10. Big Eyes (2014)
Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Terence Stamp
Plot: In the 1960s, “Keane” became a household name from mass-produced kitsch artworks depicting big-eyed waifish children, but the wrong person received the credit. This is the story of lonely outsider artist Margaret Keane and her charlatan husband Walter.
Amy Adams is wonderful at playing the artist (Margaret) ruled by her heart for better or worse, her emotional vulnerability exacerbated by her psychology growing increasingly fractured as her work is taken from her. Margaret’s sense of reality starts to warp and Burton’s style breaks through the otherwise low-key realism in surrealist flashes. Unfortunately, in comparison to Adams’ nuance and restraint, Waltz plays her plagiarising husband increasingly as a cartoon character. When Burton forces quirky humour on proceedings, or doesn’t direct his cast to pick a consistent performance style, the film loses you, especially in the final act where every effort seems to be aiming towards making what actually happened seem less believable.
9. Batman Returns (1992)
Starring: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough
Plot: Batman once again battles to save Gotham, this time facing a pair of unstable, lonely outsider villains with animal themes, Penguin and Catwoman.
For years this had a reputation as the film that terrified studios to take another chance on Burton at the head of a blockbuster. No kid wanted toys based on oil-leaking deformed child-killers or murder victims returning from beyond the grave in S&M attire, apparently. I’m not sure if Burton ever really cared much about Batman, which is perhaps why in both of his outings with the Caped Crusader the adversaries steal the limelight. It is in conjunction with this attention that Danny DeVito is able to put together a career-high performance as The Penguin, a go-for-broke grotesque portrayal that is both tragic and funny (best line: “A lot of a tape and a little patience make all the difference!”). Michelle Pfeiffer is also instantly iconic and her take on Catwoman really deserved another outing in a sequel that never came. Even so, the film drives off a cliff in a massive rubber duck in the final act, eschewing darkness and theme for cartoony hokum.
8. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen
Plot: A disgraced barber returns to London to have his revenge against the judge who had him falsely imprisoned and tore his family apart.
Burton’s trademark tracking shots get a CG boost through smokey Victorian London and he has scarcely ever told such a dark, ultraviolet and pessimistic tale. It’s a crime that Johnny Depp got the Oscar nomination and Helena Bonham Carter didn’t as the British actress is the clear MVP as Mrs Lovett: hilarious but fragile, and full of pathos; she also has an admirable go at Stephen Sondheim’s famously hard to sing musical numbers. No, Depp and Alan Rickman can’t really sing, but they play their parts with gusto and the whole ensemble brings this gruesome musical melodrama to life. The darkly comic “A Little Priest” featuring Todd and Lovett sizing up passers by as appropriate pie fillers is the undoubted highlight, closely followed by Depp stifling his gag reflex as he tries a suspicious pie.
Recommended for you: Video – 30 Greatest Musical Numbers from Movie Musicals
7. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper van Dien
Plot: A modern-minded police inspector, a lonely outsider in life and in his profession, investigates a string of apparently supernatural murders in an isolated backwater.
I’m not saying that Sleepy Hollow is high art (it really isn’t) but, Batman aside, it’s Burton’s most enjoyable and re-watchable film; a real crowd-pleaser.
A supernatural whodunnit with style, splatter and thespians overacting in the fine tradition of Hammer, not many films can boast Michael Gambon, Michael Gough, Richard Griffiths and Iain McDiarmid in the same room, simply to provide exposition, and sound really good while doing it. The central mystery itself and how the story unfolds is never top-drawer but, of course, being an oddball Burton protagonist, Depp’s Ichabod Crane’s cynicism doesn’t win out and he isn’t able to prove the superstitious, backward locals wrong. He does however get to fight the supernatural with all the earthly means at his disposal, with reason and logic against forces of the the occult, which is pretty nifty.
6. Batman (1989)
Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle
Plot: The city of Gotham is protected from criminals by the mysterious Batman, the secret identity of lonely outcast billionaire Bruce Wayne, until he meets his match in a depraved mobster with a gimmick and a link to his past.
I know a lot of people prefer the Burton-off-the-chain sequel, but the first modern superhero blockbuster is a thing of purity. The best Batman/Bruce Wayne combo in Keaton (everyone else did one or the other better), the best Batman joke (criminals standing over a prone Batman: “Who do you think he is? Check his wallet!”) and Jack Nicholson having the time and the payday of his life as a cruel and calculating Joker. No, the tweaks to the origin story and the hero-villain relationship weren’t necessary, nor was quite so much Prince music on the soundtrack, but hear the crescendo of the Danny Elfman theme, gawp at Burton’s gothic cityscape or revel in Nicholson’s perfectly deranged one-liners and you’d be hard-pressed to have more fun at a comic book movie.
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