“Best Biopic Performances of All-Time” is a big topic, and one that will be different for everyone (because film is subjective). Biopics themselves are a very interesting film genre that has become quite popular; we have a brand new one releasing this week, Elvis, starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks. Directors are taking more creative chances with biopics lately; some focus on the entire life of the person, while others only a small portion that was a defining chapter for them.
Biopics not only allow us to see the lives of some of the world’s most fascinating people, but they provide actors with a great challenge to portray someone real. That is something the Academy of Motion Pictures loves. Many performances have received Academy Awards as a result and these are the ones I would consider the 5 Best of All-Time:
5. Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich (STARZ or VOD)
I watched this movie for the first time with my wife during the early days of the pandemic. It’s one of those movies that you know about for trivia, especially the fact that Julia Roberts won Best Actress for the role. I was blown away by her performance in this film, as well as her chemistry with the late Albert Finney (who also gives a great performance). The scene where she is quizzed about the plaintiffs in the PG&E case is an Oscar highlight and deserves to be seen over again.
4. Jamie Foxx in Ray (Peacock)
Jamie Foxx doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a performer; the man is funny, can sing, does great impressions, but he can also really act. He completely disappears into the role of Ray Charles and was the perfect choice to play the legendary singer. He also became the second actor to win all five major awards (Academy, BAFTA, SAG, Golden Globe, and Critic’s Choice) for the same role. It’s a truly special performance in a fantastic film that deserves to be on this list.
3. Cate Blanchett in The Aviator (HBO Max)
I can only imagine how daunting it is to play a real life figure, especially one as beloved as Katherine Hepburn. Cate Blanchett was certainly up to the task in the Martin Scorsese film as she walked away that year with Best Supporting Actress; her co-star Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated, but the Oscar would escape him until The Revenant. It’s no surprise that Cate Blanchett would find herself on this list; she’s one of the finest actresses working today and was perfectly cast as one of the greats of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
2. David Oyelowo in Selma (Hulu and Paramout+)
David Oyelowo is the only actor on this list that did not win an Academy Award for his performance. In fact, he wasn’t even nominated, which is one of the biggest mistakes of the Academy of all time. Dr. King is an iconic, almost mythical figure in our history, which makes the performance Oyelowo gives even more incredible. The brilliance of Selma is that Ava Duvernay knows how grand the scope of Dr. King’s work was and chooses to focus on the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965. Oyelowo gives his all in this performance; it is essential viewing, the performance and the film.
1. Sir Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (Prime Video)
Abraham Lincoln is another almost mythical figure in American history. Spielberg knew this and made the conscious and brilliant decision to focus on the last four months of his life, which involved passing the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery. Sir Daniel Day Lewis can easily be regarded as the greatest actor of all time; he is the only actor to receive three Best Actor Academy Awards. He is absolutely magnificent in this film; he portrays all sides of Lincoln, from his humor to wisdom to ferocity. It’s a masterclass in acting and one that should be studied for years to come.