By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist November 12, 2010 at 6:00AM
Just as soldiers devour war movies and cops are always the first to pipe up about the latest police thriller, journalists have a soft spot for films focusing on the fourth estate. At their most positive, they can show the kind of crusading, truth-seeking journalists that the embittered hacks wanted to be when they started out (as Aaron Sorkin recently said, "'All The President's Men' made journalists want to be rockstars"), and at their most negative, they provide a certain catharsis.
The investigative nature of the job means that a journalist can be the perfect peg on which to hang a thriller, and the wide-ranging nature of what they write about means it can be a lens through which to poke at a number of levels of society. Or it can just prove a background to a glossy workplace romantic comedy, like this week's Rachel McAdams/Harrison Ford effort "Morning Glory."
Unfortunately, "The Water Cooler," Sorkin's no-holds-barred look at the investigative journalism and the debaucherous after hours life at The Playlist remains stuck in development hell (frankly, we're just not sure that Middle America is ready to see the kind of sexual depravity that went down at last year's Christmas party). So instead, we've nodded to "Morning Glory" (which, unfortunately, isn't quite what we hoped) by picking out a selection of noteworthy newsroom-set pictures.
We'll get into it more later, but we've tried to focus on films about journalism, or at least heavily set in newsrooms, but we have moved the goalposts somewhat on occasion: if we were to focus purely on films like "Morning Glory," this list would have been made up only of "Broadcast News," which Roger Michell's comedy relentlessly cribs from. But there were a few disqualifications that were made, as you'll see later...
“Ace in the Hole” (1951)
While the great Billy Wilder -- easily one of Hollywood’s greatest directors -- is known for his classic humanistic films (“Stalag 17”), wonderful all-time comedies (“Some Like It Hot,” "The Apartment") and estimable film noir (“Double Indemnity”), the Austrian-born American filmmaker might have been at his best when he was in a caustic and damning mood. Hence 1951’s acidic, bitter, and deeply cynical “Ace in the Hole,” starring Kirk Douglas as an opportunistic and shiftless journalist covering a story about a local Albuquerque man trapped in a cave trying to excavate ancient Indian artifacts (other similarly dark pictures “Sunset Boulevard” and “The Lost Weekend” are like-minded classics, but unlike those two it was his first solo writing effort without up-to-then frequent collaborator Charles Brackett). Once a hotshot New York journalist, Douglas’ Chuck Tatum character (fierce and fantastic in one of his best performances) has disgraced himself; his egoistic, boozing and short-cut happy ways have landed him in two-bit New Mexico. Frustrated and resentful at his new station in life, Tatum lights up when he hears about the trapped-man story believing it could be national news (think the Chilean miners story) and his ticket back to the big leagues. But so blinded by ambition and innately unscrupulous, Tatum begins to manipulate the local sheriffs into taking measures that will prolong the man’s rescue and therefore draw out the story out longer nationally and build more “will-he or won’t-he?” survival intrigue. Tatum’s exploitation of the situation only worsens -- and only escalates and gets uglier -- and soon the journalist realizes he’s far in over his head and there’s no turning back. A savage condemnation of media impropriety, not to mention overall human immorality, “Ace in the Hole” is easily Wilder’s bleakest statement of humankind. Of course, it was considered far too tart and misanthropic by audiences, became his first major box-office bomb and Paramount was so unhappy with the picture they changed its title to the seemingly more benign “The Big Carnival” just prior to its release. For years it remained AWOL on DVD and was one of the many lost treasures we all sought, but this wrong was righted by the Criterion Collection in 2007 when this fascinating and unforgettable film was finally given its proper due. [A]
“Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy" (2004)
What more can be said about this already certified comedy classic that is still arguably the funniest, and definitely the most balls out absurd, Judd Apatow production to date? (It’s still the best Adam McKay/Will Ferrell picture hands down). Featuring a staggering array of comedic talent -- Ferrell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, not to mention the roster that shows up for the television news team royal tumble -- at the height of their powers, firing off one liners as if they were on their deathbed (there was enough outtake footage to construct a crude companion film “Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie”), “Anchorman” is an absurdist’s delight and a non-sequitur lover’s dream. But this isn’t just a bunch of random shit strung together (OK, sometimes it is); it works so well because Ferrell and his Channel 4 News Team perfectly jack up, exaggerate and mock the already ridiculous personas that populate locals news teams (seriously, hit YouTube or actually tune in to a few newscasts) and go for broke. And it works. Wonderfully. To the point where your ribcage will hate you. Compelling and rich, “Anchorman” smells of rich mahogany and gives viewers the hope that one day, you too, will find something as deep and meaningful as Brick Tamland’s love for lamp. [A]