Guy Maddin’s surreal black-and-white noir “Keyhole” hits theaters today with the same grand pastiche we’ve come to expect from the Canadian director over the years.
As Indiewire explored in a piece earlier this week, Maddin’s movies aren’t simply filled with random weirdness, but rather inspired by countless movies from the silent era and beyond.
In honor of Maddin’s persistent ability to deal with cinema in his own works, we offer this chronological list of some of our favorite movies about movies.
“8 1/2” (1963)
The ultimate paean to filmmaking as a personal act, Federico Fellini’s seminal work about self-obsessed Italian director memorably portrayed by Marcello Mastroianni makes the best possible case for why no creative work is devoid of autobiographical qualities. As one sifts through the lead character’s fantasies as well as his increasingly reflexive sci-fi project, it becomes blatantly obvious that “8 1/2” is about nothing less than Fellini himself, not to mention every neurotic filmmaker in history. [Eric Kohn]
“Mommie Dearest” (1981)
“Mommie Dearest” is many things to many people. John Waters thinks it’s a masterpiece. Faye Dunaway won’t talk about it. Your mother gets upset when you call her “Mommie Dearest.” But no one who has ever seen it has forgotten it. Maybe it’s Dunaway’s performance as a neurotic Joan Crawford. Maybe it’s the glamorous costumes and horror movie wigs. Maybe it’s the way the child abuse is performed with such charismatic bravado that it opens up a gaping hole in the time-space continuum and forces you to ponder the difference between bad taste and terrible taste. One thing’s for sure: The movie star biopic never looked quite like this. [Austin Dale]
“Lost in La Mancha” (1991)
Unlike “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” which detailed the much-maligned production of “Apocalypse Now,” Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s “Lost in La Mancha” reaches another level of cinematic schadenfreude with the knowledge that Terry Gilliam’s desires to bring his Don Quixote story to the screen are doomed from the outset. While the film sometimes feels like a didactic bonus feature for a DVD release, it’s instructive in detailing the amount of creative man-hours that go into a big-budget production before the cameras even roll. The film is testament to the idea that artistic pursuits are as subject to the environments in which they’re made as they are to the people that make them. [Steve Greene]
“The Player” (1992)
“The Player” is a dark comedy that follows a Hollywood studio executive (Tim Robbins) who murders an disgruntled screenwriter (Vincent D’Onofrio) that he mistakenly thought was sending him death threats. One of Robert Altman’s most celebrated films (and a comeback of sorts after a generally underwhelming decade of work), the director insisted the film was only a “mild” satire of Hollywood on its DVD commentary. But it was indeed a clear critique of the commercialism of the business, even if many of Hollywood’s big players didn’t seem to mind: Julia Roberts, Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon, Patrick Swayze, John Cusack, and Cher are among the 60 or so actors that play themselves. [Peter Knegt]
“Gods & Monsters” (1998)
“Gods and Monsters” is a biopic of openly gay horror director James Whale (known best for 1930s films “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein”). Starring Ian McKellan as Whale, the film focuses on the director’s final days as he struggles with failing emotional and physical health — and with an obsession with his handsome gardener (Brendan Fraser). The second feature film from director Bill Condon (it came after “Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh”), the film won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay and earned nominations for the performances of McKellan and Lynn Redgrave (as Whale’s maid). Its title comes from a line in “Bride of Frankenstein,” in which the character of Dr. Pretorius says to Frankenstein, “To a new world of gods and monsters.” [Peter Knegt]
“Shadow of the Vampire” (2000)
Among the haunting experiences provided German expressionism, few have left an impact on film history to the degree of F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu.” The movie’s lasting power is brilliantly explored in E. Elias Merhige’s reflexive horror film, which explores the production circumstances behind the 1921 film and explains the convincing performance of Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) as the titular vampire in a way that must have occurred to countless viewers before: It wasn’t a performance at all. Talk about art imitating life. [Eric Kohn]
“Mulholland Drive” (2001)
It should come as no surprise that the seediest and creepiest
depiction of Hollywood on film comes to us courtesy of David Lynch. In
his 2011 classic “Mulholland Drive,” Lynch presents us with a feverish
tale of how Hollywood can build you up and then just as swiftly spit
you out. Naomi Watts delivers dual performances: as Betty, an aspiring actress new to Los Angeles with a bright future and an even brighter smile,
and as Diane, a depressed, failed actress with a cheating girlfriend.
You won’t be booking your next flight to the City of Angels after watching this mind-bender. [Nigel M. Smith]
“Best Worst Movie” (2009)
“Troll 2” is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. If you ever forget that, the film’s star, George Hardy (now a dentist in Alabama) will happily remind you, as he does repeatedly over the course of “Best Worst Movie.” This documentary explores the phenomenon of how “Troll 2,” a low-budget, sequel-in-name-only schlockfest, steadily built one of the country’s most devoted and widespread cult followings. While it might seem suspect for the director of “Best Worst Movie” to be a prominent “Troll 2” cast member, Michael Stephenson manages to maintain the ideal balance of admiration and impartiality. [Steve Greene]
Only a director with Martin Scorsese’s cred could get a studio to pony
up $150 million to make a personal love letter to legendary silent
filmmaker George Melies, and mask it as a “kid’s movie” — and in glorious
3D, no less. On paper, “Hugo” (based on “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”
by Brian Selznick) seems like “Oliver!” set in Paris minus the show
tunes. But as anyone who has seen the Oscar-winner can attest, there’s more up Marty’s sleeve than meets the eye, including the way the filmmaker introduces Melies to a generation who’s only idea of a silent film is “The
Artist.” [Nigel M. Smith]