Honor roll: Biography films

Each of these Biography films has received at least one award nomination. They are ranked by honors received.

Film:The Last Emperor

The Last Emperor

Bernardo Bertolucci

Bernardo Bertolucci does the nearly impossible with this sweeping, grand epic that tells a very personal tale. The story is a dramatic history of Pu Yi, the last of the emperors of China. It follows his life from its elite beginnings in the Forbidden City, where he was crowned at age three and worshipped by half a billion people. He was later forced to abdicate and, unable to fend for himself in the outside world, became a dissolute and exploited shell of a man. He died in obscurity, living as a peasant in the People’s Republic. We never really warm up to John…

Film:The Social Network

The Social Network

David Fincher

Every age has its visionaries who leave, in the wake of their genius, a changed world—but rarely without a battle over exactly what happened and who was there at the moment of creation. The Social Network explores the moment at which Facebook was invented—through the warring perspectives of the super-smart young men who each claimed to be there at its inception.

The film moves from the halls of Harvard to the cubicles of Palo Alto to capture the heady early days of a culture-changing phenomenon in the making—and the way it both pulled a group of young revolutionaries together and then split them apart. In the midst of the chaos are Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the brilliant Harvard student who conceived a website; Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), once Zuckerberg’s close friend, who provided the seed money for the fledgling company; Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) who brought Facebook to Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists; and the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer…[more]

Film:Goodfellas

Goodfellas

Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s 1990 masterpiece GoodFellas immortalizes the hilarious, horrifying life of actual gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), from his teen years on the streets of New York to his anonymous exile under the Witness Protection Program. The director’s kinetic style is perfect for recounting Hill’s ruthless rise to power in the 1950s as well as his drugged-out fall in the late 1970s; in fact, no one has ever rendered the mental dislocation of cocaine better than Scorsese. Scorsese uses period music perfectly, not just to summon a particular time but to…

Film:A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind

Ron Howard

A Beautiful Mind manages to twist enough pathos out of John Nash's incredible life story to redeem an at-times goofy portrayal of schizophrenia. Russell Crowe tackles the role with characteristic fervor, playing the Nobel prize-winning mathematician from his days at Princeton, where he developed a groundbreaking economic theory, to his meteoric rise to the cover of Forbes magazine and an MIT professorship, and on through to his eventual dismissal due to schizophrenic delusions. Of course, it is the delusions that fascinate director Ron Howard and,…

Film:The Queen

The Queen

Stephen Frears

Tradition Prepared Her. Change Will Define Her.

The Queen is a witty and ingenious look at a moment that rocked the house of Windsor: the week that followed the sudden death of Princess Diana in 1997.

Film:The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man

David Lynch

You could only see his eyes behind the layers of makeup, but those expressive orbs earned John Hurt a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his moving portrayal of John Merrick, the grotesquely deformed Victorian-era man better known as The Elephant Man. Inarticulate and abused, Merrick is the virtual slave of a carnival barker (Freddie Jones) until dedicated London doctor Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins in a powerfully understated performance) rescues him from the life and offers him an existence with dignity. Anne Bancroft costars as the actress whose visit to…

Film:Out of Africa

Out of Africa

Sydney Pollack

Sydney Pollack’s 1985 multiple-Oscar winner is a sumptuous and emotionally satisfying film about the life of Danish writer Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep), better known as Isak Dinesen, who travels to Kenya to be with her German husband (Klaus Maria Brandauer) but falls for an English adventurer (Robert Redford). The film is slow in developing the relationship, but it is rich in beautiful images of Africa and in the romantic tone surrounding Blixen’s gradual discovery of her life and voice. One downside: while we may all love Redford, he is as convincingly British as…

Film:Gandhi

Gandhi

Richard Attenborough

Gandhi is a great subject, but is Gandhi a great film? Undoubtedly it is, not least because it is one of the last old-school epics ever made, a glorious visual treat featuring tens of thousands of extras (real people, not digital effects) and sumptuous Panavision cinematography. But a true epic is about more than just widescreen photography, it concerns itself with noble subjects too, and the life story of Mahatma Gandhi is one of the noblest of all. Both the man and the film have profound things to say about the meaning of freedom and racial harmony, as…

Film:Frost/Nixon

Frost/Nixon

Ron Howard

Oscar-winning director Ron Howard brings to the screen writer Peter Morgan’s (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland) electrifying battle between Richard Nixon, the disgraced president with a legacy to save, and David Frost, a jet-setting television personality with a name to make, in the untold story of the historic encounter that changed both: Frost/Nixon. Reprising their roles from Morgan’s stageplay are Frank Langella, who won a Tony for his portrayal of Nixon, and Michael Sheen, who fully inhabited the part of Frost onstage in London and New York.

For three years after being forced from office, Nixon remained silent. But in summer 1977, the steely, cunning former commander-in-chief agreed to sit for one all-inclusive interview to confront the questions of his time in office and the Watergate scandal that ended his presidency. Nixon surprised everyone in selecting Frost as his televised confessor, intending to easily outfox…[more]

Film:Bugsy

Bugsy

Barry Levinson

Bugsy represents an almost miraculous combination of director, writer, and star on a project that represents a career highlight for everyone involved. It’s one of the best American gangster movies ever made—as good in its own way as any of the Godfather films—and it’s impossible to imagine anyone better than Beatty in the movie’s flashy title role. As notorious mobster and Las Vegas visionary “Bugsy” Siegel, Beatty is perfectly cast as a man whose dreams are greater than his ability to realize them—or at least, greater than his ability to stay alive…

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