Watch enough movies and you learn pretty fast that they aren't about reality, they're about entertaining us. Which sometimes makes the world of the biopic a little tricky, because not only do you have to work in the truth, but you still have to keep those butts in the seats -- and the results are not always good. Over at Moviefone they've compiled some of the worst movie biopics, and no one was safe -- with films earning a spot for mixing up their facts, ridiculous casting, or just downright lazy filmmaking.
So who made the list? Well, you've got your usual suspects like Oliver Stone's Alexander, a film that has so much wrong with it I don't know where to put the blame (oh, that's right, on everyone). Other films that made the cut for the less than flattering title of 'Real Life Catastrophes' were Kevin Spacey's Bobby Darin flick, Beyond The Sea, Luc Besson's The Messenger, and Alan Parker's Evita. But don't think the classics made it out unscathed either, because both Captain Eddie and The Babe Ruth Story also earned a mention.
As a genre, I love biopics -- especially the bad ones. I've watched everything from made-for-TV movies on The Beach Boys to high art flicks like I'm Not There. So no matter what kind of biopic it might be, I will usually give it a chance. Over the years, I've seen movies that bend the truth and those that just mess it up entirely, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy them. Besides, if you're looking for unadulterated facts, you should probably head to the library and not the multiplex.
After the jump: five of my favorite movie biopics...
1. Sweet Dreams (1985)
Musicians are ripe for the biopic treatment since they usually have lives full of turmoil, drug addictions and childhood traumas ... plus an actor might even get the chance to sing. In Sweet Dreams, Jessica Lange may have just lip-synced to the music of Patsy Cline in Karel Reisz's film, but her portrayal of Cline as a scrappy, hard-drinking lady mesmerized me as a child. So even though the film is full of inaccuracies about Cline's life, and was looking to capitalize off the success of films like A Coal Miner's Daughter, it still remains one of my favorite music biopics.
2. The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
Milos Forman's love letter to the first amendment does lose steam in the latter portions of the film, but the performances by Courtney Love and Woody Harrelson as the smut peddler extraordinaire Larry Flynt and the love of his life, Althea, is worth the running time. It isn't easy to make Flynt sympathetic, but through Edward Norton, as Flynt's idealistic lawyer and friend, Foreman manages to explain why even someone like Flynt deserves the right to be sleazy .
3. Sid & Nancy (1986)
When the subject of your biography isn't known for being too coherent during their career it doesn't always leave much for a filmmaker to work with. But that didn't seem to be a problem for Alex Cox in his biopic of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and his destructive relationship with Nancy Spungeon. The film is the perfect antidote to the whole 'live fast and die young' fetish in rock history, because if by the time you've reached Sid and Nancy's final days at the Chelsea Hotel you aren't convinced that drugs will destroy the best in anyone, then I think you may need to watch this flick one more time.
4. Malcolm X (1992)
I know he's not always the most popular guy in Hollywood, but I consider Spike Lee to be one of the greatest American filmmakers of all time. Malcolm X was an intensely personal project for Lee, and it shows. In the 1992 epic, Lee not only cast the perfect Malcolm in Denzel Washington, but he taught us a history lesson on one of the darkest periods in American history -- it may not always be comfortable to watch, but as a record of X's influence on American culture, this film cannot be matched.
5. Norma Rae (1979)
Martin Ritt's tale of labor rights was based on the life of real-life union organizer and activist Crystal Lee Sutton and starred Sally Field as a young woman who takes on the 'Man' at a cotton factory. The film is one of my favorites because it makes you sad and happy and indignant all at the same time, and coming from someone who isn't the biggest Field fan in the first place it says something about her performance when even I can't resist that feisty southern gal.
Sound off in the comments and leave your votes for the best and the worst of movie biopics...