43. 'Sunset Boulevard'
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No director has more films on my personal list of favorite movies than Billy
Wilder. To be sure, there are great directors with tremendous bodies of work
that I love — Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Fellini — but then there's Wilder. Released
in 1950, "Sunset Boulevard" marked the beginning of an epic 11-year run in which
Wilder would direct some of the greatest films of all time, including "The
Apartment," "Stalag 17," "Some Like It Hot" and "Ace in the Hole." But it will
always be this tale of Joe Gillis (William Holden), the down-and-out
screenwriter who becomes a gigolo when he inadvertently crosses paths with Norma
Desmond (Gloria Swanson), an aging, delusional silent film star, which best
defines the work of Wilder.
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A noir thriller balanced with dark comedy and bound together by unrepentant
cynicism, "Sunset Boulevard" pulled back the curtain on stardom in Hollywood and
the film industry itself, revealing a hot mess of insecurities and insincerity.
Greeted mostly with positive reviews by critics and the public, some of
Hollywood was shocked and offended by "Sunset Boulevard." History tells us that
Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, tore into Wilder, called the film a disgrace
and said the director should be tarred, feathered and kicked out of Hollywood.
Wilder responded with a list of suggestions of what Mayer could do, all
involving choice expletives. — David Walker (Gloria Swanson in
"Sunset Boulevard"/Courtesy Everett Collection/Rex Features)