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Nicholas Barber's the Watch List: Anti-Hollywood Hollywood films


Seduced and Abandoned (in cinemas now) is a tongue-in-cheek documentary in which Alec Baldwin struggles to get a film financed at the Cannes Festival – or, at least, he struggles just hard enough to show us what a fickle mistress Hollywood can be. He’s not the first person to make that point.

Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), which is narrated by the deceased screen-writing hero, is the classic cautionary tale. Half a century later, David Lynch gave us the distorted, funhouse-mirror version, Mulholland Drive (2001), which made a star of Naomi Watts.

In the early 1990s, there was a run of black comedies about the movie business, all of which suggested that murder might be a sensible career move. The Coen brothers’ Palme d’Or-winning Barton Fink (1991) is a noir-tinged period piece with John Turturro as the New York playwright who suffers an extreme case of writer’s block in Los Angeles. The Player (1992), starring Tim Robbins as a conniving studio executive, is one of Robert Altman’s sharpest ensemble satires. The eight-minute opening tracking shot is legendary.

The play-like Swimming With Sharks (1994) features Kevin Spacey (always better in villainous roles) as a dictatorial movie mogul who drives his assistant to desperate measures.

Returning to documentaries, Overnight (2003) chronicles the fall-and-fall of Troy Duffy, a Bostonian bartender who was convinced by Harvey Weinstein, and by his own Weinstein-sized ego, that he was about to become the new Tarantino. As he blunders through the making of his first film, The Boondock Saints, Duffy learns that while murdering people in Hollywood is all very well, being obnoxious is another matter.