Biopics that are better than Tupac


BY now it’s pretty clear that the Tupac Shakur biopic, All Eyez On Me, is more crap than rap.

Despite the high hopes thanks to a fascinating story — seminal, charismatic rapper with a meteoric rise and violent fall — and following in the feted footsteps of the NWA big-screen treatment Straight Outta Compton, shonky performances and baffling storytelling gave rise to a film that News Corp critic Leigh Paatsch called “a sloppy, spirit-sapping marathon”.

But where All Eyez On Me failed abysmally, plenty of others have succeeded. From rags to riches stories to tortured artists and tragic demises — not to mention the good old sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — it’s easy to see why the music biopic has been a film staple for decades.

A big-screen rendering of a famous band or artist already has a leg-up from the built-in fan base and big-name actors seem to fall over themselves to play these revered musical icons. And for good reason, not only are the often troubled journeys from angst to adulation meaty roles to sink their teeth into, but the rewards can often be great.

media_cameraMusic biopics are Oscar bait: Reese Witherspoon won Best Actress for Walk the Line and Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for Best Actor.

Oscar loves a musical biopic. Sissy Spacek won Best Actress for her searing portrayal of country singer Loretta Lynn in The Coal Miner’s Daughter, as did Reese Witherspoon for her June Carter-Cash in Walk the Line and French actor Marion Cotillard playing “the Little Sparrow”, Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose. Jamie Foxx so disappeared in to his role as Ray Charles — he played all the piano scenes himself and glued his eyes shut for up to 12 hours a day — that a Best Actor Academy Award was a mere formality.

And in the classical world, the little-known Murray Abraham took home the top prize as the jealous, scheming Salieri, Mozart’s bitter rival in Amadeus and our very own Geoffrey Rush burst on to the world stage with his Oscar win for playing the mercurial, troubled concert pianist David Helfgott in Shine.

So to restore your faith the biopic, here’s some lesser known gems of the last ten years you might have missed:

media_cameraChadwick Boseman (pictured with Nelsan Ellis) was mesmerising as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, in Get On Up.


Despite being about one of the most influential figures in modern music and being produced by long-time fan Mick Jagger, this unconventional big-screen retelling of James Brown’s life never even got a cinema release in Australia. It’s a pity too, Chadwick Boseman (you might have seen him as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War) is a knockout as the Godfather Of Soul, with sterling support from Oscar-winners Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis. The time-hopping narrative skips around between Brown’s troubled youth and later run-ins with the law, the civil rights movement and his compelling career. And then there’s the music — Boseman did all his dancing and some of the singing — a greatest hits collection of some of the best soul and funk ever recorded.

SEE IT ON: Google Play, iTunes

media_cameraPaul Dano as young Brian Wilson at the peak of his creative powers in Love & Mercy.


Another of the most revered songwriters in the pop music pantheon, Brian Wilson’s life story is almost stranger than fiction. As the driving force behind the Beach Boys’ surf music sound that made them one of the biggest acts of the ‘60s, he became dissatisfied with the rigours of constant touring and yearned to make more complex, deeper and more enduring music. Inspired by the Beatles he created his masterpiece, Pet Sounds, before succumbing to mental health issues, exacerbated by drug use. Love and Mercy flips between two time periods — the ‘60s, with Wilson at his creative peak and the ‘80s, as he struggles to come back from his illness under the influence of a manipulative psychotherapist. Paul Dano is a joy as the younger Wilson, with John Cusack playing the older version, wounded and vulnerable and rescued by his second wife, Melinda (Elisabeth Banks). The scenes of Wilson pushing the boundaries of studio technology to create the groundbreaking Good Vibrations are a revelation for any music fan.

SEE IT ON: Google Play, iTunes

media_cameraAaron Johnson drew acclaim for his young John Lennon Nowhere Boy.


Released in the UK in 2009 and then nearly a year later in the US to coincide with the 70th anniversary of John Lennon’s birth, Nowhere Boy tells the story of the Beatles great’s teenage years from 1955 to 1960. Lead actor Aaron Johnson doesn’t especially look like Lennon but he beautifully captures the bluster, bravado and vulnerability of the man who would go on to become a cultural icon. Kristen Scott Thomas also shines as his Aunt Mimi, who raised him. As a pre-Beatles film, the soundtrack is full of rock ‘n’ roll standards rather than Fab Four hits (although producers negotiated the use of Lennon’s solo track Mother with Yoko Ono), with an instrumental score provided by UK electronica duo Goldfrapp.

SEE IT ON: Google Play, iTunes

media_cameraA then-unknown Sam Riley played the talented but tragic Joy Division singer Ian Curtis in Control.


Dutch director Anton Corbijn cut his teeth as a photographer and music video for the likes of U2 and Depeche Mode and chose the revered Manchester band Joy Division for his first feature film. With the then little known Sam Riley as the troubled, epileptic lead singer Ian Curtis, Corbijn pulls no punches in examining the complex singer’s personal life and towering talent as well as his tragic suicide and the family and band mates he left behind. A labour of love for the director, who stumped up half the budget from his own pocket, it debuted to rave reviews at the 2007 Cannes film festival. For a more uplifting account of the same period, and featuring some of the same artists, check out Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, which traces the rise and fall of mercurial Manchester music identity Tony Wilson (a brilliant Steve Coogan) and his Factory Records label, which nurtured Joy Division and the band that rose from its ashes, New Order, as well as the nuttier than squirrel poo Happy Mondays.

SEE IT ON: Google Play, iTunes

media_cameraAussie Cate Blanchett was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as one of six different Bob Dylans in I’m Not There.


How on earth would any filmmaker go about trying to capture the life and career of an artist as complicated and mysterious as the great Bob Dylan? Director Todd Haynes took an approach as unconventional as the artist himself by casting six actors — Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Ben Wishaw, Richard Gere and Marcus Carl Franklin — as six different aspects of the master singer-songwriter’s public persona. Like Dylan himself, the musical drama is an acquired taste but Blanchett in particular is mesmerising as the Dylan of 1965-66 who shocked the folk world by playing electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her efforts.

SEE IT ON: Google Play, iTunes

Originally published as Biopics that are better than Tupac

Source link

Related posts