Fact or Fiction? Top Biopic Performances

Hollywood loves its biopics; the scandals, the raw emotions, the brutal honesty and the revelations prove too good of an opportunity for directors to pass up. That is the reason for the recent influx of biopics on the big screen in the last decade. In particular, 2013 appears to have more, ‘based on a true story’ films than in previous years, with the releases of Diana, Grace of Monaco, The Fifth Estate and Captain Phillips to name a few. Audiences cannot get enough of these ‘true-life’ stories as they get a glimpse into secretive lives and complex world events that previously, they would have never had access to. While the directors and producers can claim credit for successful biopics, the real selling point is the presence of the lead actors. Even if the film doesn’t hit the mark with audiences, a strong performance by one of the characters can be enough to stay in viewer’s memories.

Some won awards for their roles, others were snubbed during award season but regardless of their Oscar haul, certain actors and actresses have managed to boost their careers and win critical acclaim with their portrayals.

Jessie Eisenberg (The Social Network)– Despite facing criticism from Zuckerberg himself for its inaccuracies, Eisenberg’s portrayal of the ruthless creator of Facebook won him universal praise, a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination. Charting the rise of Facebook from its controversial Harvard beginnings into a billion dollar industry, the film is filled with sharp wit and drama but it is Eisenberg who anchors it all himself. His calm yet disturbing manner as Mark Zuckerberg is nothing short of brilliance. As The Guardian put it: “He is a borderline sociopath, never smiling, never raising his voice, never conceding an argument, driven to create his masterpiece through the unforgettable pain of being dumped in the movie’s opening scene. What perfect casting Eisenberg is.”

Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn) – Was there a bigger sex symbol then Marilyn Monroe? She was the ultimate pin-up and decades later her iconic status is still intact. Attempting to capture Monroe’s spirit is no easy task but given the talent of Williams, it was no surprise when she earned herself an Oscar nomination for the role. Managing to steer away from the stereotype of the legendary blonde, Williams managed to perfect the coy yet troubled star during a fraught period of her life.

Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix (Walk The Line) – The 2005 Johnny Cash biopic may well have been the finest hour for both Witherspoon and Phoenix, as this heart-wrenching film about the career of the music legend is regarded as one of the best films of its generation. Phoenix is one of the most underrated actors in the last 20 years, with many forgetting how versatile he can be. As Cash, he was the tortured soul with addiction problems who managed to carve out a niche in country music. Phoenix’s performance was haunting, with rumours that he nearly had a breakdown during filming as he fully immersed himself into the psyche of an addict. Witherspoon was a revelation as June Cash, Johnny’s long-suffering wife. The American actress shone brighter than ever, completely deserving of her Best Actress Oscar win. Phoenix just missed out on getting the nod for Best Actor at the Academy Awards.

Stephen Fry (Wilde)-If ever there was an actor born to play a role then it would definitely have to be Stephen Fry, taking on the character of the outlandish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. Wilde was a flamboyant and witty individual whose work is as still as relevant as ever. Fry, the British comedian, humanised the character of Wilde and convincingly made us all sympathise with the playwright.

Emily Bodkin

Image: Union Films

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