Hollywood is also full of movies about Hollywood itself. Success stories, dark sides, or just a backdrop for various stories. Just last year Quentin Tarantino made a tribute to the end of the Golden Age called “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and this year David Fincher has made “Mank” about the industry politics of its time.
Through the years, we got funny satires like “Get Shorty” and “Hail, Caesar!” (which to be fair, could be on the list as well), some darker ones like David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars,” blacklist era stories like “Trumbo” and “Guilty by Suspicion,” and many more. It might seem like Hollywood is just obsessed with themselves, but it’s understandable because it’s a place full of fascinating stories. Let’s not forget that some of these filmmakers have started to get into movies just because of how fascinated they are by the whole industry. Here are 10 great and different kinds of films about Hollywood that you don’t often hear about but are worth taking a look.
10. Hooper (1978)
Sonny Hooper is the No. 1 stuntman. At a charity event for an orphanage, he meets the ambitious young stuntman Ski. In a skyscraper stunt, Sonny has to admit that Ski is a promising talent among stuntmen. Although he can’t stand him, he invites him to his home the next day; they become friends and then start to work on film. Our aging stuntman lets himself be challenged by this young rival.
A tribute to stuntmen and stuntwomen in what was at one time an underrecognized profession, the movie was made when Burt Reynolds was at the top of his popularity and had a lot of things to appeal to his fans. Janet Maslin described it as such: “There are fans who like to watch him tearing up the highway, and there are fans who enjoy his delightfully flippant self-mockery, with all the covert thoughtfulness it implies. This time, Mr. Reynolds has made a movie to please fans of all persuasions.” Notable for being one of the first films to use the blooper reel credit roll, “Hooper” is a fast-paced, fun look into the dangerous and challenging world of stuntmen.
9. For Your Consideration (2006)
Recently the show “Schitt’s Creek” has been getting a lot of attention, and thanks to its Emmy Awards sweep for its last season, it seems many people tuned into to see what the buzz is all about. Hopefully some of the fans will also check out Eugene Levy’s collaborations with Christopher Guest, and this one in particular, which also stars Catherine O’Hara in a wonderful performance. We’ll come back to Guest later on again.
Awards season is fun for some, frustrating for others, and sometimes it’s both. For some others, it’s just meaningless. “For Your Consideration” is a mockumentary in Guest’s style that takes us to the whole madness of it all. It’s true that it’s not among the director’s best works and his humor is an acquired taste in general, but it’s still worthy of attention. If you’re interested in awards season, chances are you’ll find yourself laughing out loud at some parts of this film.
The film follows the production of “Home for Purim,” a low-budget drama film about a Jewish family in the southern United States in the 1940s, and they hear there’s some award buzz going around. The movie about awards buzz managed to create some buzz for O’Hara’s performance that she won the National Board of Review’s Best Supporting Actress award and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award in the category of Best Female Lead. Her performance alone would make it worth watching, but the whole cast is seriously great.
8. The Big Picture (1989)
As mentioned previously, we’re not done with Christopher Guest. This one is also slightly different than the type of humor he’s often associated with, but it’s another good one. Nick Chapman is a student graduating from a film school, and he wins a prestigious award for his short film. At the beginning of the film, the competition entries – including those by Lydia Johnson and Chapman – are shown. He wins an award and now he thinks he is on the right road that should lead him straight to Hollywood. Nick rattles off the producers with an idea for a drama and ends up with Allen Habel (the amazing J.T. Walsh) but there are lessons waiting for him to be learned. These are not the lessons only for the character, but probably to young aspiring filmmakers in general.
Kevin Bacon remains as one of the most underrated leading men in general. Hollywood treated him mostly as a character actor who ends up in major supporting roles in big films and has never nominated him for an Oscar despite the success of “Footloose.” But the man sure can lead a picture. The cast is so good in this; as already mentioned, Bacon and Walsh shine, but the supporting cast is also something else, especially Martin Short who steals every scene he’s in and it’s always nice to see Jennifer Jason Leigh. There are several other cameos or extended cameo kinds of performances that are amusing to watch. The movie itself is often a funny satire about the rules and little games that decide careers in Hollywood and worth taking a look at.
7. The Big Knife (1955)
One of lesser known Robert Aldrich films, criticized for being “stagey” and sometimes too melodramatic, “The Big Knife” is actually better than what its reputation suggests. The early ‘50s gave us some really strong works on Hollywood like “Sunset Boulevard,” “The Bad and the Beautiful” and “All About Eve,” which is maybe why this one got more criticism and was overlooked in general.
Based on a successful Broadway play, the movie creates a tragic self-portrait of the film city within the limited space of the stage: a gigantic star (Jack Palance) is artistically unnerved by unscrupulous producers. He drinks and keeps getting involved with the seductive starlet Dixie Evans, even though he loves his wife Marion more than anything. His marriage is in deep crisis and Marion is thinking of divorce if he doesn’t change significantly. Charles’ attempt to break away from his producer will have dire consequences; first, he’ll get blackmailed and finally incited to murder.
Aldrich’s portrayal of Hollywood is as dark as it gets; almost a hellish place where corruption, greed, and betrayal are the order of the day. Very critical of the Hollywood studio system of its time, the film shows Hollywood as a place that annihilates artistic ambition and ruins lives, and features a brilliant cast that makes the film even better.
6. The Front (1976)
Probably the best film Woody Allen starred in without writing or directing it, “The Front” is a superb film on McCarthyism. The movie is directed by Martin Ritt, who was blacklisted himself by the television industry when a Syracuse grocer charged him with donating money to Communist China in 1951. He supported himself for five years by teaching at the Actors Studio. For this reason, it might be his most personal film.
The film is set in the early ‘50s. Howard Prince is a small cashier in a restaurant who earns extra income with sports betting. When he loses his money in a horse bet, the scriptwriter Alfred Miller, with whom he has been friends since school, bails him out. Miller was banned from working by the Un-American Activities Committee, as were some of his colleagues. The now unemployed writers persuade Howard to work as a straw man for them. They write scripts for television series, and Howard passes them off as his, but you can expect that one thing follows another and the injustice around him pushes him to take a stand.
The film goes between a satire, straight out comedy, and drama, but tonal shifts are handled very well by Ritt and a very fine Allen performance. The film could have definitely gone to deeper places but still, it’s a great look at a shameful chapter of history.