Jamey Sheridan, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson in HBO's Game Change/Photo: Phillip V. Caruso
Every once in a while, amid incredible performances by talented actors, one performance comes along that just blows us away. HBO’s “Game Change,” directed by Jay Roach, premiered earlier this month and what is there to say but, “Wow!” Moore’s performance as the 2008 vice-presidential candidate and governor of Alaska Sarah Palin was, quite simply, mesmerizing.
John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, authors of the book on which the movie was based, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime , interviewed hundreds of people involved in the campaign – including campaign manager Steve Schmidt, played fiercely by Woody Harrelson – and exercised every last reporter muscle in an effort to expose the goings-on behind one of the most talked-about presidential campaigns in history. Though some may question the accuracy of the events portrayed, screenwriter Danny Strong argues, "We told a story that's true. And a story that's accurate." He continued, in an interview on Yahoo’s Power Players blog, "It's not even a partisan story. It's not a story about Republicans, it's not a story about Democrats. It's a story about the process of how we elect our leaders."
Story accuracy aside, let’s get back to the point at hand: Moore’s performance is impeccable. She evokes sympathy for a governor, a woman, a mother, a wife who throws herself at the mercy of a nation’s opinions and is met with mudslinging, parody, demoralization, and embarrassment. Palin is not a simple character in real life or in the film, and Moore brilliantly brings this very complicated woman to the screen -- and keeps us believing for the two full hours as we sit, transfixed.
As pop-culture-loving Americans, we now can’t help but think back to past performances of this caliber, performances during which actors have fully transformed to become the character at hand. So with that, we present seven other on-screen true-life portrayals that have been released in the last ten years.
"The Iron Lady": Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher (2012)
It’s no wonder Meryl Streep took home the 2012 Academy Award for Best Actress. Her portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was stunning. Time and again, Streep amazes audiences. She’s one of those true stars who has us, minutes into whatever her latest project is, completely convinced.
"The Runaways": Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett (2010)
Truth be told, I wasn’t pulling for Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett in director Floria Sigismondi’s adaptation of the book Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story. It became quickly evident, though, that moody, pouty, unpredictable Stewart was the perfect choice for the part of the young up-and-coming punk icon. (Note, too, that Dakota Fanning is no slouch in the film either as Cherie Currie.)
"La Vie en Rose": Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf (2007)
Marion Cotillard a mess? Say it ain’t so! A musical biopic is often the best kind as it tends to incorporate a rise from nothing, struggle to stardom, drama at the height of it all, and inevitably a heartbreaking fall. Cotillard’s portrayal of French singer and icon Edith Piaf, a girl who rose to stardom following a childhood spent in her grandmother’s whorehouse and a stint as a street performer alongside her acrobat father. With international fame at her fingertips, Piaf suffered a few broken bones in a car crash, and what followed was a descent into alcohol and morphine addiction, eventually leading to death by liver cancer. Cotillard checks all vanity at the door and becomes Piaf in all her grandeur and glory, then crudeness and tragedy. It isn't pretty, but man -- is it beautiful.
"Factory Girl": Sienna Miller as Edie Sedgwick (2006)
It was more Sienna Miller’s tabloid goings-on than her acting gigs that got tongues wagging in the early part of the 2000s but that all changed with her evolution from sorta-good actress to the phenomenal Edie Sedgwick -- socialite, party girl, and, ultimately, Andy Warhol muse. Miller embodied Sedgwick; she became the legend with a swipe of eyeliner, the bat of an eyelash, the perfect haircut – and a performance that would likely knock Warhol’s shoes off from both his feet and his paintings.
"Walk the Line": Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter (2005)
Before Joaquin went off his rocker (or did he?), he turned out one of the most impressive musical biopic performances of all time as The Man in Black, Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line,” based on the biography Man in Black by Johnny Cash. At Phoenix’s side, in the Oscar-winning performance that catapulted her from bubbly to breathtaking, was Reese Witherspoon as Johnny’s dedicated lifeline, June Carter. Beyond singing the songs, beyond learning the instruments themselves, the two became Johnny Cash and June Carter, for two-plus hours, through the broken relationships, drug addictions, love, fights, and reconciliation -- and we believed them every step of the way.
"Ray": Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles (2004)
As mentioned earlier, musical biopics are often the best kind and Taylor Hackford’s “Ray” is no exception. Jamie Foxx seemingly came out of nowhere and took the movie world by storm with his gritty yet beautiful, heartbreaking but hopeful turn as soul legend Ray Charles. Foxx presents to us the Ray Charles no one knew, and is brilliant in his performance as Charles during his years of addiction. The performance, not surprisingly, earned Foxx an Academy Award.
So there you have it – eight of the best performances in biopics from the past ten years. What did we miss? What are we oh-so-wrong about? And what are the best of all time? Tell us below.