Biographical films or biopics offer the viewer a unique glimpse into the lives and minds of other people, often unusual or historical figures. They are more realistic than films based on a true story in that they aim to stick closer to the actual events of the person. Usually, they use the same name, although naturally, you can expect varying degrees of dramatization to satisfy the demands of the cinematic audience.
The last decade has given us a handful of incredible biographical films, too many to mention here, from the surprisingly enthralling The Social Network to the slow yet thrilling 127 Hours. Without further ado, here are a handful of the best biographical films of the 2010s.
The Social Network (2010)
Love it or hate it, Facebook has been one of the most influential and impactful communication tools ever made. It sparked the online social media world, absolving pretty much any competitors along the way to become the giant that it is now.
The Social Network tells the story of undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg, who in 2003, created Facebook for the apparent purpose of scoping out potential mates on campus. Six years later, it had become a global communication tool, and Zuckerberg himself became the youngest ever billionaire.
Far from being a “film about Facebook,” The Social Network is also a commentary on Zuckerberg’s social life, and the moral and legal dilemmas that he faces after realizing his dreams. Aaron Sorkin directs the film brilliantly to bring a masterpiece to the screens, an undeniably interesting look at the internet and social media, which have become such important components of our world.
The Social Network won three Academy Awards, along with other awards, and currently has a 95 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
12 Years A Slave centers on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York, who was kidnapped and taken captive in 1844 before being sold into slavery in Louisiana. On his journey through the hands of abusive slave owners, he sees and is subject to abject levels of violence and cruelty, more than anyone should know. It’s the story of his physical and psychological survival.
This film, directed by Steve McQueen, is a truly harrowing and unrelenting view into the realities of slavery and a dark era that we would often rather not acknowledge. 12 Years A Slave doesn’t sugarcoat anything and isn’t afraid to “go there.” As such, it’s not an easy watch, at all, but it’s a rewarding film and highly regarded by critics and casual viewers alike.
The subtle and highly engaging lead role of Solomon Northup comes from Chiwetel Ejiofor, who because of his suppression throughout the film uses body language and eye contact to bring the character to life. Michael Fassbender also puts in a memorable performance as the vilest of slave owners.
Molly’s Game (2017)
Molly’s Game is an American crime drama film based on the memoirs of the “poker princess” Molly Bloom. And while it is now possible to play casino and online poker for real money in the USA in certain states like New Jersey, in Molly’s day, poker was outlawed, and underground games were everywhere. Molly ran high-stakes, celebrity games with everyone from Hollywood elites to (unknown to her) Russian mobsters.
The former Olympic skier has her career cut short due to injury and ends up working at a bar where she serves at poker games. After a while of taking crap from her boss, Molly decides to start running games, claiming money and success before facing federal charges after an FBI raid.
There’s plenty of action there, both on and off the tables, though in fairness, it’s not about the poker. Like all good biographical films, it’s about the fascinating life of the main character. Jessica Chastain does a fantastic job of bringing the strong, charismatic and incredible Molly Bloom to life.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
The Wolf of Wall Street is a dark comedy-action film produced by and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort. It’s a highly dramatized account of Belfort’s memoirs, which reveal the continuous exploitations and corruptions of stockbrokers’ firm Stratton Oakmont on Wall Street in the 1990s. The firm used “pump and dump” techniques to profit from artificial inflation and the crashing of stock prices.
Although it missed out on winning an Oscar, The Wolf of Wall Street still succeeds in being a highly popular hedonistic film that indulges and excesses the senses. It’s fast-paced, illicit and profane, and for a lot of people, that ticks all the right boxes. Along with DiCaprio, Jonah Hill also acts well as a partner in crime. It’s not often that a biographical film accomplishes the perfect mix of truth and spiced-up drama, but in this case, the style works wonders.
127 Hours (2010)
From the fast-paced to a different style of biopic film, 127 Hours tells the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston, who is on an ordinary weekend away when he becomes trapped under a boulder and unable to free himself for five days, engages in a battle of survival and willpower.
Of course, any film with a plot that involves a single man stuck under a rock will be a little slow-paced, but director Danny Boyle pulls it off. The film is a powerful exploration of what it means to want to survive and flashes back to explore meanings with Ralston’s family, friends, lovers, and the strangers that he walked with only moments before his accident.
A film like this also relies a lot on the main actor — the guy stuck under the rock — played by James Franco. He brings the story to life, adding to Boyle’s clever use of imagery and perception. This one may not satisfy gore-fans, but as a true biographical film, it stands as one of the best of the decade.
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