Best: The Elephant Man (1980)
“I am not an animal!” John Hurt disappears under the skin of the so-called ‘Elephant Man’, real name is John Merrick. Suffering under the weight of debilitating disfigurements, Merrick can’t even sleep lying down properly for fear of suffocating himself.
Shot in sumptuous black and white, the fact that Hurt can emote – and how! – through all that is a testament to the actor himself.
Worst: Amelia (2009)
Don’t pin this one on Hilary Swank – she makes a decent go at bringing aeroplane extraordinaire Amelia Earhart to the big screen (not long after Amy Adams had a fair crack in Night At The Museum 2 ).
No, blame for Amelia ’s metaphorical nosedive goes to director Mira Nair who, though clearly in awe of the brave heroine pilot, fails to do her justice with a plodding, overly reverential movie treatment.
Best: Erin Brokovich (2000)
Protests in a push-up bra! Julia Roberts gets third time lucky at the Academy as she lands an Oscar for her turn as real-life campaigner Erin Brokovich, a single mother who becomes a legal assistant and makes it her mission to bring down a California power company who have contaminated the water supply of an entire city.
Roberts is all feist, sass and heart in her defining role, a modern woman struggling against small town prejudices. It’s been ten years, and Roberts still hasn’t bettered herself.
Worst: Alexander (2004)
Do beautiful people make a beautiful film? Visually, yes. Everywhere else? Stuff as fugly as a Kraken’s bottom. Who’d have guessed that Oliver Stone was capable of crafting such a daft piece of tosh?
Angelina Jolie and Colin Farrell give good face, though they seem to have left the rest of their talent in the changing rooms, as they camp it up in this most hammy of historical duffs.
Best: The Last Emperor (1987)
The running time might be a bladder-tester, but you’ll be too riveted by Bernardo Bertolucci's grand epic to notice the stomach cramps.
With as much attention lavished on the characters as on the precision period detail, there’s no doubting why it snatched a titanic nine Oscars when that time of year rolled around. This one’s begging for a big screen re-release.
Worst: Domino (2005)
Fresh from watching the blokes have all the fun in the first Pirates Of The Caribbean , Keira Knightley fancies getting her knuckles bruised as bounty hunter Domino Harvey. With action maestro Tony Scott behind the camera, what could possibly go wrong?
Everything you need to know about Domino you can find in one spectacularly ridiculous scene, in which Domino escapes being shot in the face by… stripping for the enemy. Sheesh.
Best: Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Don Cheadle is the man who can in this filmic retelling of the 1994 massacre in Rwanda, where one million Tutsis were murdered.
Though the film as a whole teeters on the brink of brilliance, admirably steering clear of violence for violence’s sake but suffering a feeling of over-sanitisation, it’s Cheadle who steals the show. Desperate and willing to do anything, he bribes and blabs his way through the horror.
Worst: Patch Adams (1999)
We all love doctors, right? No? Oh… Perhaps Robin Williams is to blame, here taking on the role of real-life patient spirit buoyer Patch Adams.
It’s a continuation of Williams’ ‘one man can make a difference’ sctick that he also touted in Dead Poets Society , and the jigs well and truly up now. Thank God he shook things up with Insomnia …
Best: Monster (2003)
Charlize Theron gets ugly. Christina Ricci dons boy-hair. Together, they take the true story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos and bring it kicking and screaming to the movies.
Theron is a tour de force, losing herself entirely in the wronged woman who would go on to become a murderous prostitute. She’s effortlessly backed up by Ricci, though, and their relationship ensures that Monster is more than just another attempt to exploit the tragic figure of Aileen Wuornos. Oh, and it features ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ on its OST, a whole seven years before Glee made it cool again.
Worst: The Doors (1991)
Before Alexander , Oliver Stone had a go at a biopic with this Val Kilmer-headed look back over the history of band The Doors.
It’s a trippy, brazen ride, replete with decade-defining sexism and Native American-stamping attitudes. Shame Kilmer's completely one note. Listen to the soundtrack instead.
Best: La Vie On Rose (2007)
For such a tiny person, Marion Cotillard delivers a gob-smacking, breathtaking performance in La Vie En Rose that reaches right up into the rafters.
As legendary French singer Edith Piaf, Cotillard ages over a 20 year span, and is never any less than 100% convincing. Sure, the running time’s a bit of a tester, but Cotillard is a magnetic presence that makes it all the harder to press the ‘pause’ button when nature calls. Lyrical stuff.
Worst: Great Balls Of Fire! (1989)
A rare duff note for the usually dependable Winona Ryder, as Dennis Quaid plays ‘50s rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, the eccentric musician who the public both loved and loathed.
Ignoring Quaid’s ridiculous ‘do, Great Balls Of Fire! is a schizophrenic ride, the energy of its opening half succumbing to a numbing examination of Lewis’ marriage. Dire. Plus… that title?
Best: Ed Wood (1994)
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp follow up their stellar Edward Scissorhands with this goofy but endearing testament to the life of Hollywood’s most famously terrible director, Ed Wood.
But it’s Martin Landau who takes the biscuit here, bagging an Oscar for his turn as Bela Lugosi, the has-been horror actor who just wants another shot at the limelight.
Worst: Beyond The Sea (2004)
Kevin Spacey attempts to play somebody younger and more dashing than he, as he takes on the role of real-life ‘Mack The Knife’ crooner Bobby Darin.
The musical numbers may get a few feet tapping, but Darin’s story has paled with age despite its dramatic content. As we said way back when, “Unless you share his passion for Darin, though, it's Citizen Kane without a Rosebud.”
Best: Persepolis (2007)
Teen tantrums and growing pangs get the comic book treatment, as Marjane Satrapi adapts her autobiographical strip story into an Oscar-nommed movie.
The Academy favoured Pixar over this offering, though Satrapi’s knowing, beautifully-rendered testament to politics, art and being a confused young woman in a confusing world is both universally relatable and gorgeously complex.
Replete with giant rubber penises, Richard Wagner playing a Nazi vampire and Ringo Starr as, uh, the Pope, Ken Russell’s bonkers tribute to Romantic composer Franz Liszt is a sweaty mess of half-baked ideas.
Fancy feeling off your face without even taking anything? This is the film for you. Though, really, that’s what Enter The Void is for.
Best: Milk (2008)
Sean Penn… likeable. We’re not sure that particular adjective is generally used in relation to the Oscar-mongerer. Talented? Yes. Confident? Yep. Attractive? Well, ish. But likeable?
Somehow, Gus Van Sant draws a show of staggering depth and range from Penn with Milk , as he plays the first ever man in office Stateside to come out of the closet. It’s the best Penn’s been in years.
Worst: The Audrey Hepburn Story (2000)
Jennifer Love Hewitt hasn’t a hope at capturing the same kind of charisma as her forbear, even if - riding on the success of her slasher series I Know What You Did Last Summer - she’s given a chance here.
Sadly, she falls at the first hurdle. Though she can just about pull off the look, the accent’s atrocious, and the three-hour running time of this TV spectacle adds insult to injury.
Best: Malcolm X (1992)
No denying the likeness here, with Denzel Washington a dead ringer for Malcolm X, the human rights activist and minister who sought to hold America accountable for its crimes against African Americans.
With Spike Lee at the helm, Washington perfectly captures the passion that drove Malcolm, fleshing him into a fully-rounded character that sizzles on the screen.
Worst: De-Lovely (2004)
When a movie relies on its musical numbers for impetus, you know you’re in trouble. Remove them from this Kevin Kline-starring ode to Cole Porter and the entire production collapses like a very rickety house of cards.
Fame Academy kid Lemar and Robin Williams are both in it. Need we say more?
Best: Schindlers List (1993)
E.T. and Indiana Jones are nowhere in sight as Steven Spielberg gets serious crafting his magnum opus. Fittingly, it’s the one what got him the Best Director gong at the Academy.
Harrowing, unapologetic and able to reduce an army of men to tears, it’s also the finest thing that Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes have ever done. Yes, that’s including Clash Of The Titans .
Worst: Factory Girl (2006)
We never get a satisfactory answer for why Andy Warhol decided to make socialite Edie Sedgewick his pet project, which is one of the many failings that hampers George Hicknlooper’s biopic.
Walking tree Hayden Christensen doesn’t help matters with a typically stiff performance, while Sienna Miller does her best to turn Sedgewick into a layered and interesting individual. Sadly, the final result is as throwaway as last year’s crusty paint tins.
Best: Raging Bull (1980)
Man is his own enemy in Martin Scorsese’s luminous boxing pic. With a famously committed-as-hell Robert De Niro by his side (he built up the muscle, then chucked on the fat for the role), Scorsese’s eye for a killer shot loaded with emotion is never better than in Raging Bull .
Fast forward 30 years, and it still holds water. From the hue-flushed black and white, to Joe Pesci's stellar support, Raging Bull is the biopic to end all biopics.