Best Films About Making Films
Thursday, April 19 2012
With The Artist and Hugo sweeping this year’s Academy Awards, here are the five best films about making films that aren’t documentaries (that I’ve seen, anyway).
5. Adaptation. (Spike Jonze, 2002)
People like hating Nicolas Cage, and that’s fair enough. But when he gets distracted from blowing up the Declaration of Independence, he can turn out a decent performance. In this film, he turns out two of them, playing screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (who, incidentally, wrote the film) and his (fictional) identical twin brother Donald, as Charlie attempts to turn a bestselling book into a major film.
4. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
Billy Wilder is the epitome of classic noir (Double Indemnity) and classic comedy (Some Like It Hot); here, he combines both in a richly imaginative dig at Hollywood. William Holden is Joe Gillis, an ailing screenwriter who chances upon faded and deranged film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), who commissions him to write her “return” vehicle. Full of breathtaking camerawork and quotable dialogue (“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up), the film is… well, a classic.
3. Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen, 1952)
Perhaps the ultimate feel-good musical comedy, that still holds up after sixty years. Set at the beginning of the sound era, when major studios were making the transition from silent film, Singin’ in the Rain centres on screen giant Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and his struggle to adapt to the altered cinematic world. Apart from its accurate parodies, the film is also a showcase of Kelly’s stunning talent, culminating in the iconic titular song (which many people are shocked to find out is a cover version of a song from 1929).
2. The Player (Robert Altman, 1992)
Both a satire of Hollywood and a celebration of filmmaking, Altman’s dark and hilarious film tails film studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), who gets involved in a murder while trying to sort out his life. With a swarm of celebrity cameos, the film is a light-hearted attack at the further commercialisation of cinema that took place in the 1980s and destroyed the New Hollywood movement that Altman was such a key figure in.
1. 8½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)
Everything about this film falls into place. The surreal escapades commingle with the all-too-real artistic struggles of a filmmaker (Marcello Mastroianni, thinly-disguised as Fellini himself) to create a singular and memorable film. Everything, from the cast to the script, from the cinematography to the enchanting score by Nino Rota (who scored the majority of Fellini’s films, as well as The Godfather) works. And it’s magical.
Honourable mentions: Stardust Memories (Woody Allen, 1980), Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994), Man with a Movie Camera (Человек с киноаппаратом) (Dziga Vertov, 1929), Barton Fink (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 1991), Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (Michael Winterbottom, 2006), Cecil B. Demented (John Waters, 2000)
Further viewing for me: Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941), Day for Night (La nuit américaine) (François Truffaut, 1973), The Cameraman (Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton, 1928), The Stunt Man (Richard Rush, 1980), Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige, 2000), Mulholland Drive (2001), Living in Oblivion (Tom DiCillo, 1995), Contempt (Le Mépris) (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963).
Collage by Mercedes Marsh.