It should come as no surprise that the people who make movies love making movies about making movies. And can you blame them? The entire process is wrought with drama, suspense, heartbreak, romance, and mystery. Extreme highs and extreme lows.
Here are my six favorite films about the insanity that is the “motion picture industry:”
Mistress (1992) I have yet to recommend this film to someone who has heard of it. All the more reason I persist in not only recommending it, but fully endorsing it as a “spot on” representation of the desperate, often hilarious, negotiating gymnastics artists go through to get their work up on the silver screen.
The premise: a down-and-out producer working out of his garage, stumbles upon a script he liked years ago when he was relevant; so he phones up the writer/director and seduces him, against his will, back in to the business. The catch? Each of the three interested financiers insist on having his mistress in the film.
If that premise alone doesn’t hook you, get a load of the cast: Robert Wuhl, Martin Landau, Robert De Niro, Eli Wallach, Danny Aiello, Jean Smart, Jace Alexander, and the monumentally underrated Cheryl Lee Ralph.
Oh yeah, Christopher Walken is also in it.
I can almost hear you asking yourself “How the hell have I never heard of this movie???”
The Player (1992) Making pictures is often all about the ends justifying the means, the amount of blood and sweat your willing to leave on the mat, and how many deals with the devil you can stomach before you blink.
The Player brilliantly displays the wicked underbelly of how the sausage is made – easily one of the late Robert Altman’s best films.
The premise: An egomaniacal Hollywood studio exec begins receiving death threats from a writer whose script he rejected.
The cast, like most Altman pictures, is eclectic and inspired: Tim Robbins, Whoopi Goldbert, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dean Stockwell, Buck Henry, Brion James, Lyle Lovett, Jeremy Piven, Gina Gershon, and former NFL standout, Pete Koch.
The Big Picture (1989) Before Christopher Guest turned his considerable talents almost exclusively to the “mocumentary” genre he created with This Is Spinal Tap (1984), he made a laugh out loud comedy about the perils of filmmaking.
The premise: A film student’s work is praised and awarded earning him a shot at the big time as producers and agents begin knocking down his door, only to learn the hard way that all that glitters is not gold.
The cast: Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, J.T. Walsh, Michael McKean, Teri Hatcher, Don Franklin, Fran Drescher, and an absurdly funny Martin Short.
This is one of the most quotable comedies you will ever see.
Living in Oblivion (1995) The ultimate anxiety dream/nightmare. There are so many hysterical moments/scenes in Tom DiCillo’s painful recollection of his tormented filmmaking experience, you could watch this film every night for the next month and find something new to split your gut in each viewing.
The fun inside baseball knowledge of this one is understanding where the inspiration came from.
DiCillo made a “little” film called Johnny Suede four years earlier with a then relatively unknown Brad Pitt as his title character. Living in Oblivion is his therapeutic regurgitation of that apparently arduous production.
The premise: One intensely challenging day on the set of an ultra-low budget indie film drives its director to a nervous breakdown.
The cast: Steve Buscemi, Katherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, James Le Gros, Danielle von Zerneck, Kevin Corrigan, and Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklange. Or as Key & Peele call him…”Da Dinkles.”
Barton Fink (1991) It is no secret that the Coen Brothers have had an arms-length relationship with Hollywood since they first splashed on to the scene with their critically-acclaimed Blood Simple (1984).
With Barton Fink they took direct aim at the industry’s diabolical contempt for the writer. This was the Coens’ film that informed me most about their neurotic paranoia of the seductive allure of the dream factory.
The premise (verbatim from IMDB): A renowned New York playwright is enticed to California to write for the movies and discovers the hellish truth of Hollywood.
The cast: John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis, John Mahoney, Michael Lerner, Tony Shalhoub, Steve Buscemi, Richard Portnow, and Coen Bros’ favorite Jon Polito.
8 1/2 (1963) Italian director Federico Fellini’s much celebrated dreamscape masterpiece that sprung forth from his imagination after the success of his prior effort, his 8th film, La Dolce Vita, gained him international acclaim and had everyone asking him “what’s next?”
Hence the title, 8 1/2.
The premise: A renowned filmmaker navigates the many production demands of his unfinished script as he retreats in to his childhood recollections, fantasies, and inspirations to confront the truth of who he is as a storyteller.
The cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimee, Claudia Cardinale, Guido Alberti, Bruno Agostini, and Sandra Milo.