13 Great Movies That Are About Movies

1) Tropic Thunder

I share Terrence Malick’s enthusiasm for Zoolander, Ben Stiller’s 2001 satire on fashion, stardom and stupidity. While perhaps not as uproariously funny as that film, 2008’s Tropic Thunder is an equally biting and more stylistically poignant comedy, sending up some of the absurdities of the movie business through its characters and smartly employed narrative clichés.

The most surprising and pitch perfect spoof of Hollywood turns out to be right at the opening of the movie, which introduces the main characters through trailers for their respective brands of film vehicles. Not only does this create a moment or two of not realizing you’re watching a spoof (or longer, reportedly, for some viewers), but it reproduces the familiar tropes and rhythms we’ve come to associate with specific genres of movies and movie trailers with beautiful precision.

There are two brilliant and hilarious aspects of the movie that stand out for most people, I imagine. The first is Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Kirk Lazarus, the Australian method actor who incites controversy by donning blackface to become Lincoln Osiris (seen in the video below) in the movie-within-the-movie. It’s an example of smartly and conscientiously exploiting stereotypes where the humor comes from the acknowledgement of the absurdity of such stereotypes, and as a reward for this enlightened perspective on racial taboos, Downey gets to play around as multiple characters, and we get to enjoy watching it. The second best performance is of course that of Tom Cruise, playing the studio exec Les Grossman, completely altering his appearance and stealing the movie while satirizing a number of actual Hollywood higher-ups.

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