Reel Dad: After watching ‘Mank’ check out these films about the movies

James Mason is looking with sadness and disenchantment at Judy Garland in a scene from the movie "A Star is Born."

James Mason is looking with sadness and disenchantment at Judy Garland in a scene from the movie "A Star is Born."

Mondadori /Getty Images / Contributed photo

The recreation of Hollywood history in “Mank” joins a number of movies about tinsel town. While filmmakers love to make films about films, some are more memorable than others. Take a look at a few of the best.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

The classic musical from 1952 rises to the top of the list with its precise parody of how Hollywood handled the transition to talking movies. Even though Gene Kelly dances a storm as the hero, and Debbie Reynolds charms as the heroine from the chorus, the film belongs to the supporting players. Jean Hagen creates the ultimate dumb blonde while Donald O’Connor leaves us chuckling with his rendition of “Make ‘Em Laugh.” All this lunacy comes from the creative Broadway writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Greene.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

This thriller from 1950 looks at the same transition - from silent to sound movies - through the lens of tragedy as a vain diva of yesteryear tries to hold on to her grand illusions. Gloria Swanson’s mannered portrayal of the doomed Norma Desmond becomes too real to imagine when her reel journey begins to resemble the real challenges of Swanson’s own career. Newcomer William Holden offers just the right mix of ambition and selfishness as a man who loves the riches too much to avoid the risks.

The Player (1992)

Director Robert Altman digs to the core of greed in the movie business in this thriller about a screenwriter’s threats when a studio rejects his script. With a richly layered script by Michael Tolkin (from his novel), an engaging lead performance by Tim Robbins, and cameos by a collection of actual movie stars, Altman has a great time creating a fantasy that we believe from start to finish. And the movie begins with a great sequence - an extended opening shot that never seems to end - to introduce just about every dimension of making movies.

A Star Is Born (1954)

While the 1937 version of this classic Hollywood tale features the sincerity of Janet Gaynor, the 1978 rendition centers on Barbra Streisand and the 2018 remake focuses on Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, the 1954 interpretation is the one to savor. Judy Garland delivers the performance of her career and one of the great musical portrayals committed to film. We totally believe in the magic this shy woman creates when she sings and the heartbreak she experiences when the man she loves turns out to be less than she deserves.

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

Kirk Douglas - who figures into the story of Trumbo - is at his selfish best as a brash movie producer who encounters a writer, a star and a director. What makes this 1952 film so memorable is less the contents of its story than how the story unfolds, in a flashback, under the watchful eye of director Vincente Minnelli. Lana Turner and Gloria Grahame (who won an Oscar) are the women in the director’s life in a movie containing one of the best lines of the movies of the day, “I took you out of the gutter...I can fling you back!”

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Two veteran actresses - Bette Davis and Joan Crawford - have a great time chewing scenery as two veteran actresses in this thriller from 1962. While Davis has the showier role - as a child star still trying to adjust to the realities of diminished fame - Crawford delivers the film’s performance as a woman who savors the memory of her past while trying to survive her present. How the stars fought during filming is the stuff that legends are made of!

Postcards from the Edge (1990)

Shirley MacLaine captures the essence of Hollywood glamour in a role that may or may not have been inspired by screenwriter Carrie Fisher’s recollections of life with mother Debbie Reynolds. No matter the source, or the level of accuracy, the observations of life in front of and behind the camera ring pitch perfect in a comedy with a lot of heart. MacLaine and Meryl Streep find a marvelous rhythm to bring mother and daughter to life in a tale of ego, resentment and bitterness.

Of course, not every movie about the movies works as a movie! “My Week With Marilyn” gives us little more than an interesting portrayal of the star by Michelle Williams in a film that makes us hungry for a real movie about this great star. The late Jill Clayburgh tried to bring energy to playing Carole Lombard in “Gable and Lombard” but was limited by working opposite James Brolin’s wooden performance as famed actor Clark Gable. “Chaplin” may offer a penetrating performance by Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role, as does “Trumbo” with Bryan Cranston, but neither film helps us get to know these movie giants. And Faye Dunaway’s over-the-top take on the legendary Joan Crawford turns “Mommie Dearest” into a horror movie like the ones the actress made at the end of her career.

Maybe making movies about movies isn’t as easy as it looks.

See you at the movies.