“The Insider” (1999)
Michael Mann’s name became synonymous with intelligent, impeccably crafted adult mainstream films after the incredible one-two punch of his epic crime film masterpiece “Heat” and “The Insider,” one of the many great films released in 1999 (seriously, go back and look, it was an insanely strong year for cinema). Though considered a minor financial failure at the time, “The Insider,” a film about the media that’s easily one of the best of this genre, attracted the attention of the Oscars (receiving seven nominations, winning none, somehow), and proved Mann was a director whose every next film was something to get excited about. Telling the true, thoroughly researched tale (Mann and co-writer Eric Roth worked diligently to get as much right as possible, adapting from a Vanity Fair article called "The Man Who Knew Too Much") of tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe, in one of his finest, schlubbiest performances) and his appearance on 60 Minutes that was at first altered in 1995 and then aired proper in 1996, the film also showed, if it wasn’t already obvious, that Mann is the rare director capable of hitting that sweet spot between art and entertainment. He hasn’t quite followed through on the promise he showed from the mid-to-late ‘90s, though “Collateral” and “Public Enemies” were strong efforts, but any filmmaker capable of making “The Insider” is surely deserving of our anticipation for his next effort. [A]

“Network" (1976)
Making a big-screen satire is always risky business -- so often, the subject matter can seem stale by the time a film's been through the multi-year process from inception to release, and that's even if the film's any good at all, and frequently they aren't. For every "Dr. Strangelove," there are a dozen "American Dreamz" or "Death to Smoochy" s. So it's especially rare to find an example of the genre that not only connected at the time (winning four Oscars), but actually seems more and more relevant as time goes on. In an age of news personalities that defy belief, from Glenn Beck to Keith Olbermann, this film is as vital now as the day it was released. And on every level, it is impeccably executed: Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky are such a symbiotic director/writer partnership, perfectly complementing each other's strengths, that it's easy to forget that this was their only collaboration. And the acting across the board is outstanding: Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight all won Oscars (Finch's was sadly posthumous), but Robert Duvall, the truly outstanding William Holden and, in an unforgettable, endlessly quotable one-scene cameo ("You have meddled with the primal forces of nature and YOU WILL ATONE!"), Ned Beatty are more than their matches. A capsule review is by no means enough to capture the film in full -- we could go on for another few thousand words without drawing breath. Suffice to say, it remains, 35 years on, the definitive film about TV journalism. [A+]

“Park Row" (1952)
This early effort from writer/director Sam Fuller, made one year before the solid “Pickup On South Street” is probably most easily described as “Gangs Of New York” if it were about the paper biz of the era, instead of turf warfare. Grimy and gritty, the film takes place in the 1880s and pits an idealistic young journalist, Phineas Mitchell (Gene Evans) who, tired of the dirty pool of the state of newsprint, launches his own paper but comes right up against Charity Hackett (Mary Welch), owner and publisher of the longstanding The Star. And things get ugly, fast. Street fights, bar brawls, sabotage and even death come in the wake of the two papers battling for dominance and readership. However, most surprising, is the streak of sentiment that runs throughout. Fuller is no softie, but in “Park Row,” the director delivers what would be the closest thing to a Frank Capra film he would ever make, albeit in his own street-level, bare knuckled style. Immensely entertaining, this is one of the best and under-appreciated newspaper films. [B+]

“Shattered Glass” (2003)
“Are you mad at me?” Writer/director Billy Ray hinged the lead character of his film, a dramatic account of the former New Republic writer Stephen Glass’s rise and fall, on these words, taken from the September 1998 Vanity Fair article by H. G. Bissinger on which the film is based. That infuriating question is asked often by Glass in the film, here played by Darth Vader himself, Hayden Christensen, skillfully showing the manipulative nature of this fascinating character. Ray’s accomplishments are many in this real-life tale. The casting is aces, but getting the one and only good performance out of Christensen to date, who uses that grating, whiny voice to effectively portray the sociopathic Glass, is a marvel. The filmmaker also nails the sensation and excitement of chasing a story and working in a news room. When it’s discovered that many of Glass’ articles have been made up (he later admitted 27 of his 41 published pieces in the bi-monthly were at least partially or completely fabricated), we’re right there on the hunt with the reporters trying to take him, while also seeing the ramifications the investigation has on the staff of The New Republic. “Shattered Glass” is a confident work for a first-time director (though Ray has been writing scripts in Hollywood for almost two decades now), coming from someone so clearly enamored with journalism. Ray’s greatest achievement is how he deftly handles the transition of Glass from protagonist to antagonist, slowly revealing the film’s hero to be New Republic Editor Charles Lane, played by Peter Sarsgaard, who absolutely steals the movie in a fantastic performance. [B+]