Salutations, bloggerly chums! How goes life?
Sometimes real life is actually interesting. I may have said something contrary to this in the past. But…we waive that point.
I don’t know if you have figured it out by now, but I am a very inconsistent sponge indeed.
Me: I detest sequels!
Also Me: Sequels are MY LIFE.
Me: Romance. Yuck.
Also Me: NEWT AND TINA ARE THE CUTEST COUPLE GOOD GRIEF.
I am quite baffled by myself. But for now we’ll just go with it.
In general, I am drawn to fiction. The number of nonfiction books I have read is very, very small comparatively. I like to escape from reality whenever possible and live in a fairy tale world in my head. I like to pretend that real life doesn’t exist. (There’s nothing unhealthy about this at all.)
But real life is a thing. And history does not equal boring (always). History is about real people with real struggles. And if you think about it, all of fiction is based on reality to some extent. We need fiction to cope with reality sometimes, but it is reality that gives the fiction meaning.
Shockingly, true stories can often be just as riveting as made up ones. I forget about this a lot.
When I do remember that real life is a thing, I read autobiographies and historical accounts, and I have actually enjoyed many of them. These have never become my favorite books though.
Biographically based movies, however, have become some of my favorite films.
I realize that these films are often problematic. Usually the filmmakers take too much artistic license and change what really happened. But if nothing else they might make someone curious to look up the real person and what they were actually like. We all know (hopefully) that the most reliable way to learn about history is not by watching movies.
Disclaimer: The following list is not based on how accurate the films are to real life. My list of favorite biographically based films was created based on how much I liked the films as movies, not about how consistent they are to reality.
1. Catch Me If You Can
This movie is based on the life of Frank Abagnale jr, a kid who got away with unbelievably elaborate crimes before he finally got caught. I read his autobiography by the same name, and yes, they definitely changed some significant details about his life for the film, but the scale of the crimes is not exaggerated. Yes, he really did all that stuff.
This is my favorite heist movie of all time because it is more than just a heist movie. It shows the deeper motivations behind why he’s doing what he’s doing, and it addresses the psychological repercussions of his actions. It’s not just fun. What’s a movie without a little angst, anyway?
The acting and the character development are impeccable. This movie is both funny and emotionally heavy, which is a difficult balance to strike but stunning when you can get it right.
2. McFarland USA
Haha, I just skim-read an article about how grossly inaccurate this movie is. Oh well.
McFarland USA is based on the cross-country running team in the little town of McFarland in California, under the coaching of Jim White. It shows the real life struggle of kids having to handle labor intensive jobs and school at the same time. These kids are amazing.
This is a sweet story about community, camaraderie, hard work and, you know, running. The only way you will ever get me to watch sports is in movie form. This movie is also the only way you will get me to watch Kevin Costner.
3. The King’s Speech
King George VI. England. World War II.
Prince Albert (aka King George VI) needs to give speeches, but like…he has issues with this.
This movie is like a cake. All the ingredients came together just right to create something undeniably pleasing. Acting, story, setting, costumes, music- it’s all there, and it’s all glorious.
Each character is unique and feels like a real person. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter might have a thing or two to do with that.
Glory is about the first African American regiment that fought during the Civil War, (mainly from the perspective of Colonel Robert Shaw, the commanding officer) and let me tell you, it’s kind of brutal. But it’s so good.
Like Catch Me If You Can and The King’s Speech, it’s chock full of spectacular actors. Can you go wrong with Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman? Well, maybe (I still doubt it), but certainly not here.
This movie can be kind of a gut-punch. But in the best way. It’s war and it’s brutal and it’s real, but these men are so brave and their story is inspiring.
Also did I mention that the music is FANTASTIC? James Horner will blow your heart away with the sheer power of his musical themes.
5. Love and Mercy
This film is based on the life of Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. It alternates between a young Brian Wilson, when the Beach Boys were still active, and a middle aged Brian Wilson, when he was under the care of the psychotherapist Eugene Landy, during which time he met his second wife, Melinda.
Brian struggled with his mental health throughout his life, and the film’s depiction of it is emotionally moving. Showing the two parallel stories is an effective device, and the two actors who play Brian do a wonderful job of blending the character together into one person. The story is heavy, but it has a redemptive ending.
Also Eugene Landy is the creepiest creep and Paul Giamatti does an excellent job of making you hate him.
Jackie Robinson was a hero in baseball, not only in his mastery of the game but in what he did for it on a civil rights level. Chadwick Boseman’s personification of Jackie is passionate, determined, and altogether just very human. This is my favorite role that I have ever seen him in. (Sorry, Black Panther.)
Jackie Robinson was the first African American man to join major league baseball, and the non-violent strength he exhibited in the face of hatred is convicting as well as inspirational. One of my favorite things about this movie is how it shows that he was surrounded by supporters. The strength of his wife, Rachel (love her) and the loyalty of his team contributed to his ability to do what he did.
I also just love Wendell with his glasses and his typewriter, quietly setting Jackie straight about his need for other people. This movie has so many good moments.
7. Miss Potter
This movie is so beautiful! Another cake if I ever saw one. It’s based on the life of beloved children’s author Beatrix Potter, and it’s one of the only “romances” that I actually like.
Beatrix is an artist and writer, with a domineering mother who disapproves of her pursuits as an author. Norman Warne is the youngest brother working at the Warne publishing company and is trying to help Beatrix publish her first book, Peter Rabbit- (a project that his brother’s handed off to him because they didn’t think it would be successful).
Beatrix and Norman are both the sweetest, most awkward people you ever saw, and you can’t help but love them. Also Norman’s sister is played by Emily Watson (never be be confused with Emma Watson) who is one of my favorite actresses.
8. A Beautiful Mind
Based on the life of John Nash who was a brilliant mathematician and suffered from schizophrenia, this is by far the most compelling and redemptive depiction of mental illness I have ever seen. The integrity of the storytelling kind of blew my mind. I don’t even know how to explain it without giving it away. Just watch it.
The movie spans a number of years, starting when John starts out at Princeton University in 1947 and ending with him receiving the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1994. The film does an excellent job of weaving all these years together.
Russel Crowe and Jennifer Connelly are both amazing as John and Alicia respectively. Charles is also the best role (by far) that I have seen Paul Bettany play. (Sorry, Vision- but not sorry.)
9. Hacksaw Ridge
My other favorite war movie. Hacksaw Ridge is based on the experiences of medic Desmond Doss during World War II. He refused to carry a weapon due to his personal convictions, but through his deep faith in God he was able to accomplish remarkable things on the battlefield. During the battle of Okinawa he saved the lives of 75 men.
I’ve probably used the word “inspiring” too many times already in this post, but the story of what Desmond Doss did and his unwavering faith really is inspiring.
10. Saving Mr. Banks
Perhaps the crowning glory of all.
This movie is the cake of all cakes. It follows the story of P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, alternating between her childhood in Australia and the period of her adult life when Walt Disney was trying to make Mary Poppins into a film in the 1960s.
As a story, it is impeccably well told. The screenplay is the masterwork, the acting is remarkable, though with actors like Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks that’s inevitable. (I also have to commend Paul Giamatti for his diverse acting ability because he is the worst creep ever in Love and Mercy, but in Saving Mr. Banks he is the most lovable limousine driver ever and trying to reconcile these two things makes my brain hurt.)
Like Catch Me If You Can, this movie strikes the mesmerizing balance of humor and emotional depth. In fact, I think that this movie does it even better. It’s so good.
I love a lot of biographically based films. I could add several more to this list… if I wanted this post to be the length of a novel.
Whether or not films based on true stories stick religiously to the source material, they were strongly suggested by real life. Real life is a thing. Maybe most people don’t need to be reminded of this as much as I do. But there are some truly spectacular stories out there, and many of them need to be told.
Fun fact, this post happened because I saw the trailer for Tolkien and kind of freaked out.
I am not sure what to think yet. But it looks surprisingly good so far. Dare I hope?
What do you think of movies based on true stories? What are some of your favorites? Have you seen any of the ones I mentioned, and do you agree that any of them are cakes? Am I the only one who is more excited about the new Tolkien movie than Avengers: Endgame? What is a real life story/person that you find inspiring?