Top 6: Movies About Movies

Posted in Top 6 at 4:59 am by Sam

“Write what you know” is a maxim familiar to many writers, because writing from experience tends to be more convincing than writing from research. By extension, it makes sense that some of the best movies are movies that are about movies. Who better to record, honor, or satirize the process of filmmaking than the filmmakers themselves?

Our Top 6 list for Episode 6 is about movies that are about movies. What are your favorites?

As always, we recommend listening to the episode before reading further.

  1. Singin’ In the Rain (1952)
  2. Day For Night (1973)
  3. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  4. The Player (1992)
  5. Barton Fink (1991)
  6. Cinema Paradiso (1989)
  1. Day For Night (1973)
  2. 8 1/2 (1963)
  3. Singin’ In the Rain (1952)
  4. State and Main (2000)
  5. The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
  6. Living In Oblivion (1995)


  1. Sam (405) said,

    November 7, 2006 at 5:00 am

    This was one of those times where I was happy with my list after I made it, happy with it while recording it, and then afterward was just kicking myself for omitting two other titles that I really think highly of that probably should have supplanted my #5 and #6 choices. Of course, maybe if I had done that, I’d be kicking myself for leaving my actual #5 and #6 choices off. So, unofficially, consider my list a Top 8, with the following two additional titles:

    Paris - When It Sizzles (1964)

    Audrey Hepburn plays a secretary assigned by a movie producer to assist and keep tabs on a drunken screenwriter (William Holden), who has been holed up in an apartment in Paris and procrastinating the writing of his latest assignment.

    That’s the nominal set-up, but it doesn’t hint at the fun interplay between the characters. What winds up happening is that Holden narrates his screenplay to Hepburn, and we hear that, but what we see on the screen is the theoretical finished movie. And then Hepburn winds up contributing her own ideas, too. If the screenplay ends up going in the wrong direction, and one of the characters wants to rewrite a bit, we see the image rewind and play out again with the changes.

    A lot of fun is had with different genres. The movie-within-a-movie bounds from one genre to another, hyper-exaggerating the conventions of each.

    Of course, Hepburn and Holden also play the leads in the movie they are writing, and a fascinating thing develops: the screenplay they are writing winds up mirroring the stages of their budding romance, and the line between fact and fiction becomes increasingly blurred, mostly for comedic effect.

    The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

    This is another one of those just plain old fun movies about movies out there. I highly recommend avoiding plot summaries of the film, as one of the great joys here is not knowing too much about where it’s going to go ahead of time. It’s even a bit of a spoiler to say too much about the genre of the movie.

    Here’s what I can safely tell you: It’s set in the 1930s, and it’s about a woman who is meek and inhibited, in a bad marriage and a bad job, and she discovers that the one place she can find an escape is at the movies. Eventually, things start to take some unexpected turns.

    It was directed by Woody Allen (he does not also star), and throughout the movie, his love and passion for the movies is evident in this tribute. If you’re one of those folks who “don’t like Woody Allen movies” — and there are many — there is a good chance you’ll find this an exception to the rule.

    By the way, just a quick word on my list order: I actually agree with Stephen, that Singin’ In the Rain is probably the best movie either of us had mentioned. But in ordering a list, there’s a weird balancing act between ordering the movies by how good they are and also by how well they fit the subject. For me, that meant Singin’ In the Rain goes behind Day For Night and 8 1/2, which are more intimately and thoroughly about the filmmaking process. But whatever. The moral of the story is probably to take our orderings (of this and any Top 6) list with a grain of salt and just focus on the titles themselves.

  2. Darien (88) said,

    November 7, 2006 at 7:55 am

    Personally, I think Sunset Boulevard was the best movie either of you mentioned. But Singin’ in the Rain would be my #2.

    Also, on a side note, was I around sometime when you were discussing this subject? Since when I saw your comment on it, I immediately thought it was an old list because I was *sure* I’d heard this before somewhere.

  3. Sam (405) said,

    November 7, 2006 at 10:03 am

    Darien: You’re thinking of a thread that occurred recently in the RinkWorks Message Forum. Someone else started the thread, but it was an interesting coincidence of timing, since we had already recorded this Top 6 list beforehand. It’s part of the reason I was so quick to come up with a good list.

    Which is a good point: anyone interested in seeing my Top 6 list expanded to a Top 8 list expanded to a Top 17 list, follow that link.

  4. Grishny (156) said,

    November 7, 2006 at 10:21 am

    A really good movie that I was hoping to hear on one of your lists, and didn’t, is The Majestic. I guess it’s not really about making movies so much as about showing movies, and that aspect of the story is more like a plot device than the actual story. But it does have that “movie about the movies” vibe going, I think.

    And although I’ve never seen it, doesn’t Adaptation fit into this category as well? Just wondering.

  5. Sam (405) said,

    November 7, 2006 at 10:26 am

    Grishny: The Majestic is a great choice (and made my Top 17 on RinkWorks). It came and went without a lot of fanfare, but I thought it was highly underrated. It’s like something Frank Capra might have made many years ago.

    Adaptation also fits, sure. It’s not one of my favorites, although I admire it. I was expecting it to appear on Stephen’s list. I bet it was at least one of the 15 or so titles on his short list.

  6. Stephen (221) said,

    November 7, 2006 at 10:58 pm

    Yeah, Adaptation is on my short list. At the same time, I already had Barton Fink, which I think is a more interesting dark comedy about writing. I try to go for at least a little bit of variety, so that’s why it didn’t make it.

    And I thought The Majestic was pretty much syrupy, sappy dreck.

  7. Sam (405) said,

    November 7, 2006 at 11:23 pm

    You’re just saying that because you’re dead inside. In reality, it’s sentimental, yes, but it consistently dodges screenwriting cliches and conventions by making the characters more intelligent than movie characters in “syrupy, sappy dreck” ever are. It’s only syrupy and sappy if it’s artificial, but these feel like real people in a (delightfully) Capra-esque story. I suspect that if it really had been made 50 years ago, as well it could have, it would be hailed as a classic today.

  8. Stephen (221) said,

    November 7, 2006 at 11:43 pm

    I just so happen to have a time machine and $10 that says you’re wrong, if you’d like to wager on it.

  9. siochembio (82) said,

    November 8, 2006 at 12:38 am

    Although I don’t find it a particularly good movie, I think “America’s Sweethearts” is a very funny commentary on the publicity machine of Hollywood. The love story in the movie is ridiculous, and again, I don’t really defend it as a GOOD movie, but it makes me laugh how everyone involved in making the movie is SO slimy and self-involved.

    And I’m totally about Singin’ In Rain being #1.

  10. ThePhan (128) said,

    November 8, 2006 at 8:06 pm

    I, too, was about to mention Adaptation, but that’s already been covered. Of these, I have only seen Singin’ in the Rain and Sunset Boulevard. I also wanted to say All About Eve until I remembered that was about theater, not movies. Whoops.

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