A-List: Five Best Movies About Journalism
By J. Don Birnam
December 1, 2015
Spotlight swept the Gotham Awards and continues to dominate awards chatter, but Truth, another independent movie about journalism (the dramatization of the fall of Dan Rather and Mary Mapes at NBC) was also honored. Two awards movies about journalism? Whatever gives, we look back at some of the best movies about the thankless but vitally important profession of reporting on the news. Tweet, tweet, indeed.
The rules for this are trickier than you may think. There are many movies that feature journalists in some capacity or another, though not all are about the art and profession of journalism itself. The movie Philomena, for example, is a solid tale with a reporter as one of the leads, but the story isn’t about what it means to be a journalist, or the challenges inherent in the job. One could say the same about the 1980s duos The Year of Living Dangerously and The Killing Fields, which chronicle the atrocities of the Indonesia and the Khmer Rouge regimes, respectively. In both, journalists are reporting in a volatile country as things deteriorate, and are forced into dicey situations and tough choices. Both movies are very good, but they are just enough about the regime and less enough about the journalists themselves, as to force us to leave them off the list for today.
So we will try to focus on movies that are really about the core of what it means to be someone who reports and/or investigates the truth. La Dolce Vita, Roman Holiday, His Girl Friday - romantic comedies with correspondents or reporters as characters - are unfortunately out of the running today.
Even when being strict about what counts, there is an embarrassment of riches in this type of movie. We have already discussed my liking towards Good Night, and Good Luck, which is most definitely a movie about journalism and how a journalist can take an important, principled stand against a system and a tyrant. Had I not already listed it and felt the need to give space in this crowded category, it would surely be at or near the top. The same goes for Reds, which I listed in the same column as Good Night. There is, indeed, something about actors turned directors making movies about journalism. Robert Redford, no less, plays Dan Rather in the aforementioned Truth. The movie Wag the Dog also stands out as a brutally honest examination of the media at least vis-à-vis other systems of power and governance, and is a worthy mention.
I’ll give one last shout-out, to the 1980s analysis of a newsroom and its interpersonal intrigues, Broadcast News. For sure a movie about television and how the personalities behind it shape the content of what we watch, the movie is also a tender exploration of fictional characters - well portrayed by William Hurt and Holly Hunter - without being overly saintly. It is a solid movie about reporters, but it is mostly a romantic comedy.