Bela Lugosi Fights a Mechanical Octopus – “Ed Wood” (1994)
Dana Harris, Editor-in-Chief/General Manager
Burton’s probably most beloved for his Johnny Depp-fueled gothic fantasias, but in “Ed Wood” he found characters whose fantasies created a real-life underworld that was dark, tragic, and also very funny. Here Depp is the titular director, devoid of talent but so single minded in his passion that he became the world’s best awful filmmaker. Landau — who won an Oscar for his performance — is Bela Lugosi, the monster movie star who is coming to terms with the fact that his decisions have reduced to him to wrestling with a giant mechanical octopus.
The Birth of Catwoman – “Batman Returns” (1992)
Nigel M. Smith, Managing Editor
The comic book ‘transformation’ scene has been done to death (this year’s “Amazing Spider-Man 2” boasts two of them), but none have come close to matching the power and sheer bravado of Tim Burton’s scene for the birth of Catwoman in “Batman Returns.” Clocking in at four minutes, the scene is Burton-ian to the core: it’s macabre, darkly comic, a little demented, visually arresting, sumptuously art directed and scored every second of the way by his go-to composer Danny Elfman, who turns in some of the best work of his career in this scene. It also features one hell of a performance from Michelle Pfeiffer, whose commitment to her transformation borders on hysteria. You know she means business when she’s sewing her latex catsuit.
“Remains of the Day” – “Corpse Bride” (2005)
Eric Kohn, Chief Film Critic
A delightfully eccentric slice of macabre puppetry, “Corpse Bride” hovers in the shadow cast by the legacy of “A Nightmare Before Christmas,” which offers a far better-known dancing skeleton than any of the ghoulish cabaret performers in this 2005 b-side. But as much as “Nightmare” deserves its continuing appeal, “Corpse Bride” offers a finer distillation of Burton’s talents: Its subterranean appeal is epitomized by the ebullient jazz-inflected rhythms of the Danny Elfman-penned “Remains of the Day,” when athletic residents from the Land of the Dead recount the tragic death of the title character with a ghoulish relish. Set against an eerie black backdrop as the figures enact an elaborate, impossible choreography, the spectacle echoes the famous drunken vision of “Dumbo.” It doesn’t match that movie’s classic status, but “Remains of the Day” gives us its own unique thrill: The entire performance is ominous, joyful, kinky and strange — the delectable formula at the root of Burton’s career since day one.
The Story of My Life – “Big Fish” (2003)
“Big Fish,” written by John August, pulls the director into a colorful, joyful place, while also giving him material for one of his most emotional films. However, it’s not the love story between young Ed Bloom (Ewan McGregor) and Sandra (Allison Lohman) that stirs up tears. It’s his son Will (Billy Crudup) coming to terms with his father’s reliance on tall tales to smooth over the rougher parts of his life. And it’s that denouement, encapsulated here in Will’s final fantastical moments with his father, that sticks with the viewer. “The Story of My Life,” as the clip is called, fully embraces the artifice of Albert Finney’s stories by bringing his complete cast of characters together for one final curtain call in an unremarkable bit of riverside woods. It’s a moment that goes beyond fiction, acknowledging that yes, what’s happening is a story — but also acknowledging that that doesn’t matter in the end.
“Mars Attacks!” (1996)
Ben Travers, TV Editor
Before Tim Burton, let’s say, softened a bit in the mid-2000s, he was still making daring, original, and uniquely zany motion pictures. Movies you’d walk into without a clue as to what you might discover within the dark theater. He specialized in the unexpected, be it his dark, pulpy “Batman” and “Batman Returns” or the choice to make them in the first place. “Mars Attacks” is (at least) on par with both of those films, highlighting the visionary director’s styles at their most bizarre. In the scene below, you’ll find Jack Nicholson hamming it up while simultaneously proving capable of stirring some emotional fervor before Burton’s ball drops — it’s a helluva kicker in a movie packed with them and a needed reminder of what the “Ed Wood” director can do when wielding a sharp blade.
Ice Dance – “Edward Scissorhands” (1990)
Casey Cipriani, Assistant Editor
Back before Johnny Depp’s oddball tendencies got old and turned into caricature, back before Winona Ryder fell off the face of the earth and back when Burton didn’t overuse CGI or action-packed sequences, there was the beautiful “Edward Scissorhands.” Burton’s 1990 film told the story of a creepy but lovable inventor (Vincent Price) who created a man with scissors for hands. The “Frankenstein”-esque tale was twisted into a love story and backed up by Danny Elfman’s gorgeous score. In this scene, Edward’s handiwork leads to the “invention” of snow for the film’s closed minded town and Ryder dancing in it makes for one of the most beautiful scenes in Burton’s filmography.
End Sequence – “Beetlejuice” (1988)
Shipra Gupta, Editorial Assistant
Over the course of his career, most, if not all, of Burton’s films have featured stories in which he brings together a cast of quirky characters who, for the majority of their lives, have always resided alone on the fringes. This Dickensian approach to storytelling made its appearance in Burton’s films very early on — specifically with his second feature film, “Beetlejuice,” in which a goth girl and her painfully ordinary parents end up forming one, big happy family with the ghosts of the previous owners of their house. “Beetlejuice” in particular features what is probably the most iconic ensemble moments in Burton’s oeuvre, expertly choreographed to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s iconic calypso track, “Jump in the Line (Shake Señora).”
Opening Sequence – “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)
Emily Buder, Community Manager
“The Nightmare Before Christmas” is the fever dream of a ’90s childhood. The stop-motion masterpiece captured and twisted the imaginations of children worldwide with its bizarre take on the family holiday movie. The success of this Burton creation opened the door for more subversive children’s content that had been previously deemed too “dark” and risky for studio audiences. Its theme song, “This is Halloween,” is perhaps one of the most memorable pop culture Halloween songs to date.