It’s not as if Hollywood hides its narcissism given that, every year at the Academy Awards, it welcomes millions of viewers from around the world to watch it congratulate itself.
It’s therefore unsurprising to see Hollywood movies focus on the industry that breeds them. Not that it’s a bad thing. After all, for most of us film fans, part of the enjoyment of watching these movies is to gain an insight into the world of filmmaking, especially when that lens reveals many dark and twisted things “behind the curtain”.
It’s a thematic conceit that’s helped filmmakers – not just in Hollywood – bring us some of the finest pieces of cinema to ever grace the silver screen. Think Sunset Boulevard, 8 1/2, Day for Night, The State of Things, Mulholland Drive and Ed Wood.
In this top 10, we take a look at Hollywood film that has focused, in some way, on the actors themselves. These characters might be in the middle of a production, out of work, retired, or using their skills for something else. Here we’ll celebrate some of the best movies about those who choose to bring cinema alive by being in front of the camera.
Dir. Quentin Tarantino (2019)
Quentin Tarantino takes us inside Hollywood in the late 1960s as the American New Wave is about to lift-off. His focus is on Leonardo DiCaprio’s self-loving Rick Dalton, a former star who is now looking from the outside in, upon the exuberance of youthful whizz kids like filmmaker Roman Polanski and his muse, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Meanwhile, his ego in consistently massaged by his tireless stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).
Dir. Sofia Coppola (2003)
Bill Murray is Bob Harris, an aging American movie star whose career appears to be suffering a downturn causing him to suffer a midlife crisis and choosing to flee to Japan to film a whisky commercial. Somewhat isolated and lonely, a reflective Harris meets an equally vulnerable young girl (Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte) who finds herself similarly cut adrift in a foreign country; their relationship built by writer-director Sofia Coppola with a deft balance of subtle humour and poignancy.
Dir. Herbert Ross (1977)
Richard Dreyfuss stars as Elliot Garfield, a New York stage actor desperately trying to kickstart his career. After moving from Chicago to New York he ends up subletting an apartment unbeknown to its inhabitants, dancer Paula McFadden (Marsha Mason) and her ten-year-old daughter. After the initial confusion, Garfield lets Paula and her daughter stay in this hugely likable, sweet-natured and funny romantic-comedy.
Dir. Sydney Pollack (1982)
One of the greatest comedies of all time sees the brilliant Dustin Hoffman dress in drag to become actress Dorothy Michaels in order to get a female role in a popular TV show. Problem is, he befriends the lead actress who believes he is a woman, and ultimately falls in love with her.
Dir. Billy Wilder (1950)
The story of an erstwhile star who’s clinging to the spotlight long after it has faded, Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard is a bitter, bold and beautiful look under the hood of Hollywood hubris. Featuring a barnstorming performance from Gloria Swanson, the film mixes mystery and character study with a clever, monochrome gothic horror that presents the ghoulish aftermath of one former actor’s fall from grace.
Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson (1997)
Charting the rise and fall of pornographic actor Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), Paul Thomas Anderson’s decade-spanning drama could easily have fallen into a romanticised view of 1970s excess but the writer-director keeps things grounded – even matter-of-fact – amidst the world of porn where sex is commodified, mechanical and impersonal. Wahlberg’s career-best performance is one of its distinguishing features as is its appealing wit.
Dir. Alejandro G. Iñárritu (2014)
Shot as if in one continuous uncut sequence, Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman follows Michael Keaton’s aging former film star, who was best known for playing a superhero called “Birdman”, struggling to adapt a Raymond Carver short story for the Broadway stage. Technically stunning (thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki’s Oscar-winning cinematography) and supported by a strong ensemble cast (including Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts), the film is a brilliant distillation of acting and actors as themes of identity, transformation and a fascination with superheroes showcase key facets of this particular form of artistic expression.
Dir. Spike Jonze (1999)
In what remains one of cinema’s greatest left-field ideas, Being John Malkovich sees John Cusack’s unemployed puppeteer Craig Schwartz discover a tunnel inside the mind of real-life actor Malkovich (playing a stylised version of himself). A collection of colliding themes – identity, consciousness, mortality, evolution, depression, celebrity – are deftly handled by director Spike Jonze who cleverly weaves them together while finding a poignancy and wit amidst this story of the unexpected.
Dir. David Lynch (2001)
For many, including the critics polled for Sight & Sounds’ “greatest movies ever” poll, Mullholland Drive is writer-director David Lynch’s finest work. In a film that defies explanation, Naomi Watts plays an aspiring actress who winds up helping an amnesiac car-crash victim to discover who she is. But as is typical in Lynch’s work, nothing is as it seems as dreams and reality collide.
Dir. Peter Weir (1998)
The unwitting actor in a reality TV show he is unknowingly the star of, The Truman Show is one of the defining films of the 1990s and surprisingly prescient in its prediction of car crash pop culture and the 21st century fast-food celebrity. Jim Carrey has possibly never been better as the eponymous Truman, the first time audiences we’re able to see the Dumb and Dumber star in a dramatic role.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
document.getElementById( “ak_js” ).setAttribute( “value”, ( new Date() ).getTime() );