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Friday, February 25, 2011

Academy Awards, You Lie: Seven Movies that Expose the Real Hollywood

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 1:00 PM

The central myth propagated by the annual Academy Awards telecast is that Hollywood is one big happy family of mutually supportive artists in thrall to the sacred muse of inspiration. (We'll pause for a minute while you stop laughing ...) You know better, and here are seven harsh beauties to blot out all those Oscar night air kisses. Don't expect a happy ending.

Barton Fink (1991)
A progressive, intellectual New York playwright (inspired by Odets and played by John Turturro) cashes in with a screenwriting gig in L.A. circa 1941. The Coen brothers take enormous and perhaps undue pleasure in mapping Barton's Hollywood highway of hell. John Goodman repeats, "Here's to the life of the mind." Indeed.

The Player (1992)
Acerbic outsiders Robert Altman and Michael Tolkin (adapting his viciously funny novel) enlist a slew of stars to ridicule the paranoia, resentment and gutlessness that account for the current state of American movies. Tim Robbins plays a fair-haired exec with a Machiavellian gift for navigating studio politics as well as a knack, perhaps, for getting away with murder.


The Big Knife (1955)
Robert Aldrich (Kiss Me Deadly) adapts Clifford Odets' bitterly savage play about a movie star (Jack Palance) torn between the spoils of success and the last shreds of his conscience. With Rod Steiger as a ruthless studio honcho and Shelley Winters as an aspiring actress cast mostly in bedroom scenes, if you get my drift. We couldn't find a trailer for this one, but the opening sequence tells you a lot about the film itself.


In a Lonely Place (1950)
Humphrey Bogart delivers a blow for the scribes as a brooding, unlikable screenwriter with a short fuse. Gloria Grahame (then married to director Nicholas Ray) shines as the neighbor who supplies an alibi, and much more, when Bogie is suspected of murder.


The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Kirk Douglas anchors Vincent Minnelli's melodramatic potboiler about a desperate producer scheming to enlist the services of a director (Barry Sullivan), writer (Dick Powell) and star (Lana Turner) he screwed on the way up. Yep, just one big happy family.


Contempt (1963)
Everything is for sale--or is it?--in Jean-Luc Godard's brilliantly stylized and composed parable of art and commerce. A crass American producer (our old pal Jack Palance) hires Michel Piccoli to pen a mainstream-accessible screenplay of The Odyssey for director Fritz Lang (playing himself). The luscious Brigitte Bardot, as Piccoli's seemingly passive wife, is the fulcrum upon which the plot turns.


The Big Picture (1989)
Hotshot film-school grad Kevin Bacon is primed to make his Hollywood debut with the "help" of studio functionary J.T. Walsh. A wave of compromises and betrayals inevitably follows, with director Christopher Guest (Best In Show) displaying somewhat less cynicism than his black-hearted cohorts on this list.

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Michael Fox

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