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“Inception” and Other Films as Film Criticism

"Inception" and Other Films as Film Criticism

The A.V. Club has done another terrific list prompting discussion and debate among commenters and, as always, providing a good mix of familiar and obscure titles to affirm and ponder. This time the focus is on “movies that double as movie criticism.” 19 movies, many of which involve literal filmmaking; some others are clear metaphors for such. And the most recent — and certainly the one used to attract readers — is this year’s “Inception.” Here’s part of the entry on Christopher Nolan’s dreamscape adventure:

There’s a lot going on in Inception, including a running commentary on how movies work. Take the scene in which Leonardo DiCaprio walks Ellen Page through the way dream worlds get constructed, and how at the slightest hint of unbelievability, the dreamers turn on their makers. As with movies, the illusion must be thorough or run the risk of falling apart.

This is one of the few things I really like about “Inception,” and I’ve remarked on the reading of the film in terms of its thinly veiled correspondence to filmmaking (every significant director must make at least one movie about making movies, and this may the closest Nolan gets) here and cited additional address of it here. In terms of its reflexive discourse, it’s second only to Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” as far as recent cinema goes. That movie is also on the A.V. Club’s list, as are personal favorites like “The Player,” “Barton Fink” and “Adaptation.”

Speaking of Charlie Kaufman, I immediately thought of the excluded “Synecdoche, New York,” and then I decided that most if not all of Kaufman’s scripts have enough reflexivity to qualify. Same goes for many other works of Godard, Hitchcock, Haneke and, as they recognize, Tarantino. Any of the thousands of reflexive films, including documentaries, could be acknowledged. As could any of the thousands of films about filmmaking. Meanwhile pretty much any parody, whether the included “Scream” or anything by Mel Brooks, plus any postmodern films have as much to do with this topic as any on the list. This isn’t to say the list fails or is necessarily problematic. I just imagine it was difficult to narrow the thing down to 19 movies.

Fortunately that’s what comments sections are for, and A.V. Club readers are great to mention stuff by Woody Allen, Chuck Jones, David Mamet and Buster Keaton. And thank you very much to the person who mentioned the allegory of “Big Night.” Of course, the comments just go on and on and on with a topic like this, and I eventually had to give up. I’m sure that it will continue long enough that any film you can think is missing will be brought up.

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