Six great journalism movies

By Caitlin Kelly

There’s no way past it. If you’re going to read a blog written by a journalist…

The Devil Wears Prada

I’ve seen this 2006 film so many times I know much of the dialogue off by heart and always look forward to my favorite scenes.

It follows the trajectory of Andrea Sachs, a gormless fresh graduate, who is very serious about journalism, stuck in a first job — at a NYC glossy fashion magazine — she neither wants nor respects. It’s a job.

This one always hits me!

It’s set in Manhattan, with key scenes in buildings and locations holding some great memories in my own writing life.

It’s really about what it takes to pay dues, to go along and get along in a rough and unfamiliar environment.

The price of ambition.

There are some lovely scenes in Paris as well.

Lots of arguments about whether her friends are true friends, or people who have no clue what it really takes to get ahead in this brutally competitive industry.

Plus, Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci and acres of gorgeous clothes and accessories.

It was made for $35 million — and has earned almost 10 times that since.

Spotlight

I know of no other film that so abundantly makes clear what it takes to do really slow, really detailed, really deep reporting work, aka investigative journalism. It won Best Picture for 2015 and richly deserved it.

It follows a real team of four reporters at the Boston Globe who dug up a rats’ nest of priest’s abuse. There are scenes that should be required viewing in every journalism class, like the one where Sacha Pfeiffer (played by Rachel McAdams) has to coax grim details from a male abuse victim.

No one who hasn’t done this work — and especially those who loathe and insult journalists — can really grasp the emotional intelligence (empathy, compassion, patience) it takes to get victims to share the stories that can, sometimes, create tremendous political and legal change.

I’ve watched this one many times and never tire of it.

It also makes very clear the tremendous pressure often placed on senior newsroom management by powers-that-be eager to shut down some unwanted attention.

And the military chain-of-command that still runs most newsrooms.

And the balls-to-the-wall determination it demands of reporters to keep chasing elusive answers.

Plus, again — Stanley Tucci!

Absence of Malice

This is an older one, from 1981, with Sally Field as a reporter and Paul Newman as the subject of her story.

Nominated for three Academy Awards, and written by a former newspaper editor, it addresses when, how or if a reporter should ever have a romantic relationship with someone they’re writing about it.

It also shows that speaking to “civilians” — regular people who don’t understand how journalism works — can wreak havoc on their lives.

Some of our collection of laminated press credentials….

All The President’s Men

Better known to those who love it as ATPM, this follows the Watergate scandal that brought down former U.S.President Richard Nixon, and the two Washington Post reporters — Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) — who broke the story after many months of reporting and a lot of internal and external doubt whether the story was true and verifiable.

Jason Robards is terrific as the Post’s patrician editor, Ben Bradlee, with his Gucci-clad feet on every desk.

It’s a total boy-fest, with almost no women involved in the editing or reporting, but still so worth watching.

For an entire generation of would-be journalists, Woodward and Bernstein were the ultimate role models.

The Paper

Hilarious!

Michael Keaton and Marisa Tomei — and Glenn Close — star in this send-up of New York City tabloid journalism. Having worked at the NY Daily News, I get it now!

If you want a glimpse of what newspaper tabloid life is like, this is it.

A Private War

This is a recent film, from 2018, about the legendary American foreign correspondent, Marie Colvin, played by the excellent British actress Rosalind Pike.

Colvin had already lost an eye covering the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka but never stopped worked in dangerous places.

She was killed while on assignment in Homs, Syria, Feb. 12, 2012.

And guess who’s in the cast?

Stanley Tucci!

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.