Sunday, December 28, 2014

Truth is Stronger Than Fiction: Why the Oscars Love Biopics

Once again, it's looking like biography is destiny at Oscar time. And it precedes the popular appetite for reality television by many years. The odds for getting a statuette have always been greater for a biopic than for any other genre: Roughly 25 per cent of best-picture winners, including Lawrence of Arabia, Out of Africa and A Beautiful Mind, have been biopics.

Truth is Stronger Than Fiction: Why the Oscars Love Biopics

Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg as half-brothers Dicky Eklund and Micky Ward in "The Fighter"
Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg as half-brothers Dicky Eklund and Micky Ward in "The Fighter"

Once again, it's looking like biography is destiny at Oscar time. And it precedes the popular appetite for reality television by many years. The odds for getting a statuette have always been greater for a biopic than for any other genre: Roughly 25 per cent of best-picture winners, including Lawrence of Arabia, Out of Africa and A Beautiful Mind, have been biopics. And this year the reality-based The Fighter (about Boston welterweight "Irish" Micky Ward and his brother, Dicky Eklund), The King's Speech (about King George VI and his speech therapist) and The Social Network (about Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and his pal Eduardo Saverin) are presumptive faves for best-picture nominee. And it might be a longshot for best animated feature, but the J.D, Ackerley memoir My Dog Tulip is a contender.

The acting categories are looking a lot like Modern Biography, too, what with likely bids for Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale as lead actor and supporting for The Fighter, ditto Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush for King's Speech, Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield for Social Network and James Franco as adventurer Aron Ralston in 127 Hours.

In the hunt for best lead actress are Naomi Watts (spy Valerie Plame in Fair Game), Hilary Swank (as Betty Anne Walters, who defended her brother in court in Conviction), Diane Lane (as Penny Tweedy in Secretariat). Two of the best supporting actress turns I saw were in the John Lennon story Nowhere Boy, with Kristin Scott Thomas as his Aunt Mimi and Anne-Marie Duff as his mother Julia.

Is truth stronger than fiction? My guess about why so many recent Oscar winning actors and actresses have come from biopics -- think Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash and Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf -- is that the degree of difficulty in playing a familiar character is greater than in playing a fictional character. Your thoughts? Predictions?

Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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