Hollywood gets meta.
Hollywood loves to make two things: money and movies about itself. Well, this September, Clerks III did the latter. After surviving a heart attack, series mainstay Randal Graves unites his friends to make a movie about Quick Stop.
It's not the first time writer-direction Kevin Smith has gotten meta. In one of the most memorable scenes from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the title characters are extras on the set of the fictional movie: Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season. Smith follows a long tradition of comedies about movie-making, from Singin' in the Rainto Tropic Thunder. Here are some of those classics.
The adaptation of Greg Sestero's book of the same title was directed by and starred James Franco as Tommy Wiseau — the "auteur" (to use the word loosely) who created the film The Room. The movie routinely shows up on worst movie lists but has earned a cult following since its release in 2003. The Disaster Artist follows Wiseau as he crafts his opus.
From inspiration to funding to shooting to premiere, Franco's film covers the entire movie-making process. It's perhaps most memorable for its on-set antics, specifically Wiseau struggling to nail the infamous line: "I did not hit her. I did not. Oh hi Mark." The movie is a blast and a crash course on how to make a terrible movie.
A film crew is attempting to make a highly expensive Vietnam War film (think Platoon, or that one section in Forrest Gump), but the cast is out of control. To save the production, the actors dropped into the jungle with blank-filled guns and hidden cameras recording their every move. But instead of making a war epic, they're dropped in an epic war.
Tropic Thundermay be the definition of a movie that couldn't get made today. Released in 2008, Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr….the latter of which appeared in blackface. But as dangerous as the material might be, the film succeeds and flourishes because of its relentless takedown of Hollywood stars and movie-making. The entertainment industry is always the butt of the joke — as it should be.
The one that started it all. Sure, the iconic film is the seminal film of Hollywood's Golden Age of Musicals. But it may also be the greatest movie ever made about the transition from silent films to talkies.
Everybody knows "Singin' in the Rain," "Make 'Em Laugh," and "Good Morning." But less discussed is the film's sheer comedy, namely the scene that illustrates what happens when a movie's sound isn't mixed correctly. It's no mistake the film stands at 16th on AFI's 100 YEARS…100 LAUGHS list.
Paul Thomas Anderson's second feature might not sound like an obvious inclusion, but sure enough, it's all about the art of movie-making. In fact, a lot of the film takes place on set or is about making a movie, editing a movie, selling a movie, etc. While Singin' in the Rain focuses on the transition from silent movies to sound, Boogie Nights centers on the porn industry's transition from film to tape.
Boogie Nights is harrowing filmmaking, and Anderson's homage to Scorsese, Altman, and Demme. But it's also hilarious. From Reid's hot tub poem to Dirk claiming he blocks his own scenes, the director's script is as funny as any while also trojan-horsing an allegory for the corruption of New Hollywood in the late 70s.
Some movies about Hollywood are about geniuses — tyrannical egomaniacs with singular visions. Not Ed Wood. Tim Burton's 1994 film follows Wood, a man legendary for being the worst director who ever lived. But the film doesn't wallow in his failure or deride it for a cheap laugh. It enjoys the absurdity of his films and the unlikelihood of his talent with a warm generosity.
Much of the film takes place on set as viewers watch Wood assemble his little family, from Vampira to Tor Johnson to Bela Lugosi, who played the original Dracula. While similar to the Disaster Artist in some ways, Ed Wood is really about an open-minded, ambitious man who loves to bring together discarded people…and is terrible at making movies.
To prevent the fallout of an election-year presidential sex scandal, a spin doctor brings in a top Hollywood producer to manufacture a fake war. Underneath the shell of a political satire Wag the Dog is a good ol' fashioned movie about movies.
Starring Dustin Hoffman as the producer and Robert De Niro as the spin doctor, the movie tackles every part of the modern-day Hollywood procedure: producing an idea with a wide demographic appeal, marketing the story, and demanding credit when it succeeds. It's a pitch-black rebuke of politics and Hollywood and a must-see cautionary tale about Hollywood filmmaking.
Few films have Hollywood come out the other end looking like the land of dreams, and State and Main is no exception. Writer-Director David Mamet's 2000 film follows a big Hollywood production that takes over a small town in Vermont.
The production is supposed to be shooting a film called "The Old Mill." There's just one problem: the town's mill burned down 100 years ago. Now, the writer (played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) must devise a completely new script only days before principal photography. Filled with great performances and Mamet's stellar writing, State and Main is about all the nonsense that a Hollywood production goes through on a daily basis.
Maybe the single funniest movie on this list is Albert Brooks' 1979 comedy Real Life. Brooks plays a fictionalized version of himself who wants to capture the life of a normal American family for one year. Naturally, Brooks can't help but interfere with every stage of the production.
Real Life is a comedy classic. It opens with Brooks explaining the rigorous tests he's devised for finding the most normal family in America. Then, the movie really gets going when he travels to Arizona to live with the Yeagers — the winning family. Over time, the production completely corrupts the thing it hopes to capture and sends Brooks into a fit of egomaniacal madness.
Released in 2022, Official Competition is the most recent film featured here, the only Spanish-language movie, and the only one that portrays the more overlooked part of the filmmaking process: rehearsals.
The movie stars Penelope Cruz as a brilliant, yet eccentric director who demands that her two leads rehearse together weeks before production. One of the leads is a movie star played by Antonio Banderas. The other is a celebrated theater actor played by Oscar Martinez, who provides the funniest scene in the film when he practices rejecting an Oscar in front of the mirror.
NEXT: The Films of Kevin Smith Ranked, From ‘Clerks’ to 'Tusk'
Alex Bernard is a writer, director, and comedian based in Los Angeles. In addition to his work with Collider, he’s writes Spotify mystery podcasts, comedy, scripts, and prose. Most recently, he directed his first short film the day after watching “Olympus Has Fallen” for the first time.
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Hollywood gets meta.