20. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
What if Max Schreck, star of FW Murnau’s silent classic Nosferatu, was really a vampire? It’s an irresistible premise, and Willem Dafoe is heartwarming, repulsive and hilarious as the actor who works only at night, but the filmmakers erased their notebook by portraying film genius Murnau as a talentless hack.
19. The Stuntman (1980)
A Vietnam War veteran fugitive makes a mistake on a film set, accidentally kills a stuntman, and is blackmailed by the megalomaniac director (Peter O’Toole) to take the place of the dead. Richard Rush’s clever comedy-drama paves the way for the kind of reality-bending scenario that would become all the rage 20 years later.
18. Two weeks in another city (1962)
A ruined American star (Kirk Douglas) has a chance for redemption in a film shot in Cinecittà studios outside Rome in Vincente Minnelli’s splendidly over-mature melodrama. Highlights include Douglas misbehaving in nightclubs and an intense drunk driving scene with Cyd Charisse screaming in the passenger seat of her Maserati.
17. Through the olive trees (1994)
Abbas Kiarostami’s tale of a film crew making a film in an earthquake-torn Iranian village is a discreet charm. There is a lot of gentle humor when a stonemason-turned-actor fails to woo his protagonist, while non-professional actors continue to oppose dialogues that do not coincide with their own life experiences.
16. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (2019)
When it isn’t about the Manson murders, Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to 1960s Hollywood reunites with former action star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double (Brad Pitt), or watch Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) while watching screen. He loses points for his disrespectful portrayal of Bruce Lee.
15. Bowfinger (1999)
Steve Martin plays a Z-level director shooting a sci-fi film around a paranoid action star (Eddie Murphy) who doesn’t know he’s being filmed and assumes the bizarre events around him are an alien conspiracy. Murphy also plays a silly lookalike tricked into running on a busy highway. Golden Comedy!
14. The Player (1992)
After years out of the mainstream, Robert Altman is back with Michael Tolkin’s adaptation of his novel about a studio executive (Tim Robbins) who kills a screenwriter. But he forgets the plot and you get a load of star cameos and lines in a lively deconstruction of Hollywood clichés.
13. The big picture (1989)
Christopher Guest’s directorial debut was this delightful satire about a film-graduate idealist (Kevin Bacon) whose beloved Bergman-style project was transformed by Hollywood into a crass teen movie. With super support from Jennifer Jason Leigh as fellow graduate and Martin Short in a tour de force cameo as Bacon’s agent.
12. Dolemite is my name (2019)
Eddie Murphy cleverly belittles his portrayal of 1970s stand-up comedian, proto-rapper and blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore, whose talent for self-promotion surpasses his acting and kung fu skills. It’s like a reworking of Ed Wood, if only Wood’s films were box office hits. Wesley Snipes provides unexpectedly hilarious support.
11. Actress of the Millennium (2001)
A documentary maker interviews a lonely movie star (loosely based on Setsuko Hara) in Satoshi Kon’s exquisite anime. As her memories intertwine in and out of reality, we revisit the history of 20th-century Japan through her film sets, including tributes to directors such as Yasujirō Ozu and Akira Kurosawa.
10. Hello, Caesar! (2016)
“You wish it were that simple!” The Coen brothers turn their love of classic cinema into a day in the life of a studio “fixer” (Josh Brolin) who has to deal with missing or wrong actors and uncomfortable pregnancies to make the dream factory run smoothly. 1950s Hollywood. It’s a tribute and a tribute, and Channing Tatum’s musical number is a knockout.
9. Contempt (1963)
A playwright (Michel Piccoli in a Dean Martin hat) travels to Capri to rewrite the Odyssey for director Fritz Lang (playing himself), but his self-esteem is undermined when his wife (Brigitte Bardot) joins the producer. (Jack Palance). Jean-Luc Godard’s coolest, coolest film is structured around a credibly disintegrated relationship, with a haunting soundtrack by Georges Delerue.
8. Living in oblivion (1995)
Steve Buscemi plays a director for whom everything goes wrong on the set of his arty-farty New York film in Tom DiCillo’s delightful hymn to independent cinema: intrusive microphones, explosive lamps, rebellious actors of small stature. James LeGros is priceless as a self-obsessed protagonist, who DiCillo denies was modeled after his directorial debut star: Brad Pitt.
7. A cut of the dead (2017)
Shin’ichiro Ueda’s comedy, which took his microbudget 1,000 times at the box office, begins with the cast and crew of a photo of zombies being attacked by real zombies, all shot in a single take. A flashback to the origins of the project is only mildly interesting, but stick to it for a third act that unfolds in a glorious celebration of business-based cinema.
6. Ed Wood (1994)
Tim Burton’s heartfelt biopic stars Johnny Depp as the man once dubbed the “worst director of all time” – unfairly, since Wood’s low-budget monster movies still entertain audiences 60 years later. It’s a fun, bittersweet study of filmmaking that turns a bunch of misfits into an alternate family, with an Oscar-winning performance by Martin Landau as decaying horror star Bela Lugosi.
5. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
Joel McCrea plays a slapstick comedy director who gets more than he bargained for when posing as a tramp to seek out human suffering for serious drama. Preston Sturges delves into some very dark places as he asks, “Why do social realism when you can make people laugh?” but his own film is a masterclass in blending comedy and tragedy.
4. The ugly and the beautiful (1952)
Kirk Douglas plays an Academy Award-winning producer whose planned return fails when former collaborators refuse to work with him. Vincente Minnelli’s irresistible slice of Hollywood-on-Hollywood shows us why in flashbacks, with Dick Powell as the writer, Barry Sullivan as the director and Lana Turner as the actress, who has a hysterical fit world-class in ball gown and furs.
3. Day by night (1973)
François Truffaut plays the beleaguered director of a dramatic romantic drama shot in the south of France in his semi-autobiographical double billet to the cinema and to the people who do it. Recalcitrant kittens, luvie whims and forgetful divas are just some of the problems brought into episodic life by a star-studded cast led by Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Pierre Léaud.
2. Singing in the rain (1952)
Stanley Donen’s timeless Hollywood musical is set during the transition from silent to talking images. Gene Kelly (who he co-directed) plays a movie star in love with the naive (Debbie Reynolds) hired to voice the annoying voice of her co-star. Donald O’Connor runs up the wall in Make ’em Laugh, Cyd Charisse shows off her endless legs, and Kelly performs the most spectacular dance in film history.
1. 8½ (1963)
Marcello Mastroianni plays a director who doesn’t have a clue what his next film will be about, even though his producers have already built him a gigantic set of a space rocket. Federico Fellini mixes dreams, memories and the most fabulous women of European cinema in the definitive project for authors eager to put their life on the screen. Many have copied, but none have done so beautifully.