– by Cecily Knobler, Hollywood Reporter –
With the Oscars looming and Spotlight, which recently got released on Netflix, in the top three picks to win Best Picture, I felt the need to share my thoughts. By the way, among many nominations and wins, it won Best Picture at the Critics Choice Movie Awards. But whether it wins the much coveted Academy statue or not, my view is that while being an excellent film about an important topic (the massive scandals and cover-up of the Catholic priest molestation epidemic) it’s not as compelling as I’d hoped. Sure the cast, which includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and so many more, are all on their game. But the pace of the film made it seem like a current television miniseries. Granted I watched it at home on a screener, but I fell asleep six times. I actually still think I might be sleeping.
This saddened me, as I had such high hopes for the movie. Films about the media or journalism happen to be my favorite genre. So I thought I’d instead recommend a handful of my favorite movies about journalists that you could check out instead:
This is hands-down my favorite movie of all time. Written and directed by the charming and astute James L. Brooks, this 1987 romantic dramady was eons ahead of its time. The 24-hour-news cycle wouldn’t really begin for another few years, and yet the movie posed all of the ethical questions currently facing journalism, such as the extent we go for ratings and how it’s all become, as Albert Brooks says when describing the devil in the film, “flash over substance.” There’s also a romantic triangle and the dialogue is delicious.
Holly Hunter as the type A, high strung, has-to-unplug-the-phone-and-cry-once-a-day power woman plays the stressed-out news producer, who gave all of us basket-cases hope that we too could be successful and sexy. William Hurt is excellent as the not-so-bright guy from sports and Albert Brooks is just, well, perfection as always. (At one point, Hurt asks Brooks, “What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?” Brooks responds as only he can, “Keep it to yourself.”)
Like Spotlight, this is a film about slowly uncovering a scandal. Unlike Spotlight, it’s a great film. In this case, it was just a little thing called Watergate, happening under a little guy called President Nixon. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Woodward and Bernstein, respectively, who also both lived the life and wrote the book on which the movie was based.
From Deep Throat to deep trouble, these investigative journalists for The Washington Post never gave up until, piece by piece, this incredible and haunting story was revealed. (They ultimately won Pulitzers for their work and of course, we all know what happened to Nixon.) Even though the pacing is slow, the movie is riveting, partly because it’s both unbelievable and true.
Like All the President’s Men, this movie came out in 1976. However, unlike the former film, this one is fictional commentary on the ridiculousness of shock-news. Again far before its time, this sometimes darkly humorous yet all-too-realistic look at how controversy drives ratings is chilling.
You have a news anchor (played so well by Peter Finch) who threatens to commit suicide on-air after he’s let go for low ratings. But when the network sees that this brings in advertising money, all morality bets are off. Faye Dunaway plays the head of programming, even scheduling a “reality” show about a terrorist group. How could anyone have foreseen this? Well writer Paddy Chayefsky did, and this won him an Oscar. (Finch and Dunaway won too.)
This lesser-known 2003 film from writer/director Billy Ray was actually based on a brilliant Vanity Fair article about the success and ultimate demise of journalist Stephen Glass. Why, you might ask? Oh just that while Glass wrote for The New Republic he, well let’s just say, took some liberties with many of his articles. I don’t want to say too much more so as not to spoil the film’s revelations.
Hayden Christiansen plays Glass and although I’m not his biggest fan, he does a really fine job. Peter Sarsgaard is at his best as his young, grumpy editor, with Steve Zahn, Rosario Dawson and Chloë Sevigny rounding out a perfect cast. This is a must-see and it’s a true story, which is ironic for reasons you’ll find out!