The 10 Best Journalism Movies Ever Made

Film poster for The Year of Living Dangerously...
Image via Wikipedia

Nostalgia smackdown!

This month one of Manhattan’s best indie cinemas, Film Forum, is running a 43-film series of movies about newspapering. Here are my picks:

1) “Deadline U.S.A“, starring Humphrey Bogart as Ed Hutcheson, an editor who has to tell his newsroom staff they’ve got two weeks before they’re all canned, Sound familiar?  This was in 1952. The owner, (Kay Graham? Alicia Patterson?)  is an elegant older woman who inherited the paper from her husband. The paper’s star female reporter sounds like plenty of career journo’s I’ve met: “I’ve got $81 in the bank, two dead husbands and two or three kids I never had.”

2) Absence of Malice, 1981, starring Paul Newman and Sally Field. From Wikipedia:

“tells the story of Michael Gallagher (Paul Newman), the son of a deceased Mafia boss who discovers that he has become a front-page story in the local Miami newspaper, indicating that he is being investigated for a murder of a local longshoreman Union official he may or may not have been involved in. Sally Field as Megan is the reporter who writes the story after being prodded by a former lover who is working on the investigation for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The worlds of Gallagher and Megan start to come closer and closer, and although she is a modern woman and as he says, he is “from the stone age”, her the ethics of journalism are tested, including how close a reporter should get to his or her source.”

3) The Paper, 1994. Starring Michael Keaton as a NYC tabloid paper editor Henry Hackett and Marisa Tomei as his weary wife. I love this movie. Sue me. I get a hoot out of crazy Glenn Close fist-fighting as the presses roll, I love Keaton’s absurd passion for his work, the tabloid nuttiness that’s totally true to form. Having survived my time at the Daily News, I know some of this stuff isn’t very far from fiction.

4) All The President’s Men. 1976. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who reported the Watergate scandal and brought down a President. One of the few movies that makes journalism look like something worth doing.

5) The Year of Living Dangerously. Hopelessly romantic, this 1982 film made me yearn endlessly to become a foreign correspondent. From Wikipedia:

The story is about a love affair set in Indonesia during the overthrow of President Sukarno. It follows a group of foreign correspondents in Jakarta on the eve of an attempted coup by the so-called 30 September Movement on 30 September 1965 and during the beginning of the violent reprisals by military-led vigilante groups who killed hundreds of thousands.

The film stars Mel Gibson as Guy Hamilton, an Australian journalist, and Sigourney Weaver as Jill Bryant, a British Embassy officer. It also stars Linda Hunt as the male dwarf Billy Kwan, Gibson’s local photographer contact, a role for which Hunt won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.[1] The film was shot in both Australia and the Philippines and includes Australian actors Bill Kerr as Colonel Henderson and Noel Ferrier as Wally O’Sullivan.

It was banned from being shown in Indonesia until 1999.[2] The title The Year of Living Dangerously is a quote which refers to a famous Italian phrase used by Sukarno; vivere pericoloso, meaning “living dangerously”

The soundtrack, of Indonesian gamelan, is also beautiful and haunting.

6) The China Syndrome, 1979, starring Jane Fonda as a new, eager, totally dismissed television news reporter who discovers a leak at a local nuclear power reactor, as described to her by an employee there, played by Jack Lemmon. What life was like, (and still is) for some female reporters trying to get their producers’ attention for a serious story.

7) The Killing Fields, 1984. The true story of the relationship between an American reporter, Sydney Schanberg and his Cambodian fixer and interpreter, Dith Pran, who later came to work for The New York Times as a photographer.

From Dith’s Times‘ 2008 obituary:

The film, directed by Roland Joffé, showed Mr. Schanberg, played by Sam Waterston, arranging for Mr. Dith’s wife and children to be evacuated from Phnom Penh as danger mounted. Mr. Dith, portrayed by Dr. Haing S. Ngor (who won an Academy Award as best supporting actor), insisted on staying in Cambodia with Mr. Schanberg to keep reporting the news. He believed that his country could be saved only if other countries grasped the gathering tragedy and responded…

Mr. Schanberg returned to the United States and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Cambodia. He accepted it on behalf of Mr. Dith as well.

For years there was no news of Mr. Dith, except for a false rumor that he had been fed to alligators. His brother had been. After more than four years of beatings, backbreaking labor and a diet of a tablespoon of rice a day, Mr. Dith escaped over the Thai border on Oct. 3, 1979. An overjoyed Mr. Schanberg flew to greet him.

“To all of us who have worked as foreign reporters in frightening places,” Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said on Sunday, “Pran reminds us of a special category of journalistic heroism — the local partner, the stringer, the interpreter, the driver, the fixer, who knows the ropes, who makes your work possible, who often becomes your friend, who may save your life, who shares little of the glory, and who risks so much more than you do.”

Mr. Dith moved to New York and in 1980 became a photographer for The Times, where he was noted for his imaginative pictures of city scenes and news events

8) Almost Famous. Fun! Any eager young journo, let alone one who’s spent any time around the bizarreness of the music industry, will enjoy this 2000 film. Based on a true story of a young and ambitious music writer. The best scene? How Cameron Crowe “negotiates” his Rolling Stone story fee higher through stunned silence.

9) Capote. I loved this 2005 film. Dark, scary, filled with mutual manipulation of murderous sources and the ambitious writer of “In Cold Blood”, Truman Capote. Such dealings happen, it rarely gets talked about, rarely gets acknowledged and needs to. The images, music and Capote’s ruthless behavior haunt me still. Stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener.

10) Missing,1982. A powerful and searing film about an American journalist missing in Chile. Starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. I found this film almost unbearably painful to watch because, as an undergraduate college student in Toronto, I worked as a volunteer translator for Chilean refugees of torture who came to Canada for political refuge. I learned from them how many of the film’s gruesome details were real.

From Wikipedia:

It is based on the true story of American journalist Charles Horman, who disappeared in the bloody aftermath of the US-backed Chilean coup of 1973 that deposed Leftist President Salvador Allende.

The film was banned in Chile during Pinochet‘s regime, even though the nation is not mentioned by name in the film (although the Chilean cities of Viña del Mar and Santiago are).[1] Both the film and Thomas Hauser’s book The Execution of Charles Horman were removed from the market, following a lawsuit filed against Costa-Gavras and Universal’s parent company MCA by former Ambassador Nathaniel Davis, and two others. A lawsuit against Hauser himself was dismissed because the statute of limitations had passed. Davis and his compatriots lost the lawsuit. After the lawsuit, the film was again released by Universal in 2006.[citation needed]

Here are some others’ opinions on the best J-films ever…and here…and a British journo’s tight list of only five.

Will there be some legendary, can’t-miss future classic film made about….blogging? The thrumming and humming of all those…WordPresses firing up?

I think not.

As We Lose 'Lost' and 'Ugly Betty', TV's 22 Best-Ever Female Characters

Playing through
Image by ewen and donabel via Flickr

As “Lost” is about to start its final season February 2, I’m going to miss Kate, its feisty and ferocious character who’s dominated many of the show’s story lines. I’ve loved her complexity and ferociousness and, as a fellow Canadian, loved the fact she’s not one more scrawny Hollywood blond, but a graduate in international relations from the University of British Columbia, happier in real life changing the oil on big rigs than modeling, both jobs she did to pay her college tuition.

Here are some of the women I’ve loved, laughed at and cried with over the years.

Here’s a site listing 30 more, and another with their top 10. Interestingly, a survey of 2,378 on-line readers found that 70.7 percent of respondents tartly replied they don’t look to TV for role models, just entertainment.

My picks:

C.J. Cregg, played by Allison Janney, on The West Wing the Aaron Sorkin drama that ran from 1999 to 2006. Tall, gangly, smart as hell, C.J. was a great mix of tough and tender, funny as hell in her role as director of White House communications.

Mary Richards, the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which ran on CBS from 1970 to 1977, a major first with a woman who wasn’t married or desperate to marry. At the time, Mary was a role model, all eager excitement about having a career and living on her own in the big city.

Lucy Ricardo, the star of “I Love Lucy”, played by Lucille Ball. She and her husband, Desi Arnaz, formed a production company, Desilu Productions, responsible for many of the hit television series of the 1960s and 1970s.

Christina Yang, played by Canadian actress Sandra Oh, on ABC’s hit Grey’s Anatomy. How many women characters anywhere get to be this stubborn, driven and so frequently emotionally tone-deaf? If you’ve ever met a successful surgeon, you’ll know there’s some truth in her portrayal. And Chandra Wilson, playing Dr. Bailey, whose marriage blows up thanks to her devotion to her career; many ambitious women can identify with her struggles to juggle family and work.

Cagney & Lacey, played by Tyne Daley and Sharon Gless, 1982-1988, in the cop drama series of the same name. Every cop show — every iteration of Law & Order — owes a debt of thanks to this show, the first TV drama to star two women.

Betty Suarez, played by America Ferrara, on Ugly Betty. A TV star who isn’t rail-thin? That’s news in itself. Betty’s work ethic could light a continent. So could her heart. Are you as persuaded as someone I know she’s going to end up marrying Daniel?

Dana Scully of The X-Files, played by Gillian Anderson, 1993-2002. Who didn’t want to be Scully, all cool rationality in the face of her partner Fox Mulder’s obsessiveness?

The women of ABC’s hit drama “Lost”: Kate, played by Canadian actress Evangeline Lilly, Junyin Kim as Sun,  and Juliet, the cool, blond doctor, played by Elizabeth Mitchell.

Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh, aka The Closer, played by Kyra Sedgwick.

Patty Hewes, Damages, played by Glenn Close, on the FX cable channel.

Murphy Brown, played by Candice Bergen. TV’s first single mom by choice. How many television characters have ever provoked a Vice-Presidential response?

Stacey London, playing herself, in TLC’s reality show for the fashion-challenged What Not To Wear. Sue me, I love this show. As someone who finds shopping overwhelming and often just annoying, I enjoy watching her help women look their best.

The women of NBC’s hospital-based drama ER, which ran from September 1994 to April 2009: Linda Cardellini as Samantha Taggart, Alex Kingston as the widowed Dr. Corday, Nurse Abby Lockhart — prickly and determined to become, as she did, a physician.

Detective Jane Tennison in the British series Prime Suspect, played by Helen Mirren for 15 years. Chain-smoking, driven, compelling.

Lindsay Weir, Freaks and Geeks, 1999-2000, a short-lived but well-loved drama/comedy about life in high school. The role was played by Linda Cardellini, who later showed up as Samantha Taggart in ER, yet another prickly, complicated woman, a rare species on television at any time.

Lt. Uhura, played by Michelle Nichols, in the original 1960s Star Trek. Nyotu Uhura was the ship’s communications officer, a smart, professional black woman as a central character on a network television show, NBC, at a time when racial segregation still existed. The original show first aired in 1966 and only ran for three seasons and is the television show with the most spin-offs ever. Live long and prosper!

Who gets your vote?