Top 10 Films About Film

What a delight to be able to welcome back the lovely Steph Spiro as a guest on the blog with her compilation of the best films about films.

If you love your movies be sure to pay a visit to Steph’s first guest post Top 10 Dream Films: Reality? Never!. You can find out more about Steph and connect with her on Twitter by way of the bio at the end of the post.

 I’m Ready For My Close-up: The Top 10 Films About Film

This season we’ve been lucky enough to experience an influx of beautiful films about films, from Hugo to The Artist to My Week With Marilyn, and beyond.  Not to mention the otherworldly film special effect of kids acting with humanity and grace in Super 8 (newly out on DVD). 

Hugo and The Artist are two of the very best. Hugo is Scorsese’s story of a young boy running the inner mechanism of a clock tower in a Parisian train station. The lonely boy with the big blue eyes finds a message in an automaton that leads him on a path to fix a broken film director. It’s utterly magical and immersive (best use of natural 3D ever) and it brings you inside the feeling of love: love of Paris, love of memory, love of movies, love of love.Â

The cinematic world constructed in Hugo is astoundingly detailed and painstakingly crafted by master film-enthusiast Martin Scorsese. You don’t just watch it; you fall in. It becomes an entire world in depth, a realer than real labyrinth winding through the back walls of a train station the way celluloid winds through a projector. The audience is bathed in projector light, — lit like moonlight, like magic. Together, we dream.  

The Artist is a film about the Hollywood transition from silent to sound. The entire film is silent and it’s absolutely bewitching. In one scene a girl mimics an embrace, snuggling up to an empty dinner jacket in one of the loveliest moments I’ve seen in contemporary film.  

Remember this feeling? Sitting in the dark, totally enraptured? 

Considering the recent (and extraordinary) filmic love letters to film out now, I’ve started to think of my Top 10 films about films, and I’ve created my own personal list (in no particular order). Let’s go to the movies!

1. Singin’ in the Rain

No film-about-film list is ever complete without Singin’ in the Rain. It’s a classic. And if you haven’t seen it, then log in to Netflix now and move it to the top of your queue immediately.  You’re missing out on a grand musical about the film industry shift from silent to sound (just like The Artist), with some of the most insanely choreographed numbers of all time.

2. Sunset Boulevard

We mustn’t underestimate faded old silent film actress Norma Desmond, or we may end up face down in a pool. Sunset Boulevard begins with the voice-over of a dead screenwriter. It’s a classic noir-meets-Hollywood film about an actress who is resolutely and undeniably ready for her close-up.

3. The Player

The Player is Robert Altman’s genius (and noir-ish/comedy) film about a sleazy Hollywood executive, stalked by an unidentified and perturbed screenwriter.

4. Cinema Paradiso

Cinema Paradiso is a swoony film about film and a child’s love affair with the movies – sans cinematic kisses.

5. Fellini’s 8½

8½ is a spectacular film about a director stepping through reality into dream and back again. It’s one of the most amazing films about film because it turns the camera inward and projects, sending streams of light deep inside the movie house abyss of the human soul.

6. Sullivan’s Travels

Sullivan’s Travels is an ode to comedy, a film about a director of screwball gems like Hey Hey in the Hayloft, determined to make a serious, socially conscious film. He goes on a quest to discover what it’s really like on the streets, and in the process he meets-cute with Veronica Lake and uncovers the real meaning of loss – and laughter (with a little sex in it).

7. The Stuntman

Peter O’Toole is Eli, the mysterious omniscient director. After the death of his original stunt guy, Eli catches a fleeing convict, takes him through Alice’s magic mirror via Eli’s killer crane, and turns the skittish jailbird into a very confused stuntman.

8. Adaptation/Barton Fink

Ah, films about screenwriters  Adaptation follows Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin brother into the world of book-to-film adaptation, as Charlie struggles to adapt a sprawling New Yorker novel, The Orchid Thief, and instead writes himself and the author of the book (Susan Orlean) into the story. Very meta-mesmerizing. Barton Fink follows a playwright into an abandoned hotel as he attempts to write a Hollywood screenplay. Arguably the best film ever by the Coen Brothers.

9. Boogie Nights/Ed Wood

I grouped Boogie Nights and Ed Wood together because they’re both about B movies. They range from the glittery roller-clad depths of a 70s porn industry disco lair to the black-and-white backlit world of the maniacal Depp grin. Both films are essential and beautifully shot (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and Tim Burton, respectively) about darker niche filmmaking, using richly interwoven narrative, and in the case of Ed Wood, a heartbreakingly faded Bela Lugosi.

10. The Five Obstructions

I suppose this last pick is a bit of a dark horse, but anyone who loves the creative process will thoroughly enjoy this beautiful documentary. Director Lars Von Trier challenges his mentor, Jorgen Leth (suffering from a creative block), to remake his 1967 film, The Perfect Human, five different times, each time with newly introduced ‘rules’ for recreating the film. The result is unexpectedly touching and wildly innovative.

**Honorable Mention:


Afterlife seems like an unlikely pick, but it’s actually one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen about the lasting visual power of a memory. Our chosen stories are very cinematic  We’re all stars of our own movies, and our life narrative is the strongest and most affective film of all. In Afterlife, when people die, they’re allowed to pick one memory to take with them to the afterlife. That memory is reconstructed and acted out in a theatrical setting and immortalized on film, strapped to the soul of the dying person as the last bit of their life that is extracted and kept forever.


Chaplin is a moving and underrated biopic about Charlie Chaplin, featuring a masterful performance by Robert Downey Jr. as the silent film star.

Get Shorty

It’s impossible not to fall in love with this sharp mobster-meets-Hollywood hybrid! In Get Shorty, Travolta’s mobster, Chili Palmer, decides he’d rather be in the movie biz when he finds himself in La La Land to collect a debt.

Venice/Venice & Day for Night


Venice/Venice is a classic and shamefully little-seen film about ‘love, romance’- and the movies.Enough said.  Day for Night is Truffaut’s love letter to film, about a director finishing a film. Both are excellent, Netflix-worthy queue-toppers.

Mulholland Drive

Mulholland drive is tough to pin down as specifically ‘a film about film’ (which is why it didn’t make the actual list). It’s a film that kind of writhes wildly in a Hollywood setting, and who can forget the Naomi Watts audition scene? It’s epic and that scene alone is worth the honorable mention  This film transports the viewer to a dark place of pure feeling the way only the best films can.

Living In Oblivion

The only reason Living In Oblivion is listed as an honorable mention is because I listed it in my last Top10 blog as one of the 10 best dream films. In fact, this is one of the most versatile and extraordinary films about independent cinema ever.  It unfolds in three parts: the first two episodes/acts are anxiety dreams about the making of a film, and the third and final act is a film about an anxiety dream. Just watching Katherine Keener read her lines repeatedly, slightly tweaking them every time, take after take, is worth the add to your Netflix queue. 


Alright, I know  But give Bowfinger another shot.  Steve Martin’s film about the making of an alien invasion movie called Chubby Rain (that’s right – aliens invade the atmosphere disguised as chubby raindrops) starring a ragtag crew of misfits is terribly clever and wildly underrated. And Eddie Murphy’s performance(s) are comic genius.

Inside Daisy Clover

Inside Daisy Clover, about a waif-turned-Hollywood sensation (played expertly and with such precocity and sadness by young Natalie Wood) is strangely beguiling. It’s also the first time we see Natalie Wood and Robert Redford together onscreen. 

And lastly, a finale: a couple of magnificent movie scenes (about movies):

The Purple Rose of Cairo  

And Sherlock Jr

Many thanks go to Steph for such an amazingly comprehensive post. Do you have any favourites of your own that you think should be included? If you would like to connect with Steph please click on the bio below.

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  • Uh oh, I don’t think I have seen any of these, but I’m probably not Avant-garde enough…….:).

    This was interesting and the insight was very enlightening; thanks so much for sharing at Tony’s place. 

  • Ryan

    Stephanie, these are very classic films that I haven’t watched in awhile. Thanks for sharing, now I’m going to have to go on a classic film marathon.

  • Stephspiro

    @Ryan, thanks! A classic film fest sounds amazing! :)  @Bill, Thanks! Have you seen Singin’ in the Rain?  If not, I would say start there!

  • I have watched Cinema Paradiso and it was awesome! Adding others to my must-watch list of movies now! Great post Stephanie! :)

  • I remember French Lieutenants Woman, about two people filming a movie who’s lives parallelled the movie ~ each with a different ending..  Great film.