as plenty of comedians in tiny supporting roles (keep an eye out for Patton Oswalt), this film is a comedy nerd's dream, and it's a damn good biopic to boot.

Vanessa Bogart: The Imitation Game

The origins of the MI6, a long held military intelligence secret, the end of WWII, and the beginning of the computer, Imitation Game is not just my favorite biopic, it is one of my favorite movies. Period.

A story that desperately needed telling, the life and work of Alan Turing is as fascinating as it is unbelievably tragic. However, The Imitation Game is no ordinary biographical film. While exploring Turing's life through parallels of his childhood in flashbacks and his top secret military task of cracking the Nazi Enigma machine, The Imitation Game manages to also be one of the best war movies I have ever seen. Much like Reservoir Dogs is a heist movie without a heist, Imitation Game shows the side of war that is usually never seen. It is an eye-opening exploration of the pen and paper side of battle.

Deeply misunderstood, Alan Turing is not the most likable of people, but Benedict Cumberbatch plays the role so beautifully that you can understand the array of emotions going on inside of Turing even when he is unable to convey them verbally. The three interweaving timelines of the film lead to the heartbreaking end. Just as we realize what an integral part Alan Turing played in winning the war against Nazi Germany, the narrative reminds us how deeply askew our moral compass can be, for this war hero, and the father computers, met his end tragically to suicide after being arrested for indecency. Being a homosexual was illegal and Imitation Game serves as a reminder of the cost of that kind of ignorance.

I can only dream about how advanced this computer would be had Alan Turing been able to continue his work for decades. The Imitation Game is a biopic with many faces and I look forward to watching it for years to come, not just because of its historical relevance or the fact that it is a brilliant film, but to honor the tragic enigma at its center.

Ben Pearson: The Social Network

Let's face it: biopics can often be formulaic and frankly, a bit tiresome. But I doubt anyone would ever use those words to describe David Fincher's 2010 masterwork, The Social Network. Chronicling the invention and rise of Facebook through the eyes of key players like Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Sean Parker, and the Winklevoss twins, the film sounds, on paper, like a monumentally dumb concept. A movie about Facebook? Really? It earns the highest ranking possible on the Lord & Miller Scale of "Movies That Sound Like A Terrible Idea."

But thankfully, Fincher's famously (and obsessively) precise direction married perfectly with a stellar script by master wordsmith Aaron Sorkin and resulted in a mesmerizing, kinetic drama that's downright Shakespearean. Whether or not the film is entirely accurate ceases to matter when you're watching something this purely entertaining, and terrific performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, and more elevate what could have been a made-for-TV retelling of events into something operatic and captivating. I'm not bothered by the fact that it's not a comprehensive look into Zuckerberg's life, or that it may have mischaracterized some of the actions and motivations of the players involved. This movie has the goods, and this ranks pretty high up there in terms of rewatchability for me, which isn't something that can be said about a lot of biopics.

Hoai-Tran Bui: Catch Me If You Can

A movie so vivacious that you would be forgiven for not realizing it's a biopic, Catch Me If You Can combins the talents of two of Hollywood's most charismatic movie stars at their prime with Steven Spielberg's directorial talents.

Catch Me If You Can follows the exploits of real-life con man Frank Abagnale Jr., who, by age 18, had forged millions of dollars and evaded arrest by posing as a pilot, lawyer, and doctor. The movie at times plays like a hazy 1960s period piece fantasy, with Leonardo DiCaprio's Frank charming his way through life and away from capture by Tom Hanks' persistent FBI Agent Carl Hanratty. The film manages to avoid most of the stumbling blocks of biopics by keeping up an almost breakneck pace, buoyed by DiCaprio's magnetic performance and John Wiliams' jazzy score.

But Catch Me If You Can isn't just all style — as much as the rivalry between DiCaprio and Hanks feels like a gleeful cat-and-mouse game, it also provides the emotional heft of the movie. The two actors go toe-to-toe in onscreen presence and charisma, and it makes Catch Me If You Can never feel like a chore to watch. Add the stellar supporting turns by Christopher Walken (Oscar-nominated for his role), and Amy Adams, and Catch Me If You Can easily finishes first in biopics.

Matt Donato: The Wolf of Wall Street

"When you sail on a boat fit for a Bond villain, sometimes you need to play the part."

Wolf of Wall Street is Martin Scorsese at his best, Leonardo DiCaprio at his best, and biographical filmmaking at its best. The film – a veritable Willy Wonka's tale of American corruption – brings to life the mostly true adventures of Wall Street crook Jordan Belfort. The mountains of coke inhaled through rolled hundreds, the outrageous parties, the quaalude trips and lamborghini smash-ups – all of it. Scorsese isn't out to paint a black-and-white depiction of either nefarious evil or risen redemption. Belfort's cinematic inspiration is told in a too-wild-to-be-true fashion without a moral compass with absurdity on blast. A wolf who chewed his way to the top, then tumbled down towards rock-bottom, hitting every branch on the way.

Go on YouTube and you'll find a billion different vidoes suggesting "The Best Scene From Wolf Of Wall Street." A popular favorite is Leo's yacht interaction with Kyle Chandler, where Jordan attempts to bribe a federal agent. Maybe it's the first Aerotyne penny stock sale that Jordan makes, fleecing $2K in profit on his first sales call. Or how can we forget Matthew McConaughey "releasing" some stress and punching his chest like a stock-market warrior all during lunch? In the vein of The Big Short (which I also adore), this is an underbelly shakeup encrusted in gold – but that doesn't mean Scorsese can't have fun along the way.

You're supposed to hate Belfort's boys-club mentality being blown to carnivalesque proportions – business plans being hatched during vacation home beer pong games – but, as someone who works in the business trade by day, there's a sick realness to it all. My perspective is that of desk worker who recognizes ambition and pins a shark, curious as to how things escalate so quickly. Leo's performance transforms from Bronx-born family man to an international playboy and the "how" always remains in focus. How did he not die from an overdose? How did he skirt legal consequence for so long? How was he allowed to manhandle the system? You want to believe it could never happen, yet, from a corporate angle, some of this insanity is all too familiar. Truly, disgustingly fascinating.

A star-making role for Margot Robbie is just the tip of praise that could be stated about one of the decade's best get-rich-quick stories and how ultimate power corrupts (not far from Pain & Gain). Any movie that runs three hours and keeps my attention for every single second is a miraculous conception, but a movie that can go three hours and have me begging for more? Wolf of Wall Street is my Great White Buffalo. The cast, direction, tonality – all perfect. This is not a hero's tale, but a conniving jester's rise to power complete with Newton's assured plummet back downwards. One damn fine biopic.

Jacob Hall: I'm Not There

The problem with so many biopics is that they attempt to force a person's life to fit a specific movie template. The fact that so many movies based on complex and colorful characters follow the exact same beats has become a joke unto itself. Just look to the mere existence of the brilliant parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. People are complex. People change. People are square pegs that somehow manage to fit in round holes. People, real people, don't often make the best movie characters.

And that may be why Todd Haynes' I'm Not There is the best biopic of all time. This is not a movie about the life of musician Bob Dylan, but a movie about his impossible contradictions and multiple personas. Rather than attempt to explain his journey, Haynes tosses you into a beautiful experiment, a portrait of the same person split into six completely different characters who shouldn't represent the same person. But they do. Because people are complicated. And Bob Dylan was (and remains) more complicated than most. After all, he's played here by Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Ben Whishaw, and Marcus Carl Franklin. That's quite the line-up for a single human being.

This means that I'm Not There is frustrating by design, leaping from one persona to another and relying on your outside knowledge of Bob Dylan to assemble the pieces and understand the intention. That means that Haynes wants you to do your homework, to revisit the film, and grapple with the riddle of his character(s). That's a lot of work for a single movie, but the film is mysterious and funny and weird and thrilling enough to warrant your attention and devotion. If you want to truly love I'm Not There, you have to understand that the pieces don't always align. And wouldn't you know it? That's also the key to truly loving Bob Dylan.

Chris Evangelista: Ed Wood

Biopics can often be stale and formulaic. Which is why when a good biopic comes along, it's like a breath of fresh air. "Ah-ha!" you think. "This is how they should all be done!" Case in point: Tim Burton's 1994 biopic of the "worst movie director of all time," Ed Wood. Arguably the last great film Burton made before he fell into self-parody mode, and probably the last really good performance of Johnny Depp's career before he descended into permanent schtick, Ed Wood takes a look back at the woefully inept Edward D. Wood Jr., a filmmaker who helmed truly terrible films like Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space. While it would've been very easy to make a film that mercilessly mocked Wood, the power in the film comes from Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski's genuinely touching script, which approaches Wood lovingly, even respectfully.Yes, Wood made some really bad movies, but Ed Wood doesn't care about that. What it cares about is shining a light on a person who refused to give up on his dreams, even if those dreams were kind of silly. There's a lot to love about Ed Wood, especially Martin Landau's Academy Award winning performance as original Dracula actor, Bela Lugosi. Lugosi was a washed-up has-been hooked on morphine when Wood plucked him from obscurity, and Landau's performance is both funny and poignant; a respectful tribute to a giant that Hollywood tossed into the waste bin after it had used him up. Ed Wood is a film for anyone who's ever been told their dreams were stupid, and dared to dream them anyway. It's the personification of the Oscar Wilde quote, "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

Lindsey Romain: Jackie

I normally hate biopics. There's something about watching a celebrity struggle through make-up and a clunky mimic that distracts me from whatever story is unfolding. There are exceptions, of course, and the great big one for me is Pablo Larraín's Jackie. The film is a gothic retelling of the assassination of JFK through the eyes of his wife. It's a story we Americans know like the back of our hand, but the emotions and surreality of that monumental loss were never so palpable.

Jackie is a bizarre movie that utilizes horror tropes – sharp angles, ambient music – to propel us through the aftermath of JFK's death, so see the mania that surrounds a moment so big. At the center of it all is Natalie Portman as Jackie, a performance that, to my mind, is one of the finest I've ever seen. Portman does an excellent job of aping Jackie O's upper-class Atlantic accent, with its strange, breathy enunciations, but she's never lost in her iconography. It's a brave, fierce performance that isn't afraid to get a little weird, and Portman has just the right finesse for the big moments. I also love that the film has some fun with Jackie's interiority, something the public was never quite attuned to. My favorite moment is shortly after John's death, when she sips liquor from a chunky glass and trapezes about the White House, trying on dresses, putting on her jewelry, dolling herself up to distract from the pain that would otherwise drown her. It's such a real moment, and such a womanly moment, that I'm lost in the beauty of it every time.

Christopher Stipp: Goodfellas

I'm convinced it's the little details.

Some would say it's the Copacabana tracking shot or any number of quintessential moments in Goodfellas that makes it so enduring but I would say it's all in the way Paulie slices that piece of garlic, literally, razor thin when he's in the joint with Henry Hill and Co. The movie has so much ground to cover it's a wonder that every scene is as engaging as it is. Of course it's in the writing, of course it's the direction, but not every artistic outing is guaranteed to be a movie destined for the AFI Top 100. What makes Goodfellas such an amazing biographical movie was how it used good source material to then cinematically tell the tale of a man, and crew, that seemingly defied anything coming close to real life. The factual details in retelling the story of a man who rose through the ranks of organized crime in and of itself something of a novel yarn but add in a heavy dose of Martin Scorsese's talent to distill the facts into something more than mere reality and you have the one movie that hooks you no matter where you stumble into it. But, that's the charm, right? To be able and enter the movie at any feeder ramp and be completely enveloped in its story which is simple, brutal, and succeeds within the details.

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