Now Streaming | The Five Best Movies About Movies
Storytellers are constantly told that they should write what they know, but then screenwriters are also told that no one wants to watch movies about people who make movies. So there aren’t a lot of blockbuster movies about movies, but there are a lot of them anyway. Which means that there are quite a few classic films about making films, and that not a lot of people saw them.
The Coen Brothers, some of the most beloved filmmakers on the planet, are back this week with Hail, Caesar!, their first movie in 25 years about the process of making movies. The last one was the esoteric, extremely art house Barton Fink, which critics loved but – again – few people saw. This time might be different: Hail, Caesar! is a big caper comedy with an all-star cast about a kidnapping that shakes up a studio in the 1950s. It could be a hit, and if so, it might make audiences want to see more movies about movies, and they might have no idea what’s available on their digital streaming service of choice when they get back to their homes after the screening.
Fortunately, that’s what Now Streaming is here for. This week, we’re taking a look at the five best films about filmmaking we have been able to find on instant streaming (without having to pay extra money for them). These are bold, exciting films – some of them thrilling, most of them hilarious – that take you inside the creative process that brings you the stories you love. Whether you’re in the industry, hope to get a job in Hollywood someday or just think that movies are kinda neat, these are all films that you absolutely must see, and you don’t even have to work very hard to find them. They’re at the click of the following buttons…
Adaptation. (Amazon Prime)
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Charlie Kaufman was supposed to write an adaptation of Susan Orlean’s best-selling non-fiction book The Orchid Thief, but he couldn’t quite crack the story, so he went completely off the reservation and turned in a script about why he wasn’t able to write The Orchid Thief. Spike Jonze turned the strange experiment into a brilliant motion picture that stars Nicholas Cage as Kaufman, a prisoner of his own neuroses, and also as Kaufman’s fictional identical twin, a studio hack of the highest order who eventually takes over the writing of the movie and their own lives, so that it all becomes more action-packed and palatable.
Movies don’t get much more “meta” than Adaptation, but whether you’re an industry insider or have no idea what goes into making a film, you will recognize the crippling self-doubt that Kaufman goes through, and the anxiety that emerges when his creation is taken away from him. Cage gives one of his very best performances (two of them, actually) and Chris Cooper justifiably won an Oscar for playing the “orchid thief” whose story is hijacked by the two new storytellers.
The Aviator (Amazon Prime / Netflix)
The story of Howard Hughes is so strange that, if it weren’t based on a true story, The Aviator would be completely unbelievable. Martin Scorsese directs this handsome biopic which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes, a millionaire moviemaker who also revolutionized modern flight, and who eventually sank into a cave of obsessive-compulsive despair. Cate Blanchett won an Oscar as Hughes’ on again, off again love Katherine Hepburn.
Scorsese is a film lover of the highest order, and you can tell he revels in recreating the production of the revolutionary action drama Hell’s Angels, which Hughes filmed from the cockpit of an airplane. He also films The Aviator using the color palettes that were available to filmmakers whenever his movie is currently set, guiding us from tinted sepia tones directly into neon Technicolor. The film’s interests, like Hughes’s own, are varied: it revels in Hollywood history and aerodynamics, but its depiction of obsessive-compulsive disorder may very well be the most spot-on dramatization of the condition in history. If you didn’t understand what it’s like to be afraid of a doorknob before, you will after watching The Aviator.
Cecil B. Demented (Hulu)
Beloved iconoclast John Waters spend the bulk of his career shirking the studio system, and while he usually made his rebellious indie comedies with a wink and a smile, there is a fury in Cecil B. Demented that makes it one of his most arresting films. Melanie Griffith stars as Honey Whitlock, a mainstream studio star who is kidnapped by a charismatic art house filmmaker (Stephen Dorff) and forced to appear in his renegade motion picture, even at the cost of her likable public persona and career.
Waters based Cecil B. Demented on the true story of Patty Hearst, who gradually came around to her captors’ way of thinking (Hearst makes an appearance in the film, too). He has never been a judgmental director, and although many of Cecil’s followers don’t meet happy ends, the overall message favors his renegade philosophy that art should be confrontational and dangerous. Cecil B. Demented is silly and yet also a little bit inspiring. Its very existence is proof that there is a place for Demented cinema after all.
The Stunt Man (Hulu)
Richard Rush’s exhilarating drama stars Steve Railsback as an escaped convict who messes up an action sequence in a big budget anti-war movie, gets the stunt man killed, and impersonates the dead man to escape the law. The problem is that he is now in the debt of a filmmaker, played by the dastardly Peter O’Toole, who doesn’t have his best interests at heart, and may now plan to kill him in front of the camera.
The Stunt Man careens excitingly from the fake movie O’Toole is making and a “real” life that seems increasingly steeped in theatricality and falsehood. Every scene is charged with a special kind of energy, like the thrill of filmmaking was so potent in front of the screen that it inspired everyone behind it as well, and as such The Stunt Man emerges as one of the most alluring films ever made about the filmmaking process. It is sexy, funny, and thrilling cinema.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (Netflix)
By the time Wes Craven returned for the seventh installment of the lucrative, but increasingly silly horror franchise that he spawned in 1984, A Nightmare on Elm Street had become a punchline. A psychotic supernatural killer of children was starring in novelty rap videos. The power of Craven’s creations had been all but neutralized.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Wes Craven decided to revitalize the franchise by making a movie about the movies themselves. Original Nightmare star Heather Langenkamp plays herself in this inventive new tale, as Wes Craven invites her to play herself in a new film about why the boogeyman Freddy Krueger needed to be scary again. Trapping our anxieties in works of art, New Nightmare argues, keeps all that evil from emerging in our actual lives. Insider jokes can’t detract from the seriousness of Craven’s argument about the importance of the horror genre, but they do spike Wes Craven’s New Nightmare with a devilish self-awareness. In some respects, this is the self-aware movie Scream only wished it could be.
Top Photo: Artisan Entertainment
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.