The top 10 movies about movies

The top 10 movies about movies. By Simon Miraudo.

At this year’s Oscars, the Academy decided to reward two pictures that were paeans to cinema itself: Michel Hazanavicius‘ silent saga of The Artist, and Martin Scorsese‘s tribute to Georges Méliès, Hugo (out now on DVD and Blu-ray). Such was the voters’ willingness to bestow them awards galore, you would think they were the first movies ever made about movies. Not so! This week, we’re paying tribute to our fave flicks from this highly specific genre. We know there are a whole bunch we left off the list; please chide us in the comments section below. You wouldn’t be a true buff if you didn’t…

10. This Is Not A Film

I was hesitant to include a documentary – otherwise Hearts of Darkness would have certainly received a mention – but Jafar Panahi‘s This Is Not A Film squeezes in on account of it, well, not really being a film, doco or otherwise! Under house arrest in Iran for producing “propaganda against the regime,” awaiting a six-year prison sentence, and banned from making movies for 20 years, Panahi plots a re-enactment of one such controversial script forbidden by the government. He simultaneously offers us an insight into one man’s drive to create art. It was smuggled out of Iran via USB stick, in a cake. If he can go to that much effort, we can make an exception and find room for him on this list.

9. State and Main

A bunch of Hollywood types – including director William H. Macy, writer Philip Seymour Hoffman, and troubled stars Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker – head to a small town and find themselves getting into all kinds of trouble with the locals. State and Main is kind of like David Mamet’s version of the Radioactive Man episode from The Simpsons. That’s a good combination.

8. Bowfinger

Arguably the last truly funny flick featuring either Steve Martin or Eddie Murphy. Martin stars as Bobby Bowfinger, an ambitious but largely untalented movie-maker who fools his crew into thinking he’s secured paranoid celebrity Kit Ramsey (Murphy) for his $2000 feature Chubby Rain. They decide to make the alien-invasion B-movie around the oblivious Ramsey, utilising a geeky lookalike (Murphy again) whenever possible. More sweet than scathing, but still a decent Hollywood satire with some hilarious moments.

7. Tropic Thunder

Speaking of scathing. Nothing is sacred in Ben Stiller‘s Tropic Thunder, in which the cast of a Vietnam War epic get lost in the jungle and wind up accidentally embroiled in a real-life conflict. Robert Downey Jr. dons blackface as an intense Australian method actor; Jack Black skewers the aforementioned Murphy’s predilection for fat-suit use; and Stiller presents us with a morally questionable portrayal of a gent named Simple Jack. And did we mention Tom Cruise‘s Weinstein-ish, fire-and-brimstone agent Les Grossman?

6. Peeping Tom

Michael Powell – working without frequent collaborator Emeric Pressburger – destroyed his career with the “scandalous” Peeping Tom, in which a voyeuristic sadist (Carl Boehm) becomes obsessed with murdering women while recording their final moments. Although truly chilling, there is a dark comic twist to it too. Best of all is the sequence in which we, the audience, knows a dead body has been stuffed into a trunk on set, and we chew our fingernails waiting for the actors to discover it themselves with the camera still rolling…

5. 8 1/2

Marcello Mastroianni stars as Guido, a director who can’t bring himself to make even the simplest decisions, plagued as he is by the numerous women in his life. It’s hard to go past Federico Fellini‘s 8 1/2, though I suppose we have (four times even). Let’s just say it has lot a bit of its lustre following the release of the disappointing sorta-musical-remake Nine. Still, the original is a fine piece of work.

4. Boogie Nights

Paul Thomas Anderson‘s thoughtful invitation into the world of high-end pornography, and the weird little family of misfits that produce it, is one of the funniest and most affecting flicks of the 90s. Though the insights into porno production – overseen by auteur Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) – is fascinating, we also have a soft-spot for Dirk Diggler’s (Mark Wahlberg) ambitious **ckbuster Brock Landers: Angels Live in My Town.

3. Sunset Boulevard

Billy Wilder‘s Sunset Boulevard tells of a struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) who agrees to be the live-in lover of deluded former star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson, giving one of cinema’s best ever performances). The fact that the picture begins with Joe dead in a swimming pool – reciting events from beyond the grave –  should indicate that their pairing does not have a happy ending. We’re hardly the first to champion Sunset Boulevard as one of the all-time great tales of heartbreak in Hollywood (of both the romantic and professional kind), but in our opinion it is second to…

2. Mulholland Drive

David Lynch‘s Mulholland Drive is indeed a riddle, but once unravelled it reveals a devastating story of an aspiring actress (Naomi Watts) with an unrequited crush on a more successful starlet (Laura Elena Harring). In her drug and madness induced stupor, she imagines a parallel universe in which she delivers the world’s greatest audition, is hired by a director (Justin Theroux) getting pressure from the studio head, and lives in a complex with some cinematic legends. But the fantasy soon collides with her horrifying reality – which we shan’t spoil here. Hooray for Hollywood?

1. Singin’ in the Rain

We had to end this list on an upbeat note, and movies don’t get more upbeat than Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly‘s Singin’ in the Rain. Beloved silent film actor Don Lockwood (Kelly) transitions seamlessly into the talkies, but the same can’t be said for his co-star, the grating and squeaky-voiced Lina Lamont (Jean Hagan). The studio, fearing their first talking picture will be a bomb, brings in sweet singer Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) to voice-over Lina’s performance. Of course, romance sparks between Don and Kathy. Besides the spectacular performance of the title song, it’s hard to look past Donald O’Connor’s virtuoso rendition of Make ‘Em Laugh, as well as the centrepiece, Broadway Melody, depicting a wannabe’s search for stardom. Astonishingly, it was almost totally ignored at the 1952 Oscars. Guess this year’s win for The Artist was something of an atonement for their past sins.

Discuss: OK, what did we miss?

5 Responses to “The top 10 movies about movies”

  1. I loved White Hunter Black Heart, but I couldn’t tell if it was good or not. What did you think?

  2. The Player ranks well ahead of a few of that top 10… surely!

  3. Yeah, how did you miss The Player? Also, “Day For Night”, or however you say it in French? Maybe Albert Brooks’ The Muse? Silent Movie by Mel Brooks could also be slotted in as too The Artist. I tell you, this could easily be a top 20.

  4. Three more notable omissions: Ed Wood, Barton Fink and the criminally hard to find ’80s gem The Stunt Man.

  5. What about “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso”? I should be there somewhere….

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