So this month I started a short screenwriting course in Filmbase so I’m inspired to list a few movies about writing or writers.
The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) – dir. Paulo Sorrentino – ★★★★½
This was a fixture on last year’s best picture lists by most critics and thankfully it’s now available to stream.
Tony Servillo (Sorrentinos’ go-to guy) stars as a cultural journalist whose one and only novel made him a celebrity and who has spent most of his adult life rubbing shoulders with the cream of the artistic crop and the richest people in Rome. After celebrating his 65th birthday, he reflects on his life and the people he’s met, fallen in love with and what he’s amounted to.
The film is drenched in a feeling of melancholy and is critical of what Rome and modern Italy has become, but it also shows off what beauty is left with some breath-taking scenery and cinematography. The film seems dreamlike at times and at over two hours some scenes feel unnecessary but overall a magnificent film and work of art.
In The House (Dans La Maison) – dir. Francois Ozon – ★★★★½
Ozon had two films out last year but I much preferred this one.
The always reliable Fabrice Luchini plays a bored teacher who becomes intrigued by a pupil’s “What we did at the weekend” essay where he writes about another pupil’s family life. He encourages him to continue writing more and more and of course farce ensues.
In the end, it’s a mostly fun meditation on the nature of voyeurism, storytelling and the morals involved about writing about people’s lives, real or not.
Misery – dir. Rob Reiner – ★★★★
This was the film that meant everyone in the world knew who Kathy Bates was and also won her an Oscar to boot. In this Stephen King adaptation, she plays an ex-nurse who “rescues” a famous novelist, Paul Sheldon (played by James Caan) who crashes his car in a snow blizzard. On learning that the author has killed off her favourite character she soon turns on the helpless author.
The casting of tough guy Caan works wonderfully and makes Bates’ performance all the more terrifying. The central idea of a writer’s number one fan turning on them for the artistic choices they make is also a brilliant conceit. Incidentally the screenplay was written by William Goldman (who wrote screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All The President’s Men, Marathon Man, The Princess Bride and many others) whose books about his screenwriting career “Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting” and “Which Lie Did I Tell? (More Adventures in the Screen Trade)” are fantastic reads and highly recommended.
Young Adult – dir. Jason Reitman – ★★★★
Charlize Theron shines and repels in equal measure by possibly playing the most self-centred character ever in a movie which is some feat. Theron plays Mavis Gary, a ghost writer of young-adult or teen fiction who herself still hangs onto to her teenage fantasies. These are reignited when she sees that her high school beau has had his first child and then immediately heads back to her hometown to try and restart her life with him. The film is quite dark and a lot of the humour comes from squirm inducing moments and contains a central character that basically provokes the audience into hating her so may not be to everyone’s tastes, but perfectly suited to mine. Jason Reitman directs a script by Diablo Cody and Patrick Wilson and particularly Patton Oswalt are great in supporting roles. Also Teenage Fanclub’s “The Concept” is on repeat throughout the film which also helps endears it to myself.
P.S. I’ve also recommended Barton Fink and Adaptation before that would also fit nicely into this month’s category. So if you still haven’t watched them, do!