After watching the trailer for his knew film Big Eyes, I was reminded of why I used to really like Tim Burton. No matter how bizarre, his films are capable of carrying a sweet and genuine soul that is only strengthened by his unique vision, and that can be enchanting to witness. The good ones anyway. No amount of Burton’s brand can save his truly awful work. Unfortunately the latter has become so common that I Sort of forgot how wonderful he could be. With that in mind, I thought it could be fun to revisit my personal choices for his Five best films.
5) Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure: The film that introduced the world to Tim Burton. I feel like a lot of people forget he made this. Strange being that so much of Burton’s trademarks are present here. A Danny Elfman score.(His first as well). Striking visuals that are both easily identifiable and just a little off. Homages to classic films. And a delightfully twisted sense of humor. Seriously, the movie is freaking hysterical to this day. This was also the perfect bridge between the adult Pee-Wee stage show and the kid friendly Play house I was addicted to.
4) Sweeney Todd: I am by no means a fan of musicals. But the grandeur, the darkness, and the eerie quiet of Sweeney Todd swept me up. This is a perfect example of what Burton is capable when he focuses on one tone. While there’s still a great deal of humor, it is played against such gloom that it is quickly swallowed up by Sweeney’s grimey teeth. I must admit to only having seen it once, but that was enough to have it take it’s place in the top five. (And I still listen to the song “My friends” occasionally. It never fails to make me shiver and smile.)
3) Big Fish: A family drama set against a father’s Tall Tales. This is a unique Burton film because it shifts between his usual whimsy and a rather straight father/son story. Quite well actually. The two blend just enough to make them feel related without one overcoming the other. Not an easy thing to do, I would imagine. Certainly there would be the temptation to have the fantasy world become fully real, or to explain it away as an old man’s way of dealing with life. Instead, Burton left everything just ambiguous enough to have both realities coexist harmoniously. A real gem.
2) Edward Scissorhands: Probably my most conventional choice. I can’t help it. This is the film that solidified Burton’s voice and style. It is also the only film capable of creating a modern fairytale that feels timeless. Because the suburbs look ’50s and ’60s, and Edward’s home is essentially an old Gothic castle, it exists in a space outside of time. Writers like C. S. Lewis, J. M. Barrie, and Lewis Carroll, were able to do this exceedingly well. Terry Gilliam is quite good at it, but his work always feels like a product of, or reaction to, the time they were made. Burton’s visuals paired with Danny Elfman’s beautiful score make Edward Scissorhands the cinematic equivalent of a bedtime story. It is funny, sad, plenty scary, and poetic – everything a fairytale should be.
HONORABLE MENTION: I couldn’t finish the list without at least mentioning Beetlejuice. So inventive. So funny. So creepy. Great performances. Just an awesome movie.
1) Ed Wood: The Tim Burton movie that only film buffs ever talk about. A perfect love letter to the kind of filmmaker without whom there would be no Tim Burton. Ed Wood is a fascinating look at the power of dreams over talent. Johnny Depp gives, hands down, the best performance of his career. How the hell was he nominated for Jack Sparrow and not this? He plays a determined hack bursting with passion and eccentricity, surrounded by characters so colorful it doesn’t matter that the damn thing is in black and white. This feels like Burton’s most personal film. At no point does he shy away from the ugliness of the story, yet nothing ever seems hopeless either. All of Burton’s best work was made with love – none more so than Ed Wood, which is what makes it his best movie.
Will Big Eyes be added to this list? Damn I hope so. I truly miss looking forward to a Time Burton film. The thought of Big Eyes living up to its potential is inspiring.