Recently, the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Screen Actor’s Guild released their official list of nominees for the Golden Globes and SAG Awards, respectively, and to nobody’s surprise, Birdman has been cleaning up left and right. For those of you unfamiliar with this film, Birdman is the latest cinematic offering from director Alejandro González Iñárritu, the filmmaker who has brought us such films as Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel. Birdman tells the story of Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton), a former movie star best known for his portrayal of a fictional superhero (aren’t they all fictional?) known as “Birdman” back in the late-'80s and mid-'90s. Unfortunately for Riggan, his career quickly fizzled after he hung up his wings, and now he is attempting to scare up some last minute street cred by adapting and starring in a Broadway show.
It’s a familiar sounding tale that we’ve seen time and time again, and yet, like any good filmmaker, Mr. Iñárritu and his wonderful cast (it is so good to have Keaton back in the limelight) have presented it to us in a way that is truly akin to being swept up in a strong current. Time and transition matter little in Birdman, for it is the essence of character and the larger themes that the characters represent that take the spotlight in what is easily one of the best movies ever made about show business. Well, that’s as good a setup as I’ll ever have, so take a look below at 4 other films about showbiz that are every bit as phenomenal!
All That Jazz (1979)
Directed by the great and legendary Bob Fosse and starring everyone’s favorite shark-killing sheriff, Roy Scheider, All That Jazz is a wonderful examination of a man more in love with his own self-destruction than he is with his family or even his art. Scheider plays a man named Joe Gideon, a director of both Broadway shows and films, who is apparently trying to do both at the same time and it’s slowly killing him. He’s dedicated to seeing both projects through, but, of course, family and personal relationships are sacrificed as a result. And while he still values his own craft, his growing obsession with a figure named Angelique, a seductive woman who lives in the mind of Gideon and is the embodiment of his own doom, slowly takes the spotlight from the truly important things in his life. All That Jazz is an incredible tale of an artist who has become lost in his own chaotic world, and a film that can easily stand toe-to-toe with some of the best films ever made.
All About Eve (1950)
A wise Jedi named Qui-Gon Jinn once said, “There’s always a bigger fish”. Well, possibly somebody else said that before him, but what matters most is how that quote pertains to All About Eve, an absolutely riveting and brilliantly crafted film that explores the great fear that all actors and actresses have -- no longer being relevant in the eyes of the public. The film stars Bette Davis as Margo Channing, an aging actress of the stage who, for years, was the toast of the theatre world until a woman named Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) entered her life. Eve is a quiet, shy young woman who absolutely adores Margot, to the point of seeing every single performance of Margot’s latest play. After hearing Eve’s sad backstory, Margot welcomes her into her life and offers her a job as her personal assistant. It’s a fine time for all involved, but all good things must come to an end as Margot slowly begins to suspect that the poor innocent girl that she let into her life is actually a succubus who is intent on replacing Margot as the First Lady of Theatre. This is a multi-narrative-driven story that gives us a painstakingly crafted look at the heartache and paranoia that are manifested when one feels like that all of their years of hard work are suddenly going to be trumped by some newer model. The movie is about theatre and theatre is an art form that depends primarily on memories. Margo doesn’t have a film reel that she can point to when she wants to remind everyone of how great she is. She only has the memories of those who have seen her, so when people stop talking about her, it really does make Margot feel like she’s disappearing. It’s a terrifying idea and one that is portrayed with absolute perfection by Bette Davis. There are few perfect films that exist in this world, but All About Eve can be easily counted as one of them.
Noises Off... (1992)
Now I can’t really say that this next film contains the profundity of the first two films on this list, but it is an incredibly funny flick and one that I could almost count as a weirdly spiritual godfather to Birdman, because whenever people have asked me to describe Birdman to them, I’ve told them that it reminded me of a Neil Simon play on acid. More specifically, the constant flow and movement of Birdman reminded me of the “flapping doors everywhere” in Neil Simon’s brilliantly funny play Noises Off.... The play was adapted in 1992 by the great Peter Bogdanovich and features an insanely talented cast consisting of Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Carol Burnett, Denholm Elliot, and Julie Haggerty. It’s a madcap farce about a theatre company trying to put on a show and how all of the figurative and literal behind the scenes nonsense that keeps them from doing so. It’s a whirlwind film filled with hilarity and some interesting factoids about what it takes to actually put on a theatrical production.
The Last Tycoon (1976)
This film is based on an unfinished novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which centers around one of the great movie producers of the Golden Age of Cinema. Robert De Niro stars as Monroe Stahr, a film producer in the 1930s who exercises total control over every aspect of every film that he oversees. From temperamental actors to depressed writers, Monroe knows how to get those that work underneath him to follow his tune. It’s a quiet film about a sad man who happens to have mastered the art of manipulation but has done so in a way that is not necessarily filled with malice or ill-will. His ability to control multiple movies at any given time comes from a wellspring of energy that is slowly becoming more and more dry as the days go by. And as Monroe’s life starts to come to an end, you see that it’s not just the death of one man, but an extinction of a type of man. No longer will one person be able to rule the world of cinema with absolute autonomy. The story itself was based upon the life of legendary producer Irving Thalberg, a man who wielded such great power that even the heads of MGM (the most powerful studio at the time) didn’t dare cross him. This is a fantastic movie that pays tribute to a time gone by, and it does so with a visual poetry and a leading performance from De Niro that is easily one of his greatest.