Top Five Tim Burton Movies

Posted: September 27, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

Written by Daniel Simpson

This Friday sees the release of a new Tim Burton movie called Miss. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Watching the trailer though, the film fees less like a Tim Burton film and more like yet another generic young adult adaptation about an ordinary kid who finds out their special and there are other special people just like them. The visuals do have a somewhat gothic tone and I suppose outsiders are a reoccurring theme in Burton’s work, but the whole thing just looks like Burton-lite. Whatever the quality of that film turns out to be, I do have a fondness for classic Burton and I thought it an appropriate time to look back on some of the filmmaker’s best films. I should note from the outset though that this list will only be considering films Burton directed, so The Nightmare Before Christmas (technically directed by Henry Sellick) doesn’t count.

5. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Streetsweeneytoddmovieposter

For me, Sweeney Todd is Tim Burton’s last really strong film and it also seems to be the last one to develop a really passionate fan-base. He’s certainly made higher grossing films since then, but none have inspired the fandom Todd has. Part of what sets the film apart is the sheer novelty of an R-rated musical about a serial killer. That’s certainly neat and Burton brings his Gothic sensibilities to the project perfectly. This film looks awesome and the way blacks are juxtaposed with moments of bright colour (typically reds if you follow) is stunning. The music is also quite good with the lyrics being really clever and fun. The only thing holding the film back from greatness is the actual story, which is very stage-bound and prone to some uninteresting digressions. Still, this is a very strong film and one of the best modern musicals.

4. Batman ReturnsBatman Returns

I’ve flip-flopped on this movie for a long time, but it’s one I’ve always come back to. Back in 1992, Batman Returns was criticized not simply for how dark it was, but how weird and grotesque. From the hideous design of The Penguin, to some of the violence, to Catwoman’s hyper-sexualization, to the plot to murder all the first born sons of Gotham. There’s also a lot of weird little scenes, like when The Penguin bites that one guy’s noise. As weird as this all felt in 92, it might actually be weirder in 2016. In spite of the numerous comic book movies we’ve seen lately, nothing has really compared to what Burton did with Batman Returns. That weirdness is a big part of the charm here, and when you also factor the visuals, atmosphere, and Michelle Pfieffer’s amazing performance and you’ve got a winner. Yes, the narrative is a bit of a mess, but the style and execution go a long way to make this something special.

3. Edward Scissorhandsedward_scissorhands_ver1

In 1990, Tim Burton teamed with a young actor for the first time named Johnny Depp. While that partnership may have been run into the ground in recent years they really started off strong and the best performance Depp ever gave for Burton might just be Edward Scissorhands. The fact that Depp is able to invest so much into Edward is amazing and he also does a great job balancing comedy and drama. Burton’s films have always been about outsiders and Edward is perhaps the biggest outsider Burton ever created. He’s pale, awkward, naïve, quiet, and of course, he has scissors for hands. However that fantastical final point isn’t quite as essential as you might expect. Really, anyone who has ever felt different will relate to Edward and his journey. Edward’s design is also really awesome. Visually, this is actually one of Burton’s most interesting films given the way he is able to take his gothic weirdness and injecting it into the sunny suburbs. The satire here is also pretty sharp and Danny Elfman’s score is simply delightful. I do think the film’s third act is a little clumsy, but what really matters here is Edward himself, who is one of the best characters in Burton’s oeuvre.

2.Ed Wooded_wood_film_poster

“So bad they’re good” movies are very popular in this day and age, usually so viewers can laugh at the ineptitude with which they are made. What works so well about Burton’s biopic of “worst director of all-time” Ed Wood is that it has no interest in mocking Ed. The film has no illusions about the quality of Ed’s work (and frequently depicts his direction as incompetent) but it’s also clear Burton has a lot of love for the man. This is most clearly shown in the endless (and infectious) enthusiasm Ed has for making movies. He clearly loves what he does and he also loves the people he’s working with. Johnny Depp gives a great performance as Ed Wood, but the show stealer here is Martin Landau has a washed-up and highly profane Bela Lugosi. Landau captures Lugosi perfectly and he’s also hilarious. Watching him go on cuss-filled rants about Boris Karloff fills me with laughter every time I see it. Burton reigns a lot of his more extreme darkness and Gothicism, but the black and white cinematography is beautiful and perfectly chosen for this story.

1. BatmanBatman 89 poster

Like a lot of Tim Burton movies, the writing in Batman definitely has some problems. Perhaps most notably is Vickie Vale, who is not a very well-developed character and her forced importance feels insincere. There are also a lot of smaller things littered throughout the film that stand out as odd. However to let that detract from the whole would be a shame because for whatever flaws Batman has, it also does a whole lot right. Visually speaking, this is gorgeous. The gothic art direction and cinematography are moody and perfect for Batman. Burton really does an amazing job creating Gotham City and giving it a distinct identity (even if you can see the seams, so to speak, at times). Michael Keaton also makes for a great Batman, powerful and understated, and Jack Nicholson is a blast as The Joker. Watching these two square off is highly compelling and their final showdown carries a lot of importance. The film also has a handful of really awesome scenes, notably Batman’s first appearance on the roof top, the axis chemicals scene, the Joker’s post-surgery moment, and subsequent seizing of the criminal underworld. My favourite scene is actually one of the most simple in the film; Batman driving to Batcave with Vicky. Just a really atmospheric and awesome moment.

What really puts Batman over the top is the score. Danny Elfman has always been Burton’s greatest collaborator and with Batman he creates one of the best film scores ever. It’s dark, grand, and matches Burton’s visuals perfectly. The film as a whole is a triumph of style and creativity, and beneath all that I do think this serves as an interesting peak into Batman as a character. While the film isn’t as interested in psychologically probing Bruce Wayne as Christopher Nolan would be sixteen years later, Burton does show some glimpses into the man that ring very true. One definitely feels Bruce’s obsession come through. This is the moment where everything seemed to converge for Burton, when he was at the peak of his craft, had the perfect vehicle to unleash his unique style, and was given the resources he needed. The result is a modern classic that changed the movie business forever.

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