By Marie-Renée Goulet
My favourite movie genre is by far biographical movies. I love history, and I find some people and events fascinating. I love how I can escape to a different time and place, knowing that much attention has been paid to the details of a specific era. Frequently, we see a headline in the news and are later gifted a 2-hour abridged play by play of the events leading to the headline, which likely had a significant impact on many of us. This list is, of course, highly subjective. I would struggle to list the 10 best of anything, and I’ve changed my mind a few times as I wrote it. I opted to visit very different aspects of the human experience, relatively recent (nothing before 2000) with a high quality and entertainment content. All these movies are worth your time, all have excellent performances and solid life lessons. I actually didn’t realize how much I appreciated satire until I looked at the finished list. One can look at reality in many different ways, but why cry when you can laugh?
10. LA VIE EN ROSE (2007)
The story is told out of sequence, we bounce from memory to another from Edith Piaf’s life as she reflects on the years, sitting by a lake. Years of alcohol and drug abuse have taken their toll. Although only 47, she looks to be in her seventies.
It would be easy to judge yet another gifted artist who seemingly self-destructed. Given her background, she accomplished more than most could ever dream of. Born in 1915, the film opens with Édith in 1918 looking at her mother across the alley singing, busking for change. Édith’s mother soon sends a letter to the child’s father, who is fighting in World War I, informing him that she is leaving Édith with her mother to pursue the life of the artist. Her father returns to Paris, who retrieves a much-neglected Edith. He immediately leaves the child with his own mother, who happens to be a brothel’s madam in Normandy. This was an upgrade for the small child. Now surrounded by the horrors of prostitution, Édith is taken under the women’s wing, especially Titine, a troubled young redhead who becomes emotionally attached to the little girl. Édith’s father returns a few years later and rips Édith from Titine to take her with him as he works as a circus acrobat, only to end up on the street once again. An unplanned performance from the child, singing “La Marseillaise” with raw emotion, stuns the street crowd. Years later, a nightclub owner named Louis Leplée approaches Édith while she sings and drinks on Montmartre’s streets for supper money, he hires her. Through many tribulations, her career eventually takes off. How does one recover from this kind of start in life? You don’t, this will always be part of who you are. She does the best she can. Throughout her life, she made many frantic efforts to be happy, distracting herself from pain by entertaining others, but we know where this is going.
Marion Cottilard’s performance is a tour de force and merited her the Oscar for Best Actress. She is Edith Piaf in the film, somehow managing to make her 5’6″ frame appear smaller and more vulnerable than she is. Piaf was 4’11” and rail thin. All songs are lip-synced, but she does it so well that you never once doubt her – she lives these songs. I don’t care what types of music you prefer, Piaf singing “Non, je ne regrette rien” at the Olympia after the drama in her life will give you goosebumps. Life is not supposed to be perfect, but to have love and lost, going through achievements and failures with loyal friends, now that is a life.
“No, absolutely nothing …
No! I regret nothing
Not the good things that have happened
Nor the bad, it’s all the same to me
No, absolutely nothing
No! I regret nothing…
It’s paid for, swept away, forgotten.
I don’t care about the past!
I set fire
to my memories
My sorrows, my pleasures
I don’t need them anymore!
Swept away my loves
With their tremolos
Swept away forever
I’m starting over
Because my life, because my joy
Today, it begins with you“
9. GOOD TROUBLE 2020
The world lost a giant this July. The passing of John Lewis on July 17 brought to the fore much of his life’s work. Mr. Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, announced on Dec. 29 that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and again fought the good fight. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said. Unfortunately, Mr. Lewis lost his fight. This documentary is very timely. He was the son of sharecroppers who grew up in Alabama. As a little boy, he was in constant fear because of signs that said, “no colored boys, no colored girls.” His parents used to tell him, “don’t get in trouble.” Nevertheless, he chose a life of activism. Good Trouble is an excellent vehicle to learn more about his accomplishments and struggles. The story is told through interviews and archival footage, most I had not seen. I was saddened by the fact that he and other activists had arranged for workshops to learn how to peacefully protest and remain calm and peaceful while taking the worst kind of mental and physical abuse. You are reminded just what it takes to create change. All of his life choices are to right wrongs. A pivotal moment in his fight for racial justice was when he and other civil rights marchers were beaten 55 years ago on “Bloody Sunday,” while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a critical event that helped galvanize support for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which has been gutted by the Supreme Court in the past 2 years. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is named after Edmund Winston Pettus, a former Confederate brigadier general, U.S. senator, and leader of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. I am not a betting woman but would safely wage a substantial amount that this bridge will be renamed to the John Lewis Bridge by the next Democratic Administration.
8. BOMBSHELL (2019)
Roger Ailes has had his grubby tentacles in the media for decades and eventually became the chairman and CEO of Fox News. He was trump’s adviser for his 2016 run. On July 6, 2016, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes; Carlson’s allegation was the green light for more than a dozen female employees at 21st Century Fox to come forward regarding their own experiences with Ailes’ behaviour. The movie stars Academy Award winner Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, Academy Award nominee John Lithgow as Roger Ailes and Academy Award nominee Margot Robbie, who is a composite of multiple victims and many others. As believable John Lithgow is as Ailes, I’m not sure he captures just how slithery and disgusting Ailes was. Theron is unrecognizable in appearance and voice, having mastered Megyn Kelly’s deep voice and rapid delivery. Having documented years of sexual harassment and misogyny, Carlson was 100% ready to bring suit the moment she was fired. Having signed an NDA, she relies on Nicole Kidman here to successfully flesh out her story. The movie does a beautiful job taking you in the Fox News studios and offices, and a scene backstage, while women are getting ready to be on camera, is very telling of the only way women should be in the Fox world: Heavy porn star make-up, skinny with heavily padded push-up bras and a short skirt all the while Judge Janine Shapiro (Alanna Ubach) voices what a great man Roger is. Many great performances all around are emotionally compelling at depicting just how surreal and shocked one can be once a line is crossed. When your blood drops 10 degrees, with instant confusion and rapid thoughts on how to handle the offense while trying to remain employed. In some cases, you realize your chance at your dream career is gone because there was just no alternative to not letting your boss in your hotel room. Some men don’t stop at blocking your career where you are; you are blackballed. Lucky if you can ever find a job in a small local station. Fox’s role in trump’s election is also made clear. The media has a massive influence on our lives, and this movie underlines the insidious ways information is decimated to the masses.
7. MOLLY’S GAME (2017)
Based on her memoir, Molly’s Game depicts how a young woman, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), whose career has been derailed by devastating ski accident, moves across the country “to be young in warm weather” for a while. Her father (Kevin Costner) insists on raising champions. All three of his children are overachievers, one son is a two-time Olympian, a sixth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, the other a cardiothoracic surgeon at Mass General. Shortly after arriving in California, she takes up a job as an assistant to Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong). He is brash and unlikable, but he soon asks her to help him manage an ultra-secret poker game. She becomes more tolerant of his abuse after making $3000 in tips on the first night. After many more games, Keith becomes jealous of her success with the high-powered players and freezes her out. In a bold move, she takes over The Game and takes it up to a whole other level. Full disclosure: Aaron Sorkin is my favourite writer and here, he also makes his directorial debut. From research, there are no poker mistakes often present in poker movies. But this isn’t a poker movie, it is a cautionary tale about our own ambitions and an inspirational story about what truly matters in life. There is a musicality to Sorkin’s writing and intelligent ping pong in all dialogue. There is a moving scene between father and daughter that is touching not because it is sentimental but because it is so sincere and realistic. Kevin Costner delivers one of his best performances in years. There are good actors and great actors. I don’t care how great an actor is, no one can fake intelligence if they don’t possess it. Jessica Chastain is terrific as Bloom, and I don’t know one woman who doesn’t dream about having the full package of being drop-dead gorgeous and smarter than most and being able to turn a game into an enterprise earning up to $4 million a year. Mostly legally. After managing the Game wisely for some time, Bloom begins to use and then abuse drugs to keep going. She makes a few bad decisions, and things unraveled. She distinguishes herself both in the movie and real-life. After losing everything, she never uses the leverage she has to get herself out of the hole. Why? Because it would mean destroying the families of the powerful men whose transgression she witnessed. In her book, Bloom only named the men who had been outed in other court proceedings, (Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire who is play X in the movie (Michael Cera – who pulls no punches and appears as mean spirited as the man himself), Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Macaulay Culkin, Alex Rodriguez, Pete Sampras, and others. All had been outed in the media before the book was published. She stayed silent on the others, protecting their identities, significantly reducing the advance on her book.
6. THE BIG SHORT (2015)
I watch this movie once or twice a year, and I never tire of it. If you’re not 100% sure you understand the 2008 financial crash and you would like to learn in the most enjoyable way possible, this is the movie for you. Based on the 2010 book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, the film stars Christian Bale (once again disappearing in the role of Michael Burry) Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt, with Melissa Leo, Jeremy Strong, and Marisa Tomei in supporting roles. Since most see movies to be entertained, some of the tedious and dry information is delivered to you by breaking the fourth wall in scenes featuring Margot Robbie, who effectively explains mortgage bonds from a bubble bath sipping champagne and others, such as the greatly missed Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez, and economist Richard Thaler. This is a story about how a group of investors bets against the US mortgage market in 2006-2007 after Burry figures out that the banks’ subprime home loans handed out like candy are a disaster in the making. This is a highly entertaining movie that will make you laugh out loud to modulate your anger. The level of corruption in the system is staggering. Brad Pitt has some of my favourite lines and Steve Carrell, the best moments in the movie. This is a terribly dark subject matter, and writer-director Adam McKay handled it perfectly. I can’t recommend this movie enough.
5. THE FIGHTER (2010)
This is a boxing movie involving two half brothers, one fighting for a title, the other, a crack cocaine addiction. It also touches on significant themes, such as family dynamics, obligation, and allowing one another to grow. The story depicts the rise of Massachusetts-born, junior welterweight title winner Micky Ward (Mark Walberg in a quiet but strong performance), his half brother, a former boxer, and initial “Pride of Lowell” Dicky Eklund (a glossy-eyed and squirrely Christian Bale). Ward is just not where he wants to be in every aspect of his life. His career is not going anywhere as he is known as the “steppingstone” (the guy you beat on your way up in the boxing world). Between his domineering mother (Melissa Leo), his ex-wife and daughter, his 7 sisters, and his newfound love, tough-talking Charlene (Amy Adams), he is nearly torn to pieces. Eklund desperately clings to his one glory day when he knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard (or did he trip?) as he is being followed around by an HBO film crew. He tells everyone they meet that they are filming his comeback, but we quickly find that they are making a crack addiction documentary. Whalberg’s performance is modest and counterbalances Bale, who went all-in as Eklund and embodies the man in all of his skeletal maniacal ways.
4. SPOTLIGHT (2015)
In 2002, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, a group of five investigative journalists, uncovered the widespread sexual abuse of children and an extensive cover-up that would rock the city and cause a crisis to the world’s oldest institutions. The reporters found a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal, and government establishment. The story is told straight without Hollywood bells and whistles and is always mindful of the victims. This is a tense movie, but I think we have a responsibility to understand what happened and how to protect future generations. Michael Keaton plays Walter Robinson, the team’s editor, who leads reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). Their managing editor is Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) and the Globe’s new editor-in-chief Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) who pushed them toward the difficult task of investigating the diocese in a mostly Catholic city. Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup complete the cast who does a beautiful job with each of their characters, and I often found myself in Mark Ruffalo’s shoes as he exclaims what we would all think about at various points in the movie. I remembered being relieved when the movie was ending in the theatre that I had been able to get through without showing emotions in public. As the credits are about to roll, information is shared to ensure the audience understands the scale the story reported, and I just lost it. This is the best movie about investigative journalism since All the Presidents Men (1977).
3. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)
Based on the 2007 memoir by Jordan Belfort, this is a heartbreaking story told in the funniest way a dark comedy can be told. Directed by the great Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort, it recounts his perspective on his career as a stockbroker in NYC and how his firm, Stratton Oakmont, engaged in rampant corruption and fraud on Wall Street, which ultimately led to his downfall. The cast includes Jonah Hill as his business partner and friend, Donnie Azoff (the real guy’s name is Danny Porush), Margot Robbie as his second wife Naomi, and Kyle Chandler as FBI agent Patrick Denham, who tries to bring Belfort down. This film marks the director’s fifth collaboration with DiCaprio after Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), and Shutter Island (2010). I’ve read many had issues with the morally ambiguous depiction of events, explicit sex, drug use, and profanity. It does set a Guinness World Record for the most instances of swearing in a film as the f-word is used 506 times. I remember seeing this film in the theatre and laughing out loud throughout despite the obvious consequences of this man’s actions. Does it glorify a man who destroyed others? I don’t think so. My takeaway was that the position the film takes accurately depicts how the self-proclaimed masters of the universe see themselves and the rest of us. So long as they have mansions, a yacht, and excesses, they’re ok with it. You know what? I was envious that I will never know what it’s like to be filthy rich and do whatever I need to serve my needs without any regard for others. For about 5 minutes and then, I remembered that this is a man who had everything but valued nothing. This is a dark comedy that moves ahead unrelentingly. These are not people you’d want in your life, but it was a great deal of fun for a few hours.
2. FORD V FERRARI (2019)
An all-star cast tells us how Ford dethroned Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans after Henry Ford gives himself the goal to beat Ferrari for which he enlists former Le Mans winner and car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). This is not a movie I initially wanted to watch. I cared about who won the 1966 Le Mans about as much as I care about who won the 2009 Air Guitar World Championship (for the record: Sylvain “Gunther Love” Quimene). I can now tell you that this is the world’s oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923 near Le Mans, France. It is considered one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world. Unlike fixed-distance races whose winner is determined by minimum time, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is won by the car covering the greatest distance over 24 hours. You do not need to be a gear head to thoroughly enjoy this movie!
I initially watched only because two of my favourite actors were in it. I ended up laughing out loud, being on the edge of my seat and tearing up. Christian Bale and Matt Damon are so good that when they start fighting like 2 middle age friends, I didn’t even think about Batman and Jason Bourne getting in a fistfight until the movie was over, watching interviews with the actors. Once again, Christian Bale had to lose a considerable amount of weight to play Ken Miles having just finished Vice (2018), where he played Dick Cheney and had 7 months to go down from 240 lbs to 170 lbs. Not only to match Miles’s physicality but also to fit in the GT40. I did not know the backstory, so in case you don’t know what happened, I will not reveal most of the critical events as living them in real-time was fantastic. It had been so long since I had an actual story unfold in front of me and ultimately winning me over. This was the first time in months, where I completely forgot about our daily reality. Some heavy foreshadowing had me cheat and google something, and I wish I had not. This is a movie about friendship and realizing your dreams and accepting that corporate forces are what they are and that you must find happiness in the little things and your own personal goals. Bale and Damon have great chemistry. Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe complete the cast.
1. INTO THE WILD
John has written a beautiful review for this film, and you can read it here.
Jon Krakauer wrote and published Into the Wild in 1996, where he detailed the adventures and demise of a young man searching for his true path. After graduating from Emory University, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless (played with aplomb by Emile Hirsch) abandons his possessions, gives his entire $24,000 savings account to charity, and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Since Christopher cut ties with his family for the last 2 years of his life, the story is guided by postcards he wrote, the people he met along the way, and the journal he kept in Alaska. This story feels personal for me as I discovered the book when I first arrived in a little mountain town, home to 5,000 people. I had just left Toronto, population of 4 million in early 1999, almost everyone I met had this book. I borrowed a copy and read it cover to cover. I related to him. Like Chris, I was not quite ready to join “society” but not willing or able to live off the land. Everyone who met Chris along the way loved him. They saw an incredibly intelligent young man; some saw a lost child. Sean Penn being such a great actor himself must have created an environment where actors can thrive because every single performance is outstanding. I found myself caring for each of them.
The soundtrack is written and performed by my favourite singer/lyricist of all time, Eddie Vedder (a long-time friend of Director Sean Penn) connected with Chris on a profound level and wrote poignant songs that elevate the story. This is a beautiful movie where you travel through North America, searching for truth, life, and nature. In his review, John mentions: There is a sharp-edged cruelty to the manner in which he drops out of sight, leaving his dysfunctional, but loving parents wondering where their son is. This was a basis for a lot of harsh criticism of Chris. His sister, Corine, knew why he left having lived through it and also had Chris’s letter where he explained precisely why. She shared this information with Krakauer and later with Penn so they could understand Chris but asked them to keep it private to protect her parents, should the loss of their son change them. It didn’t. She realized later that she did a disservice to Chris by protecting her parents and made him seem like he was deficient for doing what he did. Just another foolish young man. Into the Wild is now mandatory reading in many schools to help young men & women think about who they are and what they want from life. This is when Corine decided to tell the whole story which explains why Chris left as he did. You can read her book “The Wild Truth”. You can also find her Ted Talk online.
My heart still swells during a few scenes where Chris is overwhelmed by the beauty in nature. Did he realize his adventure was ending badly and was he at peace? Some of the last pictures he took shows that he knew exactly what was about to happen. Absolutely emaciated, he smiles and waves at the camera holding a note. Knowing one day the camera and roll of film would be found, the note says “I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all! Because of safety incidents from people trying to reach his campsite, bus 142 has been airlifted to an undisclosed location this summer.
A beautiful, inspiring movie
- VICE 2018
- I, TONYA (2017)
- STEVE JOB (2015)
- DARK WATERS (2019)
- SULLY 2016
Marie’s appreciation for movies & TV began early in life as it offered escapes, laughter, and often an education. It sparked a love of photography, travel, and a general curiosity for the world and everything in it. Originally from Quebec City, she graduated Summa Cum Laude from Trebas Institute in 1998 where John H. Foote was her Film History professor. The winds pushed her into a different professional field and on a few adventures around the world. The passion for film and storytelling in all forms continues. Marie lives in the Canadian Rockies.