8 Films Hollywood Made About Itself That Are Absolutely Worth Your Time
There's a lot of meta here.
As Film and TV Production slowly starts to resume around the world, the thirst for new content remains strong. So while theater doors are still shut, why not feast your eyes on what Hollywood does best – stories about itself.
Here are 8 films that, in one way or another, are a love letter, self-reflective indictment, or satirical gem of Hollywood – or all of the above rolled into one giant kicking-and-screaming ball of entertainment
8. BARTON FINK
You can’t talk odd-ball meta without mentioning the Coen brothers. Set in 1941, Barton Fink is about an intellectual Broadway playwright who believes in nothing but art for the common man, yet decides to try his hand at… Hollywood.
The titular Fink is played by John Turturro, who quickly settles into both writers’ block and living hell.
The beauty of Barton Fink comes in the noir-ish cinematography of the almost living Hotel Earle (from Hell) that is a character in itself. Peak Coen.
Why it’s relevant today: It explores themes of being so self-centered in trying to help people that you don’t understand where those people are coming from to begin with.
What to watch out for: All the symbolism and references – there are a ton.
7. TROPIC THUNDER
"I'm the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude!"
What does Hollywood (almost) love more than films about itself? Films about war. Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, The Bridge On The River Kwai, The Hurt Locker, 1917, et al.
Well, what about a film about war that is actually a film about Hollywood?
Enter: Tropic Thunder.
A satire about making a war film, it pokes fun at everything in the biz, highlighting just how ridiculous of an ego bubble Hollywood can be, especially among the actors who can believe themselves messiahs who can do no wrong.
Highlight of the film? Tom Cruise’s Les Grossman, studio A-hole extraordinaire.
Why it’s relevant today: Hollywood (and all industries) have a diversity problem. Tropic Thunder sees that, doesn’t really deal with it, but sure as hell makes fun of it.
What to watch out for: Trigger warning – if you don’t like profanity and jokes that push the limit in the name of comedy, this one’s not for you.
6. ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD
That Leo meme that’s everywhere? The one right here?
Yep, that’s this film. One of Quentin Tarantino’s more polarizing flicks, Once Upon a Time is a slow-paced love letter to the Hollywood of the 60s.
It’s a languid ball of fun. Sit back and get ready to watch a lot of driving around town.
Why it’s relevant today: It came out recently enough where you can still ask people if they’ve seen it and smugly proclaim that you have.
What to watch out for: Brad and Leo in their only film together.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s first of two back-to-back gold statues – the film that became known for appearing to be shot in a single take.
Birdman is an existential comedy about a former superhero film star (Birdman) who wants to be taken seriously as an artist and attempts to try his hand at the stage.
It’s some of Michael Keaton’s finest work, and the irony is lost on no one that Keaton played Batman in the 80s.
Why it’s relevant today: Superhero films are only getting bigger. Not that that's really what Birdman is about, but the line between whether certain types of cinema are art had its moment last year when Scorsese dropped his infamous NYTimes op-ed.
What to watch out for: When the camera cuts away – can you spot it?
4. MULHOLLAND DRIVE
In the first of “Hollywood films about Hollywood that are also a street name in the hills”, we have David Lynch’s super-twisted and uber-trippy, Mulholland Drive.
Much has been written about the film, and much time has been spent trying to figure out – just WTF happened here?
Lynch’s film feels like one giant allegory about Hollywood as a dream. Or just one giant dream. Either way, frequently hailed as one of the best films of the 21st century, Mulholland Drive is not something you’ll be able to forget anytime soon.
Why it’s relevant today: ...It’ll turn 20 next year?
What to watch out for: Everything. You’re not going to know what happens when the credits roll.
3. SUNSET BOULEVARD
"Alright, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up"
Ever heard someone drop that line on you when you were being an Instagram diva? If you haven’t seen Sunset Boulevard, you’re lacking in some classic old-Hollywood quotability.
Billy Wilder’s film about an aging silent film star who attempts to make a daring comeback during the era of “talkies” is as meta as they come.
But Sunset Boulevard takes meta one step further by casting Gloria Swanson, an actual silent film star, in the role.
And yeah, that’s actually Cecil B. DeMille in there too.
Why it’s relevant today: As the streaming wars rage on, Hollywood is entering a new era, but it’s no longer the stars being disrupted, it’s the system itself.
What to watch out for: All the ridiculous faces that Gloria Swanson makes.
2. LA LA LAND
La La Land is Damien Chazelle doing what Damien Chazelle does best – telling a story about music.
Chazelle's musical beauty gave us a lot of things, including a magically inspired dream sequence, a piano-playing Ryan Gosling, and a renewed interest in that other Hollywood musical, “Singin In The Rain”.
(Let’s also not forget the most memorable Oscar ceremony in recent memory, where La La Land was incorrectly announced as the Best Picture winner before it was revealed that Moonlight had, in fact, won.)
Big Mood after that LA LA LAND Oscar mix-up
But perhaps what La La Land does best is bottle up the magic of moving out to Hollywood in pursuit of a dream and play that out across the big screen in a grand splash of color and movement – even if that dream doesn’t quite turn out how you expect it to.
Why it’s relevant today: It’s an homage to the past. Soon, we’ll be having homages to the present. Ok, this is a stretch.
What to watch out for: The opening dance sequence that closed the 110 and 105 freeways in downtown Los Angeles for 2 days.
1. THE PLAYER
Robert Altman’s masterful satirical takedown of the Hollywood system and the players involved is thrillingly fun to watch and just flat-out hilarious.
We meet one of the most iconic characters in the canon of – Hollywood execs that only exist on screen – in Griffin Mill, a Studio Exec played wonderfully by Tim Robbins, who dons a flippantly paranoid attitude that reflects the reality of Hollywood self-delusion.
But when Mill begins to get death threats from a writer whose pitch he turned down in the past, the meta-ness of the film really kicks into high gear.
Why it’s relevant today: The old Hollywood Studio System is dying, literally. Has it truly changed, or have the “players” just continued on in a new system buoyed by technology but with the same rules?
What to watch out for: The number of celebrities who play themselves. That end credits screen is impressive.