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Wednesday
Nov232011

Do Movies About Movies Win Oscars?

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) has had it with the movies in "The Artist"Over at Fandor's Keyframe blog I'll be musing about the Oscar race on a biweekly basis. This week's topic is the unusual abundance of movies about movies in this year's Oscar race from Marilyn Monroe (My Week With Marilyn) to George Melies (Hugo) to Hollywood's seismic sound shift in the late 20s (The Artist). But one thing I didn't dwell on too much in the article (which I hope you'll go and read!) is the lack of Oscars won for movies about movies.

Everyone predicting a win for The Artist (2011) before the nominations are even announced should consider the following list and sobering fact: No movie about movies has ever won Best Picture.

Movies About Movies: How Do They Do With Oscar?
(Best Picture Nominees are in red) 

Janet Gaynor (already an Oscar winner) was nominated again for playing an actress who wins a fictional Oscar in "A Star is Born"1930s
What Price Hollywood (1 nomination. 0 wins)
A Star is Born (7 nominations. 1 win + 1 honorary) 

1940s
Was Hollywood too busy with patriotism to make movies about movies? Or were they still too enamored by live theater to turn their cameras on themselves?

1950s
Sunset Blvd  (11 nominations. 3 wins)
The Bad and the Beautiful (6 nominations. 5 wins)
The Star (1 nomination. 0 wins)
Singin' in the Rain (2 nominations. 0 wins)
A Star is Born (6 nominations. 0 wins)

1960s
Sweet Bird of Youth (3 nominations. 1 win)
8 ½ (5 nominations. 2 wins) 
Inside Daisy Clover (3 nominations. 0 wins)
The Oscar (2 nominations. 0 wins)

1970s
Day For Night (4 nominations. 1 win) 
The Way We Were (6 nominations. 2 wins)
The Day of the Locust (2 nominations. 0 wins)
California Suite (3 nominations. 1 win)
All That Jazz (9 nominations. 4 wins) 

1980s
The Stunt Man (3 nominations. 0 wins)
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1 nomination. 0 wins)
The Kiss of the Spider Woman (4 nominations. 1 win)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (6 nominations. 3 wins. 1 special achievement.)
Cinema Paradiso (1 nomination. 1 win) 

Baby Herman (a handful off camera) and Roger Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)... which would have been a worthy Best Picture contender.

1990s
Postcards from the Edge (2 nominations. 0 wins)
Bugsy (10 nominations. 2 wins)
Barton Fink (3 nominations. 0 wins)
Chaplin (3 nominations. 0 wins)
The Player (3 nominations. 0 wins)
Ed Wood (2 nominations. 2 wins)
Boogie Nights (3 nominations. 0 wins)
Gods and Monsters (3 nominations. 1 win) 

Jude Law as Errol Flynn and Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in "The Aviator"2000s
Shadow of the Vampire (2 nominations. 0 wins)
Mulholland Dr (1 nomination. 0 wins)
Adaptation (4 nominations. 1 win)
The Aviator (11 nominations. 5 wins)
Tropic Thunder (1 nomination. 0 wins)
Nine (4 nominations. 0 wins)
Inglourious Basterds (8 nominations. 1 win) 

2010s
The Artist (we shall see)
My Week With Marilyn (we shall see)
Hugo (we shall see)

A semi-random selection of movies about movies that Oscar ignored: The Cameraman, Man With a Movie Camera, Sullivan's Travels, Stand-In, Peeping Tom, Contempt, Beware of a Holy Whore, F For Fake, The Last Action Hero, Stardust Memories, Blow Out, The Majestic, Irma Vep, Living in Oblivion, Be Kind Rewind, Guilty by Suspicion, Los Angeles Plays Itself,  etc...

You'd think that Hollywood's High Holy Night, which is one big self-congratulatory spectacle, would embrace movies about movies and they do to a point. But perhaps even Hollywood's notoriously fulsome egos feel sheepish about taking it all the way. Do they fear it would be overkill, the back-patting night of nights morphing into something far more orgiastic, a daisy chain of self regard? 

What are your favorite movies about movies? Do you think The Artist can buck the trends here?


Related: my new keyframe article and a previous roundup on Keyframe "top ten films about filmmaking" which I also had the pleasure of contributing to and which should give you plenty of rental ideas.

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References (2)

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  • Response
    We don't often think of filmmakers as fans, but that's all they really are. They're the cinephiles who took the torch from a previous generation. Whether actor or director, cast or crew, all filmmakers started somewhere as movie aficionados.
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    Response: bagvk
    [...]Do Movies About Movies Win Oscars? - Blog - The Film Experience[...]

Reader Comments (32)

The Purple Rose of Cairo. It made me realise the importance of films in my life. I was Cecilia. Bless Woody!
But I really really really love the end of Cinema Paradiso.
I am so looking forward to The Artist and Hugo. I think they will be wonderful.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNikhat

Don't forget California Suite!

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

I actually love or really like most of these that I've seen: Adaptation, Mulholland Dr, The Purple Rose of Cairo, The Player, Postcards from the Edge, Sunset Blvd, Ed Wood.

Sweet Bird of Youth actually won supporting actor for the old guy. What a slog of a movie that one was.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJan

It's easy to forget those nominations for Nine!

Two of my all-time favorites are The Player and the Judy Garland version of A Star Is Born (which might be my favorite film from the '50s).

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Suzanne -- lol. I guess it is easy to forget NINE in general. I actually liked Nine more than most people (it's a mess but it does do a couple of intresting things) but I do understand the hate.

November 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nat, what was the first video you put in your Fandor piece? It's not available outside the USA, so I can't see it.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBill_the_Bear

What about Inglourious Basterds? It's a bit of a stretch, but in the end it did come down to a movie to destroy the Nazi regime. If that isn't a commentary on the power of movies, I don't know what is. Then again, couldnt you argue any Tarantino film is cinema-porn for movie appreciaters?

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony A.

The Stunt Man (nominated for three Oscars, 0 wins)
Exit Through the Gift Shop (one nomination, 0 wins)
In a Lonely Place

Sunset Blvd
The Player
Adaptation
Singin' in the Rain
The Artist
The Misfits
Drive (okay, okay...)

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

What about Drive? movie about B-movies and then some.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternic

Vidor's Show People as well as The Bad and the Beautiful and Cinema Paradiso were my three favorite films about films. But yesterday I saw The Artist. It belongs in that top three. (Still don't know which one I should take out.)

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

You forgot the two biggest movies about movies that were expected to get major nominations and came up (almost) empty:

Inside Daisy Clover (1966)
Day of the Locust (1975)

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBilly

I've added your suggestions. thanks. Billy -- really good call on those two.

it's funny but in researching this list it's crazy how many movies about the theater Hollywood made and rewarded... they're way more obsessed with theater (or used to be at least)

November 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

How did Sweet Bird of Youth get on this list? Is it only b/c of Page's character?

I'm calling it now. The Artist will win best picture. It's novelty enough to do it. Voters won't be able to resist it.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTK

Gods and Monsters (3 noms, 1 win)
Shadow of the Vampire (2 noms)

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterezekiel2517

TOP 5 movies about movies

1 - 8 1/2
2 - That Most Important Thing: Love
3 - Contempt
4 - Through The Olive Trees
5 - Singin in The Rain

Some fine movies:

Bad Education
Chaplin
Some movies by Hong Sangsoo...

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Singin' In The Rain. When pressed, it's always my answer for the "favorite film" question. It's just too wonderful.

It is interesting though that no film about film has ever won the Oscar for Best Picture. All That Jazz and Sunset Boulevard probably came closest, but Sunset was up against the All About Eve juggernaut (one of the greatest films about theater) and Jazz against Kramer Vs. Kramer, not to mention Apocolypse Now.

I think the Academy's fascination with theater comes from two things, the first being that when they first started, theater was seen as the epitome of high class art, and that was what filmmakers desperately wanted to become, or at least emulate. Even deeper than that, is the idea that most people in film actually got their start doing theater. As film programs in middle and high schools are few and far between but theater programs are all over the place, this is where people interested in performing arts and crafts would go to create, and that love lasted even though the medium of expression may have changed.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Not to nitpick, but if Bugsy can be considered a movie about moviemaking, we might as well include The Godfather for the Johnny Fontaine storyline. Oh, but wait, that film won...

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.P.

I can't believe you're all forgetting La nuit américaine!
Got nominated two years in a row and won nothing each year. A masterpiece.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Oh you did not! The english title got me confused. Sorry!

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

No, I truly believe they *DON’T* like honoring movies about Hollywood—at least in terms of handing them gold trophies in top categories. If they did SUNSET BLVD., BUGSY, THE PLAYER and especially THE AVIATOR would have won the top prize.

This is why L.A. CONFIDENTIAL would have still lost Best Picture even if it hadn’t been for TITANIC. Hollywood, old or new, is too close to home for most voters. And yet honoring films depicting other arenas of the entertainment industry (i.e. Broadway (ALL ABOUT EVE), night clubs (CHICAGO) seem fine by them.

THE ARTIST and HUGO can expect a shower of nominations but actually trophies—beyond tech categories—will be very tricky.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRyanS

I think you could add My Favorite Year to the list- it's set in tv land but Alan Swann is a movie star and that allure informs the whole story. Gosh, I love that movie!

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAR

JP -- hmmm. I haven't seen The Godfather in a few years but I don't remember that storyline taking up anything like the space as Virginia Hill and Bugsy's Hollywood aspirations take in Bugsy?

is it just me? anyone else?

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I mean the epic romance even starts on the set of a movie! I think that qualifies ;)

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I love this genre. Two small but endearing movies in this category not on the list are Hearts of the West, with a young Jeff Bridges as a naive extra in Depression era Westerns, and Hollywood Shuffle, with Robert Townsend as actor/director/producer, who made his movie for $100,000. It seems no one thought there would be an audience for a movie about African-American actors.

Although it wasn't a successful movie, I really liked Elia Kazan's adaptation of Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon, with Robert DeNiro. I think it's one of DeNiro's best performances, but the failure of the movie seemed to make him retreat to his comfort zone in acting. I also liked Ulysses Gaze with Harvey Keitel, but that's a more arthouse film.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteradri

@Ralph, why don't you make it Top 4?

I also love this mini-genre, many of my favorite films: 8 1/2, Mulholland Drive, Synocdoche New York, Sunset Blv, Singin' in the rain to name a few.

Amazed to the fact that no Movies about movies won BP, maybe the Oscar thinks it's not "real" enough or not "serious" enough, lolo

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertombeet

Saw The Godfather recently. The Johnny Fontaine subplot takes up around 12-15 minutes of a 170 minute movie and there's no one set scenes. The Misfits: Huh? How was that "about movies"? And I wouldn't count Boogie Nights as genuinely in this list. I know it's one of your pet films, Nat and it's a very good movie, but I can't see it as the same as everything else on the list and, also...you missed Tropic Thunder.

November 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I think "The Artist" can win best picture too. Once more people see it, they'll fall in love with it. And that novelty factor of the silent-era Hollywood should be enough to make voters go against their anti-Hollywood films bias (which I didn't even know existed until reading this article, so nice worth, Nathaniel) and award it their top prize. These other films seem to have enough minuses to them that this win could very well happen next year.

November 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIan

How about some movies that are about the power and meaning of film, rather than the process of movie-making?

Peeping Tom has an important subtext about the film-viewer as voyeur. Gimmee Shelter takes a left turn to consider its own power as documentary. Inception is entirely about the structure of film narrative and the relationship of film to actual reality, with film equated to dream in both aspects -- it's arguably the most insightful work of film criticism yet authored. And it may be cheating to include Tarsem Singh's brilliant The Fall, since it's really about the power and collaborative nature of storytelling in general, but it's no accident that the storyteller in the film is a crippled Hollywood silent-film stuntman.

November 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteremvan

You forgot Tropic Thunder

November 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonn

emvan -- i mentioned "peeping tom" under the entirely ignored list... which is where "the fall" would go as well. I wouldn't consider Inception about film. that's too much of a critical reach... it may well be true (i haven't thought of that angle) but it's theory rather than anything practical as the movie has no connection to showbiz or The Movies as subject matter. If I started listing movies that could be interpreted as movies about the very nature of film, it'd probably be impossible to list them all.

November 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

You haven't changed my mind, still am calling it that The Artist will win! ;)

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDominique

Oh dear Lord, it's the most interesting thing for you to look over all the old stuff, like these films or writing online

November 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrdfh
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