Johnny Depp has to be considered one of the best actors of all time. You can’t really dispute that and in my opinion, he is the most talented actor our generation has had the privilege to watch. I used to feel that way about Tom Hanks, and I still think that Hanks has it in him, however, he has really cut back on the amount of films he acts in, where as Depp is the consistent, continuous worker who releases high quality films year in and year out. Johnny found a partner in crime when he teamed up with Tim Burton for Edward Scissorhands back in 1990 and together they have produced some of the best films to come out over the past 20 years. Burton and Depp are like peanut butter and chocolate. Individually, they are really good…but together, they are great.
(note: A Nightmare on Elm Street and Platoon are not eligible for this list. They are not ‘true’ Johnny Depp starring vehicles)
Depp’s most interesting quality is his ability to choose a wide range of roles that allows him to show just how versatile an actor he can be. Honestly, it was extremely difficult for me to put together a ‘best of’ list for the man. I enjoy nearly every film he has starred in. Secret Window was dark and entertaining. Sleepy Hollow was intense and a joy to watch. Alice in Wonderland had redeeming qualities and would not have been the same without him. Public Enemies, although a bit too long, was solid storytelling with Depp doing a great John Dillinger. He also brought a certain vibrancy to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He added even more coolness to Robert Rodriguez’ Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Nick of Time, in which he starred with Christopher Walken, was also a decent thriller. His appearance in Chocolat made that film much more enchanting than it probably should have been. Point being it’s really tough to find a Depp film that wasn’t somewhat entertaining. All of the films listed above are fun to watch even though they fall a bit short of top 10 status. Creating a top 10 list for Johnny is a daunting task, but here is my attempt…
10. (TIE) BENNY & JOON - Mary Stuart Masterson (where has she been?) plays a mentally ill young woman named Joon who finds her love in an eccentric man, Sam, played by Depp, who models himself after Buster Keaton. The storyline of this enchanting little film is very similar to What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in that we have a man, Benny (wonderfully portrayed by the underrated Aidan Quinn) who takes care of Joon, his mentally ill sister. When a newcomer comes into town, Sam, and stays at their home for a few days, a relationship is developed between the two of them that causes a rift between the siblings. Depp’s performance really makes the movie much better than it could have been. He makes you look at Sam with wonder and you can easily understand why he and Joon are attracted to each other. They are both outcasts…but also very eccentric and talented. Rating:
10. (TIE) FINDING NEVERLAND - We begin the list with one of the most heartwarming Depp movies ever made. It is a story about the glory of being of kid. The movie details the experiences of “Peter Pan” author J.M. Barrie, which lead him to write the children’s classic. He got to know four children who have no father. Drawing from his time with the kids, he writes a story about children who don’t want to grow up. Depp gives a fine, yet understated performance as Sir James Matthew Berry and Kate Winslet gives a lovely turn as Sylvia Davies. This is not a typical role for Johnny, however, the subject matter does kind of fall into his foray. One of the key themes of the film – ‘life finds a way to put into our lives the people we’re supposed to be living our lives with’ – is essential to understanding a key element of life in general. In my opinion, this graceful little film is a true example of movie making and storytelling magic. Rating:
9. ED WOOD – Without a doubt the most subtle, understated Tim Burton film is also one of his best. This is a film that relies on a remarkable combination of fine performances and a director’s complete understanding of the title character. This mostly true story of the legendary filmmaker who was hailed as the worst director of all time is a great study of a human being who is incredibly passionate about something that they are just not naturally gifted at. The scene in the film where Wood converses with Orson Welles, who is considered one of the best directors of all time, is one of my favorites. It’s fascinating to see these two legendary men (legends for different reasons) talk to each other and realize that they are equally passionate about their work, however, one is great at it and the other is a failure. Ed Wood’s strange group of friends and actors also add a lot to the film. We get fine performances by Bill Murray, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, and Martin Landau, who gives an Oscar winning portrayal of Bela Lugosi. If you haven’t seen this gem (and most people have not judging by it’s poor box office gross), I highly recommend it. Depp amazes again and completely loses himself in the role…as he does with most of his astonishing performances. Rating:
8. FROM HELL – There have been many tellings and re-tellings about the infamous character Jack the Ripper. This is my favorite version of The Ripper’s story. Funny thing is that it’s not really because of the performances. Depp does decent work here (accent could have been a little better) and I can think of a dozen or so actresses that would have been better than Heather Graham. The reason why this film is so entertaining to watch is due to the superb visual storytelling by the Hughes Brothers. Arguably their best film (Menace II Society and The Book of Eli are also quite good), the Hughes film the murders with shock, gloom, cruelty, and darkness. The also do a fine job portraying the hopelessness of the streets of 1888 London. This is not a happy ending type film. The Hughes keep it real…and for that it impressed me. Rating:
7. FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS – The craziest and most psychotic film on this list that is not a Burton/Depp collaboration…and also another film that is definitely ‘not for everyone’. To be honest, watching director Terry Gilliam’s take on Hunter S. Thompson’s seminal psychedelic classic about his road trip across Western America is one of the most entertaining films I’ve ever seen. Why? Well, the dialogue is simply outstanding and features so many memorable lines. The supporting players, although briefly seen, do a lot with their limited screen time. Tobey Maguire as the sickly, albino looking hitchhiker, and Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) as a musician are the standouts. This is a road trip film however, and it either soars or dies on the performances of the two leads. The casting of Depp and Benicio Del Toro was nothing short of genius. Johnny as Raoul Duke and Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo are two of the most insane characters you will ever see. Taking a cross country trip in a car known as The Red Shark, which is loaded with drugs and alcohol, makes for quite an interesting, chaotic journey. One that is weird, but fun to watch. Rating:
6. SWEENEY TODD – One question I had when putting together this list was which film would make the top 10 – Sleepy Hollow or this strange, but oddly entertaining tale aboutBenjamin Barker, a.k.a Sweeney Todd. Barker sets up a barber shop down in London which is the basis for a sinister partnership with his fellow tenant, Mrs. Lovett. The film is based on the hit Broadway musical. When you think about it this is the perfect material for the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp team. It’s dark…contains twisted sense of humor…and is beautifully filmed. Not to mention, it is definitely a lot more fun to watch than Hollow. I enjoyed that other Burton/Depp collaboration, but this one is much better on repeated viewings. Helena Bonham Carter adds a marvelous, complex performance as the strange Mrs. Lovett. This is a film about revenge…getting even…and being mislead. Solid work across the board, from the set designers to the makeup department. Sweeney Todd is not for everyone, as some would be turned off by it. But I admired and enjoyed it immensely. Meat pie anyone? Rating:
5. WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE – Even though this is film that gets more notice for Leonardo DiCaprio’s stunning performance, the work done here by Depp is equally impressive. Our title character has his hands full here – taking care of his brother Arnie (DiCaprio), who has a severe mental condition, and his morbidly obese mother Bonnie, while also stuck in a dead end job at the local convenient store is enough to make any normal human being just lose it. Gilbert Grape is the caring son and brother who just wants to look after everyone, but is not quite sure what he wants for himself. His life is not exciting…not very happy…and not challenging. And then he meets Becky, a young lady who is stuck in their small town for a week while waiting for parts to repair her and her grandmothers vehicle. Needless to say, Gilbert admires and longs for the free spirit that’s within Becky. The film has a sad and predictable ending, but that doesn’t take away from just how emotional it is. Depp shows magnificent restraint in his performance here and proves yet again that he can handle pretty much any type of role. Rating:
4. BLOW - This true story of George Jung, the man who established the American cocaine market in the 1970′s, is from beginning to end one of the best ‘true stories’ ever to be put on film. The acting from all involved is truly superb with Depp leading the way. The late Ted Demme’s drug film is different from other similarly related movies as it does not portray its characters as addicted lowlifes, but as recklessly successful, high powered individuals who simply want to live the American dream. The reality as to the reasons why George vows to never live his life in poverty is set early on when we get to see how his mother and father struggle with finances. Ray Liotta, in one of his best performances, does a great job portraying the poor, but content father and Rachel Griffiths does an excellent job portraying the bitter, unhappy mother. My only fault with the film was the uneven, sometimes annoying performance of Penelope Cruz. Other than that, this is a near perfect film. Director Ted Demme and Johnny Depp combine to turn out a near masterpiece here. Rating:
3. DONNIE BRASCO- The pairing of two of the best actors to ever grace the silver screen had a lot of people hoping for something great…and it delivered the goods. Depp portrays real life undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone aka Donnie Brasco, who infiltrated the New York mafia only to form a friendship with one of it’s members, “Leftie” Ruggiero, portrayed by the great Al Pacino. Not only does Pistone begin to lose himself after being undercover for so long, but he is also losing his wife and his relationship with his children. But undoubtedly, this is a mafia film. Brutality and tension between members occur and mistakes are made. At the end, Pistone has to let his frienship with Leftie go. He knows Leftie will be punished for bringing him in and voguing for him. What surprised me the most here was just how well the story was told and just how well the characters are developed. You feel something for each and every person, including the bad guys. Whether it’s pity, sorrow, hate, or happiness…doesn’t matter, the point is that you become interested in the fate of all of them. Depp and Pacino do amazing work here, especially when on-screen together. Johnny can be a great tough guy when he wants to be…DB was proof of that. Rating:
2. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS – I may be more of a fan of this film than most, but I hard a difficult time finding anything wrong with it. Depp amazes here in this Pinocchio like film as a boy who wasn’t completely put together before his creator passes away. Director Tim Burton creates fantasy probably better than anyone out there and this is a great example of that. The movie has a lot of emotion, a lot of heart, and a lot of cool and beautiful visuals. Depp plays the title character perfectly as he really nails the shyness and innocence of Edward. The interacting he does with Winona Ryder’s Kim is extremely sweet and touching. Fine performances across the board also help give the picture more charm and the combination of this, Depp, and Burton’s imagination make for one of the most delightful films of all time. Burton goes dark when necessary during this bright and stunning production and he masterfully intertwines the highs and lows. Depp really broke out with this role and it was the beginning of a great partnership with Burton. Rating:
1. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN TRILOGY – When Disney decided to bring to life one of their theme park attractions, never in a million years would I have thought that the finished product would have been so well done. The great thing about this franchise is that it is just pure fun. I have more of a fondness for the first film, which most people do, but overall the series goes down as one of the best franchises in the history of cinema. The question is would it have been just as good without the casting of Johnny Depp? NO. Depp’s portrayal of Capt. Jack Sparrow has to be one of the most memorable on screen performances – ever. Depp is Capt. Jack. Plain and simple. The series began to take on a darker, slightly more serious tone in the second and third installments, but I enjoyed them nonetheless. The final 15-20 minutes of At World’s End are simply amazing. Johnny obviously has a lot of fun with this role and that’s good for us…the fans. Expect to see Capt. Jack in another Pirates trilogy, which begins with On Stranger Tides this summer.
Pirates of the Caribbean Rating:
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest Rating:
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End Rating:
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Rating:
Captain Jack Sparrow himself: Rating:
As mentioned above, Depp is continuously working and moviegoers continue to benefit from this. He has several projects in the works, with three major releases slated for 2011. First, on March 4, he re-teams with his Pirates director Gore Verbinski for the animated western Rango. Personally, I can’t wait to see this. Johnny Depp…director Gore Verbinski…an animated western – I’m there!! Later this year, he will appear in The Rum Diary, which is based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson. Depp tackled another one of Thompson’s novels when he did Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
His third and final film of 2011 is also the biggest. Johnny brings back Capt. Jack Sparrow for what may be the start of a new Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy in On Stranger Tides. This will be the first film of the series that primarily deals with Captain Jack…as both Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) are both absent here. Barbosa is back and we get the introduction of Blackbeard. Should be a really fun flick to watch. It is scheduled for a May 20 release. He is currently working with Tim Burton again for Dark Shadows, which is based on the popular TV series and is scheduled for a 2012 release. Other possible future projects include The Lone Ranger, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, and The Thin Man. You can bet that whatever role Mr. Depp decides to tackle, moviegoers are in for a treat. The man always give 100 percent in his performances and always creates memorable characters. Thanks Johnny for giving us so many great films over the past 20 plus years. Keep ‘em coming.