Making a movie is a crazy thing. You have to be at least a little psychotic to commit to it. Actor Tony Curtis put it best when he said, “The movie business is very twisted.” Twisted, indeed–as twisted as the roads that lead into the Hollywood Hills. Luckily, directors and screenwriters have occasionally managed to get the green light on projects that utterly tear apart the industry–just to put it in perspective every now and again.
The Player: Based on a 1988 novel of the same, The Player is Robert Altman’s true masterpiece. Released in 1992, the film follows a paranoid studio executive named Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), who ends up murdering a screenwriter he thinks is responsible for a series of death threats. With cameos galore and classic film references ranging from The Bicycle Thief to Sunset Boulevard, The Player truly is a movie designed for film aficionados.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: This film is snarky and biting with every piece of bandied dialogue between former thief/Hollywood new kid Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) and his acting coach, Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer) a.k.a. Gay Perry. Like The Player, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is based on a novel, albeit a series written by mystery/crime writer Brett Halliday (known as many other pen names in addition to this one). Hyper-aware of how jaded audiences have become toward film, writer-director Shane Black’s 2005 pièce de résistance remains an incisive account of the movie business almost ten years later.
Sunset Boulevard: The very embodiment of everything macabre in film. Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic was ahead of the curve in every possible way. Covering the gamut of neurotic personalities you encounter in the industry–from screenwriters and script girls to ingenues and aging actresses–Sunset Boulevard is Hollywood 101 for anyone who hasn’t yet been enervated by their dreams of fame.
State and Main: David Mamet, no stranger to the pratfalls of filmmaking, brings us the story of a movie crew plagued by difficulty over finding the perfect location for a script called The Old Mill. With Philip Seymour Hoffman (RIP) as the writer’s blocked screenwriter and Sarah Jessica Parker as the demanding actress, State and Main shows us the many headaches a director must endure to complete a film.
Los Abrazos Rotos: In addition to being one of Penelope Cruz’s best movies, Los Abrazos Rotos shows us the sordid relationship that can develop between actress and director on set. To make matters worse, Lena (Cruz), is also heavily involved with the possessive producer of the movie. Oh the love triangles that can develop when you’re stuck with the same people for weeks and months on end.
Scream 2: This is where the list starts to get campier. Because the sequel to Scream was still directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, Scream 2 was rife with self-reference. Parodying the predictability of horror movies, Scream 2 turns its audience inside out (à la Casey Becker) in terms of getting them to accurately guess who the masked stabber is this time. And the movie they’re making about Sydney Prescott’s life, incidentally, is called Stab.
Adaptation: Few films center around the challenges of screenwriting with as much razor sharp precision as Charlie Kaufman’s (arguably the greatest living screenwriter) Adaptation. Addressing everything from writer’s block to bullshit screenwriting seminars, Adaptation is a searing account of what it takes to get a movie made.
8 1/2: More than any other film on this list, 8 1/2 places the most emphasis on the impossibility of marrying your vision with the reality of how it turns out. Not only that, but Fellini’s autobiographical film is also a statement on how very few people outside the film industry could ever possibly understand those who exist within it.
For Your Consideration: What would a list about scathing entities be without a film from Christopher Guest? Poking fun at the usual bathetic fare that tends to get nominated for awards ceremonies, 2006’s For Your Consideration comically reveals that the worse the film, the greater the praise.