Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #201
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Ewan McGregor and Billy Crudup
This is going to be a quick post because a) I have some things to do before I leave for Cleveland and b) my mind is completely preoccupied because the reason I'm going to Cleveland is to see Iron Maiden. Still, this was my favorite movie of all time for a while when I was like 15, so I guess I should give it a decent treatment.
I'll say the same thing when I get around to writing about Ed Wood, but Tim Burton is at his best here. He's using his Terry Gilliam-esque imagination to create a lush fantasy world – he's better at that than even Gilliam, methinks – without succumbing to the temptation to make into something marketable as a t-shirt at Hot Topic. He's playful and expansive without using white makeup, eyeliner and black leather. Whether this is "true" Burton in the eyes of his fans, I have no idea, but it's certainly his best movie. He even stays the hell away from Johnny Depp for long enough to shoot a movie (Helena Bonham-Carter still appears).
The reason that I've shied away from this movie as of late is how derivative it is of every movie that ever used vignettes to tell a story. It's done interestingly to the degree that we see the actual representation of how tall tales are told – the scene where time literally stands still when Ed meets his future wife at the circus is done beautifully – but it's hard to think of this as anything but Forrest Gump with magic. Still, Burton's deft sleight of hand convinces us to keep watching, and anything that manages to be entertaining at least within its own idiom is worthwhile.
Big Fish also holds the distinction of being one of, like, five movies that have made me cry. SPOILERS: When Ed dies and his son is there with him after all his doubts and resentment and it all falls away because he realizes the one story that Ed told that was true was that he was dying, it was way too much for 14-year-old me to handle, and I cried. That scene is still poignant, even if it no longer evokes my tears.
Maybe it means something that this was my favorite movie of all time when I was 15 but now I wouldn't even let it sniff my top 25. But maybe that something is that this movie hits kids because they're less cynical, and this is a beautiful movie. I'll show it to one of my little siblings and find out (not really).
The Good: When Ed tells his tall tales and we see the actual associated visual, it's always gorgeous, and again, Burton beating Gilliam at his own game. Honorable mention to the fact that this movie basically introduced the world to Billy Crudup and Marion Cotillard, who have both become reasons to go to the movies in their own right.
The Bad: Very derivative. By 2003, this movie didn't really need to be made. It was, and it was good, but still.
The Skinny: I can't possibly dub a movie that used to be my #1 unworthy of #201, so hell yes, it belongs.