17. The Social Network
It might be a little difficult to sympathize with a man like Mark Zuckerberg, who has made an unfathomable fortune off social media website Facebook. This is especially true given the backs he had to stab in order to make his way to the top.
However, thanks to a brilliant script by Aaron Sorkin and taut direction by David Fincher, this look at the lives of a couple of bratty college students is elevated to the level of a very powerful courtroom drama. By the end of the film, Mark’s fortune seems almost like nothing compared to what and whom he lost in his attempt to get it – and it is then that the sympathy we never imagined we could possibly have for him suddenly creeps up on us.
16. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
Anne Frank may have been the most famous person to have survive the Holocaust, but as far as biopics are considered, it’s “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days” that makes the biggest mark. Much like Frank, Scholl was a young girl, which is exactly was makes her battle of will with the Gestapo so gripping and unfathomably impressive.
The focus on Scholl’s last days on Earth make each moment surrounding the film all the more thrilling while emphasizing the level of importance for which Scholl is now remembered. “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days” not only captures its subject’s staunch determination and conviction, but also wisely relies on these traits to propel this story into a level of high-stakes entertainment.
Stanley Kubrick is known for his vigor, but he’s also renowned for his versatility. This was the only historical epic in his roster, but it was certainly one to be remembered. The film benefits wonderfully from its visual glory (which recreates the era to a tee), but it’s the heart of its subject that propels “Spartacus” into greatness. The sword-and-sandals genre is typically centered on a slave, but only in “Spartacus” do we truly acknowledge the nobility in solidarity.
Spartacus does not stand alone, and the understanding that the whole needs to be greater than the sum of its parts is never more evident – or more inspiring – than it is at the moment in which each slave stands tall and defiantly claims “I’m Spartacus!”
14. 12 Years a Slave
One of the greatest films of the 21st century, this Best Picture-winning biopic traces the twelve years which freed African-American man Solomon Northup gets kidnapped and sold back into slavery. The struggle to regain his freedom is one of the most heartfelt journeys ever depicted on the big screen, and the stamina Northup is able to muster up is far greater than anything that one could even conceive.
Despite the film’s twelve-year span, the script highlights the most significant moments of Northup’s slavery, focusing on his desperate and constantly unsuccessful attempts to escape that continuously heighten the stakes while failing to ever break his spirit.
One can hardly imagine how a filmmaker can make a movie about one of the worst men in the history of the world. Luckily, Oliver Hirschbiegel avoided the pitfalls and pulled it off with a firm hand. Rather than making the egregious error of attempting to draw sympathy for Adolf Hitler, “Downfall” simply presents how such horrible actions inevitably have their repercussions and the toll they soon take on those who dared to commit them.
It’s a harrowing topic and Hitler is no easy subject to dissect, but the fact that this film made sure to go deep into the madness of Hitler’s mind while still making all of his unsettling acts watchable is a grand achievement.
12. Yankee Doodle Dandy
James Cagney, who was more famous for his gangster roles than anything else, certainly proved his range in this musical biopic about famed musician George M. Cohan. The sheer exuberance of both the film and Cagney’s performance is enough to make anybody want to dance and sing along with film’s classic music.
Every joyous moment of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” is infectious, and the element of a spectacle and showmanship for which Cohen became an icon takes the typically dreary biopic genre into territory that is utterly fun and engaging.
General George S. Patton was indeed a man’s man. The opening sequence in which he gives a speech to his soldiers in front of a large American flag is as dynamic as Patton was himself. Tracing his life throughout the Second World War, “Patton” exemplified the ultimate war hero. Even more so, Patton exemplifies the all-American war hero.
Such a concept has been done before and since, but few have picked a better subject than Patton, whose determination and stubbornness depict both the expert skills America has on the battlefield and the controversy that surrounds the country’s tactics. With that, General Patton isn’t merely a man in this film; he is the epitome of everything that so fervently divides America politically.
10. The Passion of Joan of Arc
This 1928 French biopic about the trial and execution of Joan of Arc is some of the most powerful filmmaking in cinema history. The fact that “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is a silent film does nothing to reduce the impact on anyone who watches it. In fact, the images surrounding Joan of Arc’s struggle that director Carl Theodor Dreyer presents to his audience are haunting enough that nothing needs to be said.
Bonus points go to lead actress Renee Falconetti, who gives one of the most memorable screen performances of all time. Joan of Arc may have been the ultimate martyr, but if there’s one thing this film and this performance prove, it’s that what she deserved even more than sympathy was the public’s respect.
9. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
This revisionist western might have the greatest tagline of any movie in history: “Not that it matters, but most of it is true.” Therein lies the audacious spirit of George Roy Hill’s irreverent action film surrounding the lives of the notorious Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
It’s a movie that delivers on entertainment more so than on depth, with the audience continuously getting a kick out of the series of mishaps in which the duo constantly finds itself. Ultimately, however, it doesn’t quite matter what they did to meet their untimely deaths. What matters is that Butch and Sundance guarantee to make it a ride worth tagging along for.