Who doesn’t dream of making it in Hollywood? This blind desire to tell stories is at the center of James Franco’s latest film “The Disaster Artist.” Rather than take a look at one of the master’s of cinema, Franco embodies Tommy Wiseau, the writer, director, and star of the legendary film “The Room,” dubbed the worst film ever made. “The Disaster Artist” succeeds as it captures Wiseau’s unbridled enthusiasm to make it in Hollywood. There are many other Hollywood stories about show business that resonate in a myriad of different ways. In honor of “The Disaster Artist,” see below for the top 10 films about the struggles and triumphs of show business.
10. “Ed Wood” (1994)
Director Ed Wood is Tommy Wiseau’s cousin in filmmaking. Tim Burton’s excellent biopic examines the life and work of the maker of “Planet Nine from Outer Space,” one of the worst movies of all time. Johnny Depp gives a brilliant performance as Ed Wood, a confidently offbeat persona with a penchant for women’s clothing. However, it was legendary actor Martin Landau who walked away with the Oscar for the film. Landau’s legendary Bela Lugosi counters Depp’s enthusiasm with weary trepidation. It’s beautiful to watch Landau’s heart melt towards Depp’s wide-eyed wonder for the medium. Sometimes all that matters is that your heart and dreams show through your work, regardless of quality.
9. “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” (1963)
Ryan Murphy recently dramatized the backstage events of this surprising smash hit. While the backstage war between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was sensational, the movie is equally, if not more entertaining, trashy and fun. Jane (Bette Davis) and Blanche (Joan Crawford) have had very different, but no less damaging, relationships with fame. Jane was a child star who peaked before puberty, while Blanche rose to stardom until an accident sent her into a wheelchair. Both living under the same roof, over 50 years old, and without prospects for fame, the two engage in psychological (and physical) warfare. It’s chilling, it’s thrilling, and it’s often very funny.
8. “Gods and Monsters” (1998)
There’s an undercurrent of sadness behind most great horror films. “Frankenstein” harbors such a tale, illuminating some of the demons of its filmmaker, James Whale. “Gods and Monsters” unravels the tale of James Whale (Ian McKellen) through the eyes of a new gardener, Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser). The closeted Whale sees something in Boone that reminds him of people from the past. These memories bring back many of the traumas he experienced during his tours in war. McKellen is heartbreaking and unreal in the role. It truly remains the performance of his illustrious career. Special mention should also be given to Lynn Redgrave as Whale’s housekeeper and personal confidant, Hanna.
7. “Adaptation” (2002)
Charlie Kaufman never takes on an easy story. “Adaption” more than sidesteps normal story structure and convention, it actually engages in conversation with the audience on how to break it. Charlie Kaufman, the character, (Nicholas Cage) struggles with the adaptation of “The Orchid Thief” he’s been hired to write. His writer’s block only intensifies as his brother Donald Kaufman (also Cage) decides one day to start writing, and immediately has a hit on his hands. As Charlie delves deeper into the story, writing author Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) into a romance with subject John Laroche (Chris Cooper), he soon becomes a character in his own film. Director Spike Jonze is completely on the same page with Kaufman’s script. Together they create a strange and wonderful piece that’s unlike any other film.
6. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988)
Who would’ve thought Disney would give us the best post-modern take on the classic Hollywood noir? It’s 1947 Los Angeles and a cartoon mogul, R.K. Maroon, has been murdered. All signs point to animated star Roger Rabbit, as Maroon was caught playing patty cake with Roger’s wife Jessica. Disgruntled private eye Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) finds Roger hiding out in his office. Before you know it, Eddie is roped into a case bigger than he can imagine that takes him from Hollywood to Toontown. The film crackles with visual and written wit unmatched by other Disney pictures. There’s also a wonderfully realized and melancholy beating heart to it.
5. “All About Eve” (1950)
Bette Davis shows up twice on this list because Betty Davis is the epitome of show business. Her role in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s classic is perfectly made for her, the Queen of Acting Margot Channing. Margot commands the Broadway scene. One night after a performance, she meets an adoring fan, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), who she welcomes into her life. Eve gets hired as Margot’s assistant, becomes close with Margot’s best friend, Karen (Celeste Holm), and even develops a friendship with Margot’s boyfriend, Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill). Soon, Eve is taking over Margot’s life, and gossip columnist and vulture Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) is the only one in on it. Every line oozes with sass. It’s a delicious, delectable, and winning showbiz saga.
4. “Mulholland Dr” (2001)
Ever imagine how David Lynch sees Hollywood? The auteur constructs his most interesting labyrinth yet in “Mulholland Dr.” It’s nearly impossible to describe accurately what the film is about both after watching it and after reading about it. However, on the surface, it’s a mystery involving an ambitious girl (Naomi Watts) who dreams of being an actress helping a woman with amnesia (Laura Elena Harding) retrace her steps. Watts and Harding are more than adept at handling their (multiple?) roles. Lynch’s vision of the dark, confusing, and strange underbelly of Hollywood enthralls, repels, and intoxicates.
3. “8 1/2” (1963)
Moviemaking has never looked so romantic and draining. Federico Fellini’s Italian masterpiece takes on a mythical life of its own from its first frame. Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is about to make his ninth film, but doesn’t seem to know what its about. As he prepares for the film that doesn’t exist, the various women in his life all convene at once. The celebration of chaos culminates in a final scene on the beach that still inspires awe. Fellini commands the screen with great force. One can feel the existential mood of the film in every beautifully rendered shot. In short, Fellini makes the greatest film ever about writer’s block.
2. “Singin’ in the Rain” (1951)
What happens to silent movie stars when sound enters the equation? Hollywood star couple Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) struggle not only with this transition, but also with not strangling each other off-camera. Matters complicate as Don falls for an aspiring actress, Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds), who’s hired to dub Lina. Gene Kelly’s commitment to pushing the limits of what one can do while dancing shows. Every musical number radiates happiness while the actual stunts on display inspire awe. No other film comes close to replicating the kinetic physical energy of Donald O’Connor in “Make ‘em Laugh.” Even outside of the outstanding dance sequences, the central love story really hits. Yet, it’s Jean Hagen’s haughty and untalented Lina Lamont who wrestles away the most belly laughs. These are the movies that sound and color were made for.
1. “Sunset Blvd” (1950)
This is a much more sinister version of “Singin’ in the Rain.” “Sunset Blvd” tackles the tale of what happens when Hollywood discards you. Joe Gillis (William Holden), a struggling screenwriter, runs from his debtors and hides out in a supposed abandoned mansion. However, the mansion houses Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a former silent movie star who constantly bides her time planning her comeback. Is it a romance or a hostage situation? The film wisely understands it’s a bit of both. Swanson’s characterization of Norma stands as one of the greatest performances of all time. What so easily could have been a haggard caricature becomes a tragic, heartbreaking, and strangely warm scorned woman who the world has forgotten. As she descends down her grand staircase, we don’t fear Norma. We feel for her.