Linda Hunt and Mel Gibson in film, The Year of Living Dangerously. Hunt became the only person to win an Academy Award for playing a character of the opposite sex — Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Credit: Handout.

Journos — love them, hate them … need them.

The only thing keeping us sane in this world of Covid-19 and Donald Trump, is solid no-holds-barred reporting by responsible media outlets.

When it comes to journalism movies, there are many solid entries — some which inspire us, some that expose injustice and criminality, some that takes us to exotic locales and some that are just entertaining.

Many films strike the right balance between an exciting portrayal of the business, and, good entertainment — these are the ones that I focused on, in this exclusive list.

These are films I can watch again and again.

Note, Citizen Kane has been left out, because it dwarfs everything on the list — probably the greatest film ever — so let’s shine a light on other films instead:

  1. All The President’s Men (1976): Without question, one of the best investigative journalism films, if not the best, and, with two fantastic actors in the lead — Robert Redford as Bob Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein, the intrepid DC journalists, along with Jason Robards as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. This epic American political thriller chronicles the Watergate scandal, which brought down the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. I can’t tell you how many writers, including myself, were inspired by this film, and helped propelled us into the business — albeit, thinking we would be just like Woodward and Bernstein. Redford revealed when marking the 35th anniversary of the film at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in 2011 that he began asking about the Watergate break-in when doing promotion for The Candidate and then began to read Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate stories in the Washington Post. Redford then bought the rights to their book in 1974 for $450,000 with the notion to adapt it into a $5 million film. It made $70.6 million at the box office.

2. Year of Living Dangerously (1982): One of my favourite films of all time — Guy Hamilton, played by a youthful Mel Gibson, is sent to Jakarta to take the place of an unpopular Aussie journo, but he is adrift without any contacts — until he is taken under the wing of the mysterious dwarf, Billy Kwan, played beautifully by actress Linda Hunt. Superbly directed by Australian Peter Weir and linked to a fabulous soundtrack by Maurice Jarre, this intriguing mix of politics and romance set in the turbulent era of Sukarno’s Indonesia is nothing short of brilliant. Actress Sigourney Weaver plays British Embassy officer Jill Bryant, who falls in love with Hamilton. After setting her eyes on Gibson, Weaver later remarked, he was so incredibly handsome, she feared no one would see her in the film! As for Hunt’s performance, Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and praised her performance: “Billy Kwan is played, astonishingly, by a woman — Linda Hunt, a New York stage actress who enters the role so fully that it never occurs to us that she is not a man. This is what great acting is, a magical transformation of one person into another.”

Sam Waterston and Haing S. Ngor star in The Killing Fields, 1984. Credit: Warner Bros.

3. The Killing Fields (1984): The true story of New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) and Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor) as his faithful Cambodian guide, as they face the genocidal horrors of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s. Pran is left behind to fend for himself, while Schanberg escapes back to the US, where he desperately seeks every possible way to locate and free him. But some of Schanberg’s peers — played realistically by John Malkovich as hard-edged shooter Al Rockoff — hold him responsible and confront him over it, while Schanberg receives awards for his work in Southeast Asia. The film, which is harshly realistic in its accuracy, also broaches the theory that the illegal bombing of Cambodia by the Nixon administration may have led to the impending collapse of the country. In 1999 the British Film Institute voted The Killing Fields the 100th greatest British film of the 20th century. 

4. The Paper (1994): This film is here for a reason — anybody who has worked at a tabloid newspaper for any length of time, will recognize everything in this film. Is it truthful? Yes, but it doesn’t even come close to my tabloid experiences, which are actually stranger and unprintable. Nevertheless, this Ron Howard directed film, starring Michael Keaton as workaholic editor Henry Hackett (his quote in the headline above), Robert Duvall as publisher Bernie White and Glenn Close as ruthless managing editor Alicia Clark, is as true to the real biz as you can get. Trust me, I’ve worked with psychotic newspaper types, they are sprinkled all over the business — but, they all have one thing in common, newspaper ink runs in their blood, and they are insanely dedicated to breaking top stories. Special mention goes out to actor Randy Quaid who plays muck-raking columnist Michael McDougal. Told by Clark, “We’re not exactly the Washington Post, OK?” He responds. “No, we’re not. We run stupid headlines because we think they’re funny. We run maimings on the front page because we got good art. And I spend three weeks bitching about my car because it sells papers. But at least it’s the truth.”

Promotional image for Parallax View, 1974. The film opens with a dramatic shootout on the Seattle’s Space Needle. Handout.

5. The Parallax View (1974): I’ve always loved this film, and I purposely visited the Seattle Space Needle, to see the film’s opening location for myself. Noted by some critics as one of the great American films from arguably the finest decade in American filmmaking, the Parallax View is the mother of all conspiracy movies. Actor Warren Beatty plays the part of political reporter Joe Frady, who uncovers a conspiracy bigger than anyone expected and must race to prevent the Parallax corporation’s next big hit as this political thriller plays out in an explosive game of cat and mouse. In the words of one reviewer, it is “not only a film about paranoia, but a deeply paranoid film.” It ends with a government investigating commission intoning that this assassination was, like so many others, the work of one deranged gunman: “There is no evidence of a conspiracy.” As director Alan J Pakula remarked, “If the picture works, the audience will trust the person sitting next to them a little less at the end of the film.” 

6. State of Siege (1972): Posted to Uruguay in the early 1970s by the US, diplomat Philip Michael Santore (Yves Montand) is kidnapped by a group of urban guerrillas. Using Santore’s interrogation by his captors as a backdrop, the film explores the often brutal consequences of the struggle between the repressive government of Montevideo and the leftist Tupamaro guerrillas. Director Costa-Gavras based it on a true story of an American connected with the Agency for International Development who was kidnapped and finally executed by urban guerrillas in Uruguay. An indictment of American interference in South American internal affairs, the film presents a moral complexity, says critic Roger Ebert. “State of Siege exists in an interesting moral middle ground. The AID official is clearly made to seem wrong, but what is the correct course for the guerrillas to take? If they murder him, one observes, the world will speak of his seven children. If they don’t they will appear impotent and will lose credibility. They don’t want to kill him, but as he himself observes, in a way they will have to.” I saw this film as a young man in the 1970s, and it completely changed my thinking of the CIA and its actions in South America.

Warren Beatty stars in Reds, 1981. The film made US$40.4 million at the box office. Credit: Handout.

7. Reds (1981): When I trudged to the theater in downtown Calgary, paid my entry and grabbed my popcorn and pop, and sat down, I had no idea what to expect of this film. But when it opened with interviews with actual people who were a part of this epic story, I knew I was in for something special. This was not just a movie about American socialist and journalist John Reed, it was a masterful historical record of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia, and it continues to be, IMO. Directed and acted impeccably by Warren Beatty as Reed, and sporting an envious cast (by today’s standards) of Diane Keaton as Louise Bryant, Jerzy Kosinski as Grigory Zinoviev, Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill and Maureen Stapleton as Emma Goldman, the film essentially revolves around Reed’s classic historical piece, Ten Days That Shook The World, and his relationship with Bryant. John Reed died in 1920, shortly after the book was finished, and he is one of the few Americans buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in Moscow.

8. Groundhog Day (1993): How can one not like this Harold Ramis directed film starring that lovable rogue Bill Murray, as celf-centered TV journalist Phil, who is stuck in a repeating world of Groundhog Day. On the entertainment value quotient alone, this film ranks high up there, with Murray stealing just about every scene he is in. This is also one of those films that you just can’t turn away from, while it is on … and not because it is a great film, it’s not Citizen Kane, but there’s something so It’s a Wonderful Life about it, as we watch Phil grow and become a better person, impressing co-workers Rita and Larry, played by Andie MacDowell and Chris Elliot. According to Wiki, Murray clashed with Ramis over the script; Murray wanted to focus on the philosophical elements, whereas Ramis had concentrated on the comic aspects. But the film was considered a box office success, if a modest one, earning over $70.9 million. OK, so, it really doesn’t have much to do with journalism, but I adore this film, and can watch it again, and again, again …

James Woods stars in Salvador, 1986. The Oliver Stone film was sympathetic to the left-wing revolutionaries. Credit: Handout.

9. Salvador (1986): Director Oliver Stone and photojournalist Richard Boyle collaborated for this gritty 1986 film about the latter’s experiences covering the bloody Salvadoran Civil War. The story follows Boyle, played by the “master of nervous paranoia,” James Woods, a faded, unemployable and hard drinking journalist who heads to the war-torn country in search of one last good story, along with his spaced out pal, played by James Belushi. The film is highly sympathetic towards the left-wing revolutionaries and strongly critical of the US-supported military, focusing on the murder of four American churchwomen and the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero by death squads. Along the way, Woods, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, faces outright terror and humiliation, only to re-discover his inner self.

10. Roman Holiday (1953): If you look under delightful in the Oxford dictionary, it should read: “See Roman Holiday.” My oh my, what a fantastic film. It stars a young Audrey Hepburn as a princess out to see Rome on her own and Gregory Peck as a reporter, who has stumbled on a story that is going to sell and ultimately redeem himself with his grumpy boss. But something happens along the way, as the reporter falls in love with the princess. And we all know, she has to go back to her royal life — parting is such sweet sorrow, as they say. Eddie Albert is great as Peck’s pal photographer and the scriptwriting of Hollywood blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo (who did not receive a credit) and the magic touch of director William (Ben Hur) Wyler, make this an absolute must watch for anyone who enjoys movies from this era — and not just for the wonderful comedic story and performances, but to see the glory of ’50s Rome. Wyler wanted an “anti-Italian” actress who was different from the curvy Italian stars of that era: “She was perfect … his new star had no arse, no tits, no tight-fitting clothes, no high heels. In short a Martian. She will be a sensation.”

— with files from Wikipedia, IMDB.com and Roger Ebert

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