In giving one of his many great performances of the 2010s, Michael Keaton brings to life one of the most compelling business stories of the mid-20th century: Ray Kroc’s expansion of McDonald’s from a local into a national enterprise. Like all great biopics, “The Founder” (2017) – written by Robert Siegel and directed by John Lee Hancock – is fascinating for its contradictions. Kroc made possible a corporation that now does demonstrable good – providing cheap food and entry-level jobs (a significant number of my most successful friends started at “Mickey Dee’s”).
Aside from its wonderful locations and car designs that capture the 1960s, director James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” (2019) is a sober re-creation of a niche slice of history. He trusts that 24-hour racing at Le Mans and Daytona will be exciting enough to capture and hold the layperson’s attention. He pushes it with the 2-hour, 32-minute run time, but ultimately he’s right. While non-racing-fan moviegoers aren’t likely to tune in to TV coverage of the next 24-race, this sport plays tremendously well in movie form.
The Irishman” (2019, Netflix) pairs nicely as the back half of a double feature with 1992’s “Hoffa.” That film, which was likewise Oscar-nominated, focuses on Jimmy Hoffa’s creation and popularization of a workers’ union, whereas director Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” digs into the darker corners of the mobsters who circled around Hoffa. Both films are from the point of view of one of Hoffa’s trusted seconds: Danny DeVito’s Bobby Ciaro in “Hoffa” and Robert De Niro’s Frank Sheeran, the titular Irishman.
David Mamet is known for writing con movies, and he sticks to that style even in his biographical/historical tales such as “Hoffa” (1992). Mamet’s worldview that everything is a con of some sort works perfectly for telling the life story of the man who started the Teamsters union. The film also boasts Danny DeVito’s steady direction and calm, almost sad performance as Jimmy Hoffa’s second-in-command; a classic turn by Jack Nicholson in the title role; and many other markers of prestige filmmaking.
Phil Spector” (2013), the last film from writer-director David Mamet before what has become the longest filmmaking hiatus of his career, manages to be a compelling murder-trial biopic without digging as far into the case as one would assume. Mamet focuses on building a character portrait of legendary music producer Phil Spector (Al Pacino), someone who is brilliant, strange, mostly off-putting, occasionally terrifying, occasionally kind, and possibly murderous.
Writer-director Peter Farrelly smooths out the excesses of his filmmaking traits for the surprisingly mainstream and easy-to-like “Green Book” (2018), now back in theaters and also available for home viewing. It’s not as funny as his best films like “Dumb and Dumber” and not as high-concept as the likes of “Stuck on You” and “Shallow Hal.” It’s possibly a crass grab at mainstream and critical acceptance, but it’s hard to quibble with the finished product.
Alot has been made about how horror (“Get Out” last year) and superhero (“Black Panther” this year) films are making inroads with the Oscars, but – in terms of percentage of all films released – comedy remains the most snubbed genre. “The Favourite” (2018) finds a path to Academy attention, though, by chronicling the royal court of Britain’s Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) in 1708, replete with gilded paintings, frilly dresses, pancake makeup and powdered wigs. Oscar-film trappings, in other words.
Prior to seeing “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018), I was hardly a Queen fan. The band’s popularity had faded before I was old enough to appreciate it, and growing up, their music was not something I was into. My knowledge of Queen was limited to knowing they had a handful of decent songs and a few overplayed stadium anthems, and were led by one of the most eccentric frontmen of all time. That said, I’m a huge music fan in general and had heard good things from friends about the film, so I was excited to learn about the legend of Queen.
The Disaster Artist” (2017), now available for home viewing, starts with various actors marveling over the horrible 2003 movie “The Room” and the fact that people still talk about it years later. They also raise the central question behind the phenomenon: Who is Tommy Wiseau, the man who saw this debacle from concept to finished film? Two hours later, you will have had a great time watching “The Disaster Artist,” but disappointingly, you won’t have the answer.
Historical sports dramas – say, “42” or “Battle of the Sexes” — tend to be played straight; the true story alone is dramatic enough, and that’s why a movie is being made about it. “I, Tonya” (2017), now available on home video, is different. Tonya Harding’s life story is so bizarrely off the beaten path of sports biographies that if you told it straight, no one would believe it.