Tim Burton

Johnny Depp as Edward D. Wood, Jr. and Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood (1994)

Johnny Depp as Edward D. Wood, Jr. and Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood (1994)

  • Born: 1958
  • Rank: 63
  • Score: 556.20
  • Awards: NBR
  • Nominations: BAFTA / Golden Globe / 2 BFCA / also an Oscar for Animated Film
  • Feature Films: 13
  • Best: Ed Wood
  • Worst: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Top 5 Feature Films:

  1. Ed Wood – 1994
  2. Sweeney Todd – 2007
  3. The Corpse Bride – 2005
  4. Batman – 1989
  5. Edward Scissorhands – 1990

(note: he produced and wrote Nightmare Before Christmas but did not actually direct it – otherwise it would have come in 3rd)

Top 10 Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1989 – 7th – Batman
  • 1990 – 10th – Edward Scissorhands
  • 1994 – 1st – Ed Wood
  • 2007 – 7th – Sweeney Todd

I once commented that the perfect combination would be for Tim Burton to direct a Kevin Smith script. Smith has substance but has zero style as a director. Burton’s films often don’t have much substance, but there are few directors with as much style. Alas, the potential of Burton directing a Smith scripted Superman film died out in the late 90’s and for a time that looked bad as Burton proceeded with very odd re-makes with style but not much substance (Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). But then he made Corpse Bride and then Sweeney Todd and I have high hopes for his Alice in Wonderland, so things seem to be moving up.

Burton began as a Disney animator who then started making his own short films. That lead to Paul Reubens hiring him to make the first Pee Wee film, an okay film, but nothing like what was to come. That was followed by the hilarious Beetlejuice and then the dark Batman, both fantastic collaborations with Michael Keaton. He also made the under-rated Batman Returns with Keaton, but it was Edward Scissorhands that pointed the way as he first teamed up with Johnny Depp, beginning an amazing creative team. Since he first teamed with Depp, only one of his non-Depp films have I ranked better than *** (Big Fish) and only one of his Depp films has ranked lower than ***.5 (Charlie). As Johnny will be playing the Mad Hatter and will supposedly star in Dark Shadows if it ever gets made, the future looks good for Burton.

Ed Wood – #1 film of 1994

“Worst film you ever saw? Well my next one will be better.”

It takes a special kind of vision to make a loving tribute to the worst director ever (is Wood the worst director ever? – oh, yes – of the 6100+ films I have seen, only 8 of those are ranked 0 stars and two of those are Wood’s). And this is a loving tribute. It allows us to realize how utterly without talent Ed Wood and all his various friends and hanger ons were without making fun of them.

Burton made a number of smart moves in making this film. The first was to film in black and white. Because Wood’s films were all made in black and white, it has the feel of the same time period. What use would there have been to see scenes from Plan 9 being filmed in color? And the black and white merely adds to the fantastic cinematography and works well with the moody 50’s era score.

The second move was to trust more to the screenplay than to actual events. When it comes to a movie like this, it isn’t essential that everything happened. It’s essential to feel like they happened. Orson Welles would never have complained that Charlton Heston was being cast as a Mexican. Heston, as producer, got him the part in the first place. But it feels like something Welles would have complained about and allows us a feel for a time and place and gives a nice nod to movie lovers. It is one of the best scenes in the film and it doesn’t matter than it never happened. It feels like it happened.

Then of course there is the casting. Many of the actors are cast because they resemble the people they play, but the two most vital roles were Johnny Depp and Martin Landau and they both give the best performances of their career. Landau rightfully won the Oscar, but Depp would have to wait another 9 years just to get his first nomination.

1994 is an interesting year in film history. At the time, the big argument was between Gump people and Pulp people and Pulp won all the critical love and Gump won the Globes and Oscars. And in retrospect, Shawshank has become one of the most beloved films of all time (if only people had seen it in the theater). But it’s Ed Wood that is the finest film of the year, one of the finest films of the decade (I rank it only behind GoodFellas, Lone Star, Schindler’s List and Trainspotting), indeed it lands on my list as one of the 50 best films ever made.