Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of producer Walt Disney's lengthy attempt to make Mary Poppins, battling original author P.L. Travers every step of the way. It offers a rare behind-the-scenes look at the machinations of Disney the filmmaker, not Disney the icon/mascot. Movies that show how the Hollywood machine works are nothing new; in fact, some of the best movies ever made are all about the trials and tribulations of the filmmaking process. Like these.
By Jacob Hall
Tim Burton's Ed Wood isn't just about a bad filmmaker, it's about the worst filmmaker of all time. B-movie director Edward D. Wood Jr. may seem like an odd choice for the biopic treatment, but this story of a struggling artist who perseveres despite having no talent is incredibly inspiring and oddly romantic. Few people set out to make a bad movie and the friendships formed between cast and crew on a lousy film are just as important as those on a good one.
Be Kind Rewind
Once you see past its goofy premise, Be Kind Rewind becomes one of the most touching and optimistic films ever made about the joys of filmmaking. Although Jack Black and Mos Def's clever, made-for-pennies re-creations of classic (and not-so-classic films) are hysterical, the meat of the film comes from these two guys developing a passion for their art form, transforming from fans into genuine artists. It's a story that parallels many real-life moviemakers. After all, you only want to make movies because you love them.
Hearts of Darkness/Burden of Dreams/American Movie
Although every other movie mentioned here is fictional narrative, we'd be remiss if we didn't at least tip our hat to the world of making-of documentaries, which have given us incredible insight into the filmmaking process over the years. However, these three stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. Hearts of Darkness chronicles Francis Ford Coppolla's disastrous Apocalypse Now shoot, Burden of Dreams tracks Werner Herzog's literally insane quest to film Fitzcarraldo and American Movie shows the struggles of a no-budget indie filmmaker. All three are indispensable.
On the surface, Paul Thomas Anderson' Boogie Nights is about the adult movie industry in the '70s and the colorful characters who inhabit it. The subtext is fairly easy to read, though. Even though these directors and actors are making pornographic films, their story very much parallels Hollywood's difficult transition from the artist-friendly '70s to blockbuster-filled '80s. Sure, it's a comedy about making porn, but it's a comedy about making porn that's also about artists remaining true to themselves, their craft and each other.
The Big Picture/The Player
There are plenty of terrific Hollywood satires out there, but few are better than these. Of the two, The Big Picture is the more optimistic and approachable, a nice, gentle and funny movie about a film student's terrible transition to directing professionally in Los Angeles. Robert Altman's The Player is more blackhearted and acidic, ripping apart the Hollywood system for gleeful aplomb. Both have the same message ("Hollywood kinda' stinks"), but they're the opposite sides of the same coin.
Most movies about making movies tend to focus on the production side, when cameras actually start rolling. However, Barton Fink and Adaptation focus on what comes before that: writing a screenplay. Naturally, they both focus on writer's block, the worst part of the writing process. Both films diverge in their own crazy, darkly comic directions from there, but both treat the screenwriting profession with an equal amount of respect and disdain: What difficult, silly, frustrating and massively rewarding work this is!
Singin' in the Rain
The central irony at the core of Singin' in the Rain is that it's a huge, technicolor musical about the death of silent film. For students of film history, the movie provides plenty of fascinating true-to-life touches about film production in this time period. Of course, the educational stuff is background to one of the funniest and most entertaining musicals in Hollywood history, but there's plenty of truth about how difficult it was for many actors to make the transition into the talkies.
8 1/2 / Day for Night
There are tons of movies about making movies, but 8 ½ and Day for Night stand apart from the rest as existential, often nightmarish looks at how filmmaking both enlivens and destroys the soul. These aren't movies you watch lightly -- they're art films made by veteran filmmakers that take an entire film to explore their own artistic psyches. Anyone looking for a technically accurate look at moviemaking need not apply. These are movies about what it feels like to make a movie.
Filmmaking is a laborious ordeal in general, but there are only a handful of films whose actual production deserve to be canonized. Mario Van Peebles' Baadasssss! sees the director/star taking on the role of his father, Melvin Van Peebles, who made the seminal blaxploitation flick Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song in 1971. The film helped set the stage for a decade of black filmmakers, but getting the movie made in the first place is a story that you wouldn't believe if it wasn't true.
On a list of realistic films about filmmaking, Bowfinger would rank somewhere near the bottom of the list. But on a list of the funniest movies about filmmaking? It would be near the very top. Steve Martin has never been better as a cash-strapped director who films Eddie Murphy's paranoid movie star without his knowledge so he can "star" in his movie and the film's slow transition from silly comedy to out-and-out insanity is as funny as anything we've seen.
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