One of the most critically appreciated genres in film is the biopic. Always the source of some of the most amazing stories of humanity and award season favorites biopics help capture the best of some of the most daring, inspiring, and courageous people to ever walk the planet. Whether the film incorporates some creative liberties or works to depict events and characters as close to reality as possible these movies always shine as some of the year’s best. For my final list of 2017 before posting my favorite movie of the year on New Year’s Day I decided to look at the best biographical films that I had the chance to see this year. These are the Top 10 Biopics of 2017.
For this list I looked at films from every genre that were advertised as biographical films. These movies all specifically chronicled the lives or a segment of the lives of specific people, whether it’s one person or a very specific group, sharing their personal stories for the movie-going public to enjoy. Several biopics have already made my previous Best of 2017 lists and the ones here are the best that were more specifically biographical films rather than films that used n overabundance of creative liberty or were otherwise considered loosely based on real events or people. While these movies may not all be completely accurate the point here is how well they depicted their subjects and the overall quality of the finished product as a work of cinematic art.
As with other lists no Netflix films or movies from the rest of my Best of 2017 series will be seen here and the Top 3 will qualify for my overall Best of 2017 list to be posted on New Years Day.
What was your favorite biopic of 2017? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list!
10. “The Zookeeper’s Wife”
Starting off this list is a touching film set in World War II chronicling the real life daring story of Atonina and Dr. Jan Żabiński who hid Jews from the Nazis within their ramshackle zoo after the bombing and takeover of Poland. While an imperfect film I still found the true-life story to be one worth a cinematic interpretation and in my review I called “The Zookeeper’s Wife” and World War II drama that “gets its message across well and represents its leading characters in a deserving and honorable light”. It might not have been a standout of the popular World War II era dramas that Hollywood so loves to embrace but not since “Schindler’s List” had we seen a story like this come around showcasing a daring rescue mission during that era on he big screen. It might not have been anywhere near as good as “Schindler’s List” but it reminded us that these kinds of story’s are both riveting and worthy of cinematic representation and that not all battles were bought on the front lines.
9. “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women”
While it took some creative liberties much of the story in “Professor Marston” served as a fairly accurate depiction of the real life three-way relationship between the enigmatic creator of the “Wonder Woman” comics, William Moulton Marston, and the two women who helped inspire the famed character, his wife Elizabeth and his student Olive Byrne. Focusing more on the struggles the three endured from the public opinion about their three-way romance than the actual comic book itself this film had its share of drama and suspense as well as some tasteful erotic sensuality in its depiction of the famed forbidden romance. In my review I gave the film four stars and said “you might just be surprised by how gripping and engrossing this cinematic experience really is. While it does take some liberties in its depiction of the real life romance that led to Wonder Woman’s creation, the details presented in this movie do capture the essence of why the superhero is so important in the grand scheme of things”. As such it finds itself here on this top 10 right where it belongs.
8. “Megan Leavey”
Honestly I’ve never been the biggest fan of Kate Mara, but after seeing her performance as the titular character in “Megan Leavey” I can understand why people enjoy her so much. The film told the true life story of its titular soldier who finds herself entrusted with an Army dog named Rex who is her canine equal as they both share antisocial and unruly personalities. Together the two find trust and companionship in each other and even when events force them apart they find their way back together again. “Megan Leavey” was one of those stories that made for a perfect on-screen drama and showcased not only the bond between animal and owner, but the struggles of a real life soldier to find her place in the world as well. In my review I called the film “surprisingly real and powerful” and said that “it does the source material justice and offers an inspiring and very grounded story that we don’t see too often in theaters nowadays”. It also made my list of the best films that people probably missed in the first half of 2017. It was a delightful gem and while not a perfect film it deserves to be recognized here at number eight.
7. “American Made”
A biographical comedy, “American Made” starred Tom Cruise in by far his best role of the past few years as real life pilot and drug smuggler Barry Seal as he works for both the drug cartels and the U.S. government before his assassination by the former. Cruise turned in a spectacularly memorable take on the character and while the movie wasn’t perfect it was truly hilarious and surprisingly accurate in its depiction of Seal’s life at that time. In my review I said “American Made” was “a fun and hilarious series of events that can be enjoyed as a satire of America in general, or simply a biographical black comedy about a dope of a man who lucked into one of the most amazing two-sided lifestyles anyone could ever dream of.” This was a story practically made for the big screen and when you realized most of this actually happened it made watching it unfold that much more fun.
6. “The Founder”
One of my earliest reviews here on Cinema Spotlight, “The Founder” told the story of Ray Kroc and his creation of the fast food empire of McDonald’s after embracing and later stealing the idea from the real life McDonald brothers and promoting himself as the founder of the food chain. Showcasing one of the Michael Keaton’s finest performances to date this film was criminally ignored during the 2016 Oscar’s but deserved so much more credit for its very watchable and balanced depiction of the creation of one of the most dominant food chains in history. In my review I said, “‘The Founder’ does not take the easy way out. The filmmakers challenge the viewer to hate and love all the major characters and focus more on the human aspect of the story rather than drawing heavily on more established and proven Hollywood clichés”. I probably appreciate this film more now than I did when I first reviewed it and that is a testament to how perfectly this story came to life on the big screen.
5. “The Lost City of Z”
A smooth adventure picture that might have been a little too drawn out for some viewers, “The Lost City of Z” was unfortunately ignored by mainstream viewers earlier this year which is sad because those who didn’t see it missed out on a truly mesmerizing real life journey. The film told the tale of real life adventurer Percy Fawcett as he sought to discover the Lost City of Z (pronounced Zedd) despite several failed attempts and push back from doubters as well as his involvement in war. A story for the adventurer in all of us this biopic was not only well acted it was also carefully paced to showcase many details of Fawcett’s life and journeys. In my review I said the film “provides adventure, heart, committed performances, and a story that, for all its mystery and subtle simplicity, is very easy to enjoy and appreciate”. It’s only downfall was that at times is did truly drag on a bit, but it was still good enough to earn a five-star rating from me and a spot here on this list.
I really struggled with these next four films because all of them were deserving of consideration for my Best of 2017 overall list, but one has to miss out and that one is the exceptional and heart wrenching “Stronger”. Two films in 2017 tackled the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings but only one focused on a specific story. “Stronger” presented the real life recovery of Jeff Bauman who became a symbol of hope after he lost both his legs in the bombings and became the subject of a famous photograph from the aftermath of the attack. Focusing more on Jeff’s story than the actual events following the bombings we saw Jake Gyllenhall turn in one of the greatest performances of the year as an imperfect, emotionally and physically shattered man trying to recover from an event that changed his life forever. I called the movie “inspiring” in my review and said “(‘Stronger’) is full of amazing performances and well controlled stories that all come together into a tale of one man’s recovery with its tasteful presentation of the aftermath of an event that destroyed the lives of many as they knew it.” “Stronger” was a film many of us needed to see that packed emotional depth and a truly heartfelt message to all of us to keep fighting in our own lives.
3. “Only The Brave”
Few movies make me cry, although I admit 2017 had its fair share. Even fewer movies give me goosebumps just thinking about them even after the credits role. That is why “Only the Brave” is this high on this list. The film told the story of the real life firefighting crew the Granite Mountain Hotshots who lost their lives fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013. The movie depicted the formation of the crew, focusing specifically on some major players in the group and how their experiences as firefighters changed their lives. However it’s the final moments of the movie that proved to be emotionally shattering and incredibly powerful to behold especially when we see the brotherhood of these men persevere even in the face of death. In my review I called this five-star film “powerful, well acted, controlled, and done with a great deal of careful respect and consideration for the subjects of its true life inspiration”. I also labeled it a “true tribute to heroism” and found it to be one of the most powerful movie experiences for me personally in 2017. It’s a film I truly recommend and one that not only does justice to the men whose story makes up the plot, but to all the unsung heroes that keep us safe on the homeland each and every day. I’m proud to have it considered for my overall “Best of 2017” list.
2. “Darkest Hour”
The final movie I saw in 2017 is also one of the best. “Darkest Hour” focused on the first days of World War II for former Prime Minister Winston Churchill as the fate of Britain laid in the balance with Hitler making ground in the war. Balancing both humor and incredible drama “Darkest Hour” sported an absolutely tremendous performance by Gary Oldman as Churchill and showcased nearly every angle of the conflicts he had to ensure in his first month in office, especially the struggle to win over support to fight back in the war and to respond to the retreat at Dunkirk. In my review I called it “one of the most gripping cinematic experiences I enjoyed in 2017” and I knew immediately that it would be a contender for my “Best of 2017” overall list. This was an absolutely riveting depiction of one of the Britain’s most storied war time leaders and a man whose decisions and strategies helped turn the tide of World War II for the better. Despite this however it just misses out on the top spot on this list. If you’ve followed my blog you know there’s only one movie that could possibly have topped this list in 2017….
1. “The Disaster Artist”
I waited all year for this movie to hit theaters and when it finally did I was ecstatic. As it turns out all that waiting was not in vain. “The Disaster Artist” was truly an amazing picture and an ironic one at that considering it depicted the experiences of Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero as Wiseau went about writing, producing, directing, and funding the most famous bad film of all time, “The Room”. In an example of art imitating life this film was also directed by and starred James Franco who perfectly captured the eccentricities, mannerisms, and even the look of Wiseau while his brother Dave also pretty much became his character, Greg Sestero. This impressive movie took one of the worst films ever and created one of the best of 2017 by realizing that the story of “The Room’s” creation is an inspiring one of a dreamer who saw his vision through to the end. In my five-star review I said “The Disaster Artist” was “a story worth telling and told with care, control, and an appreciation for not only the subject, but the project he made famous and the fans who to this day continue to praise a movie so horribly bad it’s incredibly good”. It was flawless and absolutely entertaining in all the best ways bringing Tommy Wiseau’s strange life and creative struggle full circle by creating a masterpiece out of the tale of the creation of a dumpster fire. For that it earns my stamp of approval as the best biopic of 2017.