There’s no guaranteed route to winning an Oscar, but one sure-fire way to get the Academy’s attention is to make a movie about Hollywood.
The latest example is La La Land which, with 14 nominations and more than 100 awards already in the bag, sits in pole position to emerge victorious at this year’s Academy Awards. Why do voters love it? Maybe because it’s about them? More specifically Emma Stone’s aspiring actress hustling to make it in LA’s cutthroat film world.
Look back through the Oscar history books and you’ll find many a movie set against the backdrop of showbiz. We’ve seen everything from silent film stars to a CIA rescue mission disguised as a Star Wars rip-off. Here’s a look at some of the great Oscar-nominated movies-about-movies that paved the way for La La Land.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Billy Wilder’s black and white classic centred on a screenwriter’s toxic relationship with a fading silent film star who failed to make the switch to talkies. It bagged a trio of Oscars, spawned a hit stage show and gave cinema the immortal line “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small!”
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
The Gene Kelly musical that launched Debbie Reynolds into stardom, Singin’ in the Rain revolved around a fictional silent film, The Dueling Cavalier, getting switched to a sound production following the success of The Jazz Singer. It netted a pair of Oscar nominations, but surprisingly lost out to With a Song in My Heart for the Best Music prize.
A Star is Born (1954, 1976)
A Star is Born, so good they made it twice… with a third Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga production planned for 2018. The story of a struggling older star and his young singing protégé is timeless in the eyes of Hollywood. The two films have 10 Oscar nominations between them with a sole win for Barbra Streisand song ‘Evergreen’ from the 1976 version.
Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Nothing could be more appealing to Oscar voters than a gentle Italian film about a director recalling how he fell in love with the movies. Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax, masters at winning Academy Awards, recognised this and helped mount a successful awards campaign that ended in a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for Cinema Paradiso.
Ed Wood (1994)
Edward D Wood Jr was the man behind Plan 9 from Outer Space, widely-regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. His life might not have seemed like awards material, but Tim Burton thought otherwise, directing a biopic that won Martin Landau Best Supporting Actor and the Makeup Oscar.
Fact and fiction blurred in this eccentric look at the life of a screenwriter. Nicolas Cage played real-life scribe Charlie Kaufman, who’s hired to adapt a book but hits crippling creative block and personal strife. Chris Cooper landed a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, while Cage, Meryl Streep and Kaufman himself also earned nominations.
Martin Scorsese has had a lifelong love affair with cinema, which he channeled into his 2011 family film Hugo. Ben Kingsley brought to life Georges Méliès, a French filmmaker who used his talents as an illusionist to conjure up movie magic in the groundbreaking A Trip to the Moon. The Academy loved it, dishing out five Oscars to Scorsese’s ode to early cinema.
The Artist (2011)
A black and white love letter to the silent era, The Artist charmed critics and audiences on its way to a raft of awards. It secured the coveted Best Picture Oscar at the 2012 ceremony, making it the first movie-about-a-movie to achieve that honour. It may have taken a while for the Academy to reward the top prize to a film about Hollywood, but they repeated the trick just 12 months later…
Ben Affleck’s gripping thriller melded espionage with Hollywood satire, recounting the CIA’s mission to rescue six Americans in Iran using a fake sci-fi blockbuster as cover. The inside gags were enough to win over voters, who handed Argo the Best Picture Oscar just 12 months after The Artist‘s victory. Spare a thought for Affleck, though – he didn’t even get a Best Director nomination.
Art imitated life in Birdman as Michael Keaton played a washed-up actor trying to resurrect his career on Broadway after a stint as a Batman-like superhero. Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s film – presented in one breathtaking uninterrupted take – beat Boyhood to win Best Picture, making it the third industry-set movie in as many years to take home top honours.