The Best Films about Filmmaking: Personal Picks

Who's Camus Anyway?

Here are the selections of all 27 participants of our poll of the Best Films About Filmmaking, plus special comments. VIEW THE TOP TEN

A.A. Dowd:
1. Who’s Camus Anyway? – On the surface, it’s a collegiate mayhem-on-the-set comedy. What Yanagimachi is really after here is the pathology of cinephilia—the disturbing way that making and studying movies has fundamentally reshaped a whole generation’s headspace.

2. F for Fake
3. Close-Up
4. Ed Wood
5. The Player

Craig Phillips:
1. Burden of Dreams: Nearly as (some have argued more) compelling than the film it’s about – Fitzcarraldo – Les Blank’s behind the scenes glimpse at the madness and determination that went into Werner Herzog’s period epic about madness and determination is unforgettable. The film that first really made Herzog such an indelibly fascinating character. Triple feature idea: This, Fitzcarraldo and My Best Fiend.

  • The Player
  • F is for Fake
  • Lost in La Mancha
  • American Movie
  • Intervista
  • Millennium Actress
  • Los Angeles Plays Itself
  • Ed Wood
  • Nick Schager:
    David Lynch’s masterwork, Inland Empire is nominally concerned with a fictional movie’s production. Yet in its head-spinning surrealism, its dreamy narrative unconventionality, and its adherence to, and subversion of, classical genre tropes, it’s also – more crucially, and thrillingly – a film about the endless, euphoric possibilities afforded by the cinema.
    Sunset Boulevard
    Peeping Tom
    Millennium Actress
    The Player
    8 1/2
    Boogie Nights
    Day for Night
    Barton Fink

    Steven Boone:
    5.The World of the Dark Crystal
    4. Camera Buff
    3. Irma Vep: The signature image of Hong Kong beauty Maggie Cheung in a slinky black catsuit describes the film’s pleasures and its attitude toward filmmaking: dangerously sexy, ticklishly absurd. Director Olivier Assayas seems torn between so many quirky loves. There’s Maggie as the most game and patient movie goddess ever; on-set intrigues, including an adorable lesbian crush on Maggie; two different crazy, aging New Wave directors (one hardcore cinephile played by Jean-Pierre Leaud, one despairing burnout who seems modeled after Jean-Luc Godard); a sublime cat burglary scene. Assayas has never been more inspired. – Steven Boone

    2. Filmmaker
    1. How Samira Made the Blackboard: Maysam Makhmalbaf films his visionary young sister Samira directing the Iran-Iraq War film Blackboards. Priceless: The scene where a professional actor’s hamming frustrates her to the point of firing him right there on the mountainside “set” and replacing him with an amateur who knows how to simply “be.” The fact that the fired actor is a veteran thespian at least twice her age makes her steely determination to achieve absolute realism doubly impressive.

    Leo Goldsmith:
    1. As addled, narcissistic, and self-destructive as its director, Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie is the definitive anti-Hollywood Hollywood movie, wickedly caricaturing American cultural hegemony, developing-world exploitation, movie-star vanity, and hippie hopelessness … while indulging in each of these to the fullest. Maddening, repugnant, somber, and lysergic, Hopper’s Godardian wind from the West doesn’t quite kill off the American cinema, but it sure tries. More:
    2 . Sherman’s March (Ross McElwee, 1986)
    3 . Crime Wave (John Paizs, 1985)
    4 . Speaking Directly (Jon Jost, 1973)
    5 . American Movie (Chris Smith, 1999)
    6 . Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006)
    7 . The State of Things (Wim Wenders, 1982)
    8 . Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)
    9 . Life and Nothing More… (Abbas Kiarostami, 1991)
    10. Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)

    Camera Buff Krzystof Kieslowski

    Alejandro Adams:
    1. Camera Buff. Kieslowski demonstrates, with implacable didacticism, the harm that can befall those who guilelessly participate in documentaries as subjects as well as the debilitating ethical burden that rests on those who hold the camera. Kieslowski himself had been traumatized by making documentaries — by the repercussions if not the process. Well beyond those years he insisted on using chemicals to fake actors’ tears in his narrative work because he reviled himself for having exploited actual tearshed on camera. After watching Camera Buff you’ll throw up in your mouth when Errol Morris tries to make you complicit in his reckless misanthropy.

    Camera Buff may change the way you think about such matters, but the films that are most revealing about the filmmaking process as it pertains me do not literally concern filmmaking. The following are frighteningly accurate mirrors of what it’s like to be a filmmaker in mind and function, as far as I’m concerned:
    2. Killing of a Chinese Bookie
    3. In the City of Sylvia
    4. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
    5. Mikey and Nicky

    Honorable mention: Night Moves. The way Penn incorporates a Hollywood production at the margin demonstrates the mundanity of studio filmmaking in the lives of those who are surrounded by it. So then what’s alluring if Hollywood isn’t? Sweltering nights in a south Florida shack. I remember screens.

    Nathaniel Rogers:
    What makes The Purple Rose of Cairo the greatest movie about the movies is that it’s not just about the movies. It’s also about moviegoing. It addresses what it means to sit in the dark and fall in love. And in a bittersweet way, especially for cinephiles, it’s also about what the movies can’t do for us; the great chasm between fiction and reality.
    2 singin’ in the rain
    3 sunset blvd
    4 boogie nights
    5 mulholland dr.
    6 a star is born (1954)
    7 8 1/2
    8 irma vep
    9 ed wood
    10 whatever happened to baby jane

    Jonathan Marlow
    1. Brandy in the Wilderness (1971) dir. Stanton Kaye
    In some respects, a “twin” of David Holzman’s Diary (which, itself, was somewhat influenced by Kaye’s remarkable debut feature, Georg).
    2. The Cameraman (1928) dir. Edward Sedgwick (& Buster Keaton, uncredited)
    3. 8 1/2 (1963) dir. Federico Fellini
    4. Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) dir. Vincente Minnelli
    5. The State of Things (1982) dir. Wim Wenders
    6. Close-Up (1990) dir. Abbas Kiarostami
    7. Peeping Tom (1960) dir. Michael Powell
    8. Camera Buff (1979) dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
    9. Adaptation (2002) dir. Spike Jonze
    10. The Golden Boat (1990) dir. Raul Ruiz

    John Lichman:
    5: The Last Action Hero dir. John McTiernan
    The other night, my friend and I–both “writers”–sat down to watch Alex Perry’s new film The Color Wheel. As we turned on the TV, we were discussing Schwarzenegger since I have a Terminator 2: Judgment Day poster in my living room with To John: Merry Christmas. Arnold Schwarzenegger written on it. When I turned on the TV, Commando had just started and my friend couldn’t believe this movie wasn’t a parody when Arnold and screen-daughter Alyssa Milano were having a “normal day” of ice cream, chopping wood and frolicking at a non-descript cabin. We never got to The Color Wheel that night because it became too much fun to think back and watch what ruled the minds of us as children.

    That was a very long way to say that by 1993, John McTiernan understood how these films were composed enough–complete with Robert Patrick cameo at the “LA”PD–the nature of popular blockbusters and overabundance of information. So much so that he even completely backpedals by including The Seventh Seal to remind us what once represented the epoch of filmmaking when it all just wasn’t a desire for one-liners and titty shots that explode!

    4. JCVD dir. Mabrouk El Mechri
    The opening three minute single-take of aged action star Jean-Claude Van Damme (played by Jean-Claude Van Damme) starts out like any of his films would–precise action. But as the explosions and squibs go on, Van Damme starts missing punches, he slips, he falls over and completely flubs a punch until hitting his last mark and the wall of the “room” falls down due to another actor. The film’s an unabashed love/hate letter to the broken man left after Hollywood and the world turned their backs on him, but this sequence remains one of the funnier modern takes on the cheapening of “action” films.

    3. Millenium Actress dir. Satoshi Kon
    An animated ode to the glory of film–completely done by a master of animation. The tale of an actress told across countless “eras” of Japanese film production from jidaigeki (period) to sci-fi and “modern” settings. Critics cite reference of everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Throne of Blood, which is the only film Kon confirmed he intended to reference. Everything else speaks to the viewing and knowledge based on the audience, a trait Kon consistently exploited even in Paprika, when he referenced a famous photo of Akira Kurosawa that few would understand. Here, filmmaking is deeply connected to history and mirrors our own life experiences. But even further as the main character Genya tries to follow the connection, we discover his past as a crew member at the studio, where he learned his craft and how it’d all tie together for his “film.”

    2/1: Takeshis and Glory to the Filmmaker! dir. Takeshi Kitano
    Kitano’s work is, to me, the perfect meta-auteur well aware of what he’s doing and how it can be done after his Zatoichi remake. In Takeshis, while shooting another period work, the shot is constructed bit by bit in front of a green screen after a producer relates how easy it is to shoot these thanks to technology and how difficult building sets is. Likewise in Glory, Kitano plays a director (under his acting name, Beat, and therefore not as Takeshi) who desperately tries every genre searching for hit–much like how Kitano seemingly fell into his Yakuza film genre after taking over for Kinji Fukusaku on Boiling Point and confused people with the sex comedy Getting Any? and Fireworks.

    Masha Tupitsyn:
    Sunset Boulevard
    King of Comedy
    Lost Highway
    Mulholland Drive
    Inland Empire
    Blow Out
    The Player
    Kiss of the Spider Woman
    Myra Breckinridge

    Through the Olive Trees

    Jonathan Rosenbaum:
    Actress (Ruan Ling-yu)
    L’amour fou (Rivette)
    8 1/2
    Irma Vep
    The Other Side of the Wind or musical version of I’ll Do Anything (a tie)
    Sunset Boulevard
    A Tale of the Wind
    White Dog

    Michael Atkinson:
    1. Through the Olive Trees (Kiarostami)
    2. Contempt (Godard)
    3. Close-Up (Kiarostami)
    4. La Commune (Paris, 1871) (Watkins)
    5. A Moment of Innocence (Makhmalbaf)
    6. Worldly Desires (Weerasethakul)
    7. Peeping Tom (Powell)
    8. The Mirror (Panahi)
    9. Inland Empire (Lynch)
    10. The Blair Witch Project (Myrick/Sanchez)

    David Jenkins:
    1. Hi, Mom!
    2. Contempt
    3. Our Beloved Month of August/The Portuguese Nun
    4. Beware of a Holy Whore (The ‘Day For Night’ it’s OK to like)
    5. A Star Is Born (Cukor)
    6. Be Kind Rewind
    7. Los Angeles Plays Itself
    8. Inland Empire
    9. Duck Amuck
    10. The Blair Witch Project

    Brandon Soderberg:
    1. Modern Romance
    2. Beware Of A Holy Whore
    3. The Errand Boy
    4. Medium Cool
    5. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
    6. Stunt Man
    7. Last Tango In Paris
    8. Movie Movie
    9. Contempt
    10. The Brave

    Nick Dawson
    Barton Fink
    Irma Vep
    Living in Oblivion
    Lost in La Mancha
    Man with a Movie Camera
    Mulholland Dr.
    The Player
    Sullivan’s Travels
    Sunset Blvd.

    Two Weeks in Another Town

    Miriam Bale
    Two Weeks in Another Town
    The Life Aquatic

    David Ehrenstein
    8 1/2
    Beware of a Holy Whore
    The State of Things
    Two Weeks in Anoter Town

    Ben Kenigsberg
    Singin’ in the Rain
    Sunset Blvd.
    Mulholland Dr.
    Barton Fink
    Beware of a Holy Whore
    F for Fake
    Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer
    The Player
    The Last Movie

    Jim Emerson
    1. Ed Wood (Burton)
    2. The Cameraman (Keaton)
    3. The State of Things (Wenders)
    4. Boogie Nights (PT Anderson)
    5. Barton Fink (Coens)
    6. Beware of a Holy Whore (Fassbinder)
    7. Sunset Blvd. (Wilder)
    8. 8 1/2 (Fellini)
    9. Singin’ in the Rain (Donen)
    10. Contempt (Godard)

    Robert Koehler
    1. CLOSE-UP
    2. PASSION

    Brian Darr
    Man With a Movie Camera (Vertov)
    Bellissima (Visconti)
    Sullivan’s Travels (Sturges)
    Irma Vep (Assayas)
    Duck Amuck (Jones)
    David Holzman’s Diary (McBride)
    Every Man For Himself (Godard)
    Bhumika (Benegal)
    Show People (Vidor)
    The Last Movie (Hopper).

    Tom McCormack
    1. Contempt, Godard, 1963
    2. Man with the Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov, 1929
    3. Où gît votre sourire enfoui? / Where Lies Your Hidden Smile?, Pedro Costa, 2001
    4. I, An Actress, George Kuchar, 1977
    5. Singin’ in the Rain, Stanley Donen & Gene Kelley, 1952

    Larry Gross
    1. Man With a Movie Camera-Dziga Vertov
    2. 8 1/2– Federico Fellini
    3. Close-up–Abbas Kiarostami
    4. Sunset Boulevard— Billy Wilder
    5. Sullivan’s Travels–Preston Sturges
    6. Peeping Tom–Michael Powell
    7. In Praise of Love–(eloges d/amour) Jean Luc Godard
    8. Mullholland Drive–David Lynch
    9. The State of Things–Wim Wenders
    10. The Bad and the Beautiful–Vincente Minnelli

    Preston Miller:
    1. “Ed Wood”
    2. “8 1/2”
    3. “Living in Oblivion”
    4. “Day for Night (La Nuit Américaine)”
    5. “Be Kind Rewind”
    6. “La Ricotta”
    7. “The Pornographers”
    8. “The Player”
    9. “Purple Rose of Cairo”
    10. “Hollywood Shuffle”

    Fernando F. Croce
    Peeping Tom (Powell, 1960)
    The Cameraman (Keaton-Sedgwick, 1928)
    Scénario du film ‘Passion’ (Godard, 1982)
    The Errand Boy (Lewis, 1961)
    Through the Olive Trees (Kiarostami, 1994)
    Identification of a Woman (Antonioni, 1982)
    The Legend of Lylah Clare (Aldrich, 1968)
    Cannibal Holocaust (Deodato, 1980)
    Inserts (Byrum, 1975)

    Michael Joshua Rowin
    8 1/2
    F for Fake
    Burden of Dreams
    Mulholland Drive

    Actress Center Stage Ruan Lingyu

    Kevin B. Lee
    Center Stage
    David Holzman’s Diary
    Duck Amuck
    F For Fake
    Los Angeles Plays Itself
    Man With a Movie Camera
    Où gît votre sourire enfoui? / Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?
    Sherlock Jr.
    Sullivan’s Travels


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