It may seem as though that film is a medium that exclusively praises the media. Documentarians are pseudo journalists in their own right so it does make sense so many movies have respect for those that deliver people news and entertainment. But a deeper look into movies and their relationship with the media reveals just how eclectic movies on the topic are.
The best media movies have vast differences not just in style, themes, but in their own perspective on those behind the newspapers and television screens Americans have set their eyes on. These are the best of the best.
1. A Face in the Crowd (1957)
A Face in the Crowd is about media abuse, but it is also about the unpredictability of the media. The media has unlikely heroes and villains. It can launch unsuspecting figures in a few sound bites and that applies to Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes more than anyone. The main character is a forgotten drunk one day and then suddenly becomes the voice of a frustrated middle class who finally can identify with a man who understands their issues, the hard work they put into their lives every day. But does he? Does Larry really sympathize with the housewives he praises on the radio?
The film is an examination of sincerity. Larry’s sweet persona he crafts on the radio is not all too different from his real-life self, but it is evident he has more sinister, selfish motives when people are not watching. He is girl crazed. He wants drugs and money and fame and leaves behind Marcia, who appears to be the focus of the film initially. But that is just the point. The people choose their heroes and spokespeople. The process of stardom is a miraculous one that does not make sense. Many deserving people do not make it because others seem to have what the general public desires. The media elevates both cruel and good willed figures to the top, all at the whimsy of an listeners and viewers who will never fully understand the people behind the screen.
2. His Girl Friday (1940)
His Girl Friday is one of the original media movies, so old that its take on the media is almost exclusively on the newspaper business. It strikes a lovely balance between taking stabs at how news functions and offering up a love story with not nearly as much bitterness to it. Its legacy comes from its sharp, machine gun fire banter. The characters’ conversations are a perfect translation of the nature of the news world. The business is chaotic with dozens of reporters all trying to pick up something important before others steal their headliner. The frenetic editing and brilliant use of phone calls are both also excellent examples of form matching substance.
The speed of the film and the characters seem to be going quicker than usual not just making for an easy watch but for an experience that captured classic no nonsense journalism. Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant both match this pace in their own exchanges, but their playfulness acts as an integral buffer that adds heart to a story that mostly shows how ruthless journalists to be. It is the very definition of oldie but a Goldie.
3. The Truman Show (1998)
The Truman Show is about a near endless list of things. Religion, philosophy, ethics. Its range is incredible, but the reason for the show, the reason why Truman Burbank exists the way he does is because of the media. The family friendly story of Truman escaping his tv prison exists because of the people. It is not just a simple story of greed where money hungry executives trap Truman in but a story of ambition. Cristof finds his creation beautiful, a series so innovative it has bridged reality and fantasy in a way no other show has beforehand. Its multi-dimensional villain is one of the films greatest strengths right behind of course the inimitable Jim Carey.
Carey’s work is remarkable in that it plays off of the actor’s vices. He is able to have comedic moments, but they are so much more thought out rather than him spontaneously screaming some catch phrase like he has many times before. He is forced to be a pitiful character that looks at the truth of the world around him crumble before his very eyes and conceptually few movies let alone sci fi movies have matched its pure plot brilliance. And the fact it is a warm movie with heart and emotion rather than one forsaking all hope for humanity’s future makes it all the more incredible. But for the intellectual there are many questions that linger in the background concerning the ethicality of the act done to Truman and the relationship between producer and viewer. It looks at how creative minds push too far for the sake of entertainment and how the ever-present nature of the media has people questioning whether it intrudes upon them as well.
4. All the President’s Men (1976)
At the opposite end of biting, pessimistic media movies is All the President’s Men, no less riveting than the other entries but definitely more assertive of the goodness of the media. It has been said a thousand times, but one cannot talk about great media movies without this one. It is an inspiring story that is a testament to good journalism and the power of courageous good-willed people.
It has almost no lack in its 2 hour and 18-minute runtime, each scene just leading to another revelation as Hoffman and Redford get closer and closer to the truth. The actors themselves create the benchmark of the unbeaten, tireless journalists who put all their energy into their work. Fatigue and drive ooze from the sweat off their faces it radiates from their cups of coffee. And it is real. It is a story of justice having its day and a press usurping corruption that immensely benefits from taking place right on American soil. It is the quintessential American journalism movie that has nothing but praise for the men who went one step and beyond.
5. Nightcrawler (2014)
Nightcrawler is as searing a take as any on the media. It brutalizes Lou, Nina, and just about every other person searching for a news story. Nightcrawler’s atmosphere is soaked in darkness, its pitch-black environments only not even close to the darkness and cruelty of the ensemble. Part of why Nightcrawler is praised as a neo noir is its bleak look at human nature. It expects the worst in people, and also offers up a complicated antihero worthy of praise and critique. Lou Bloom is one of the most persistent, hardworking characters of the 21st century. His refusal to give up is not only admirable but really hits home the concept of how hard the television business is and how it can potentially encourage immoral behavior.
As Lou keeps on pushing the bounds of ethical journalism, as he sabotages others the viewer comes to realize news is as cutthroat as anywhere. And the accidents he sees, the violence and bloodshed he feels destined to capture is not just something just he finds sacrosanct. The film lets the audience see the love story of the media and tragedy. As Lou is obsessed with rising to the top the media is infatuated with terrible heartbreaking stories that will make everyone around them extraordinarily rich.