I just got back from seeing the new Tim Burton-directed film, Dark Shadows. As I'm sure anyone who doesn't live under a rock knows, the star of the film is Burton's longtime collaborator Johnny Depp. To say that Depp gives a fascinating, hilarious, and hauntingly poignant performance as "cursed" vampire Barnabas Collins will come as no surprise to anyone who's a fan of his brilliant and eclectic body of work.
I've been watching Johnny on screens both small and large since he first entered the public's consciousness in a TV show called 21 Jump Streetback in the late '80s. What never ceases to amaze me about the man's performances over the years is how chameleonic he is. He always disappears into his characters, creating a totally unique persona through changes in his voice, appearance, and mannerisms, and even after almost three decades in the acting business, he still manages to surprise me in every role he undertakes.
Although it's hard for me to limit a list of my favorite Johnny Depp films to just five as I believe there's something to recommend in all of his movies (The Tourist never happened, say it with me), I will endeavor to try.
Don Juan DeMarco(1994) - This gem of a film was made during the Early Johnny Years. In it, Johnny plays a delusional young man who believes that he is Don Juan, the world's greatest lover (Not a big stretch of the imagination, is it?) DeMarco is sent to a mental institution to be observed and treated by a psychiatrist (Marlon Brando). Faux Juan tells Dr. Mickler his life story (including his escapades with a variety of gorgeous women and his finding of true love) and in the process, the doctor is inspired to breathe some much-needed romance back into his own marriage. Johnny is impossibly charming and appealing in this role and it's a pleasure to see him acting opposite film legend Marlon Brando with whom he had a great rapport (the two of them became great friends after working together).
Sleepy Hollow (1999) - This is probably the most overlooked of the Burton/Depp films (perhaps because it's a bit darker and more adult-skewing than their other projects?), but I really loved how gothic and creepy it was (Tim Burton is a master at creating atmosphere in films). Johnny's Ichabod Crane, a late 18th century New York City police constable, is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of brutal murders in which the victims were decapitated. He attempts to do this with newfangled scientific methods (Finger-printing! Autopsies!) that perplex the locals. There are lots of humorous moments in the film as Ichabod, despite his best intentions, is a bit of a wuss, and he shrieks or faints every time he encounters something gruesome. The slow-burn romance between the constable and feisty rich girl Katrina Van Tassle (Christina Ricci) is one of my favorites in a Depp film.
Secret Window(2004) - Maybe it's because I'm a writer that I find the character of Mort Rainey so compelling? The poor guy is all alone in a secluded cabin following the break-up of his marriage, and he's suffering from a major case of writer's block when he starts being harassed by a mysterious man named Shooter (a very unnerving John Turturro) who accuses him of plagiarism. Murder and mayhem ensue as Mort tries to placate the increasingly volatile Shooter. Suspense isn't a genre one usually associates with the oft-quirky Depp, but I thought he gave an incredible performance as Mort, a regular guy who finds himself in a situation that quickly spirals out of control.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) - This is one of those movies that I have to stop and watch every time I come across it while channel-surfing. It just never gets old and it always brings a smile to my face. Tim Burton (yes, him again) serves up a visual feast with all of the colorful, imaginative sets and the amazing costumes designed by Colleen Atwood (those Oompa Loompas were stylin'!) And Johnny Depp's interpretation of the character created by Roald Dahl, "amazing chocolatier" Willy Wonka, is so delightfully weird (the high-pitched voice, the crazy giggle, his utter disdain for children) that you can't take your eyes off of him.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) - The irreverent, eternally soused Captain Jack Sparrow, in all of his dreadlocked, gold-toothed glory, has become one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history and will probably be the role that Depp is most remembered for generations from now. The second film in the Piratesseries was my favorite because Captain Jack got to run the gamut from treacherous to self-sacrificing, and it ended with a smooch (Elizabeth might have been tricking Sparrow, but that was still one smokin' hot kiss!) and a cliffhanger (Did the Kraken really kill Jack?). Neither Pirates 3, nor 4, could match the humor, high stakes, and action-packed intensity of Dead Man's Chest.
I'm excited to see what the future holds for Johnny Depp's career. No doubt he will continue to put his distinctive stamp on every character he embodies. I think the role I'm most looking forward to seeing him play is Nick Charles in the upcoming remake of the fun, banter-filled detective film The Thin Man. The question is: Who will be his Nora?
I'd love to know what your favorite Depp film is, or who you think would be the perfect actress to match wits with Johnny in The Thin Man. So, leave a comment below and tell me.
An avid reader and writer, Tracie Banister has been scribbling stories since she was a child, most of them featuring feisty heroines with complicated love lives like her favorite fictional protagonist Scarlett O'Hara. Her Hollywood-themed Chick Lit novel, Blame It on the Fame, was released in January, 2012. She blogs about books and other fun stuff at http://traciebanister.blogspot.com/ and her Twitter handle is @traciebanister.