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Stop The Presses: The 13 Best Newsroom Movies

by The Playlist Staff
November 12, 2010 6:00 AM
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“All The President’s Men” (1976)
It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when a newspaper could change history, when the printed word carried with it the weight of irrevocable truth and a couple of dogged reporters, through sheer persistence and the application of a little intelligence, could bring down a government. The Watergate affair and the fall of Nixon is truly one of the defining stories of the modern era, and in this, Alan J. Pakula’s finest hour, (though we do love "Klute" and are not averse to a little "The Parallax View" either) it gets the movie it deserves: talky, smart and never less than completely absorbing. It could so easily have been terrible -- there’s no real action, no sex, no particular life-or-limb peril, and for anyone not paying close attention, the blizzard of names, dates and other minutiae on which the whole thing turns, could have proven a chore to navigate. A good thing then, that it’s practically impossible not to pay full attention -- credit is due to Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman for their committed performances as reporters Woodward and Bernstein (how many journalists since have chosen their career based on these portrayals?), but surely, the lion’s share of kudos must go to the unparalleled screenwriting of William Goldman, and the taut, inspired direction by Pakula. It’s a fascinating snapshot of a working newsroom that, just for a moment, became pretty much the center of the universe and a thrilling and very American example of how, armed with nothing but integrity, faith in public justice and a typewriter, a few good men can literally make all the difference in the world. [A+]

“Broadcast News” (1987)
A romantic comedy for the smart and cynical, James L. Brooks’s “Broadcast News” somehow seems even more relevant today than it was in 1987. Holly Hunter’s news producer Jane Craig laments fluff-as-news, but what would she think about the 24-hour-news cycle and editorials disguised as news in 2010? She’s a Sorkin-esque heroine, who succeeds in her professional life while her relationships are an inversely proportional mess. Jane falls for the handsome but brainless anchor-in-training Tom Grunick (William Hurt), while her longtime friend Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) pines away. Tom might have all the looks, but Aaron gets all the lines, and the scenes where he confesses his love and condemns his rival have some of the best dialogue this side of the stage -- it's almost Chekhovian in its heartbreaking quality. The characters in "Broadcast News” aren’t afraid to be downright mean, but they’re never anything less than watchable and likable thanks to their flaws, and all three actors, particularly the magnificent Hunter, give career-best performances. And the ending, still a bitter pill to swallow for some, is truthful in a way that's hard to find in rom-coms these days. [A-]

“Good Night and Good Luck" (2005)
Truth can be stranger than fiction, which is why director George Clooney opted for archive footage of Senator Joseph McCarthy to serve as the boogeyman for this historical drama, which recounts journalist Edward R. Murrow standing up against the bullying from the House of Unamerican Activities Committee. David Strathairn gives a powerful performance as the driven Murrow, who understood that the truth was more powerful than any weapon against what was a leviathan of mistruth in the movement to witch-hunt perceived Communism. Coming from a television background, Clooney utilized several in-camera effects to illustrate the power dynamics and socialization of the broadcast news operations of an earlier era, creating a masterpiece that works even better as a teaching tool to help the youth of tomorrow better understand how we still seem to fall prey to the same scare tactics of yesterday. [A]

“His Girl Friday” (1940)
Much attention has (rightfully) been paid to the whiplash-inducing dialogue and the fizzy chemistry between leads Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in this classic film from Howard Hawks. Breezing past the page-a-minute average of most screenplays, “His Girl Friday” is based on Ben Hecht’s stage play “The Front Page.” The adaptation, by Charles Lederer, got an injection of energy from switching the two main characters from a pair of male journalists to feuding exes, particularly since those exes are played by Grant and Russell, a pairing that matches Grant's work with both Hepburns and Irene Dunne for sheer fire. The romance is as fast-paced as the dialogue, but viewers shouldn’t overlook the contributions of the other room of journalists in the film who add character and a bit of authenticity. Though some of it feels decidedly dated (remember when newspapers mattered?), it manages to be as fresh and funny as it was 70 years ago. [A]

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  • Kevin Jagernauth | November 16, 2010 4:09 AMReply

    Hey Stephen, if you click on the Feature tag at the bottom of this list, it will bring up our past lists and features. Thanks!

  • Stephen | November 16, 2010 4:03 AMReply

    This is, as always, a great little list, even if I never quite agree with all your ratings.

    You know what this site needs, though? A link to special feature articles like this. That is, I wish you guys had a button at the side of the screen of some sort whereby I could just look up all of your Lists and/or Guides. Otherwise, I keep having to bookmark them all as soon as they come out, because a couple days later they're almost impossible to find.

    At the moment, I guess I can hit the little highlighted "Feature" category at the bottom of this post, but that's pretty broad. It gets me a lot of lists, as well as actor and director retrospectives, plus random stuff about Batman. But the bigger problem with that is that I have to go to one of these posts in the first place to be able to hit button that leads me to those other posts. It would be great if you had some sort of search engine for your site. After all, you publish about a dozen posts a day, every day, for a couple years now and hopefully years into the future. It'd be nice to be able to find posts from the past easily.

    Keep up the goo work!

  • Dannel | November 14, 2010 4:08 AMReply

    This is some great stuff, keep up the features!

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