Top 10 films about making films

I recently watched a film in which the plot revolved around, or at least touched on, the process of making a film. Which got me thinking about other films where this happens. Here are ten of my relatively recent favourites.

Their Finest (2016)

A rather sweet WWII-set flick which tells the story of the relationship between two screenwriters (Sam Claflin and Gemma Arterton) writing a screenplay for the Ministry of Information to boost troops’ morale. Also includes Bill Nighy doing Bill Nighy, which is always a good thing.

Tropic Thunder (2008)

In an attempt to make a war film more authentic a hapless director (Steve Coogan) drops his actors into the Vietnamese jungle. Trouble is, they end up in the middle of a real drug war. It takes some of the filmmakers (including Nick Nolte and Danny McBride) a while to realise what’s actually going on.

The Aviator (2004)

As part of the thread of this film, billionaire and aviation tycoon Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) is trying to make the film Hell’s Angels which, whilst it went on to be one of the highest grossing films of the silent era, it still lost money due to the inflated budget.

Get Shorty (1995)

Mobster (John Travolta) is sent to Hollywood to collect a debt from film producer Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman). But upon pitching his life as a movie idea he finds being a gangster and a producer are not that different.

Saving Mr Banks (2013)

For a film about the making of Mary Poppins and the relationship between its author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), it’s incredibly sweet-natured. Particularly the scenes where they’re coming up with the songs.

Son of Rambow (2007)

School bad boy Lee Carter (Will Poulter) and Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) become friends, in sort of an odd couple way when they bond over a film they’re making for a competition. Their friendship gets tested when more kids join in and Lee feels cut out.

King Kong (2005)

Ambitious director Carl Denham (Jack Black) manages to persuade playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) and actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) to head to Skull Island to film his new flick. However it all goes awry when Kong kicks off, swipes Ann and heads off into the jungle.

Super 8 (2011)

A bunch of kids (including Elle Fanning) are making a zombie movie, when all of a sudden they witness a train crash. Turns out it was no accident, and a series of events and disappearances follow. It’s up to the kids and Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) to discover the truth.

Cloverfield (2008)

A bunch of rich and attractive New York kids (including Lizzy Caplan and T.J. Miller) are having a party when a huge monster starts smashing up the city. They film their experience on a camera as they try and flee the city with their lives.

While We’re Young (2014)

Middle-aged filmmaker Josh Schrebnick (Ben Stiller) is stuck in a rut. Until a young, hip guy called Jamie (Adam Driver) turns up. He breathes new life into Josh’s film but then enjoys more success in weeks than Josh did in years. So, inevitably, sparks start to fly.

Top ten performances of Tom Cruise

After being impressed with Cruise’s performance in Jack Reacher recently it got me thinking. Is Cruise one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood? He surely must be, given his output. Since his first credited role in Endless Love in 1981, I can only count seven instances in the last 31 years where he’s had more than a one-year break between jobs. Mostly he’s had at least one film out a year, 39 in total to date.

What’s most impressive is the range of films and quality of performances. I assume that’s why, for some people, he’s a divisive figure. A man at the top of his game and loving it. Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s hard to dispute his screen presence and charisma. Here’s my pick of his top ten performances:

  • lestat tom cruiseInterview with the Vampire – 1994
    Cruise wasn’t initially favoured by novelist Anne Rice, but won her and audiences over with his sublime, sadistic and graceful take on aristocratic vampire Lestat, constantly tormenting Brad Pitt’s troubled vampire Louis.
  • Vanilla Sky – 2001
    Described as ‘Jerry Maguire on an acid trip’ this sees Cruise play a publishing mogul who becomes facially disfigured following a car accident. What happens then is anyone’s guess as dream and reality blend together in Cameron Crowe’s twisted tale.
  • A Few Good Men – 1992
    Slugging it out with Jack Nicholson’s army general in a courtroom is no easy task. Cruise’s performance as idealistic navy lawyer was realistic and compelling, plus he gave us that iconic ‘you can’t handle the truth’ scene.
  • YouCompleteMe_JerryMaguireJerry Maguire – 1996
    Taking nothing away from the outstanding Zellweger, this film is anchored by Cruise’s raw, touching performance as sports agent Jerry, trying to rebuild a career and hang on to his marriage. A beautifully told, feel-good tale.
  • Minority Report – 2002
    Some may think this a Spielberg action tale, but it’s closer to a futuristic film noir. Cruise convincingly plays cop John Anderton whose life gets upended, accused of a crime and forced to clear his name whilst on the run.
  • Collateral – 2004
    Perhaps this was a nice warm up to play Reacher – here he played a cold, calculating and ruthless hitman, les-grossman-moviestuck in a cat-and-mouse game with Jamie Foxx’s average Joe-type cab driver.
  • Tropic Thunder – 2008
    With an ensemble cast of great comic actors, Cruise stands out as ruthless studio head Les Grossman – his tirades (I will massacre you!), his dancing, his menace. Fantastically funny and refreshing.
  • The Last Samurai – 2003
    As world-weary Captain Nathan Algren, his performance in Ed Zwick’s epic action tale is truly a masterclass in submitting wholeheartedly to the character. Compelling, heartfelt and affecting throughout.
  • Jack Reacher – 2012
    Ensuring the wrath of Lee Child fans worldwide, Cruise opted to play 6’5 man-mountain army detective Jack Reacher – a sort of modern Dirty Harry. Here he gives the character wit, intelligence and gravitas.
  • tom cruise Born on the Fourth of July 01Born on the Fourth of July – 1989
    Delivering arguably a career-best performance as wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran Ron Kovich. This film came only a few years into his career ascendancy, but firmly cemented him as bona fide A-grade, talent.

Marvel – masters of the cinematic universe

avengers natasha romanoff

For this posting I’d like to discuss the evolution of the Marvel universe. I recently – finally – got around to seeing The Avengers. Or, as it’s known in the UK, Avengers Assemble (damn you, Steed).

I have to say, having unavoidably seen and heard many reviews, I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy it and be expecting too much. Would it live up to the hype? Would it feel rushed/crowded with so many larger-than-life characters jostling for screen time? Well, much like everybody else, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Great pacing, great action, great characters, great dialogue.

avengers natasha romanoffPlus all the Avengers were given – more or less – an equal amount to do, including the new characters: Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. The latter unsurprisingly well written, given writer/director Joss Whedon’s affinity for strong, female characters (Buffy et al).

So, before this becomes an Avengers review, back to the subject in question. I had a vague awareness of the fact there’s been quite a few films over recent years that have come out of the Marvel studio. However when you really look, it seems like an unstoppable wave. To name the live-action films we’ve had since 1998:

  • 5 X Men (2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2011)
  • 4 Spider Man (2002, 2004, 2007, 2012)
  • 3 Blade (1998, 2002, 2004)
  • 2 Iron Man (2008, 2010)
  • 2 Hulk (2003, 2008)
  • 2 Fantastic Four (2005, 2007)
  • 2 Ghost Rider (2007, 2012)
  • 1 Thor (2011)
  • 1 Captain America (2011)
  • 1 Avengers (2012)

I’ve left off the experiments that were Daredevil, Elektra and Man Thing, simply because they weren’t hugely successful and it’s unlikely there will be a follow up to any of these in the near future. Therefore I’m only including films where the characters have appeared more than once in the Marvel cinematic universe. So, from 1998 to 2012 (that’s 14 years, keep up), we’ve had 23 films. That’s 1.6 films a year! I’m not sure if what I’m expressing here is good shock or bad shock? Perhaps both.

snipes dorff bladeLooking ahead
I suppose, with this sort of prolific output, you’ll have successes and failures. In recent years, they’ve begun to have more of the former, both critically and commercially. For every mediocre Daredevil or Fantastic Four you’ll get a decent Spider Man or Blade.

Or, if you’re really lucky, strike complete gold and unearth Robert Downey Jr. A man born to play Tony Stark. Don’t believe me? Watch some of his early work, like Natural Born Killers. Check out this classic scene. For me, if you take his character there, throw in a little Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Tropic Thunder, you’ll get Tony Stark. Perhaps a leap but it makes sense to me!

Don’t stop us now
With recent successes of the Avengers’ characters, both in their ensemble film and stand-alone outings, the plan for Marvel films over the next few years is looking quite exciting. Next year we’ll get a second from the blonde Asgardian, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3.  In 2014 we’ll have, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, plus – most intriguingly – a massive departure from the norm with Guardians of the Galaxy. A film which has a sentient tree and a raccoon with a gun as main characters.

I can’t say I’m excited about this one…yet. Although I do approve of the concept art above. What I like is that you cannot accuse Marvel of resting on their laurels or playing it too safe. That, in itself, is reason to be quietly optimistic. But I guess we’ll see. Oh, and there’s also a second Avengers due out 2015, just in case Guardians doesn’t go as planned.

Defenders of the universe
So, on the whole, I think it’s great Marvel are mixing it up. Yes, they’re putting out films for a lot of their mainstream superheroes, but they’re safer bets. Keeps the money coming in. They could just sit on that but, like any industry, if you’re not moving forward you’re doing the opposite.

So introducing a new host of characters is brave, yet wholly necessary. Eventually we’ll get sick of superhero films and want westerns or zombie films for a few years or something. But, if Marvel keep freshening things up, maybe we’ll stay a while longer. Maybe a character called Rocket Raccoon is just what’s called for – long live diversity!