No time of year is more full of public displays of friendship in Hollywood than awards season. In the months leading up to the Oscars, the art of famous people complimenting other famous people is at its height. But for those who don’t care much for tracking which hungry agent slapped the back of which rising star, or how genuine one nominee's compliment came off to another, there are more meaningful connections to watch unfold: those that form between filmmakers and the real-life subjects of their biopics.
Moviegoers live in a golden age for authorized biopics, semi-true films stamped with the approval of their real-life subjects. This year there have been several such films, with endorsements in the form of subtler messages—the appearance of Alan Turing's and James Brown’s families at the premieres of The Imitation Game and Get On Up, for instance—to louder, press-targeted indications of a collaboration. Wild has occasioned interviews with the real Cheryl Strayed. The Theory of Everything filmed Stephen Hawking giving a Roger Ebert-style video review (he gives a thumbs-up).
Of all of these, the most touching is perhaps the director-subject relationship between Olympian runner and World War II survivor Louis Zamperini and Angelina Jolie, who directed the film based on his life, Unbroken. Theirs was seemingly a friendship borne of fate: In a special for The Today Show, Jolie revealed that for years she'd lived near his home in the Hollywood Hills without knowing it. She knocked on his door to pitch the film to him herself—he accepted. A close friendship developed, intimate enough that the two hold hands throughout The Today Show spot and are subject to Tom Brokaw's bad jokes about their relationship being like that of a romantic couple. In any case, the emotional bond was strong: Jolie brought him the rough cut when he was struggling in the hospital with pneumonia, the illness that would kill him at age 97. He approved.