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Posted at 10:43 AM ET, 04/13/2007

Friday List: Celluloid Celebrity

By Liz Kelly

Gloria Swanson in 'Sunset Blvd.' (Paramount Pictures)

Not all Friday Lists are intended as cathartic releases. Some -- like these lists of Sad Songs and tips on How to Survive a Horror Flick -- also fall into the category of service journalism. I, for one, consider myself enriched: my iPod is now extra mopey and I have been duly warned to give three-year-olds who speak Latin, Ancient Aramaic, Scytho-Khotanese or any other extinct language a wide berth.

This Friday, we'll build on the spirit of goodwill by compiling a list of the best movies about life in front of the lens. From Woody Allen's "Celebrity" to J.Lo's "Selena," which films stand out as illuminating peeks into the surreal world of the entertainment industry and its attendant fame? Help me -- and each other -- compile a syllabus for a celebrity cinema master class.

As usual, I'll start by sharing my favorites:

"Sunset Blvd." -- Gloria Swanson gave the performance of her life as aging, castoff silent film star Norma Desmond and added "Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close up" to our cultural lexicon.

"Notting Hill" -- Julia Roberts does a great job of playing a megastar hounded by the press (aka herself) who falls in love with average Joe Hugh Grant despite the hurdles involved. The hurdles consist of London's famously tenacious paparazzi (which come off as downright quaint in this age of Dude, she's "just a girl asking a boy to love her." Ah, if only we had a real life Spike.

"Mommie Dearest" -- Though the veracity of Joan Crawford's brutal child-rearing methods have been called into question (later biographers accuse daughter Christina of exaggeration), Faye Dunaway turned in an eerily spot-on impersonation of the larger-than-life star. Though this movie was credited by some for stagnating Dunaway's career, her ability to lose herself in the character has recently garnered fresh praise and set the standard for later biopics. And I'm still terrified of wire hangers.

Now it's your turn: Share your candidates in the comments section below. Include the title of the movie and your reason for inclusion in the list. One caveat: Let's try to avoid made-for-TV movies. Unless one really stands out as transcending the genre's cheese factor, let's leave "The Jacksons: An American Dream" on late night VH1 where it belongs.

By Liz Kelly  | April 13, 2007; 10:43 AM ET
Categories:  Friday Lists  
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"Gettysburg" -- Actor Jeff Daniels looked so much like Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain it was downright scary. Chamberlain was a college professor who joined the Union Army without the benefit of any formal military education, and essentially saved the Union Army in his defense of Little Round Top at Gettysburg.

Posted by: JohnB1359 | April 13, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Well I'm not sure this counts but I love the American President with Michael Douglas and Annette Benning. Again the falling in love in the public eye and how difficult that can be.

Posted by: ppl | April 13, 2007 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I think you missed the topic JohnB - There were no cameras in the civil war!

Posted by: ppl to JohnB1359 | April 13, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

First: Liz...did you you borrow this idea from IMDB's Daily Poll yesterday or was this puttering around your head for a while and it came out in a case of synchronicity? (Though I will note that neither Notting Hill or Mommie Dearest were on their list)

Singin' in the Rain
America's Sweethearts
The Player
L.A. Confidential
Irreconcilable Differences

And two that I'm not sure that count so much:

Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch rarely represents reality ;) )

Lost in La Mancha. But that was a documentary, so it really WAS about the entertainment industry.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | April 13, 2007 11:16 AM | Report abuse

"The Player" and "Swingers" are both great movies.

Posted by: Kelli | April 13, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

A Star is Born

Posted by: JL | April 13, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

These may also be a little OT:

"Elmer Gantry"

More on-topic:
"A Star is Born" (the original)
"Gypsy" (the one w/Natalie Wood)

Not sure how "Gettysburg" fits w/the entertainment industry theme

Posted by: b | April 13, 2007 11:19 AM | Report abuse

"All About Eve"

"Lady Sings the Blues"


"This Is Spinal Tap"

Posted by: lafred | April 13, 2007 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Signin' in the Rain. Absolutely fabulous.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 13, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

"This is Spinal Tap" -- it gives us a brilliant, satiric look at both the music industry and at the making of documentaries (especially those on the lives of the supposedly important).

It works so well because, according to many insiders, it is actually very accurate. And funny as hell.

Posted by: Doc | April 13, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

While it may not be quite the same as the movies you have cited, the list cannot be complete with Farncois Truffaut's masterpeice Day for Night.

Posted by: Mister Methane | April 13, 2007 11:25 AM | Report abuse

You always ask hard questions - but i have one:

Lost in Translation ftw!!1!

Murray's performance was stunning - and the role fits the poll question and tone of discussion pretty well i think...

Posted by: Quintilius Varus | April 13, 2007 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Ok ok you said no TV but I think HBO's Enterage and The Comeback are and were really interesting takes on celebrity.

Posted by: jaigh | April 13, 2007 11:30 AM | Report abuse

"My Favorite Year" (Peter O'Toole as Alan Swann, ne Clarence Duffy)
"A Hard Day's Night" (Beatles)

Posted by: hosaa_joy | April 13, 2007 11:37 AM | Report abuse

"Soapdish", hands down, is the BEST movie about life in front of the lens. Nothing better than Kevin Kline's character tries to spit out "Brain Fever" while "Nurse Nan" is shouting how the girl's head could explode at any second. CLASSIC!

Posted by: Melinda | April 13, 2007 11:37 AM | Report abuse

The Player
8 1/2
My Favorite Year (O'Toole playing O'Toole!)
Ed Wood (Check out Depp's Reagan-esque take on the titular character)
Bullets over Broadway (charmed, charmed...)

Posted by: Frank | April 13, 2007 11:38 AM | Report abuse

oooh Soapdish - such a good one!

Posted by: ppl | April 13, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

State & Main!

Its a a great movie that has lots of wonderful quotes.

Posted by: herndon | April 13, 2007 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Ooh, I forgot about My Favorite Year, that was a hilarious film. Bird is another good one...

what about:
The Stunt Man
Blake Edwards "SOB"

Posted by: b | April 13, 2007 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget Nurse Betty -- the Greg Kinnear soap star character. Farcical yes, but am sure there were some elements of truth here on people's infatuations with TV characters and actors being "stalked".

Posted by: barbiefish | April 13, 2007 11:51 AM | Report abuse

That Thing You Do

Posted by: movies | April 13, 2007 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Almost Famous
American Hot Wax
A Hard's Night
The Harder They Come

Posted by: Lisa1 | April 13, 2007 11:59 AM | Report abuse

How about:

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
This is Spinal Tap
Being John Malkovic (sic?)

Posted by: SoMD | April 13, 2007 12:01 PM | Report abuse

For Your Consideration - by Christopher Guest

Posted by: Anonymous | April 13, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Waiting for Guffman
Okay, this is small-town celebrity, but they are inspired by the big time.

Paris is Burning
Again, small time celebrity (but big within their particular niche). Technically this is a documentary, so not sure if it counts.

Best in Show
Skewering the minor celebrity of the dog show scene.

I guess I am sensing a theme here, I like movies featuring small micro-chasms of celebrity!

Posted by: CJB | April 13, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Or, you just like Christopher Guest's movies CJB? I know I do. I'd love to know how so perfectly yet lovingly skewers each genre.

On that Guest list you forgot A Mighty Wind.

Posted by: Bored @ work | April 13, 2007 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Two Beatles movies: A HARD DAY'S NIGHT and LET IT BE. The first one shows the band as their fans imagined their life to be; the second, as their lives as a band had BECOME.

Posted by: Brian | April 13, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for the double post but this sort of falls into our list category.

Tonite on Turner Classic Movies it's "HOW TO PROGRAM A TELEVISION STATION" nite. They're showing "The Barefoot Executive," "A Face in the Crowd," the "Network."

For synopsis on each & more info:

Posted by: Bored @ work | April 13, 2007 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Way OT: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Also surprised that Tootsie hasn't been more popular...

Posted by: ferrellw | April 13, 2007 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Monty Python & the Holy Grail--although the ending was pretty lame.

Posted by: tamerlane | April 13, 2007 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Without a doubt, my favorites are "The Party" with Peter Sellers and "Singin' in the Rain." Both show the absurdity of Hollywood and the problems with celebrity. "The Party" is funny for many, many more reasons than that, though. It has got to be one of the funniest movies of all time!!

Posted by: Barb | April 13, 2007 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Thank You for Smoking

Posted by: Lala | April 13, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

For its general fun and inventiveness, speaking of Jeff Daniels, how about Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo", in which a dashing adventurer literally steps off the screen to a life in front of it?

Even more creative, how about life in front of the screen and inside someone's head? 1999's "Being John Malkovitch" was about a very special kind of "15 minutes of fame". Very funny (especially all the bits about puppeteering) and quite ingenious.

And I really enjoyed this past year's "Hollywoodland" - about 1950s celebrity.

Posted by: Jean | April 13, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Do documentaries count? If so, Control Room, about Al-Jezeera, should surely be included.


Blazing Saddles
All About My Mother
The Producers
Gilda (Rita Hawyorth. Aw yeah.)

And I also find the idea that "the medium is the message" intriguing. In some sense, shouldn't we be looking at all movies as relics of their method of production?

Posted by: Rita | April 13, 2007 1:04 PM | Report abuse


Blazing Saddles breaks the fourth wall and reveals our dependency on the writer for plot resolution.

All About My Mother shows the toll acting can take on folks, what we demand of our cultural icons.

The Producers -- reveals the entertainment industry's dependency on money, reminds us that most folks are trying to turn a profit, not create art.

Gilda. Female sexuality on display attracts violence because it suggests infidelity. It's the usual paradox. Gilda has to do it, but she is also punished for doing it.

Posted by: Rita | April 13, 2007 1:09 PM | Report abuse

"The King of Comedy."

Great performances by Jerry Lewis as a Carsonesque talk show host dealing with the downside of celebrity (crazed stalkers) and De Niro as the deranged loser obsessed with becoming a celebrity.

Posted by: Rupert | April 13, 2007 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Beyond the Sea (Kevin Spacey's take on Bobby Darin's life) is a great movie

Posted by: Christy | April 13, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Bamboozled (does that count?) - it's in part about producing a hit television show.


Basquiat (maybe) - about Basquiat's life in front of many cameras and microphones

Posted by: tubbs | April 13, 2007 1:26 PM | Report abuse

well these aren't so much movies about the life but biopics.

coalminer's daughter--my favorite movie of all time, the life of loretta lynn from butcher holler, ky to hurricane mills, tn (academy award winner, with sissy spacek, tommy lee jones)

sweet dreams--patsy cline's life on the silver screen (with the magnificent jessica lange and ed harris)

walk the line--(duh) johnny and june carter cash (reese witherspoon, joaquin phoenix)

Posted by: m | April 13, 2007 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Barb, every week your posts have at least one title that makes me shout AMEN! This week, it's THE PARTY ("Birrrrrrr-dy! Birdy num num!")... one of the funniest and (sadly) most overlooked movies from that era.

Posted by: Max | April 13, 2007 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Hollywoodland -Diane Lane was awesome in that (though Ben Affleck probably belongs on Liz' list of stars we love to hate)
State & Main
anything by Christopher Guest

I don't really see what "Thank You for Smoking" has to do with the inner workings of Hollywood. That movie is more DC folklore.

Posted by: LC | April 13, 2007 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Agree with "This is Spinal Tap" and "Soapdish". Also "UHF" - after seeing some recent surrealist offerings on TV & cable, their lineup parody looks positively sane...

Posted by: FrauRabbit | April 13, 2007 1:41 PM | Report abuse


a chorus line


Posted by: g | April 13, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Liz didn't ask for movies that deal with the inner workings of Hollywood. She asked for movies that deal with life in front of the lens.

Thank You for Smoking looks at our obsession with celebrity culture and the ramifications when that spills over into other aspects of our society - specifically lobbying and the legislature. The main character is a satirical case study of what happens when a "serious" person in a "serious" position is able to hijack celebrity culture and 24/7 news coverage to serve his own ends, as well as what happens when that culture turns on him and tried to consume him. Liz asked for movies that offer "illuminating peeks into the surreal world of the entertainment industry and its attendant fame," and that's exactly what TYFS offers.

Posted by: Lala | April 13, 2007 2:33 PM | Report abuse

"Beaches" with Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey

Posted by: M | April 13, 2007 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Living in Oblivion, a fab look at a day on the set of a low-budget indie, with an EXCELLENT dig at a barely fictionalized Brad Pitt.

Posted by: indie insight | April 13, 2007 2:59 PM | Report abuse

how about "Broadcast News"?

Posted by: methinks | April 13, 2007 3:06 PM | Report abuse

L.A. Story: because it captures how the insanity of Hollywood trickles down to weathermen, personal shoppers, and snooty maitre d's. Being based on "The Tempest", and throwing in some other good juicy Shakespeare bits, doesn't hurt either.

Posted by: John | April 13, 2007 3:07 PM | Report abuse

For once, the only film I could think of is one that no-one else has mentioned:

"What's love got to do with it" - Although it's about a singer, not a movie star (Tina Turner, for anyone who hasn't seen it) it showcases both the adolation and isolation of stardom better than any movie I've seen. Plus its just a great film.

Love the suggestions "This is spinal tap" and "LA confidential".

Posted by: TEL | April 13, 2007 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe Liz the Hack has done it again -as evidenced by the IMDB poll co-inky-dink. What's say you just shut down this tired rehash of other people's work and call it a day? Your daily opus is unfunny, your "observations" are uninspired and you're obsessed with a sheep-mentality show "Lost". Have you ever been accused of having an original thought? I could see maybe some podunk rag in the midwest giving you a little column- but The Post? I guess no one else showed up the day they were hiring.

Posted by: angry mob | April 13, 2007 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Quiz Show - kind of what 15 minutes of fame can be like.

Posted by: jaigh | April 13, 2007 3:59 PM | Report abuse

And I agree with the explaination of Thank you for smoking and why I also second THe American President!

Posted by: jaigh | April 13, 2007 4:00 PM | Report abuse

A Star is Born would be the first I'd name after Sunset Blvd. But not, I hasten to add, the Streisand/Kristoffersen version. James Mason and Judy Garland would be my choice. (It's been made 3 tmes, I think.)

Posted by: Jack | April 13, 2007 4:24 PM | Report abuse

OK, so I went and clicked on the IMDB poll, which made me feel like kind of a traitor, but I have to say I agree with their #1 pick: ED WOOD. Hilarious movie.

Re "Angry Mob": who CARES if IMDB did a poll the other day? This isn't a poll; it's a comment board, which is a little different.

To paraphrase something Gene said in his chat about his Joshua Bell story, it sounds like someone needs to go take their meds.

Posted by: Margo | April 13, 2007 4:28 PM | Report abuse

The mention of Peter Sellers made me think of a great skewering of celebrity in film (and one of my favorite books, too):

Being There

Posted by: CJB | April 13, 2007 4:42 PM | Report abuse

All that Jazz - more about life on stage and off, but an excellent portrayal of the nature of celebrity.

The French Lieutenant's Woman - the film version looks at what happens when the line between real life and movies blurs.

Chicago - all about the desire for fame in a celebrity culture.

Posted by: Arlington | April 13, 2007 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Yes, "Ed Wood" is fantastic. Talk about "life before the lens"...the whole sequence with Martin Landau as Bela Legosi is wonderful and very touching. I loved it.

Another movie I saw recently deals with the making of the movie "Nosferatu", and is called "Shadow of the Vampire." It is very weird! Was it fiction or fact? I think there is a little of each. And it has weird guys Willem Defoe and John should see it...then watch "Nosferatu." Maybe on Halloween.

Posted by: Barb | April 13, 2007 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Bank

Posted by: K.C. | April 13, 2007 10:09 PM | Report abuse

I don't even begin to get the Elmer Gantry posting.

Posted by: Theresa | April 13, 2007 10:41 PM | Report abuse

The Five Heartbeats is a great movie about celebrity of a black singing group. Loosely based on The Dells (with a little Temptations, Four Tops, etc.) it covers music crossover in the 60's, drug addiction, etc. If you have seen the movie, you will never forget Eddie Kane, DANGGGGGGG!

Posted by: yanni1976 | April 14, 2007 2:40 AM | Report abuse

Theresa - The nomination of Elmer Gantry makes sense to me because it's about the pursuit of celebrity. The "public eye" in that story is the church pulpit and the revival tent, and Gantry struggles to gain and maintain the rapt attention that he craves. The movie isn't a strictly faithful adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel, but it does focus strongly on Gantry's craving for fame and his struggle to maintain a religious and moral public facade (he's a hypocritical womanizing bully who often questions the existence of his own faith).

Yes, I was an English lit major, why do you ask?

Posted by: perrik | April 14, 2007 10:38 AM | Report abuse

"Swingers." Not that any of them get any time in front of the lens, but I love this movie about struggling actors trying to make it in L.A.

Posted by: musicgeek | April 14, 2007 8:17 PM | Report abuse

One more:

Wag The Dog

Posted by: SoMD | April 15, 2007 6:33 AM | Report abuse

This one fits the bill for me: "Zelig" by Woody Allen.

Posted by: Just a guy | April 15, 2007 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Margo dearest, my comment was not limited to the IMDB poll, it referred to a general sense of ennui with Liz' constant lack of originality and the boring nature of her column overall. As for the meds, actually you're close but missed the mark, it's just that I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue- but thanks for caring!

Posted by: angry mob | April 15, 2007 5:01 PM | Report abuse

the rose

funny girl

Posted by: 2 no one has mentioned | April 18, 2007 5:22 PM | Report abuse

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