1 Funny Girl
William Wyler, 1968
This is the film that rocketed Barbra Streisand from mere recording artiste to pan-global film star. Streisand had already played famed vaudevillian Fanny Brice on Broadway, but could she cut it on the big screen? “The best timing since Mae West and more fun to watch than anyone since the young Katharine Hepburn,” was Roger Ebert’s opinion. The Academy agreed, and Babs won an Oscar for the role.
Dexter Fletcher, 2019
In this, the second – and superior – of this year’s brace of smash-hit biopics about flamboyant pop musical geniuses, director Dexter Fletcher charts Elton John’s whirlwind career and even more frantic personal life, accompanied by a jukebox worth of ol’ sparkly-specs’ greatest hits.
3 Man Of A Thousand Faces
Joseph Pevney, 1957
Silent movie star Lon Chaney dazzled audiences in movies like The Phantom Of The Opera, all achieved with self-designed make-up effects. James Cagney does sterling work capturing the ever-changing Chaney and his troubled relationship with both wife and son.
4 24 Hour Party People
Michael Winterbottom, 2002
Steve Coogan stars as legendary Mancunian impresario Tony Wilson in Michael Winterbottom’s suitably unruly account of the man behind Factory Records. Coogan captures Wilson’s unique blend of wit and fathomless self-belief as he moulds the Madchester scene through punk to the Haçienda.
5 La Vie En Rose
Olivier Dahan, 2007
Marion Cotillard wows as Edith Piaf in this biopic of the legendary chanteuse’s life from her childhood singing in a brothel to becoming one of the first global musical icons. Its unconventional structure left a few audience members a bit unmoored. But, no matter, it’s Cotillard’s powerhouse turn that’s the real draw, landing her an Oscar. No regrets at all, then.
6 Man On The Moon
Milos Forman, 1999
Jim Carrey turned out to be perfectly cast as wildman comic Andy Kaufman in veteran director Milos Forman’s fascinating biopic. Carrey didn’t so much play Kaufman as become demonically possessed, refusing ever to come out of character. The resulting chaos led to a stressful shoot – and a mesmerising account of one of comedy’s unique talents.
7 Coal Miner’s Daughter
Michael Apted, 1980
From a poor childhood in Kentucky to country music superstardom, Loretta Lynn endured a troubled marriage, prescription-drug abuse, and a nervous breakdown that almost derailed her career. Apted’s direction is sympathetic and thoughtful, while Sissy Spacek (whom Lynn chose for the role) reveals herself as a more-than-competent warbler.
Richard Attenborough, 1992
Robin Williams, Jim Carrey and Billy Crystal were the studio-preferred options for the role of the Little Tramp, but Dickie Attenborough insisted on Robert Downey Jnr. It was the making of the film and its star. Iron Man effortlessly captures Chaplin’s complex character as the movie rockets through his astonishing life from south London poverty to Swiss exile.
9 I’m Not There
Todd Haynes, 2007
Todd Haynes turned out to be the perfect director for a biopic of Bob Dylan, one of modern music’s most evasive and perplexing talents. The title is the giveaway: Dylan really isn’t there, since Haynes has him represented by six actors, including an 11-year-old black boy and Cate Blanchett. Enigmatic and resistant to any effort to pin it down, it’s marvellously like the man himself.
10 Walk The Line
James Mangold, 2005
Typically dedicated to cinematic verité, Joaquin Phoenix lowered his voice two octaves for the self-performed singing sequences in James Mangold’s beautifully crafted life of Johnny Cash. The musical results are impressive, but it’s Reese Witherspoon’s performance as warm-hearted wife June Carter that gives the film its irresistible emotional heft.