“A question has been nagging me for a while and recently intensified upon seeing Frost/Nixon,” writes a reader named Mat (one “t” — not a typo). “Why are Hollywood biographies so vapid? Every one i see is ‘just line ’em up and knock ’em down,’ straight facts, predictable arc. it leaves each film at the mercy of how interesting the given subject is, but rarely captures the essence of said subject.

“I’m thinking specifically of Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan doc of a few years ago (i.e., No Direction Home), which brought such a vivid feel to the man’s life and experiences instead of just telling the reader what happened in his life. An interesting life is one thing, but what makes the subject unique is what I’m after, and nothing ever seems to capture that. Or am i simply asking for too much?

“Frost/Nixon is a good movie because it’s an interesting story, but i felt no closeness to it. This happens over and over again and now, as I prepare to see Milk — a movie i want to like — I fear another by-the-numbers only-as-good-as-the-subject biopic coming at me. Is it strange to ask for more than just a vivid recreation, or are we shortchanging these stories by accepting that there is nothing more? Can you suggest any films for me which transcend the genre to get more of what i’m thinking of?”

Wells to Mat: Frost/Nixon isn’t a biopic — it’s a compressed situational drama about a specific chapter in the life of Richard Nixon. Milk is absorbing as ar as it goes, but if you want to really bask in the light of what made Harvey Milk exceptional, you need to see Rob Epstein‘s The Times of Harvey Milk. My favorite biopics with exceptional and particular flavorings: Viva Zapata, Patton, Raging Bull, Sergeant York, Lawrence of Arabia, Lust for Life. These are the ones that come to mind, at least.