Mandatory Movies: What to Watch When You Dream of Being a Famous Writer
Many people want to be writers, but few can actually hack it, much less be famous for it. Because celebrity scribes are so rare, they make great fodder for Hollywood films. Movies about writers often focus less on the actual writing and more on the dramatic personal lives, wild imaginations, and hardscrabble pasts of the wordsmiths. These films perfectly capture what a writer’s life involves — rejection, failure, alcoholism and all. While you might not have “the write stuff” to become a professional in the field, these films will let you vicariously experience some of the best writers’ lives.
Mandatory Movies: What To Watch When You Need To Man Up
'The End of the Tour'
In 1996, Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) spent five days with David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), whose massive novel Infinite Jest had just been published. What he found was not a cocky literary celebrity but a quirky, sensitive man just trying to live right and write in a way so people would feel less alone. While Lipsky couldn’t help but poke a stick at Foster Wallace’s mysterious past, including drug rumors and a stay in a mental hospital, even he realizes that Foster Wallace is just a gosh-darn genuinely decent person. Lipsky turned the interview into a book after Foster Wallace's suicide in 2008. This film captures both writers in a humorous and heartfelt fashion.
In 1959, New York City novelist Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) traveled to Holcomb, Kansas, with aspiring author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) to write about the gruesome murder of the Clutter family. During his research, Capote formed an unusually intimate relationship with Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.), one of the accused murderers. The resulting book, In Cold Blood, is considered Capote’s greatest work. You won't even recognize Seymour Hoffman in this Academy Award-winning role.
This film, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze, is a dizzying compilation of real and fictional writers. Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) is a screenwriter struggling to adapt The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep). At his wit’s end, he asks his twin brother, Donald (also Nicolas Cage), to assist with the screenplay and interview Orlean. Suspicious of her story, Donald and Charlie follow her to Florida, where they find themselves embroiled in the kind of insane drama the Sunshine State is notorious for.
Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) is at the center of this darkly funny tale of a comic book writer. Pekar is toiling away in obscurity and clocking in and out of his dead-end job at the VA in Cleveland when a fan named Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) writes to him out of the blue. Soon, they’re married and he’s making regular appearances on Letterman. But things are not as hunky-dory as they seem. As the shit hits the fan, Pekar uses his comics to cope – and to critical acclaim. This unique film features appearances and interviews by the real-life Pekar and Brabner, who are truly a match made in nerd heaven.
'Bukowski: Born Into This'
Love him or hate him, the late Los Angeles-based writer Charles Bukowski was one of the most prolific and influential poets in American literature. His crass, blunt manner and love of alcohol made him a controversial figure but in no way detracted from the simple beauty of his poetry. This film offers an intimate look at the man behind the legend, with commentary from fans like Bono and Sean Penn.
In 2001, the Boston Globe created a "spotlight" team to investigate and expose widespread sexual abuse coverup by the Catholic archdiocese of Boston. The writers won a Pulitzer Prize because of the coverage. This film is perhaps one of the last modern depictions of old-school journalism and “gumshoe” reporting with a stellar cast that includes Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, and John Slattery.
'Hemingway & Gellhorn'
Womanizer and alcoholic Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) met his match in World War II correspondent Martha Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman). This biopic (co-written by acclaimed author Jerry Stahl) chronicles the couple’s passionate romance, tumultuous marriage, and dangerous travels around the world. While Gellhorn would prove to be Hemingway's inspiration for For Whom the Bell Tolls, she was also the only one of his four wives to ask for a divorce.
'Professor Marston and the Wonder Women'
William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) was known for many things: the Harvard psychologist and professor invented one of the essential parts of the lie detector machine, for example. But readers know him best as Charles Moulton, creator of Wonder Woman, a character based off of two feisty females in his own life: his wife, Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), and Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), their lover. This is the lusty origin story of the iconic female comic book character.
Poets are known for being broke and John Keats (Ben Whishaw) was no exception. Even worse than being penniless is that back in the early 1800s, you couldn’t get a woman unless you had the funds to marry her. Imagine the agony, then, that Keats finds himself in after falling for his next-door neighbor Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). Though they carried on a clandestine love affair for several years, Keats’ failing health meant the couple never got hitched. He did leave behind some damn good love poetry, though.
Sylvia Plath (Gwyneth Paltrow) always wanted to be a writer – but not just any writer. She wanted to be important. While studying literature in Cambridge, England, in 1955, she met and fell for poet Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig). It was a fiery but toxic coupling, and their marriage proved disastrous for her depression (but did wonders for her poetry). We all know how this one ends, right?