Genre Blast: Movies About Movies

This series is a challenge directed at all film nerds. On a regular basis, I’ll call out the film genre and five personal favourites, then you tell me what I missed. Let’s see see if we can come up with a definitive catalog. Ready?

Because it looked like Oscar would once again express its undying self-love when handing over six Academy Awards to La La Land recently, this might be as good a place as any to start our challenge now the dust is settling.

To qualify, the film must be about filmmaking and the joys and sorrows therein. It also includes films where movies have a major psychological impact on one or more characters in the film, either as a motivator or filmic equivalent to a lifeline soundtrack.

Here we go, and in no particular order or preference.

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8 ½ (Frederico Fellini), 1963

Oh, the agonies of the film director! Fellini’s journey through the mind of a film director’s struggle with his 9th film (hence the title) is the quintessential movie about filmmaking as seen through the Fellini kaleidoscope. Pressures from all sides mount until we reach the joyful conclusion and realize what a diamond has been created.

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Holy Motors (Leos Carax), 2012

While the film is open to a variety of interpretations, I think Carax does for actors what Fellini did for directors. The title character – appropriately named Oscar and bravely played by Denis Lavant – goes from appointment to appointment in a variety of incarnations into situations that can only be described as “nuts”. Ah, the fractured psyche of the actor hurtling from role to role.

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The Player (Robert Altman), 1992

Who else in the film business would have more reason issue death threats than the abused writer? Altman’s version of Michael Tolkin’s stiletto-sharp indictment of Hollywood is a crazy quilt of conniving and cameos that reveals something new at every viewing.

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La Nuit Americaine (Francois Truffaut), 1973

The title of Truffaut’s valentine to cinema – and “B” movies, at that – is a term that refers to filming a scene during the day so that it appears to be taking place at night by means of a filter – Day for Night. A glorious score by Georges Delerue underlines Truffaut’s intentions here, that despite the challenges, creating illusion through filmmaking is nothing less than a joy.

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Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore), 1988

Exposure to films and the cinema-going experience make for some major personal building blocks for any movie lover, whether we realize it or not. Tornatore reveals just how great that impact can be in the emotional final act when memories of a childhood spent in a movie theater come flooding back thanks to a gift from an old friend and some pieces of film snipped and censored by the parish priest. Not a dry eye in the house.

OK, I’ve shown you mine; now you show me yours!

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17 responses to “Genre Blast: Movies About Movies

  1. Great start Steve. Some of the finest of the genre chosen here. I’ll flesh some more out tomorrow, for now here’s one of my favorites:

    Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard), 1963

    One of Godard’s glossier ventures, the cinematography exudes grandeur and iconic images. Perhaps it was inevitable Godard would make a movie about making movies. Brigitte Bardot once again shines beyond her starlet persona. Contempt is in the mix as I continue to rank Godards films according to his best – and I’ve been doing that for over 20 years.

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  2. Let me also add:

    Muholland Drive (2001) – a movie that can slot into many genres, and no doubt will show up again, so I’m going to say this is also about film casting, finding the right look, the right persona.

    All That Jazz (1979) – Bob Fosse making a movie about himself, and not in a flattering light, as the lead character struggles to make the movie of the stand-up comedian the way he wants in between bouts of womanizing and pill-popping.

    Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) – two generations of actresses socially collide, signalling the changing of the times. With Olivier Assayas directing with grace and depth, this is a fine feature, with three compelling but very different performances by Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloë Grace Moretz.

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  3. Good ones, Robin. Of course, I have some of those coming up under other genres, but they work here as well. One thing they all cover, yours and mine, are just how complex, dark, tortuous and just plain funny life as a modern day storyteller can be both in front of and behind the camera. Taken all together, we het the whole picture straight from the horses’ mouths. A great genre to investigate.

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  4. What a great idea Steve. Okay a few films about films or films that come to mind. Barton Fink which I’m desperate to see but have not yet.
    Hail, Caesar! I believe at its heart this is a film about people who love movies and how they usually end up making movies. Its an ensemble piece led by Josh Brolin tempted to leave his job as a studio fixer for a ‘more serious’ job at Lockheed with more money. Despite his shame and guilt he loves his job and maybe that’s why he’s so good at it. Almost like a father he’s forced continually to look after his family of misfits none of whom are what they seem, all chasing dreams, all passionate about their projects and all misbehaving in one way or another like children. Just like a film cast and crew.
    Singin’ The Rain Perhaps the ultimate movie about making movies. ADR, backstage politics, romance gossip, changing technology and star’s egos. All on display here but amidst all the pokes of making fun this is a film that again loves movies.
    Blow-Out features film making but is not quite about the business in terms of the story. A sound recordist is witness to a murder and investigates it further while his work on a film features in the background. How he investigates it though is through the use of audio tape he has of the recording and collecting film footage of the accident to prove what happened. In that sense he puts together the evidence like a film director cutting out pictures like a shot list for a story board, listening for where everywhere has to fit together and protecting the master cut of the evidence like an auteur worried that the studio will wreck his masterpiece.
    The Player and 8 1/2 come to mind immediately too. But in the spirit of the game I will try to find two others. The aforementioned Mulholland Drive, a personal favourite, Bowfinger (the best stuff was in the trailer), Hugo, Broken Embraces (very good).
    Get Shorty A gangster going to Hollywood and making it big mocks what Hollywood traffics in but also celebrates it. A bit of a running theme here.
    Adaptation A fantastic piece about the screenwriter’s mind and just a great movie. Probably my favourite Kaufman one.

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  5. Shut the front door, I don’t believe this but I failed to mention my favourite film of all time about making movies. Ed Wood. A wonderful story about an unlikely friendship, an ailing star, an outsider but also a very inspirational piece about people who just loved making movies so much they’d hustle to make a bad one and do with as much and commitment as they could. Absolutely my favourite film about making movies.

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  6. What a great idea!

    Now, for my offerings… I hope I am allowed to go down a different path and mention the likes of A Serbian Film, Lovelace, Cannibal Holocaust, Boogie Nights, Henry – The Portrait of a Serial Killer, Tropic Thunder, The Artist, Man Bites Dog…

    I know my list is a bit of a filmic hodgepodge but all the masterpieces have been mentioned and deftly dissected already.

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  7. I put the “hip” in “hipster”, dontchaknow! On a serious note, it frustrates me to no end knowing there are gems out there people haven’t even heard of because they’re not Hollywood-glossy enough, hence my slightly off-beat online persona. In real life, I can be disgustingly mainstream at times.

    And nothing like a good teaser to get us all excited for future installments. I’m eagerly following in restrained, lady-appropriate excitement.

    http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/vampirediaries/images/d/d5/Jonah-Hill-Squeals.gif/revision/latest?cb=20140131013634

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  8. Absolutely the point of this. So many genre lists are a) English language, usually American/Hollywood, and b) made within the last 20 years. The world of film is massive. That’s why I want to touch on everything from the Silents to films released last year; to dig up obscure titles so that someone out there will know to see them and expand their experience. There are no boundaries and if our reach exceeds our grasp, it will have been a success.

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