You'll lick this picture business: 27 movies about the difficulty of making movies

You'll lick this picture business: 27 movies about the difficulty of making movies

Inventory. The book.

1. State And Main (2000)
From time to time, viewers and critics accuse the Hollywood elite of being out of touch with the real world, of actually believing that there’s always a convenient parking space open in front of every building, or that even the lowliest New York City wage slave can afford to live alone in a vast, palatial-yet-funky loft apartment. Which is why it’s often fun to see movies tackling something that even the most out-of-touch filmmaker knows all about: the process of making a film. And while films about filmmaking can sometimes seem navel-gazing and self-pitying, at their best, they pull back the curtain and show how much frustration, struggle, and compromise goes into that slick finished product. For instance, in David Mamet’s wry, busy comedy State And Main, a troupe of movie-makers led by beleaguered director William H. Macy descend on a small town to try to complete a feature called The Old Mill, but complications arise at every turn: the historic monument where they want to shoot has burned down, the screenwriter has writer’s block, lead actor Alec Baldwin keeps chasing underage tail, lead actress Sarah Jessica Parker is holding out for an additional $800,000 to show her breasts on camera, and so forth. It’s all manic chaos and incipient collapse, and much of the fun is seeing how Macy and his team navigate each new crisis and hit upon creative solutions. Of course, the final product could be a turd for all the audience knows, but at least the filmmakers think they’ve accomplished something by the end.


2. American Movie: The Making Of Northwestern (1999)
It says something about the aggravations of filmmaking that Northwestern, the personal opus that gives Chris Smith’s documentary American Movie its subtitle, never comes close to getting off the ground. (And 10 years later, it still hasn’t happened.) Sure, Northwestern’s creator, Mark Borchardt, a blue-collar dreamer from Milwaukee, holds a few production meetings (with dwindling attendance), but he never had the money to go any further. Besides, for most of American Movie, Borchardt still needs to finish his 16mm black-and-white horror short Coven (pronounced COH-ven), which is already three years in the making, and his chief financier is a demented uncle who nonetheless keeps a firm grip on the purse-strings. Getting the money isn’t the only obstacle in wrapping up Coven: Even when Borchardt isn’t thwarted by debt, depression, and a serious drinking problem, he still faces the hassles of production, like fashioning a breakaway stunt cupboard, which promptly fails to break away when a man’s head is smashed into it. Repeatedly. Throughout it all, Borchardt’s staunch refusal to give up filmmaking and resign himself to a career in manual drudgery looks both deeply inspiring and deeply delusional. 


3. Living In Oblivion (1995)
When it looked like a lack of funding would sink his film Box Of Moonlight, Tom DiCillo sought the comfort of a friend, who reminded DiCillo that the director had made one successful indie flick, 1991’s Johnny Suede, and even though Box Of Moonlight was stalling, he was lucky to still be making movies. Several years later in an interview with Salon, DiCillo recalled his response: “I said ‘Shut the fuck up…’ Making a movie is one of the most tedious, boring, painful experiences, and that’s just when something goes right.” This bit of catharsis planted the seed for Living In Oblivion, which finds DiCillo stand-in Steve Buscemi mired in the tedious, painful experience of directing an independent film called—wait for it—Living In Oblivion. It doesn’t get any less meta from there, as the chaotic, on-the-set dream sequences of the film’s first two acts yield to the chaotic shooting of the film-within-a-film’s dream sequence, where an irate Peter Dinklage (in his first “put-upon little person” role) tells Buscemi off for using a little person as an easy signifier of a dream state. After Buscemi finally gets a usable take—subbing his senile mother for Dinklage—his cast and crew stand around in silence as the sound guy records 30 seconds of room ambiance. In the silence, DiCillo gives several characters the chance to lapse into fantasies, but tellingly, not a single one takes place on a sound stage. 


4. Audience Of One (2007)
It takes a certain amount of faith—and a dash of delusion—for directors to believe that the visions floating through their heads will appeal to anyone else. Pentecostal-preacher-turned-wannabe-entertainment-entrepreneur Richard Gazowsky has plenty of both, though Michael Jacobs’ vérité-style documentary Audience Of One never makes it clear which one is in greater supply. Gazowski claims that it’s God’s plan for him to build a media empire out of San Francisco’s Voice Of Pentecost Church, and that the first step toward building that empire (pieces of which are to include a film studio, eight television networks, and, uh, the first human colony in space) is the Biblical science-fiction epic Gravity: The Shadow Of Joseph. Unfortunately, Gravity seems determined to never leave the ground; a five-day shoot in Italy yields only two completed shots, and when Gazowsky’s oft-promised German backers fail to show, the production falls three months behind on rent and gets booted from its San Fran studio space. Yet Gazowsky weathers each setback, saying that the Almighty had jammed film stock and minor cinematographer injuries in His plan. (The city turning off the studio’s electricity, however, is chalked up to Satanic shenanigans.) When Gazowsky grows paranoid that Hollywood studios are trying to spy on his work, it becomes apparent that Gravity’s intended “audience of one” might just be its director, not his Creator.


5. Lost In La Mancha (2002)
There are several possible explanations for the name “Terry Gilliam” becoming synonymous with “troubled production.” One is that he’s cursed: How could Gilliam possibly anticipate, for example, that Heath Ledger would die in the middle of shooting Gilliam’s latest effort, The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus? The other is that he’s attracted to fantastical visions that are nearly impossible to realize, hence the overruns on The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, which was finished at twice its original budget, and became one of the biggest fiascos in movie history. Such a person seems like the last director on Earth that financiers would trust with a movie about Don Quixote—a project that also felled the great Orson Welles—but Gilliam got his shot in 1999, when a consortium of European investors bankrolled The Man Who Killed Don Quixote to the tune of $32 million. The documentary Lost In La Mancha chronicles Gilliam’s epic struggle against the forces of nature and fate. With no margin for error in the budget, Gilliam barely got into shooting before his Quixote, the aging French actor Jean Rochefort, left with a herniated disc, and a hailstorm destroyed equipment and knocked out an entire desert set. The plug was eventually pulled on production, but Gilliam, forever tilting at windmills, fights on: As of June 2009, he and producer Jeremy Thomas were planning to resurrect The Man Who Killed Don Quixote for a spring 2010 shoot. What could possibly go wrong?


6. Demon Lover Diary (1980)
In early 1975, Donald E. Jackson—who would later become the junk-drawer auteur responsible for stuff like Hell Comes To Frogtown and Lingerie Kickboxer—began working on his first feature film, a low-budget horror movie called The Demon Lover. He and his cartoonish hustler of a partner, Jerry Younkins, hired a young filmmaker named Jeff Kreines to handle cinematography. Promised a paycheck that never materialized, Kreines headed to Michigan to start work, accompanied by his pal Mark Rance and his girlfriend Joel DeMott. As time passed—and it became clear that Jackson and Younkins were a couple of no-account hustlers with no idea how to make a movie, and no aesthetic values beyond cutting corners at every opportunity—DeMott decided to make her own movie about the making of The Demon Lover. Predating American Movie by decades, Demon Lover Diary has many of the same qualities, but where Mark Borchardt is likeable and pitiable, Jackson is a two-bit creep who appears to have blown off his own finger in order to finance the movie with workers’ compensation money. The production is so hopeless and haphazard that DeMott’s movie about it begins to take on a hilariously surrealistic quality, as she and Kreines (who became respected documentarians) display the kind of black humor seen in soldiers who think they’re going to die in combat. Though hard to find, Demon Lover Diary is a funny, essential document on the seamy side of independent filmmaking. 


7. Ed Wood (1994)
While most of Hollywood—indeed, most of society—seems to have been on the other side of the fence from Ed Wood, he definitely brought most of his troubles upon himself. Tim Burton's biopic Ed Wood immortalizes the man as a huge-hearted, indefatigable iconoclast. In the title role, Johnny Depp exudes optimism in the face of studio pressure and general indifference to his scrappy, disjointed works of horror and wonder—films like Glen Or Glenda, Bride Of The Monster, and the legendary Plan 9 From Outer Space, which in Ed Wood, sees completion only after an embattled Wood gets a pep talk from Orson Welles (played by Vincent D’Onofrio). Much of Wood’s hardship, however, comes from his own actors—for instance, the bitter, drug-addicted Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), who can’t even hear the name of rival Boris Karloff without losing his shit.


8. Burden Of Dreams (1982)
Werner Herzog never does anything by half measures. When he set out to make Fitzcarraldo, a movie about obsession in the face of adversity, he cut no corners. To tell the story of a man who dragged a boat over a mountain, he decided to drag a boat over a mountain himself. That was always part of the plan. But even Herzog couldn’t have anticipated all the problems that would plague him. After he shot nearly half the movie with Jason Robards and Mick Jagger in the leads, Robards had to drop out due to health problems, forcing Herzog to call on his old leading man Klaus Kinski to fill in. Then the problems really started. Many of those were documented by filmmaker Les Blank in the mother of all making-of documentaries, Burden Of Dreams. It wouldn’t be the last time Blank captured Herzog performing an extraordinary feat related to making a difficult film, either. Herzog once bet Errol Morris that he would eat his shoe if Morris ever finished his movie Gates Of Heaven. Herzog had to make good on the promise. The resulting short: “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.”


9. 8 1/2 (1963)
Federico Fellini had written and directed six features, co-directed a seventh, and made two shorts for anthology movies when he decided to make his eighth-and-one-halfth feature. But that doesn’t make 8 1/2 autobiographical. Sure, Marcello Mastroianni plays a harried, internationally renowned director. And, yes, Anouk Aimeé, playing his put-upon wife, does look a lot like Fellini’s wife, Giulietta Masina. And, okay, Mastroianni does play a character who happens to share Fellini’s background and trouble with women. But really, 8 1/2 could be about any director trying to create art amid a swarm of personal demands, commercial pressures, and self-doubt. (Especially if that director is named Federico Fellini.)


9. Bowfinger (1999)
Making a major motion picture is difficult enough, but Frank Oz’s Bowfinger explores what happens when a producer secures distribution for a film but only has two grand to make it, and hasn’t technically secured his major star. Not that any of this holds him back. What makes Bowfinger special is that its most ridiculous elements have at least one toe in reality. Steve Martin’s Bobby Bowfinger casts megastar Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) without Ramsey’s knowledge, but convinces the rest of the Chubby Rain cast that the reason the star isn’t acknowledging them is because of Method acting. Murphy lets his kooky organization, Mindhead, interfere with his career choices (Battleship Earth, anyone?) And Heather Graham’s transparent willingness to do whatever it takes on the casting couch (including switch sexual preferences) couldn’t possibly be reflective of Martin’s prior relationship with Anne Heche, could it? Moreover, Bowfinger’s making of Chubby Rain on a shoestring budget reveals just what it takes, or doesn’t take, to make a movie. When Ramsey’s dupe twin brother (also played by Murphy) races across a busy highway, it’s hard not to fear for his safety, even with the knowledge that in a real movie, as Bowfinger promises, every driver is a stunt driver.


10. The Making Of …And God Spoke (1993)
This mockumentary about the making of a full-blown biblical epic is a study in the way movies die slowly—not from one fatal wound, but by bleeding out from thousands of shallow cuts sustained along the way. The wannabe-Spielberg at the film-within-a-film’s center sees his plans for an ambitious retelling of the Old and New Testaments beset by humiliating defeats from day one: The only “big names” his casting director can land are The Brady Bunch’s Eve Plumb and Soupy Sales (as Moses). His cinematographer fancies himself another Sven Nykvist, and shoots even the Garden Of Eden through a black, foreboding haze. The rest of his crew is a bunch of idiotic stoner production assistants; surly, lazy Teamster types who don’t take orders from anyone; and art directors who blow all the money on a Noah’s Ark that’s too big to fit on set. Furthermore, his Eve has a full-body snake tattoo, his God is an acid-fried Zeppelin fan, and his Abel (Andy Dick) doesn’t understand why he has to be killed by Cain (Lou Ferrigno). Inevitably, his financiers begin backing out once they get a look at the terrible dailies, forcing his producing partner to seek out creative solutions to keep the money flowing—like having Moses come down from Mt. Sinai holding both the Ten Commandments and a six-pack of Coke. It’s a litany of small setbacks that are no doubt all too familiar to any filmmaker whose ambitions are bigger than their budget—and not all of them will be as lucky as …And God Spoke, which ultimately finds an accidental cult following as a so-bad-it’s-hilarious midnight movie.


11. Tropic Thunder (2008)
Authenticity is always a problem when it comes to war films. Squibs and stunt men don’t really sell danger as well as the violence and psychological devastation of actual combat. When the filmmakers in Tropic Thunder are faced with prima donna leading men, inept technicians, and a ballooning budget, they hatch a daring plan: they’ll drop director Steve Coogan and his actors into the heart of the jungle itself, with no crew and no net. It’s the only way to capture the heart of darkness with honesty and guts, and, of course, it goes wrong almost the instant they land. Directors have always struggled with the fact that movies make violence look cool no matter how negatively it’s intended, and in Tropic Thunder, the chaos of Coogan’s grand experiment—planned with supposed Vietnam vet Nick Nolte—doesn’t resolve the issue. As Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, and the rest wander from one absurd situation to the next, protected from harm by their innate obliviousness, the only possible conclusion is that the less you know, the safer you are, and that life is always better when things blow up before the end credits.


12. The Player (1992) 
Nobody gets screwed over during the filmmaking process more than the screenwriter, who usually doesn’t have much say in the actual making of the film for which the screenplay—after it’s been re-written and re-imagined into something barely resembling what was originally on the page—lays the groundwork. The writer is so low on the Hollywood totem pole that Robert Altman’s acidic 1992 satire The Player is probably the closest the industry’s downtrodden word-jockeys will come to a revenge fantasy. Tim Robbins stars as smug film executive Griffin Mill, who becomes increasingly paranoid over the threatening postcards he keeps receiving from an anonymous writer. He ends up tracking down a disgruntled Vincent D’Onofrio, one of countless scribes Robbins has blown off over the years. But while D’Onofrio seems to fit the part of an imbalanced stalker, the postcards keep coming after he dies. Altman—an ironic choice for the material, considering his reputation for disregarding his own screenwriters and re-working scripts with his actors—is too cynical to make Mill pay for his sins, but at least The Player acknowledges that writers get squashed—figuratively and not—by the Hollywood system. 


13. Nickelodeon (1976)
Movies cost so much money and involve so many people that their success or failure can seem like a matter of life and death. But in the early days of silent film, making movies really was dangerous business, particularly for small-time companies in violation of the Motion Picture Patents Company, a trust of major film corporations designed to discourage outsiders from muscling in on their business. Peter Bogdanovich’s star-crossed Nickelodeon takes a fairly light-hearted look at a group of cinematic rebels who brave the studios’ gun-wielding henchmen in order to make movies, no matter the hazards. The pull of show business proves too strong even for lawyer Ryan O’Neal and paid thug Burt Reynolds. Sent to shut down a renegade company, they instead end up joining them. If only things were so fancy-free behind the scenes of Nickelodeon: Bogdanovich claims Columbia Pictures made him compromise his vision—including shooting in color instead of black and white—and the film’s not wholly successful mix of movie history and silent-film comedy proved disastrously unpopular. Bogdanovich’s version of Nickelodeon wasn’t seen by general audiences until it was released on DVD earlier this year.


14. Get Shorty (1995)
The Elmore Leonard adaptation Get Shorty addresses Hollywood from an outsider’s perspective; as much about crime as filmmking, it follows loan shark John Travolta on a debt-collection run to L.A., where he decides to get involved in the movie industry as long as he’s in town. As Travolta, after forging a relationship with ego-crazed actor Danny DeVito, tries to push his way into the industry based largely on money and muscle, he finds the whole city to be just as full of crooks and compromise as the one he just left, and that filmmaking is really just a ridiculous juggling act of trying to pin down people who all want a piece of the pie, preferably in exchange for lunch meetings and air kisses instead of work.

[pagebreak]15. The Stunt Man (1980)
It’s hard to know whether to pity or envy the crew working for Peter O’Toole’s madly exuberant director in The Stunt Man. On the down side, O’Toole is autocratic, driven, and so obsessed with the perfect shot that he’s willing to sacrifice nearly anything to make it happen; on the up side, the movies he makes are great, and hey, at least time on set is never boring. Vietnam vet Steve Railsback gets sucked into the madness when he interferes with a stunt while on the run from the cops. O’Toole makes Railsback part of the team, giving him a chance to see first-hand the lengths to which the great man is willing to go for his art. For mere mortals, filmmaking is a matter of bringing together a thousand disparate elements to create a unified whole, but for O’Toole, that’s old hat; the real challenge is finding a way to keep himself interested and nothing raises the pulse quite as well as blurring the lines between fiction and reality.


16. Shadow Of The Vampire (2000)
It is possible to go too far for art. F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) is a haunting, horrific masterpiece, one of the pinnacles of the genre, and arguably the greatest of the many movies inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula; one of the main reasons it endures: the performance of Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok. Hunched, pale, and feral, Schreck seems otherworldly and practically inhuman. Shadow Of The Vampire removes the “practically.” In order to make the most realistic film possible, Murnau (played by John Malkovich) hires a real monster to play a fake one. In addition to dealing with a drug-addled lead actress and the normal difficulties of work in silent film, there’s now the danger of an Orlok (Willem Dafoe) whose lust for blood doesn’t stop when the cameras do. 


17. Adaptation (2002)
When a bad movie is made out of a good book, it’s easy to complain, but only the screenwriter knows just how hard it is to translate one medium into another. Adaptation, Charlie Kaufman’s attempt to bring Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book The Orchid Thief to the screen, manages to make those struggles into art. When faced with a near-insoluble problem—how to adapt a work with no narrative arc—Kaufman turned the process of writing, and the myriad compromises and humiliations it entails, into the screenplay itself. The resulting movie does a fine job of staying true to Orchid Thief, while also showing how writing for the movies can be a personal kind of hell. It doesn’t help that Nicolas Cage, who plays Kaufman’s alter ego in the film, also plays that alter ego’s twin brother, Donald, a magnanimous hack whose first script, a hilarious mélange of thriller clichés, is an instant success. As always, there’s a price to pay for maintaining artistic integrity; Adaptation suggests it may be possible to pay it and not be completely miserable.


18. Barton Fink (1991)
The Coen brothers’ most oddly personal work, Barton Fink, also explores what filmmaking is like for the screenwriter—that sad-sack sperm donor who gets paid off in hush money while the director raises the baby. In the case of John Turturro’s self-important (but still sympathetic) playwright, he’s brought out to L.A. to give Capitol Pictures—where “the writer is king!”—a taste of “that Barton Fink feeling,” but soon discovers he’s being asked to lend his voice to a stock wrestling picture: He’s just one interchangeable, ink-stained wretch in a room teeming with them. (“Throw a rock in here and you’ll hit one,” says producer Tony Shalhoub. “And do me a favor, Fink: Throw it hard.”) Even Fink’s esteemed colleagues like John Mahoney’s Faulkner stand-in W.P. Mayhew struggle at “the great salt lick,” unable to get anything past the studio heads, but chained to their bungalows regardless—as Fink experiences himself when his slaved-over script gets rejected. Echoing the plight of many screenwriters under contract, he’s informed that no matter what he writes, it will never see the light of day until he “grows up.” This, to the Coens, is “the life of the mind”: A nightmarish, isolating world of painstaking creation, undercut by suits and despised by the common man. And even if you pull off that act of creation, in the end, you’re still likely to wind up alone on the beach, holding a head in a box.


19. The Bad And The Beautiful (1952)
Alcoholic, self-destructive actress Lana Turner, director Barry Sullivan, and screenwriter Dick Powell all learn they must agree to Faustian bargains in order to make it in Hollywood in Vincente Minnelli’s impossibly opulent show-biz melodrama The Bad And The Beautiful. A defiantly larger-than-life Kirk Douglas devours scenery as the film’s charming devil, a hotshot producer who isn’t shy about destroying the lives of his friends and collaborators in his mad grab for power and success. Yet Charles Schnee’s wickedly funny screenplay and Douglas’ iconic performance betray a profound affection for Douglas and all the scheming, heartlessness, and ruthless ambition he embodies. Sometimes it takes a monster like Douglas to create a masterpiece.


20. Baadasssss! (2003)
New Jack City pretty boy/wunderkind Mario Van Peebles didn’t have to look far for the juiciest role of his career. He didn’t even have to look outside his own family tree for the film that should have catapulted him out of the dreary confines of direct-to-DVD cheapies forever, but didn’t. With 2003’s Baadasssss, Van Peebles tackled the challenging role of his pioneering dad Melvin in a funny, vibrant, wildly entertaining look at the making of the groundbreaking 1971 drama Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, the film that kicked off the blaxploitation wave and featured a very young Mario Van Peebles in a small role. In Baadasssss, Melvin Van Peebles pushes himself to the brink of madness trying to complete his labor of love against long odds and conventional wisdom. He’s obsessive and driven to an almost pathological degree, yet he ultimately emerges as a heroic exemplar of will and determination.


21. Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991) 
Francis Ford Coppola famously crowed that Apocalypse Now wasn’t just a film about Vietnam, it was Vietnam. Watching Hearts Of Darkness, Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper’s film about the making of Coppola’s 1978 hallucinatory adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, Coppola’s statement seems less like exaggeration than understatement. To realize his mad-prophet ambition, Coppola withstood Marlon Brando’s insanity and belligerence, a costly change in lead actors from Harvey Keitel to Martin Sheen, a ballooning budget, and all manner of drug-induced craziness. Is it any wonder that Coppola, who barely survived the making of the film with his sanity, career, and health intact, eventually—if temporarily—retreated to the peace and tranquility of the life of a gentleman vintner in Northern California?


22. Hollywood Ending (2002)
One of Woody Allen’s least funny and most pointlessly poisonous comedies, Hollywood Ending follows the usual pattern of Hollywood satires, with a bumbling, frantic director navigating all the usual perils of production, and things going wrong right and left. The twist in this case is that the director (played by Allen) has also been stricken by psychosomatic blindness, which he tries to hide from his brainlessly oblivious cast and crew. There’s a metaphor there about artists losing their vision and their way and dragging other artists down with them, but while Allen gets into some of the odds and ends of the filmmaking process, with all its niggling demands and hassles, the central conceit winds up being pretty literal. And the final message—that the filmmaker with the least vision and the weakest moral compass is the only one who makes it out of a troubled production unscathed—isn’t merely bleak, it’s downright ugly, especially when Allen presents it as a sort of amusing victory.


23-24. The Big Picture (1989), For Your Consideration (2006)
Here’s a bit of a conundrum: The first film Christopher Guest wrote and directed is a detailed industry satire about how hard it is to get a film written and directed. In The Big Picture, Kevin Bacon stars as an idealistic film student attempting to make his first feature, a tender, small-scale human drama set in a quiet mountain cabin. Then everyone in Hollywood starts presenting him with their visions and demands. Desperate to stay in the business and accomplish something, he accepts compromise after compromise, until his film finally morphs into a beach comedy involving bikini-clad dancing invisible ghosts. It’s goofy, but sharp and funny, with an eye for detail that seems surprising from someone who hadn’t yet actually made a film. Here’s where the conundrum comes in: Guest recently returned to similar subject matter with For Your Consideration, an embarrassingly broad comedy about the vast stupidity of Hollywood, and how it poisons a crappy little melodrama full of D-list actors who think they might have a shot at the big time if one of their number wins an Oscar. Like Bacon’s film, theirs gives in to compromise and pandering, and loses what little focus and relevance it had, but somehow, two decades in the field hadn’t sharpened Guest’s focus or given him better or more believable material, and the film he made as a Hollywood newbie seems more sharply observed and smart than the one he made as an industry vet. Apparently life in Hollywood really is damaging to would-be cinematic artists.


25. Day For Night (1973)
Has there ever been a more romantic film about the movie-making process than François Truffaut’s classic Day For Night? Let others recycle hackneyed show-biz tropes involving greedy agents and opportunistic actresses; Truffaut’s love letter to the art and craft of film captures the romance of filmmaking as well as the hassles and headaches. Truffaut plays the director of a melodrama titled Meet Pamela who contends capably with a showboating, drunken diva (Valentina Cortese); a fragile actress (Jacqueline Bisset) slowly emerging from a nervous breakdown; and a dreamy young actor (New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud) who prefers film to real life. Yet out of this mess comes something close to magic. 


26. Zack And Miri Make A Porno (2008)
Kevin Smith’s underrated 2008 romantic comedy Zack And Miri Make A Porno put a raunchy but sweet spin on the trusty “Let’s put on a show” template that fueled many a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney musical (and breakdancesploitation cheapie). Only this time the show is a homemade Star Wars-themed porn movie and the plucky young upstarts a pair of down-and-out platonic best friends (Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) who decide to make the beast with two backs onscreen as a way of getting out of debt. The lusty neophytes struggle to make a porn film with no budget, untested stars, and funky, makeshift locations like a coffee shop, but the trickiest variable aspiring pornographers Rogen and Banks face is their growing romantic attraction to one another.


27. Singin’ In The Rain (1952)
Sure, it’s tough keeping your creative integrity in La-La Land. But what about the poor souls with no creative integrity to lose? Like Gene Kelly in Singin’ In The Rain, playing a dashing star of the silent screen who’s gotten by on less and less actual acting as the years have gone by. (Performing a particularly purple scene, he complains to the director, “I don’t like this ‘Imperious princess of the night.’ Can’t I just say what I always say? ‘I love you, I love you…’”) The problem is that his movie The Dancing Cavalier is being retooled on the fly as a talkie, and neither his histrionics nor his co-star’s screechy Brooklyn accent are a good fit for the new art form. Throw in horrific problems with microphone placement (director: “Just talk into the plant!”), and you have a legendary stinker. Luckily, it’s just as easy to fix a busted Regency drama as it is to screw one up with synchronized sound: Dub the heroine’s voice with Debbie Reynolds’ and add a 20-minute dream sequence where the titular cavalier takes Broadway by storm, falls in love with femme fatale Cyd Charisse, and rediscovers his love for performance, and you’re golden. Or maybe it’s not so simple; after Kelly’s description of the “Broadway Melody” sequence segues into the actual sequence played out for the viewers, studio exec Millard Mitchell deadpans, “I can’t quite picture it.”

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