Thursday, May 16, 2013

Top 10 Movies about Movies


I love movies about movies. I love imagining that the only way directors who have been slighted by Hollywood can seek revenge is by making a movie about being slighted by Hollywood. Now, although some of the films below have been criticized for being too Hollywood insider, that is precisely why I love them. The specific lingo, the exaggerated self-entitlement – when done well, it can be wholly amusing.

Note: This list is mostly concerned with the on-set aspect of filmmaking. Movies about screenwriters (Adaptation, Barton Fink…) were not considered.

10. Boogie Nights (1997)
A bit of a cheat, as most of the movies on this list depict the making of rather large films, but if there was ever a film to best capture the porn industry in ‘70s southern California, then Boogie Nights surely is it. Now, do I have the slightest idea what the porn industry in ‘70s southern California was like? No, of course not. But I’m happy to trust that Paul Thomas Anderson does.

9. Get Shorty (1995)
Two (of many) things that make Get Shorty so great are John Travolta’s fascination with the film industry, and the fact that the movie confidently depicts Danny DeVito as the most famous actor in the world. Really, what’s better than watching Travolta playfully question washed-up stunt man, Bear (James Gandolfini) about Bear’s dealings in the business? Oh, maybe DeVito very specifically ordering a meal in a hotshit L.A. brunch spot, only to leave before the food arrives. That’s so L.A.

8. What Just Happened (2008)
Upon its release, Barry Levinson’s What Just Happened was written off as being too Hollywood-obscure. But hell, for the purpose of this list, the flick is entertainingly spot on. Movie producer Ben (Robert De Niro) tries to convince a hot-tempered British director (Michael Wincott) to re-edit his grisly film, while separately persuading Bruce Willis (humorously playing himself) to cooperate on his latest film. For anyone interested in the behind the scenes dealings of Hollywood, What Just Happened is a must.

7. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Billy Wilder’s iconic tale of doomed Hollywood is as astounding today as I’m sure it was 60 years ago. In watching faded screenwriter Joe Gillis cheaply encourage faded silent movie star Norma Desmond, we’re privy to the worst Hollywood had to offer at the time. Whether dealing with egotism, indifference, seclusion or murder – it’s all so fascinating to watch unfold.

6. Ed Wood (1994)
The most obviously ironic thing about Ed Wood is that Tim Burton made a movie that is far more interesting than any movie Ed Wood made himself. But, as conveyed beautifully by Johnny Depp, Wood was equipped with an insatiable desire to create, so create he did. He actually believed that the work he was doing was essential to the art form. It’s Wood’s delusion of grandeur that makes Burton’s film so compelling, and, of course, endlessly entertaining.

5. A Star is Born (1954)
There’s something devastating about watching an innocent and wide-eyed Esther Blodgett fall so deeply for the disturbed Norman Maine. But the lengths at which Judy Garland and James Mason went to captivate the audience was nothing short of stunning. A Star is Born is notable for several reasons: its honest depiction of alcoholism, its closed curtain take on Hollywood, but Garland and Mason are the hooks, and damn if I don’t find myself reeled in.

4. State and Main (2000)
What happens when a big time movie overruns and small time town? State and Main is David Mamet’s viciously funny answer. The film is a brilliant portrayal of laughable luxury, absurd decadence and hypnotic celebrity. What’s best about the movie (beyond its faultless acting, witty script, and hilarious scene scenarios) is that it perfectly encapsulates just how similar small town ignorance and Hollywood self-entitlement can be.

3. The Player (1992)
Films don’t get more inside Hollywood than Robert Altman’s remarkable crime thriller satire, The Player. After studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) begins receiving threatening letters, he slowly slides into a deep obsession to find the author of the notes. And because the movie is set so amusingly to the back drop of the Hollywood elite, The Player works on any number of levels. If nothing else, it’s a blast to try and spot the who’s-who of never-ending cameos.

2. 8 ½ (1963)
Few things are better in the cinematic universe than watching Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) stuck in a creative rut. Unable to visualize his next film, we marvel as Guido’s imaginative dreams fuse with old memories in an effort to spark creative freedom. Watching 8 ½, it can be challenging to distinguish between what’s real and imaginary, yet we are enthralled throughout. That was Fellini’s genius.

1. Day for Night (1973)
It was a tough call between Fran├žois Truffaut’s deliciously wicked Day for Night, and Fellini’s 8 ½, but after careful consideration, I’m proud to hail Day for Night as the best movie about the making of a movie ever made. Day for Night chronicles a director’s on-set struggles to complete his current film. The way in which the director, Ferrand (played with controlled brilliance by Truffaut himself), delicately handles all of the dust ups on his set makes me think this is how it is. This is what it means to make a movie.

Steven Soderbergh once said that being a film director is simply being able to answer questions, and Day for Night captures that perfectly. Along the way, we get to learn some revealing movie tricks (some of which are still used today), while watching as authentic a behind the scenes look at the movie making process as we’re likely to ever see. It just feels real.

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36 comments:

  1. So far, I've seen 6 films on that list w/ Sunset Boulevard being one of my blind spots that I'm going to see this year.

    8 1/2 is my favorite of the bunch w/ The Player a close second.

    There's another I kind of want to mention though it's a really forgettable one. Hollywood Sweethearts where a publicist tries to get a recently-broken up star couple to get back together to promote a much-delayed film where it's director Christopher Walken has taken the film hostage. I'm sure you've heard of it. It's not a memorable film but it has its moments.

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    1. I can't wait to read your Sunset Boulevard review. It's a remarkable film.

      Ohh, America's Sweethearts? Is that the one? Julia Roberts and John Cusack I think. Yeah, not too great, but it does have its moments.

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    2. Yeah, that's the film. The highlight was Christopher Walken. I could watch him read a phone book and be entertained.

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  2. Mm, good list. Only one I haven't seen is What Just Happened.

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    1. Thanks! What Just Happened is a pretty groovy little flick, but only if you like movies of the kind.

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  3. Good list, I love the Player, especially that opening shot. I need to watch a through of these, especially State and Main and What Just Happened seems a lot more appealing now that it's on this list.

    I'd probably include Adaptation and Barton Fink (if they count since they're more about writing than production), also Blow Out and hell Tropic Thunder just because I can turn that film on any day and watch it.

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    1. Thanks man. State and Main especially is a remarkable film. I just love Mamet's cadence.

      I actually mentioned in my intro that I wasn't including movies about screenwriters like Barton Fink and Adaptation. Perhaps in another list...

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  4. I have seen 6 films from this list too. It's hard to argue with your number 1. It is definitely the best movie about movies, though my favourite is Singin' in the Rain.

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    1. So glad to hear you're a Day for Night fan. Singin' in the Rain is a great choice as well.

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  5. Have you seen Le Mepris by Godard? It would definitely be on my list.

    I want to start a blog, so I can make this list also haha

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    1. Oh yeah, I love Contempt. Great choice. I guess I've never really thought of Contempt as a movie about movies, but that's silly. It definitely counts.

      Definitely start your own blog!

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    2. If you could redo the list where would you put it (if you would at all)/How would you rank it?

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    3. Tough call. I'd honestly need to watch it again. Haven't seen it in years. But probably right in the middle...

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  6. Great list but I'm kind of gutted as I was planning my own on this topic for the Sunday after next. Might put mine on the back burner for a few weeks as it was shaping up to look very similar to yours! At least I know my choices are correct though.

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    1. I don't think any other blog post should deter you from posting whatever you want, whenever you want. This is a pretty popular list topic anyway, you know?

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  7. Sunset Boulevard and 8 1/2 are both in my top 10 fave movies of all time, so no surprise that they're my faves from this list. A Star Is Born and Day For Night have both been on my watchlist for a while, with the latter now climbing up due to your glowing words of praise.
    I need to give Ed Wood another rewatch. I can't remember when, how or where I saw it, but I did...and shamelessly forgot the magic. Boogie Nights on the other hand never appealed to me. In fact, I find it a bit mediocre.
    Great, informative and audience-motivating list as always.

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    1. Thanks Teddy.

      A Star is Born is actually a rather remarkable Hollywood noir film. I really enjoy it. Day for Night is brilliant, my favorite Truffaut.

      I really enjoy Ed Wood, but mostly because I'm fascinated by the real guy. Dude how so much drive and so little talent.

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    2. Lol I dread seeing one of his actual movies but need to get around to it soon. I'll probably make an event out of it, friends, alcohol and all.

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    3. As far as I'm concerned, that's the ONLY way to watch Ed Wood flicks.

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  8. Adaptation didn't make the cut?

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  9. Alex, it's great to see State and Main so high on the list. It's a witty, very entertaining movie that holds up really well to re-watches. There's a breezy feeling to the whole thing that isn't easy to do. I've seen seven of these but actually still haven't caught Day For Night yet. I need to rectify that situation as soon as possible.

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    1. Hey Dan, so happy you're a State and Main fan. I really enjoy that film. You're right, it's just so breezy.

      Day for Night is a real stunner. I'm as amazed by it today as I was when I first watched it. Hope you have a chance to check it out soon!

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  10. Nice list man. I love that you included some nontraditional picks like A Star is Born and Get Shorty with more obvious ones like 8 1/2 and Sunset Blvd. Great job, as always.

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    1. Thanks Josh! I really did try to spread the wealth here and not make all the picks super obvious. Glad you like it!

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  11. 8 1/2 would trump the list for me, but Day For Night is downright essential and both make a glowing top two. Excellent list again man.

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    1. Thanks man. It was a tough call for number 1. I considered calling it a tie, but either way, two great films there.

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  12. It's been a while since I've seen Sunset Boulevard, but wasn't that about a screenwriter? Anyway, awesome list! I've always had a soft spot for meta. (You should make a seperate list about movies about screenwriting, by the way). I'm also glad to see Ed Wood on here. I always feel like it's overlooked when people talk about Tim Burton's work, even though it's arguably his best, in my opinion.

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    1. Joe Gillis is indeed a screenwriter, but the film is more about trying to break back into a business that is nearly impossible to break back into, than it is about his screenwriting. I just love the behind the scenes sequences in the film, seeing notorious cagey directors play themselves is such a trip. Love that damn movie.

      Ed Wood is really quite something, isn't it? Easily one of my favorite Burtons.

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  13. Very good list. I don't disagree with any of them, but have you seen Living in Oblivion? The scene with Peter Dinklage is just hilarious and spot on.

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    1. Thanks! Living in Oblivion... oh man, I haven't seen that in years. I don't even remember Dinklage's scene! Need to give it a rewatch ASAP.

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  14. Good stuff as always. I have to ask though, after just having seen it yesterday, where's Barton Fink?

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    1. Thanks Matthew. I LOVE Barton Fink, but I think that is more about writer's block than the actual making of a movie. Still, a damn fine film indeed.

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