Movies about movies are catnip for critics, turning the camera back on not only the faces behind it but also on us. Why do we love movies? What drives the perverse pleasure of watching them? Films like Michael Powell’s 1960 “Peeping Tom” and David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” attack the latter question most directly.
So as Fellini’s “8 1/2,” the towering giant of the genre, returns to UK cinemas, Jonathan Romney posts a list of The 10 Best Films About Films in The Guardian. To name ten such films is a tall order for any meta-movie completist, but Romney’s inventory leaves room for debate. His picks:
- “Behind the Screen” (Charlie Chaplin, 1916)
- “The Player” (Robert Altman, 1992)
- “Peeping Tom” (Michael Powell, 1960)
- “8 1/2” (Federico Fellini, 1963)
- “Contempt” (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)
- “Singin’ in the Rain” (Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen, 1952)
- “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” (Wes Craven, 1994)
- “Goodbye, Dragon Inn” (Tsai Ming-liang, 2003)
- “Hellzapoppin‘” (HC Potter, 1941)
- “Maps to the Stars” (David Cronenberg, 2014)
So what’s missing? “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” is a smarter-than-average horror but its inclusion here — next to Tsai Ming-liang, naturally — feels more like a cute way of saying “See, I can do the high and the lowbrow, too!” Leaving off Dziga Vertov’s earth-shaking 1929 “Man with a Movie Camera,” the movie-movie to end all, for one feels like a direct rebuke of the typical canon of films about films. And what of David Lynch’s double bill of Hollywood perversion “Mulholland Drive” and “Inland Empire“? Here are two frighteningly self-reflexive films that shatter the myth of Performance while reminding that movies really are shared dreams.
Personally, I adore Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Beware of a Holy Whore” and its amusing cast of disenchanted film actors as they wander a villa waiting for a director who may never show. Other very fine choices: Woody Allen’s self-centric “Stardust Memories“; Francois Truffaut’s backdoor look at a crazy noisy production in “Day for Night“; Almodovar’s erotic “Bad Education“; Orson Welles’ gotcha grand guignol “F for Fake“; Ari Folman’s uncanny and prophetic sci-fi parable of a screen actor’s Faustian deal in “The Congress“; Spike Jonze’s meta and manic “Adaptation,” as unsparing a psychological picture of the screenwriter as the Coens’ “Barton Fink“; Olivier Assayas’ dreamy tale of meta-mischief “Irma Vep“; Les Blank’s Herzog study “Burden of Dreams“; and of course Billy Wilder’s undying “Sunset Blvd.”
What are your favorites?
Ryan Lattanzio is the staff writer for TOH at Indiewire. Follow him on Twitter.