Monday, September 27, 2010

Gimme Five: Movies About Movies

1. Singin' in the Rain
This 1952 film, which stars Gene Kelly as a silent film actor forced to adapt to a Hollywood that's moving into sound, may be a musical based on a hit song, but its also a glorious celebration of classic Hollywood filmmaking, a time when studios wanted bigger and better films, stars had major creative and authoritative control and names meant everything (not too much has changed, eh? Except maybe that last part.). Kelly (who co-directed with Stanley Doden) makes the whole process seem like a wonderfully wild and enjoyable ride, with fantastic musical numbers and great "stock" characters. This is cinema as entertainment at its finest.
2. Inglourious Basterds
Tarantino's 2009 WWII epic was an exciting, anarchic revenge fantasy that presented a revisionist history. The movie covered a lot of different things, but one of its most pertinent themes can easily be seen in the last half of the film, when Shoshanna arrives in Paris. Its here that Tarantino turns the film into a portrait of the power of cinema in culture, in history, and in ourselves. As the Basterds use a Parisian theater as the scene of their big showdown with the Nazis, Tarantino asserts that movies can, indeed, change the world. Its a cinephile's dream of a film.
PS RIP Sally Menke, Tarantino's longtime editor. She was the editor for all of his films, including his segment of Four Rooms, and her untimely death means she will be sorely missed.
3. 8 1/2
Federico Fellini was a terrific director, and his masterpiece is 8 1/2, a film about a director (Marcello Mastroianni) who's struggling to make his ninth film. Its a intriguing, delirious fantasy about the creative process and how one's personal life can influence his creative output. Its an idea that's been repeated numerous times, but nothing compares to his original.
4. Tropic Thunder
Ben Stiller's wicked-sharp 2008 satire captured narcissistic Hollywood at its funniest, all staged around the making of a big-budget war movie that had all of the elements: a script based on a book, a rookie director, a past-his-prime action star, an award winner, a comedian looking to be taken seriously, a rapper-turned-actor, a bit player, and a Weinstein-esque studio head with a proficiency in profanity. Stiller manages to find big laughs in taking down these characters, lovingly mocking the ridiculous lives of modern actors.
5. Burden of Dreams
Apart from Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote or, now perhaps, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, there are few films in the history of cinema that were as troubled as Werner Herzog's Fritzcarraldo. Burden of Dreams documents the production, from one delay to the next as complications cause roles to be recast, scenes to be reshot, and entire parts of the film to be scrapped. Its a look at the dark side of filmmaking, as well as a story of obsession that cannot be fulfilled.

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