- Movies about filmmakers often incorporate the stylistic aspects of the movies or genres they are paying homage to.
- Ed Wood, Mank, and The Fabelmans are examples of movies that delve into the professional and personal lives of filmmakers.
- Films like The Aviator, Inception, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood explore the complexities of Hollywood and its impact on the careers and lives of filmmakers.
The best movies about filmmaking depict the professional and personal lives of people who work in Hollywood and how one invariably affects the other. Filmmakers praising movies about filmmaking would seem self-congratulatory if there weren’t so many great movies about filmmaking. The Artist, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Inception fascinated audiences with their unparalleled storytelling.
If a movie focuses on the production of a famous movie or period in cinematic history, directors will often try to incorporate stylistic aspects of that movie or era into their present-day movie. This is characteristic of the fact that, more often than not, these movies are intended to pay homage to a particular filmmaker’s career or to Hollywood itself. Movies that focus on an individual vs. movies that focus on Hollywood can be seen as the two major categories among the best movies about filmmaking.
10 Ed Wood (1994)
Tim Burton applies his personal style to a biopic about cult filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr.
Tim Burton’s 1994 biographical movie Ed Wood recounts the real-life story of the infamous B-movie director behind disastrous films such as Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda. Johnny Depp stars as the titular filmmaker, with Martin Landau as famous horror actor Bela Lugosi, and Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette as Ed’s girlfriends.
- Release Date
- October 7, 1994
- Johhny Depp , Sarah Jessica Parker , George “The Animal” Steele , Patricia Arquette , Martin Landau , Bill Murray
- 127 minutes
Riding the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Edward Scissorhands, and Batman, Tim Burton brought Johnny Depp along for his experimental take on the career of Ed Wood, who is widely considered the worst director of all time. Burton utilized his usual macabre style to recall Wood’s various sci-fi movies. The comedy and drama of Wood’s life is told in a black-and-white medium.
According to Nick Allen (via Vulture), “Burton knew that Ed Wood had to be in black and white when he realized that he’d never seen a picture of Bela Lugosi […] in color.” Lugosi was an actor who starred in some of Wood’s movies; he is played by Martin Landau in Ed Wood, who won an Oscar for his performance. While Ed Wood failed at the box office, it was praised by critics, and is arguably among Burton’s best movies.
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9 Mank (2020)
A chaotic movie about making Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.
Mank is David Fincher’s two-time Academy Award-winning film that was released on Netflix and select theaters in 2020. Starring Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, and Lily Collins, Mank tells the story of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the real-life alcoholic screenwriter responsible for penning the screenplay for the 1941 classic Citizen Kane.
- Release Date
- December 4, 2020
- 131 minutes
Also mimicking the style of the movie that is its subject matter is David Fincher’s Mank, which follows Herman “Mank” Mankiewicz as he finishes the screenplay for Citizen Kane. Reviews of Mank call it a “love letter” to old Hollywood, which lays claim to the talents of Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried. While “after two viewings,” Roger Ebert was “not yet entirely sure” what the movie was doing, other critics (including the Academy of Motion Pictures) enjoyed Mank’s whirlwind of classic technical elements and the frenzied process of writing one of the most influential screenplays of all time.
Mank was distributed by and is available to stream on Netflix.
8 The Fabelmans (2022)
Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical movie about family and filmmaking.
The Fabelmans is a film loosely based on the life of a young Steven Spielberg, with Gabriel Labelle playing the role of 16-year-old aspiring filmmaker Sammy Fabelman. Fictionalizing but treading essential moments in the director’s life, The Fabelmans is set in the 1960s with the titular family moving from New Jersey to California, where a dark secret begins to cause the life of young Sammy to unravel. To escape the reality he’s faced with, he turns to films and reinforces a new dream – the aspiration of becoming a filmmaker. The film allows the director and the audience to look back on the past and try to understand the motivations of family members’ various actions by contextualizing them through the lens of film.
- Release Date
- November 23, 2022
- Paul Dano , Gabriel LaBelle , Seth Rogen , Judd Hirsch , Nicolas Cantu , Michelle Williams , Gabriel Bateman , Sam Rechner , Oakes Fegley , Julia Butters
- 151 minutes
Steven Speilberg presents a fictionalized version of his own family in The Fabelmans. The movie depicts a family’s struggles as the parents’ marriage comes to an end while their son Sammy shows talent and passion for making movies. The Fabelmans gives a unique insight into the innovations of a young filmmaker – as well as how his father considers his passion a “hobby” – alongside an honest story about family. However, while it is a good movie, it is hard not to compare it to the influence and spectacle of the rest of Spielberg’s repertoire.
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7 The Aviator (2004)
Martin Scorcese’s biopic about the rise and fall of Howard Hughes.
The Aviator is a 2004 biopic about Howard Hughes, a famous film producer, and pilot that was once considered one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the world. Directed by Martin Scorsese and written by John Logan, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Hughes alongside Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, and Alec Baldwin.
- Release Date
- December 25, 2004
- 170 minutes
Long after his nomination for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Martin Scorcese’s The Aviator cemented Leonardo DiCaprio’s status as one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed actors. Additionally, Cate Blanchette won Best Actress in a Supporting Role for playing Katharine Hepburn. The Aviator follows on the famous exploits of director, philanthropist, and aerospace engineer Howard Hughes. It focuses on Hughes’ personal life, depicting his rise and fall in Hollywood, and how his mental health negatively affected his career. The Aviator is praised as a compelling biopic of one of Hollywood’s biggest directors.
6 Sunset Blvd. (1950)
The classic Hollywood movie about the partnership of a faded Hollywood screenwriter and actress.
Sunset Blvd. is considered a staple among any survey of classic Hollywood movies, right alongside Citizen Kane. William Holden plays the struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis, who agrees to work with a faded Hollywood actress hoping to make her comeback. The story emphasizes that her hopes are delusions. Sunset Blvd. features Gloria Swanson’s unmatched performance as Norma Desmond and depicts a cynical vision of Hollywood never before seen in a movie. Arguably, the likes of this vision have not been seen in a movie since.
5 Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending adventure is an elegant metaphor for filmmaking.
Christopher Nolan’s 2010 Sci-fi action film Inception follows a thief who enters the dreams of others to steal information and, after being caught, is given a chance to clean his slate by performing an untested concept – implanting an idea within another mind. An ensemble cast is brought together by former target Saito, who seeks to implant the idea of destroying his own company into his father’s mind. In a complex labyrinth of dreams and untested theories at the forefront, survival is not guaranteed in this psychological heist where the stakes are high, and nothing is what it seems.
- Release Date
- July 16, 2010
- 148 minutes
Inception is one of Christopher Nolan’s best movies, following a team of criminals who are able to venture into people’s dreams and plant ideas there. The visuals are stunning and the acting praiseworthy, while the story prompts discourse about the nature of original ideas and the consequences of what the characters are doing. However, Nolan has also revealed that Inception is an analogy for making a movie.
Each character involved in Inception’s central dream heist plays a role that correlates to a job in producing a movie. For example, DiCaprio’s Hobbs is the movie’s director, as he leads the team, while Elliot Page’s Ariadne is the production designer, as she designs the world within someone’s dream. Inception was already praised for being a reality-bending masterpiece. Nolan’s more recent commentary only reveals another level of brilliance and another way the movie can be interpreted.
4 Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)
An actor and his stuntman prevent the Tate murders in Quentin Tarantino’s bizarre comedy.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, which takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood. The two lead characters are Rick Dalton, the former star of a western TV series, and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth. Both struggle to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognize anymore, but Rick soon realizes he’s the next-door neighbor of the infamous Sharon Tate.
- Release Date
- July 26, 2019
- Tim Roth , Margot Robbie , Mike Moh , Timothy Olyphant , Al Pacino , Kurt Russell , Leonardo DiCaprio , Dakota Fanning , James Marsden , Brad Pitt , Luke Perry , Bruce Dern , Scoot McNairy , Michael Madsen , Margaret Qualley , Emile Hirsch
- 159 minutes
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood lovingly and strangely romanticizes the last days of the Golden Age of Hollywood. While DiCaprio plays a fading movie star struggling to find work, Margot Robbie wanders about as Sharon Tate enjoying her time in the limelight. These two parallel storylines do not converge until the finale.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood hints at the Tate-LaBianca murders throughout, introducing the Mason Family through a conflict with the main character’s stuntman, played by Brad Pitt. The audience thinks they know what’s going to happen – until the infamous night arrives, and the would-be killers take a detour when they see Pitt’s character at a different house. The tragedy that is considered the symbolic end of Hollywood’s Golden Age is avoided, and the movie ends daydreaming about this era going on forever.
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3 Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds’ iconic movie musical.
The subject of multiple great filmmaking movies is the rough transition from silent movies to “talkies.” Sunset Blvd. tells a bleak story about an actress whose career ended because of this, but Singin’ in the Rain opts for a brighter outlook. While untalented celebrities like Jean Hagon’s Lina Lamont scheme to cling to their undeserved fame, the true stars look to the future. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor represent the real talent in this movie, delivering several famous and brilliant song and dance routines. Singin’ in the Rain is overall an immensely enjoyable, funny, and optimistic movie.
2 Hugo (2011)
Two children in 1930s Paris unravel the mystery of influential filmmaker Georges Méliès.
Based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Hugo follows the titular character, a young boy living alone in a train station in Paris. While working to restore an automaton found by his late father, Hugo becomes involved in a mystery surrounding the automaton and filmmaker Georges Méliès. Asa Butterfield stars as Hugo, with Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Jude Law as part of the main cast.
- Release Date
- November 22, 2011
- 126 minutes
While Ebert may negate it for Mank, Hugo is undeniably a movie worthy of being called a love letter to early filmmakers. Based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, the melancholic movie is about an orphan living within a Paris train station uncovering the history of Georges Méliès. Hugo artfully pays homage to Méliès’ career, incorporating clips from his various silent films, illustrating how he achieved ground-breaking special effects, and delivering a compelling history of how his work was largely forgotten around the time of World War I.
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1 The Artist (2011)
A masterful silent movie about an era of change in Hollywood.
A unique call back to classic silent cinema, The Artist is a comedy-drama that follows actor George Valentin in the 1920s, who experiences the changing landscape as “talking pictures” become the new norm. The film centers on the relationship between George and an up-and-coming young actress named Peppy Miller, who he takes on as a mentee as he slowly falls into obscurity.
- Release Date
- December 22, 2011
- Michel Hazanavicius
- Jean Dujardin , John Goodman , James Cromwell
The definitive movie about a silent actor’s dwindling career as Hollywood transitions to talking pictures falls somewhere between Sunset Blvd. and Singing in the Rain’s respective tones. However, The Artist is most celebrated for being a silent movie that was able to capture present-day audiences. This is in no small part thanks to the talent of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo as the main characters, who, somewhat ironically, demonstrate the work it takes to engage an audience without speaking.
Dujardin’s George Valentin’s career falls as Bejo’s Peppy Miller’s career takes off, illustrating how the 1920s was a time of failure and opportunity for different actors. The Artist also does sound at specific moments for the best effect. In the end, George makes a comeback in a duo act with Poppy. Movies like The Artist are lauded for showing different aspects of Hollywood history while telling the stories behind celebrated filmmakers’ careers.
Source: Vulture, Roger Ebert