On Wednesday the trailer for Oscar contender Spotlight was released. The film tells the story of the reporters at the Boston Globe who uncovered the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the city. Featuring actors like Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams spouting classic newsroom shop talk like “There’s a story here” and “I think he’s got something,” the movie promises to be catnip for journalists and anyone who loves great movies,
Energized by the promise of things to come, the Observer decided to take a (highly subjective) look back at other movies that celebrate the newspaper trade we all love. Some were hits; some were flops. Some profile heroic reporters; others are portraits of journalistic malfeasance. But all of them are well worth seeing:
Orson Welles’ masterpiece has consistently topped lists of the best movies of all time, and for good reason—the story is masterfully paced and constructed. One less talked about element of the film that is nonetheless key to its success is its portrayal of early 20th century media. As yellow journalist Charles Foster Kane (who is based on William Randolph Hearst) rises to the top of the New York media world, it’s hard not to think of other hungry moguls like Rupert Murdoch who came later.
All The President’s Men
Every kid in the 70s wanted to be a journalist after seeing this movie—no surprise, as this was the first film to accurately show how exciting and suspenseful the world of the newsroom can be. It’s impossible not to root for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they investigate the Watergate scandal, following the money with the help of Deep Throat.
The movie that, among other things, proved Hayden Christensen could act. In portraying the rise and fall of disgraced New Republic reporter Stephen Glass, who fabricated many of his stories for the magazine, Mr. Christensen is charismatic even as the audience comes to hate him. This movie doesn’t make the journalistic profession look very good, but Mr. Glass’ cautionary tale is still necessary viewing.
Good Night, and Good Luck
Another movie where journalism and politics come to blows, this time pitting CBS legend Edward R. Murrow against Communist-hunting Senator Joseph McCarthy. Director George Clooney (far from Sexiest Man Alive territory) makes the struggle between the two titans suspenseful, even though the audience knows the ending. The movie also provides a valuable portrait of early television newsrooms, where personal and professional lives often uncomfortably intersected.
Page One: Inside The New York Times
In profiling a year in the life of the New York Times media desk, this documentary proves that truth is stranger than fiction. Director Andrew Rossi filmed the Times media desk throughout 2010, witnessing the titanic change brought on by Wikileaks and the iPad. His greatest discovery, however, was the late, great Times media columnist David Carr, whose gravelly-voiced take on Vice and many other media topics is sorely missed.
The Company You Keep
This movie only made $5 million in the U.S., which is a tragedy because it puts most other thrillers to shame. An aggressive young reporter (Shia LaBeouf, before he went off the deep end) chases after three former members of the Weather Underground (Robert Redford, Julie Christie and Susan Sarandon), dealing with ethical and radical issues along the way. Ms. LaBeouf’s jailhouse interview with Ms. Sarandon is a masterclass in acting, and Stanley Tucci has a wonderful supporting role as the classic angry newspaper editor.
Kill The Messenger
Jeremy Renner stars in this passion project as Gary Webb, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News who in the 90s uncovered an alleged CIA plot to import crack cocaine into the U.S. and fund Nicaraguan rebels. He ran with the story, setting off a chain reaction of controversies. An alternately sad and infuriating story that raises important questions about journalistic integrity (Bonus: The Wire‘s Michael Kenneth Williams providing necessary comic relief as one of Mr. Webb’s interview subjects).
This movie flopped in theaters last spring, but is coming to DVD next week. It explores the relationship between disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) and death row inmate Christian Longo (James Franco), who stole Mr. Finkel’s identity because he liked reading his articles. The two actors are electrifying together, blurring the lines between journalist and subject. Rex Reed may not have been a fan, but anyone who relishes great acting and intelligent writing must see this movie.