Written by Various Artists


My favourite Tim Burton film

With Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children about to arrive in cinemas, we asked our writers about their favourite slice of Burton joy.

big fish
Big Fish

Hands up, it’s been a while since I watched Burton’s offbeat and whimsical (no, really?!) father-son tale*. It’s sweet rather than saccharine, moving rather than schmaltzy and, despite Burton ramping up the Burton to Burton squared, there’s a hefty dose of reality countering the fabulation. And it’s funny. Proper belly-laugh funny.

Albert Finney is Edward Bloom, a travelling salesman whose life is a series of tall tales. His son, Will (Billy Crudup), is tired of not knowing what’s fact and what’s fiction and the two are on the outs. Until Bloom Snr gets sick, and Billy asks for “the truth”. In a Tim Burton film. Good luck with that, Billy-boy. Cue flashbacks into the adventures (giants, witches, circus folk, werewolves, a massive catfish…) of a young Edward (Ewan McGregor).

There’s a fine line between reality and fantasy, our dreams and daydreams making waking lives seem dull in comparison. And yet. Sometimes the truth takes a twist that makes life better/stranger/sadder than we could ever have imagined, knocking our vision of reality on its head. Who’s to say those big fish stories we tell ourselves aren’t the truest version of who we are? As far as Burton’s concerned, the fact we’re all larger than life is a no-brainer.

*A rewatch annoyingly reminded me the women (the witch aside) are reduced to objects to be ogled, courted, won and to stand by their men. Not cool.

Mickey Noonan

Beetlejuice (1988)

I love EVERYTHING about this film. Usually it’s the style of Burton’s films I most enjoy, but Michael Keaton’s performance is head and shoulders above any character in any Burton film.

Apparently, Burton wasn’t 100 per cent sure what he wanted the character to look like, so the hair, face and clothes were almost entirely Keaton’s creation. (Skip to 1:21:21 to hear Keaton on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast talking about the process.)

The sets and costumes still blow my mind. The full-scale town model with its layers of foam and cardboard under the fake grass is just fantastic. Plus BJ’s carousel hat and rolled up arms will one day be my fancy dress costume.

I do feel slightly uncomfortable that the main character is such an out-and-out insane sex pest, but he’s so good at it. Keaton was awarded Best Actor by the American Society of Film Critics at their annual awards but was RUDELY SNUBBED by every other awards show because they never give Oscars for comedy. Which is disgusting.

You get to see a tiny bit of BJ in Burton’s Batman, when Bruce Wayne meets The Joker in Vicki Vale’s apartment. “YOU WANNA GET NUTS? COME ON, let’s get nuts.”

Apart from BJ, the strongest characters are women: Geena Davis’s wilful Barbara drives the film while Catherine O’Hara steals scenes like there’s no tomorrow as the ultra-rich, batshit artist. Even Barbara and Adam’s afterlife caseworker, which could have so easily been given to a man, is knocked out of the park by a chain smoking Sylvia Sidney.

I don’t know if Beetlejuice is Burton’s best film but it’s my favourite by some fucking miles.

Hannah Dolan

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Now, Tim Burton nails an atmospheric film and is the undisputed king of the magically eerie. But in Sweeney Todd, his gorgeously moody setting of London Town is, in my opinion, outplayed by the amazing performances of the cast. And I’m not just referring to Johnny Depp, but that of Helena Bonham Carter, whose Mrs Lovett chirps and pervs in equal measure, Sacha Baron Cohen, who produces an almost film-stealing turn as camp Adolfo Pirelli and the late, great Alan Rickman as Todd’s main target, Judge Turpin. And I haven’t even mentioned Timothy Spall.

This who’s who of the acting gala is enough to make any film brilliant but they also sing – and sing bloody brilliantly – the wonderful songs of Stephen Sondheim. For me, this is Burton’s best film as everything and everyone in it is at the top of their game, resulting in the watcher utterly losing themselves in a tale of love, bludgeoning and pies. Perfect.

Karen Campbell

Batman Returns

I actually have a lot of favourite Tim Burton movies – The Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow also rank high up for me – but I’m choosing Batman Returns because, so help me, it’s the one Batman film that I have genuinely enjoyed.

I thought the first Tim Burton Batman was… OK, I suppose. Schumacher’s were awful, campy neon headaches and the Nolan movies took themselves too seriously for my liking. Batman Returns is a decent balance between campy and gothic, and is pure Burton.

It’s set at Christmas, because of course it is, it’s a Tim Burton movie. Lots of it takes place at a toy-strewn department store and an abandoned zoo because of COURSE it does, it’s Tim Burton.

Danny DeVito’s Penguin is monstrous but also tragic and sympathetic. I miss DeVito being in movies; he’s a terrific actor.

“There are so many pieces of joy spread across so many of Burton’s films that’s it’s near impossible to pick. The hilarious supreme cowardice of Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow is a wonder. Ed Wood might be the most reverently kitsch film ever. And Mars Attacks is so daft it ends with Tom Jones covered in wildlife like Snow White.”

The best thing about it though, is Selina Kyle/Catwoman, as played by that ice-cold Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold. Batman Returns is, in my opinion, Catwoman’s movie. It shows her origin story, her moral conflicts, her physical and emotional battles against various different foes and occasional allies – she has all the truly memorable moments, and not just because of That Catsuit.

My only questions about it are – how, even with careful sewing, did she manage to find enough PVC to cover her entire body, out of such a small jacket? And why did she have to trash her pink apartment? That pink apartment was great.

All in all, it’s Christmassy and gothy and ultra-Burton, a festival of creepy clowns, curly candy canes and fancy ironwork. But with superheroes!

Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

Edward Scissorhands

I love Edward Scissorhands but can rarely watch it because it makes me too sad. I always hope it will have a different ending because I can’t bear the inevitability of it.

Edward is oft considered to be an autistic character; the archetypical odd kid with innocence and no guile, who at first is feted and adored for his uniqueness, but due to the agendas of other more socially sophisticated bastards is later pilloried and chased back to his tower as an outcast.

Mostly, I blame Winona Ryder for everything that happens to Edward. How spineless to bow to social pressure rather than stand by the man she loves. He only lives at the end of the bloody road and there she is having grandkids by another bloke. Insensitive, Winona. He doesn’t deserve her.

I’m too emotionally involved in this film for my own good.

Sarah Hendrickx

The Corpse Bride

I have been bewitched by this since I stumbled across it in a cinema in Paris. I sobbed as Emily finally found peace, transcending from her semi-decomposed, zombie form into a myriad of shimmering butterflies that escape skywards towards the moon. The energy and semi-clad eroticism of Emily seem to scream, “Death, where is thy victory?” as though even through death, her joie de vivre lives on.

Burton’s greyscale human world, delicately tinted with muted blues and pinks, begrimed and desolate, is a stark contrast with the land of the dead, splashed with vivid reds and ochres, the eternal party ever in glorious swing. It is a testament to the freedom accorded by the acceptance of death and a reminder that love is everlasting, locked in memory.

My husband and I don’t have a song, we have a movie, and it’s this one; we even used the vows for our own wedding ceremony.

Lili La Scala

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Yeah, it’s too hard isn’t it? There are so many pieces of joy spread across so many of Burton’s films that’s it’s near impossible to pick. The hilarious supreme cowardice of Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow is a wonder. Ed Wood might be the most reverently kitsch film ever. And Mars Attacks is so daft it ends with Tom Jones covered in wildlife like Snow White. All films should end like that.

But if I had to just watch one Burton film for the rest of my life it would be The Nightmare Before Christmas, a stop-motion animation wonder which works on the simplest and most Burton notion ever: what would happen if Hallowe’en and Christmas got mashed up together?

I first watched it aged 20 with my 10-year-old brother and we both still love, love, love it, because it navigates that fine line between adult and children’s viewing with ease. It’s a little bit scary, a little bit naughty and a little bit silly. And magic. Completely and utterly magic.

Hannah Dunleavy

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Written by Various Artists

Some of Standard Issue's brilliant women's carefully crafted words for your reading pleasure.