Journalism and journalists have been the focal points of many great films. The reporters and news men/women who maintain a sense of journalistic integrity are often times tormented (either internally or externally), and those without it are frequently presented as morally bankrupt, but professionally successful.
15. Anchorman 2
This is a broad comedy that expands the universe of Ron Burgundy and his news team as they join the world’s first 24 hour news network. The irreverent laughs are plentiful, but the message of this movie is that televised news, and all journalism by extension, has a responsibility to report news worthy stories and to do so in an unbiased and professional manor.
14. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Not so much a movie about traditional journalism as it is about psychedelic drugs and unchecked excess. Director Terry Gilliam delves into the world of Hunter S.Thompson, AKA Raoul Duke, and his sidekick/lawyer, Dr. Gonzo as they road trip though the bizarre and surreal surroundings of the greater Las Vegas area. Based on his book of the same name, Hunter S.Thompson, as played remarkably well by an invested Johnny Depp, is a man on a quest. He’s just not sure what it is that he is looking for.
13. Call Northside 777
A woman places an ad in the paper looking for information about a crime that she believes her son was wrongly accused of. Jimmy Stewart plays the skeptical investigative reporter that eventually begins to believe the woman’s story. He then uncovers a myriad of shady characters with stories that don’t quite fit together right. Richard Conte is the accused and convicted man who is making matters harder for Stewart, because of promises he has had to make. Shot largely on location in Chicago, this documentary-esque looking film is a thriller with a lot of style.
12. Almost Famous
This is Cameron Crowes’s semi-biographical rock-and-roll journalism opus. A young boy lies his way into a job working for Rolling Stone Magazine. His assignment is to go on the road with the fictional rock band, Stillwater. Along the way he meets a roadie named Penny Lane and falls for her, but he is too introverted and shy to act on his feelings, and she is too much of a free spirit to realize the consequences of her actions. This is a coming of age story with as much soul as it has heart.
11. Bill Cunningham New York
It may be a bit of a stretch to call this documentary a “journalism movie”, but Bill Cunningham is a fashion photographer for the New York Times, and I’m going to consider him a photojournalist. When in all actuality what he is, is a delightfully charming and unimposing old man with a bicycle, a camera (film of course) and a passion for interesting and attractive fashion. I defy anyone to watch this movie and not smile at least twice a minute. Cunningham’s career has span over 40 years. During that time he has acquired the respect and admiration of millions of fans and friends.
10. Good Night and Good Luck
George Clooney directed this film about the events surrounding the Joseph McCarthy hearings in the senate where McCarthy made unfounded allegations that different members of government, and other popular figures were Communists or Communist sympathizers. This type of hate mongering and slander drew the attention of Edward R. Murrow who used his stature and platform on CBS broadcast television to bring down Senator McCarthy. The film is a wonderfully shot and acted examination of the dangers of propaganda and the responsibility of the people with the power to do something about it.
James Woods plays Richard Boyle. He’s an unemployed loser/photo journalist that heads to Central America in hopes of getting a story about the governmental upheaval and assassination. He is accompanied by a very well-cast James Belushi as his equally down on his luck buddy and assistant. At first, Boyle is totally in it only for himself. But soon after he begins to see the atrocities that are being committed, from all sides of this conflict, he realized that he needs to take a stand.
8. Ace in the Hole
“I can handle big news and little news. And if there’s no news, I’ll go out and bite a dog” – Kirk Douglas declares as Chuck Tatum in the Billy Wilder directed film, Ace in the Hole. This quote perfectly encapsulates what kind of a man and what kind of a newsman Tatum is.
The film finds Tatum unemployed and driving through Albuquerque, New Mexico when he happens upon a small time newspaper outfit. He reluctantly takes a job and is determined to find a national sized story that will get him back to the big time, even if he has to fabricate it. Enter Leo. He is a local man that has gotten himself stuck inside a cave while excavating Native America pottery. Once Tatum gets word of the story, the spin goes into full effect. The result is a full-fledged circus at the cave opening and Tatum is the ringmaster.
7. All the President Men
The cinematic telling of how two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and their anonymous source, known only as “Deep Throat”, blew the roof off the Watergate scandal during the Richard Nixon administration. The film could have easily been another generic political thriller like so many other movies of the era, but instead this movie focuses so much on the workings of the paper and the reporters, it almost becomes a procedural. The performances and direction are fantastic, and the cinematography is by Gordon Willis, most famous for his work on The Godfather.
6. His Girl Friday
Before watching this film you better buckle up. This movie doesn’t slow down throughout the entire runtime. The dialogue is snappy, razor sharp, and is rattled off like a verbal machine gun. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell star in this old fashioned newspaper story about a formerly romantic couple that are Splitsville. That is until they both hear about a story that they each desperately want the scope on. Hijinks ensue and may the best reporter win. Howard Hawks directed this film and its style soon after became a signature of his.
Half detective mystery, half obsessive journalistic thriller, David Fincher’s 2007 film is an underappreciated masterpiece. Many people tend to focus on the mystery aspect of the movie. If that is all you are looking for, you very well might be disappointed. If however, you are willing to go on the perversely epic and hauntingly melancholy ride, there are many treasures to be unearthed.
The film is set in San Francisco around the time of the Zodiac murders. The film splits its time between the detectives that are assigned to the case and the reporters that are following the story. It is a film about obsession and how we let ourselves get so caught up in finding the “truth”, we often times don’t see the reality right in front of us.
4. Citizen Kane
There is not a lot to be said about Citizen Kane that hasn’t already been said, and said far more eloquently than I have the capability to do. With that our there, this is a film largely about the power of the media and how no man should have a monopoly on the news.
While it would be nice to think that in this digital age of internet and mass media something or someone like Charles Foster Kane could no longer exist, I say look no further than today’s media moguls like: Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, and Ted Harbert (Chairman of NBC Broadcasting, worth an estimated $15 million). These men wield tremendous power, and with that come tremendous responsibility. It would not be that much of a stretch to see one of these men, or some of their piers have misguided ideas and take on the role of a modern day Kane.
3. The Sweet Smell of Success
Another bit of a cheat for a journalism movie. Sidney Falco, played by Tony Curtis, is a streetwise sleaze ball that would sell his mother for a juicy scoop. Burt Lancaster plays J.J. Hudsucker, the powerful gossip columnist that employees slime like Sidney to do his bidding for him. When he contracts Sidney out to break up the relationship between J.J.’s sister and a sax playing jazz man, Sidney jumps at the change to stay in the fickle good graces of Mr Hudsucker. Even if it means stooping lower than he ever has.
The journalistic elements of this film may be the weakest on the list, but the dialogue and execution is one of the best!
2. Broadcast News
A scathing commentary on the state of modern broadcast news, disguised as a romantic comedy. The script for this film is one of the smartest regardless of genre.
It’s aided and anchored by three fantastic performances. Holly Hunter is the manically driven, hardline ethical, consummate professional television news producer; even if it means she has to sacrifice her personal life and mental stability. Albert Brooks is the hard working, smartest guy in the room and he knows it, neurotic, reporter who is looking for a shot as a lead anchor. William Hurt is the good looking; everything falls into his lap, new wave anchor that doesn’t understand the traditional ways of journalism. This film is anything but formulaic.
There are logically sound yet surprising turn of events strung all through this film. There is not a false moment in the entire film.
Cynical and satirical, vulgar in tone and in concept, Network was everyone’s worst nightmare of what televised journalism would become.
The story is that of a deranged reporter (or maybe he is a prophet), who declares that he is fed up with the repugnancy he sees in the world and that he is going to kill himself on live television. The station where he works begins manipulating him and taking advantage of his perceived mental illness with an end goal of higher rating equating to higher profits.
The sad thing about Network is that writer Paddy Chayefsky didn’t take things far enough. I watch what passes for entertainment or “news” on television and I feel like he fell a bit short. None the less, Network is just as powerful today as it was when it was released.
Author Bio: “I once had wealth and power and the love of a beautiful woman. It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child, sittin’ on the porch with my family singin’ and dancin’ down on the Mississippi”. You can find Andrew Willis on Twitter(@movierabble) and Letterboxd.