Top 5 Johnny Depp Movies 2 257

black-mass

This week Johnny Depp returns to our screens with what might be his best performance to date. In Black Mass he plays James “Whitey” Bulger, one of America’s most notorious criminals, a man who ruled the Southeast of Boston because of his partnership with the FBI who basically let him get away with his crimes in exchange for information about rival gangsters invading his turf.

The film itself is disappointingly generic, pulling from and subsequently standing in the shadow of a million other gangster movies from Goodfellas to The Departed and beyond. It’s not bad, in fact it’s perfectly entertaining particularly if you’re a fan of the genre. But it’s nothing we haven’t seen done better before and that’s most disappointing to me because it’s directed by Scott Cooper, who made Crazy Heart and the extremely underrated Out of the Furnace.

The film might be lacking but the same can’t be said for Depp himself who gives a towering, magnetic and mesmerizing performance in the lead role. His interpretation of Whitey Bulger is at once terrifying and utterly compelling, making him a real life monster of whom you want to see and hear more. It might just nab the actor yet another Oscar nomination.

Depp hasn’t been this great in a long time but over the years he has starred in some pretty fantastic films. Here’s my top 5. Note: I purposefully didn’t include A Nightmare on Elm Street as, for the purposes of this article, I didn’t count as “a Johnny Depp movie.”

5. Finding Neverland

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This year’s Pan may have painted the beloved children’s story in a messy light but this could easily be considered the true origin story on film. Depp plays Scottish Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie in early 20th century who befriends a father-less family (the mother of which played by Kate Winslet) and whose experiences with them inspired him to write the original magical story. It’s a deeply moving (if you don’t well up at little Freddy Highmore in the final scene, you’re a robot!) and enchanting film, one which celebrates the potential for imagination within stories – for children and grown-ups alike – and gives us a real sense of a storytelling genius. It’s one of Depp’s less showier performances and all the better for it; his flawless Scottish accent and sensitive portrayal is one of the reasons the film is so effective.

4. Edward Scissorhands

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It’s the film that put him on the worldwide map and made him a star. And even when you go back and watch it now it’s easy to see why it captured the hearts of so many, with its charming story of a gentle “near-complete” man with scissors for hands created by an eccentric inventor who is brought into an unfamiliar suburban community after living in isolation where he befriends a teenage girl (Winona Ryder). It’s a Gothic fairytale that Tim Burton has rarely, if ever, been able to top and a wonderfully endearing performance by Depp filled with a believable sense of childlike innocence.

3. Donnie Brasco

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It’s one of the films that Black Mass seems to be drawing from, starring Depp as real life undercover FBI agent Donnie Brasco who infiltrates the mob and finds himself identifying with their life, particularly when he befriends his “mark” Lefty (Al Pacino). It’s an example of a film that can exist very much within that familiar Goodfellas-seque gangster world – one of the highlights is Depp explaining the various different meanings of “fogedaboudit” – while still mark itself out as a compelling, unpredictable and surprisingly thoughtful entry into the genre. Depp manages that difficult job of making us car about a character that often makes foolish or at least rash decisions that compromise the goal of his character.

2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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“We can’t stop here, this is bat country!” Not five minutes into this adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson novel and it’s abundantly clear that it’s directed by Terry Gilliam. Depp plays a version of the author as he goes on a drug-fuelled trip to Las Vegas with his unstable lawyer (Benicio del Toro). What follows is a journey of utter hell-raising craziness that, whether you like it or not, is hard to shake from your mind. It’s certainly not for everybody – I know of just as many people who hate it as love it – but the psychedelic visuals, dark humour and general unhinged vibe make it one of Depp’s most ludicrously enjoyable films in my eyes.

1. Ed Wood

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This might tie with Black Mass for Depp’s best performance, playing the notoriously terrible film director Ed Wood as he tries to get his films made despite lack of support in Hollywood, namely the famously awful Plan 9 from Outer Space. It’s one of his many collaborations with Tim Burton but lacks the sort of generic eccentricities that have become so dull with their projects as of late (we’re looking at you, Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland). It’s presented in beautiful black and white, with Depp giving a complex and heartening performance at the head of an amazing cast that also includes Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, Vincent D’Onofrio as Orson Welles and Bill Murray as Bunny Breckinridge. Easily the best Burton/Depp collaboration and my favourite of film of the actors repertoire.

Honourable mentions: Rango, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Which is your favourite Johnny Depp movie? Let us know in the comments below! Black Mass is in cinemas now.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2 Comments

  1. Great list dude! To be honest, I’m kinda glad POTC never made the top five haha. I really need to see Finding Neverland again though, heart warming and beautifully made film.

    1. Sorry, Martin, just noticed your reply! Haha yeah, I’m not a big fan of POTC, even if Depp’s the best thing about it. I rewatched FN recently and it really is wonderful. What did you think of Black Mass?

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 418

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 449

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10