Top 10: Movies About Movies

Why do we love movies so much? Where would we be without them? Even if you’re not a cinephile, movie-watching is something that pretty much everyone does and enjoys. We sit in darkened room and stare up at a screen as we see someone’s story unfold, we get a glimpse into a different world . Movies have the power to terrify us, make us weep, or even sometimes alter our view of reality. (Don’t we all wish some of those famous rom-com moments could happen to us in real life? Just once?) It’s all the more intriguing when a movie decides to turn the camera on itself, to examine the medium that it is a part of. Here are some movies about the nature of movies and their meaning, the trials and tribulations of filmmaking itself, or the effect of Hollywood’s changes and morals on actors.

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1. Cinema Paradiso 

The Italian film Cinema Paradiso is like a love letter to the movies. Film director Salvatore looks back on his childhood, where he befriended projectionist Alfredo, who taught him everything about the movies. Under his wing, Salvatore’s love for films grew. Cinema Paradiso also shows the audience the changes in cinema, the dying trade of traditional filmmaking and editing, as well as beautiful old movie houses. The village cinema Salvatore loved so much is to be demolished and turned into a parking lot. One of the most poignant scenes is when Salvatore discovers a reel Alfredo filled with the on-screen movie kisses that the local priest would ban and cut from the films. Cinema Paradiso shows that as filmmaking grows and changes, we should never forget or demolish it’s roots, for those very roots have changed and made better the lives of many.

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2. Singin’ in the Rain

Who doesn’t love Singin’ in the Rain? Considered the best movie musical of all time, the amazing Gene Kelly plays a silent movie leading man preparing for his role in his first talkie, a movie that will have sound! (Which today may be a bit incomprehensible, but think of how awe-inspiring this must have been for a 1930s audience) This newfound and perplexing technology creates a foil for his co-star, who has, to put it lightly, not the best voice. With some of the best song-and-dance sequences and movie moments of all time, Singin’ in the Rain is a sunny and hilarious look at the conversion from silence to sound.

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3. The Purple Rose of Cairo 

In this slightly meta-film, Woody Allen geinusly deconstructs our fascination with film, as well as our deep-seated desires for a happy ending. Mia Farrow plays a meek housewife who uses cinema as an escape from her dreary and unhappy life. When seeing her favorite film for the fifth time, the character she swoons over walks off screen to sweep her off her feet. Woody Allen has been quoted as saying, “People are faced in life with choosing between reality and fantasy, and it’s very pleasant to choose fantasy, but that way lies madness. You’re forced finally to choose reality, and reality always disappoints, always hurts you.” and that is the crux of the film. Mia Farrow’s character stresses that love isn’t like the movies, but soon the film gets you swept up into thinking that maybe it is. But ultimately, (and the ending will really hit you) The Purple Rose of Cairo is about how our lives is not going to be as we expect, even in our imagination or in reality. Life isn’t like the movies, and we have to decide if that’s a good or bad thing.

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4. The Artist

For the happy look at silent actors turning into talkie actors that Singin in the Rain gives, The Artist gives the complete opposite. Famous silent movie actor George Valentin finds himself against the newfound movement refusing to move into talkie pictures. When no one wants to see him up on the screen anymore, this leaves him depressed, and in poverty with no career. Filmed as a silent movie itself, The Artist is a daring homage to the magic of silent cinema with gorgeous visual style.

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5. Shadow of the Vampire

Shadow of the Vampire is filled with humor that not only movie-lovers or filmmakers can appreciate, but especially actors. The film takes the kooky idea of what if the actor who filmed the famous vampire movie Nosferatu was an actual vampire?? The director accounts for the actor’s creepy behavior as to him being a dedicated method actor, which leads to absolutely hilarious moments. Not only is it funny, but the film is equally terrifying. The actress realizes she is playing opposite an actual vampire, and the director does not care for safety when it means he can capture something astonishing and wholly real. He’ll be sure to get the reaction he wants now. Shadow of the Vampire is a homage to the art of filmmaking, but also a play on the blend of fact and fiction.

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6. Gods and Monsters

With two incredible performances from Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser (yes…THAT Brendan Fraser!) Gods and Monsters tells the story of real-life Bride of Frankenstein director James Whale. Gods and Monsters gives more of a look into the man behind the famous film, and how life for an artist can so often imitate the art they create.

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7. Ed Wood

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have teamed up so often it’s become a running joke now, but looking back on their work it is easy to see why they make such a good team. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp both have a love of portraying and telling the stories of outsiders. What more of an outsider than that of Ed Wood, a 1950s director who made some of the worst (but hilariously so) sci-fi films. Ed Wood portrays the filmmaking and cut-throat Hollywood world of that era, where Ed Wood pairs with the dying drug-addicted actor Bela Lugosi (played brilliantly by Martin Landau) dares to try and make his fumbling dreams come true.

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8. Tropic Thunder

Tropic Thunder is a hilarious satire at the making of a huge Vietnam-era war film. Tropic Thunder pokes fun at actor’s inflated egos and method acting (especially Robert Downey Jr. as actor Kirk Lazurus), the hypocrisy of Hollywood moguls (Tom Cruise is hilarious as the overweight producer, as well as Matthew McConaughey as Ben Stiller’s agent) , and the labor of filming huge blockbusters. Tropic Thunder offers more spoofs than meta-filled insights, but it’s a hilarious spoof at that.

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9. For Your Consideration

Christopher Guest returns for another hilarious mockumentary of an upcoming Jewish drama film Home for Purim. Fame and success starts to get to the actors heads when they all start having lofty visions of Oscar buzz for their performances. Christopher Guest dares to mock the sacred idea of getting an Oscar that most actors have.

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10. Perfect Blue

Perfect Blue is a thriller that comments more about the obsessive celebrity culture and fixation with actors rather than the craft of making film. But the film also – quite dangerously and vividly- gets inside the mind of an actor- when does what you’re acting stop being fiction and start being real? Although more about a television series than a single film, Perfect Blue dares to examine the fragility of the craft of acting.

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What’s Up With That Ending?: Nymphomaniac

The misanthropic director Lars Von Trier is no stranger to controversy or polarizing film work, and his ending is just that. His films also deal with the inner psychology of women, (Dogville, Melancholia, Antichrist) Von Trier’s latest work includes the two-part, four hour Nymphomaniac, where he explores his analysis of female sexuality.

The film begins when a charming old bachelor Seligman (played by Stellan Skarsgard) finds Joe, (Charlotte Gainsbourg) beaten up in an alley. He takes her home to care for her, and she recounts the story of her life as a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac. Seligman connects and analyzes Joe’s stories with what he’s read about. The first half of the film follows Joe as a young woman, while the second half follows her as an adult. The first half of the film is arguably more engaging than the second half, which is filled with a few unbelievable plot twists and seems to plod on.

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With the division of two parts (rather than cut together to make one film) Von Trier allows the story to breathe and take its time. You find yourself intrigued with Joe’s stories and wondering where it will all lead. Joe is grappled with whether or not she is a good person, Eventually we learn that Seligman is an asexual and virgin, thus making him the perfect person to listen to her tale without judgment. Seligman assures Joe that she should not be hard on herself, that the choices she made for desire are criticized by society because she is a woman. If she were a man, she would not be having this existential crisis and no one would be questioning her appetite. This would be a worthy thesis (and defense…for many criticize Von Trier of misogyny despite his efforts to tell stories of women) but he can’t leave it at that, and the ending completely upheaves everything.

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Joe has finished telling her story, and decides to go to bed. Seligman creeps back into the room with his pants off, attempting rape her. The film cuts to black as we hear Joe awaken and reach for a gun. Seligman protests and we then hear a gunshot and the sounds of Joe grabbing her things and leaving the apartment.

This ending quite obviously comes as a shock. We’ve spent the last four hours of psychological analysis and hints of a brighter ending filled with gentleness, empathy and possible redemption for Joe. But Von Trier instead chooses to pull a sneering trick on the audience. He has the ending betray nearly everything the film set up.

While it can certainly be seen as a big “F You” to the entire film and audience, it does leave you to wonder what statement is Von Trier, the eternal cynic, trying to make? Was it the punchline to a very bleak joke? The ending seems to be Von Trier obnoxiously hammering the thesis that ‘All men are the same and will always want to take advantage of women’. Seligman is supposed to represent society, who assume that if a woman is sexually promiscuous she is just a font of sex. If she’s a nymphomaniac, if she always wants sex, why would she deny him? Why shouldn’t he take advantage of this, it’s not like she’ll protest. This is Von Trier saying that when life is beautiful, something’s bound to ruin it. Humanity is driven to fuck things up and that is the honest viewpoint of life.

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Von Trier’s cynical statement and sledgehammer of an ending could have worked it was executed in a better way. Also, the ending would not have been nearly as frustrating (and might have been able to really work) if Seligman wasn’t such an interesting and engaging character. Seligman was very well written and performed. He was established as an asexual that seems very content with that life. He made our female lead feel safe, and together they formed a caring relationship that we cared about, too. It’s angering to know that in the end that was worth nothing. Von Trier tries to play a bleak joke on the audience and make a grand statement about humanity, but instead of laughing and being enlightened we are enraged.

Scene Sound Off: Grosse Pointe Blank

Grosse Pointe Blank is an interesting blend of action and violence, romance and dark humor. What saves the film from being so-so is John Cusack’s fantastic lead performance, bringing his sarcastic charm as the flawed protagonist, the longtime bachelor and assassin Martin Blank. Martin returns to his hometown for his high school reunion.

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Martin is unsure about how he’ll feel at the high school reunion, telling his therapist “They all have husbands and wives and children and houses and dogs, and, you know, they’ve all made themselves a part of something and they can talk about what they do. What am I gonna say? ‘I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How’ve you been?'” Before the days of Facebook, reunions were a minefield of embarrassment, or a competition to see who was doing better in life. Did the football stars and cheerleaders who ruled the school end up with a better life than you? Or worse?

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Martin feels that he has nothing to show for himself, no family or relationship and a morally corrupt job. But he wants to change. And upon meeting up with his old high school flame, he recognizes that maybe now’s the time to start moving his life in another direction. Maybe now it’s time to have a meaningful relationship, a connection with someone. Isn’t that what life is about? Surely a life lived alone can’t have any real meaning?

This short scene sums up Martin’s inner struggle. Martin talks with a former classmate, she talks about how marriage is better than what people say it is. She asks how Martin’s life is, he replies “In progress.” She then asks him to hold her baby as she gets a bottle. The soundtrack music turns up, David Bowie and Queen’s famous “Under Pressure”. This is another perfect moment of film and music.

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We flip back and forth between close ups of the adorable and expressive baby and John Cusack’s curious expression. Martin focuses his on the baby, squinting his eyes and really taking him in. It’s as if he’s saying to himself “I’ve never had feelings like this before. What is this?” The curiosity turns to tenderness, and in the next shot we see him trying to feed the baby his bottle.

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Aside from 80s music being included in the soundtrack for nostalgic purposes, the song fits perfectly. Martin is under pressure himself, his inner thoughts being “Get your life together! You’re at your high school reunion and what do you have to show for it?” The lyrics acutely express Martin’s issues:

Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word,

and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night

And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves

Although Martin tries to be cool and seem above falling in love, on the inside he knows that’s not true. Love is not just an old fashioned sentiment or overblown creation by greeting card companies. Love is something real. By falling in love or allowing himself to care about others, (like the people on the edge of the night) he will be opening himself up to some scary feelings and vulnerability. But he knows it is for the better. The only way to truly care about yourself and love yourself, is to reach out and connect with other people.

Grosse Pointe Blank is a romantic and funny film, but the film is absolutely held up by John Cusack’s performance and the writing of an incredibly interesting protagonist. This scene is probably the one most defining scene for his character, what really hooks you into watching his story. Not to mention, it’s got great music.