no, “alice in wonderland” didn’t make our list of the 5 best tim burton films

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Tim Burton has perhaps the most instantly recognizable visual style in mainstream American film. The gothic overtones, garish retro stylings, often drab, monotone palette, and pale, gaunt characters (usually embodied by Johnny Depp) synonymous with his name have not just given identity to an entire generation of chubby Hot Topic kids, but made the director a distinct household name. Usually accompanied by the alternately spooky and bombastic scores of Oingo Boingo alumnus Danny Elfman, Burton’s films are just as heavy in wicked, morbid humor as they are in eye-catching imagery, and it’s a mix that keeps his die hard apostles (those kids we talked about, mainly) coming back for more, even as the real gems are far between these days. However, the man’s best work stands far beyond argument, and those are the films we’ll be revisiting here. They are :

5 Batman Returns (1992)

This may require explaining. You may ask, “œIf you’re going to list one of his Batman films, why not the original?”The answer is, while the 1989 original may without question rank as the better Batman film (a category wherein Batman Returns fares dismally), Returns is a superior Tim Burton film. If one allows their self to look at this objectively, not as Batman, but for what it really is, the superhero myth as filtered through the most high-powered Burton lens possible, then it becomes quite enjoyable indeed. From Danny DeVito’s bibbed, deformed and frankly disgusting Penguin to the almost strictly monochrome palate and the thick coat of lurid dark humor and Victorian garishness covering everything, it is a perfect instance of the director’s style fully realized and unfettered, telling a rousing story with memorably twisted characters (Batman included of course). It also contains one of the best performances in a Burton film, that of Michelle Pfeiffer as Burton’s vision of Catwoman, a sultry, semi-undead psycho on the warpath against male aggression, as personified by her deeply crooked, domineering boss, Christopher Walken. It really is something else.

4 Sweeney Todd (2007)

To some, the words “œTim Burton”are poison, to others, the word “œmusical”is. But this engrossing, disturbing piece of gothic fetishism can be recommended with confidence to either crowd, it’s that good. Johnny Depp delivers Steven Sondheim’s lyrics in a commanding boom, which resounds with the rest of the film’s innate gusto. Burton’s betrothed Helena Bonham Carter also does well with the role of a meatpie-making accomplice to Depp’s murderous barber Sweeney Todd, whose recipe changes markedly once she is provided with a steady stream of fresh flesh by Todd’s killing spree. An early and fantastic appearance by Sacha Baron Cohen as a dubious, flamboyant rival barber hailing from Italy is also an asset to the proceedings. While the present of Sweeney’s bloody campaign for revenge is rendered in Burtons trademark gloomy black/gray scheme, the flashbacks detailing Todd’s tragic backstory is painted in a colorful, lush landscape of innocence, lending an interesting thematic importance to Burton’s aesthetic. Sweeney Todd remains Burton’s best since 94’s Ed Wood.

3 Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Based on an idea that Burton apparently formulated in childhood, this kooky, touching, and of course, visually stylish tale of non-conformity and mob mentality in suburbia is understandably one of the director’s most personal works. The legendary horror-miester Vincent Price honors the film with his presence in the opening scenes as an old inventor who creates Edward, an artificial doll-boy played by the talented Johnny Depp, who one could suspect as an artificial doll-boy of Burton’s own invention. Trouble is, Edward’s got scissors for hands and the inventor kicks off before he can give Edward his newly crafted normal hands. Nevertheless, painfully, shy, quiet Edward is accepted into the surrounding community after being discovered in the inventor’s lonely mansion by Dianne Weist’s friendly saleswoman. This is all soon undone, naturally, by suspicion, jealousy and a cruel misunderstanding. Edward Scissorhands is an imperfect, yet unique and thought provoking film that was no doubt worthy of helping usher in the 1990s in cinema.

2 Beetlejuice (1988)

This highly original, visually brilliant and screamingly funny macabre comedy is full of sickening sight gags and memorable creepy characters, chief among them Michael Keaton as the uncouth titular ghoul, a reverse exorcist who spends his afterlife chasing tail and hiring out to other ghosts as an ouster of the living. When recently deceased young couple, Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin), enlist the help of “œThe Ghost With The Most”to scare an obnoxious New York yuppie clan The Deetzes from their beloved New England home, things become complicated when they befriend the gothic teenage daughter of the brood (Winona Ryder). The film’s surreal, satirical portrayal of life after death (giant striped worms that inhabit a desert-like limbo, bureaucratic waiting rooms full of the newly dead) and its madcap, effects-laden finale where Beetlejuice pulls out all the stops on the Deetzes’ dinner party leave their mark on the viewer for life.

1 Ed Wood (1994)

This sweet, quirky and often hilarious biopic of the man who made some of the worst films on record (including the long-reputed single worst of all time, Plan 9 From Outer Space) is Burton’s all around best and most accessible. Shot in black and white and further given a genuine retro feel by the expressive performances, not least of which permanent Burton muse/slave-boy Johnny Depp as cross-dressing ultrahack Edward D. Wood Jr. The film focuses on Wood making his three most famous films, Glen or Glenda, Bride Of The Atom, and Plan 9 from the early to mid-1950s and details Wood’s friendship with an aging Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau in an Oscar winning performance), at this point a drug addicted has-been, as well as the director’s association with an assortment of odd characters from Hollywood’s fringes (including a fantastic Bill Murray). The scene where a beleaguered Wood storms off a film set in full female dress to a bar where he meets and commiserates with fellow put-upon auteur Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio) is a perfect encapsulation of the film’s magic.

Closing Words

That’s all for Tim Burton. Before you comment we would like to take the opportunity to remind you he DID NOT DIRECT The Nightmare Before Christmas. (which, looking back, might have something to do with its overall complete and satisfying nature as a film). Have at it.

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