When I think of the words “whimsical” and “macabre,” I think of Tim Burton. When I think of “whimsically macabre,” I think of Tim Burton. While the cooky director (just take a look at that featured image) hasn’t made anything I’ve loved in recent years, there are a handful of his films that I love, dearly. I haven’t quite seen everything of his (Big Fish being the biggest offense), so this list is perpetually subject to change. As always, thanks for reading!
Honorable Mention: Beetlejuice (1988)
Why does it makes this list? Michael Keaton. And the absolutely wonderful production design and special effects. Mostly though, for Michael Keaton.
Why isn’t it higher on this list? Not enough Michael Keaton. When I found this on Blu-ray, I eagerly popped it into my PlayStation, remembering loving it as a kid, primarily for Keaton’s performance, and he didn’t let me down. He doesn’t quite scare me now like he did when I was 5, but his “equal parts hilarity, horror, and batshit insanity” performance is still absolutely perfect. It’s so memorable that I forgot he is only given roughly 15 minutes of screen time. The rest is good, but doesn’t reach great status as the next 5 films certainly do.
#5: Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Why does it make this list? Many, many reasons. I love what Burton has to say about suburban culture and their fear of anything “different.” The film has a singular feel to it, and it’s certainly a film that only Tim Burton could have made. Johnny Depp is absolutely fantastic as the Frankenstein-esque titular character, balancing absurd humor (just look at some of those facial expressions) with genuine empathy. Danny Elfman’s score is perfect, Winona Ryder is Winona Ryder, and that “Ice Dance” scene is probably the best thing Burton has ever done. I know I’ll likely catch a few hisses for this “low” placement, but in reality Scissorhands is interchangeable with the following entry. There isn’t a doubt in my mind – this is one of Burton’s 5 best films.
#4: Batman (1989)
Why does it make this list? I wrote a brief review, which you can read here. Other brief reasons include: Michael Keaton (see a recurring theme here?), Jack Nicholson (his part gangster part psychotic Joker performance is still awesome today), Danny Elfman creating the only Batman theme there will ever be, and last but not least, Burton’s gothic/fantasy vision for Gotham. Very refreshing given the “this is just Chicago, isn’t it?” feel of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
#3: Frankenweenie (2012)
Why does it make this list? These top 3 all have a special place in my heart. Frankenweenie may be the beneficiary of some classic bias, as it is a film that feels like it was made for me. I love stop-motion animation, and this is an absolutely beautiful movie. Given the story, a boy and his (undead) dog, black and white is a perfect choice. The aesthetic as a whole is perfect, and pure Burton. It also has a lot of heart, and I’m convinced that Burton’s most heartfelt films come in black and white. I can really feel his passion here. I’m also a sucker for anything involving dogs (I’m unashamed to admit that I’ve cried at least once during every viewing of this film), and Burton’s loving throwbacks to monster movies make it nearly the perfect movie for me. I love its simplicity, the simple music, the simple story, the quick run time, and the thick “Halloween” atmosphere.
#1, Part I: Batman Returns (1992)
Why does it make this list? You can read my full review here. This is 100% a Tim Burton film that just happens to have Batman in it. Hilarious, beautiful, weird, and full of a richness and depth that few, if any, superhero films have achieved – it’s ironic that what is perhaps the most “Tim Burton” film in his oeuvre is about an incredibly mainstream, beloved superhero. It’s okay, though, as Batman is still the greatest comic book character of all-time. Last but not least: Michelle Pfeiffer.
#1, Part II: Ed Wood (1994)
Why does it make this list? You can read my full review here. Johnny Depp gives the best performance of his career (seriously – this looks effortless, and he’s clearly having a blast – perfection). This is Burton’s best ensemble cast (highlight, obviously, Martin Landau as Bela Legosi). The subject matter fits the director like a glove (outcasts looking out for one another, with the protagonist boasting a relentless passion for filmmaking). Ed Wood is Burton’s masterpiece. It is his funniest film, his most visually striking film, and is also his film with the most heart (along with Scissorhands and Frankenweenie).
There you have it, my picks for Tim Burton’s 5 best films. Let me know whether you agree with me or think I’m a moron below, or even post up your own top 5. Thanks for reading, folks. You ever walk with the devil in the pale moonlight?