5 Best Films about Hollywood.

2800338627_c5df023aac5. A Star Is Born

The 1954 version, obviously. Directed by George Cukor, scripted by Dorothy Parker and starring Judy Garland as the innocent ingénue discovered by Hollywood heart-throb James Mason. Her “Born In A Trunk” medley makes this a genuine Hollywood classic.

And make sure it’s the restored 176 minute version from 1983. They stitched it together by inserting publicity stills in place of some of the lost footage. But it all works surprisingly well, and looks at times like a carefully planned art-house film.


4. The Player

Supposedly an indictment of Hollywood, Robert Altman’s clever thriller is in fact a closet celebration of the system it slyly pretends to satirize. The sub plot centres around a horribly believable caricature of a European writer, whose sincerity is flagged by his refusal to allow his opus to be sullied by anything as vulgar as stars.

But he quickly sees the light. And his movie ends as Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts enjoy a gloriously clichéd, Hollywood kiss.

The film’s amorality and triumphant cynicism are punctuated by the pitch perfect cameos from everyone who was anyone at the time it was made, in 1992.


wallpaper043. Mulholland Dr.

As David Thomson pointed out in his perceptive review, the “Dr” of the title stands a much for Dreams as it does for Drive, where the film is set in the Hollywood hills.

A director, an actress and a starlet move from dream to nightmare and back again in a series overlapping and interweaving scenarios. The idea of Hollywood being presided over by an actual cowboy is all too appealing, but only David Lynch would have imagined him taking his responsibilities completely seriously.


Visually arresting and hauntingly evocative, it is, given its troubled history (it was originally begun as a TV series) a surprisingly engaging film, that delivers an unexpected emotional punch.


2. Sunset Boulevard

William Holden is the embittered writer, Gloria Swanson the faded goddess from a bygone age, and Eric Von Stroheim (who directed the majestic Greed in 1924) her butler in Billy Wilder’s razor-sharp satire of the industry they were all working in.

It’s hard to know what’s more contemptuous; Wilder’s casting of Swanson and Stroheim as painful parodies of their former selves, or the latter’s agreement to both act in the film.


rg363b1. The Bad And The Beautiful

An actress (Lana Turner if you don’t mind), a writer and a director are forever embittered after an archetypally ambitious Hollywood producer launches their respective careers as only he could; as a means of furthering his own.

Played with irresistible charm by Kirk Douglas, his Jonathon Shields projects the perfect mix of magnetism and ruthlessness. And of the many, many details that the film gets absolutely spot on, my favourite is the coat of arms he insists on hanging portentously on the gates to his mansion.

They read: non sans droit. “Not without right”. Which was the motto originally penned by one William Shakespeare on his coat of arms.

That this is never referred to in its dialogue is a testament to the film’s infectiously confident swagger. And director Vincente Minnelli somehow strikes the perfect balance between sophisticated cynicism and exuberant, heady melodrama.

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Julianna Barwick’s “The Magic Place”, David Lynch’s Soon To Be, Surely, Muse.

It’s hard to avoid using the E word when talking about Julianna Barwick. Her combination of ethereal, hypnotic vocals with carefully constructed layers of meticulously crafted sound conjures up inevitable if unfortunate visions of Enya.

A more useful comparison might be with Liz Fraser, and the sort of music that she and her fellow 4AD sirens were producing with the likes of the Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance. But there’s none of that angst with Barwick.

The waves of balm that she wraps you up in evoke instead the blissed-up chill-out calm of last year’s Within And Without from Washed Out, reviewed here earlier, with the occasional echo of the quieter bits form Panda Bear’s Tomboy.

The Magic Place is all of the above, and yet somehow so much more. For despite all that bliss, and calm, and chilled out, yawn, serenity, it’s an album that manages to avoid ever sounding in any way monotonous.

Which is remarkable. There are no lyrics to speak of, in the conventional sense. It’s essentially a Minimalist album, where each piece takes a motif which is then worked on, methodically, almost mathematically, up to varying degrees of complication. And yet, there’s enough variation throughout and across each of the nine tracks to draw you in and hold you there. And rather than ever becoming boring, the more you listen to it the more beguiling become its charms.

Officially, it’s her second album, but to all extents and purposes The Magic Place is her first album proper and has been out for a year now. It got an impressed 8.5 from the boys from Pravda http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/15147-the-magic-place/?utm_campaign=search&utm_medium=site&utm_source=search-ac. If you missed it first time around, treat yourself.

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“Crazy Clown Time” – David Lynch + “Bad As Me” – Tom Waits

For those who regard him as the most important living artist working in any medium, and I count myself among their number, the first full length album released by David Lynch was always going to be something of a slight disappointment. The expectations it created were never likely to be realised.

Nobody, with the possible exception of Robert Altman, has understood quite so clearly the palpable importance of sound in film. So the music employed by Lynch has always been fundamental to the mood and menace that his films evoke.

Lynch wrote the lyrics for his long-time musical collaborator Angelo Badalamenti when they teamed up for the monumental and still ground-breaking Twin Peaks, and the all too ethereal Julee Cruise added the gloss to the lush soundtrack they together produced. Then in 2010, he teamed up with producer supremo Danger Mouse and the ill-fated Sparklehorse to produce the melancholy Dark Night Of The Soul (reviewed earlier here).

So the eventual release of an album proper oughtn’t really to have been too terribly surprising, and nor should the way it sounds be. Moody blues, at the RnB end of the spectrum, spiked with menacing guitar riffs and laced with the occasional female vocal line, with Lynch’s own vocals buried in a sea of vocoder synths.

If you’re looking for a definitive album experience, then this isn’t it. But if you want to luxuriate in the kind of mood his films evoke, then enjoy. It’s the kind of album you might only stick on every six months or so, but it’s one that you’ll continue returning to for years to come.

Strangely, that’s not something that can be said for the latest Tom Waits album. Which is odd, because superficially, it’s delightful. It’s basically a greatest hits album made up of all new material. What could be more satisfying than that?

You get bits of the guttergravel romanticism of Blue Valentine, industrial, N’Orlins RnB à la Rain Dogs, the coiffured avant-garde of the underrated Pale Rider, plus the mandatory novelty act of the title track. It’s hardly Waits’ fault if all the innovations and freshness that were once so exciting have now become the norm. And the first couple of listens will bring a smile to the most curmudgeonly of faces.

And yet. You just know, that after that fourth or fifth listen, you’re never going to put it on again.

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“We Need To Talk About Kevin” – Lynne Ramsay

Beyond the fact that the three greatest film makers in the world are David Lynch, David Lynch and David Lynch, the five or six serious film makers working in the medium today are Anh Hung Tran, Atom Egoyan, Julio Medem, Todd Solondz and Lynne Ramsay (but then what about Marco Bellocchio, or Scorsese…).

So the lukewarm response that the latest film from the latter evoked in Britain was surprising. Because We Need To Talk About Kevin is immaculate.

Ramsay made her debut in 1999 with Ratcatcher, an unusually lyrical and slightly detached look at growing up on a council estate. She followed that in 2002 with Morvern Callar, which was even more doggedly elliptical, and concentrated on evoking a mood and conjuring up an atmosphere rather than rigidly pursuing a narrative drive.

So few people familiar with her work can have been surprised at the way in which she approached adapting Lionel Shriver’s acclaimed novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin. The slightly bigger budget and the presence of the relatively well-known Tilda Swinton and John C Reilly as the put-upon parents mean that it’s slightly more conventional than her two previous films. But it also provided her with the scaffolding on which to build an even more impressive construct that melds visual grandeur with sonic panache.

It’s hard to know what the critics in London had been expecting. Matthew Sweet managed to complain on the BBC’s Late Review that it added nothing to the horror genre. Well no. That’s because it’s not a horror film. While we’re on the subject, it’s pretty disappointing as bedroom farce as well.

Other critics complained about the heavy-handed symbolism. But it’s not symbolism that the film employs. Rather, there are a series of visual and sonic motifs that ripple and reverberate throughout the piece as a whole, and that reflect and connect the characters to their surroundings, sending currents and waves across the surface.

It’s not an enjoyable film, obviously, nor should it be. It acts instead as a companion piece to Gus Van Sant’s brilliant Elephant from 2003, which justly won that year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes. That explored the conventionally held view that the sort of kids who inexplicably open fire on their hapless classmates are completely normal. Kevin offers up the corollary to that. What if some kids are just bad (though the book it should be noted is more ambivalent of the question of blame.)?

Austere yet expansive, Seamus McGarvey’s pristine cinematography and Jonny Greenwood’s insidious score combine to produce a work of rare cinematic quality. And, like The Lives Of Others, it eventually offers relief from its unremitting oppression. As with its very last line and gesture, the faintest glimmer of hope is finally allowed to break through.

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