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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

October 13, 2009 at 9:42 AM

An actor transforms: What’s your favorite biopic?

(How do you know when you have officially reached the point of Too Many Movies? When you can cheerfully sip Diet Coke throughout a scene in which someone fairly graphically throws up. It happened to me yesterday, and gave me pause. Just thought I’d share that.)
This week I’m reviewing Audrey Tautou as Coco Chanel (in “Coco Before Chanel,” which I liked a lot) and thinking about Hilary Swank as Amelia Earhart (in “Amelia,” opening next week; haven’t seen it yet), and pondering the idea of a biopic, in which an actor must create a character within the confines of someone whose face and traits we already know. Meryl Streep did it beautifully earlier this year, in “Julie & Julia”; here are a few other recent (and not-so-recent) favorites of mine:
— Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote”
— Sean Penn in “Milk”
— Sissy Spacek in “Coal Miner’s Daughter”
— Helen Mirren in “The Queen” (and, Michael Sheen in the same movie)
— Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland”
— Angela Bassett in “What’s Love Got to Do With It”
— Johnny Depp in “Finding Neverland”
— Streep (again) in “Out of Africa”
seanpenn.jpg
In all of these, whether the character was someone well-known (like Queen Elizabeth) or less familiar (Karen Blixen), the actor vanished, and all we saw and heard was somebody else. I’m sure I could think of another dozen favorites, but I need to get busy writing some reviews today, so I’ll ask you: What’s your favorite performance in a biopic? And why?
(Photo: Sean Penn as Harvey Milk in “Milk.” AP Photo/Focus Features, Phil Bray.)

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