The Best Movie Ever: Journalism
Despite Buzzfeed now seemingly ruling the world, films about journalistic ethics seem just as prevalent as ever. Gone Girl reminded us that the 24-hour news cycle can go mad when focusing on a single subject for too long. Kill the Messenger pointed out that even the best journalism can be discredited when it pisses off the wrong people. And Nightcrawler shows just how little integrity is needed to succeed in a medium increasingly driven by negativity and exploitation.
Indeed, there have been dozens of great journalism movies that either rally behind intrepid reporters or find gross fault in their sometimes self-serving actions. But what’s The Best Journalism Movie Ever? That’s what we’re here to find out.
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We asked CraveOnline’s critics William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold, Fred Topel and Brian Formo to decide which one movie, if they had to pick just one, should go down in history as the best journalism movie ever made. As usual, they couldn’t quite come to a consensus, although three of them agree that 1976 was a banner year for films about the subject.
What’s your pick for The Best Journalism Movie Ever? Read through our critics’ nominations and vote for your own favorites at the bottom of the page. And keep coming back every Wednesday for more disagreements on The Best Movie Ever.
William Bibbiani’s Pick: Citizen Kane (1941)
You may have noticed that I harp on about Citizen Kane a lot. There’s a reason for that. The debut film from Orson Welles is still one of the best movies ever made, and unlike a lot of daring cinematic innovations, it also has a great deal to say about human nature, capitalism, America and the journalism that makes so very much of it run.
Charles Foster Kane (Welles) is the heir to a massive fortune, but eschews it all in favor of a small, failing newspaper. His adopted father (of sorts) doesn’t understand the appeal, but Kane – a college drop out who simply “[thinks] it would be fun to run a newspaper” – understands the power headlines have to change the world. He just doesn’t seem to care very much how true they are. Early in the film he publishes a “Declaration of Principles,” promising to tell the truth at all times, then immediately proceeds to smear his enemies, declare “fraud at the polls” when he loses an election and even invent a war with Spain, just for the hell of it. The only time he does tell the truth it’s under his theater critics’ name, lambasting his young wife’s performance by proxy because he can’t bring himself to admit she doesn’t have talent.
In an era of online journalism defined by gimmicky headlines over meaningful content, there’s still a lot to learn from Charles Foster Kane, a man who invented himself in the public eye without ever sussing out who he really was. When he died, no one knew him well enough to even understand his last words. They knew the man who presented himself to them; the headline, not the substance. He died as he lived, screwing over serious journalism and ushering in a new era in which manipulating the news meant more than the news itself. It’s an era in which we still live. Thank you, Charles Foster Kane, and thank you, William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate on whom Kane is based. You were both kind of bastards.
Fred Topel’s Pick: All the President’s Men (1976)
Witney Seibold’s Pick: All the President’s Men (1976)
Journalism is always a great topic for movies, as it is inherently dramatic. A journalist has to investigate in dangerous areas, ask hard questions, and often reveal truths that people aren’t really eager to hear. Tales of journalists are typically heroic ones, depicting their subjects as honorable and quick-witted obsessives who care more about integrity and facts than they do about their own lives. If the movies are to be believed, reporters are the most noble people in the world.
Ironically, movies about the news media in general tend to be very cynical. The individuals working for the news are heroes, but “The Media” is an evil entity.
The best film about journalism is perhaps Alan J. Pakula’s Oscar winning detective film All the President’s Men from 1976. Hot on the heels of Watergate, All the President’s Men follows the journey of two above average reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) as they crack open the famous presidential scandal that essentially forced Nixon to resign. Although our heroes deal with shadowy government conspirators, the film takes place largely in offices, over the telephone, merely asking questions. It’s a film more about paperwork than action, and yet it is exhilarating. We know the truth going in, and we know that Woodward and Bernstein will uncover it, but the film is so meticulous, you may not be sure they’ll get away with it. Oh yes, and Hal Holbrook plays Deep Throat. That’s cool.
Brian Formo’s Pick: Network (1976)
Network was already great. Viewing it with live television in the rearview mirror and the Internet as the open road, it’s even better now. It’ll probably be the touchstone of all movies ever made by the time the next technological advancement of information happens and there’s no such thing as journalistic standards anymore. Actually, by the time that happens there probably won’t even be an idea of standards.
If I’m not exactly on point, perhaps that’s a mirror to Sidney Lumet’s masterpiece. Network is a sprawl of vitriol, but miraculously, it isn’t wink-wink nasty. Like all good satire, Network continues to resonate because its authors are obviously concerned for our future.
You know the line, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” It’s said by a newsman Howard Beale (Peter Finch), who’s given his own show by a young producer (Faye Dunaway, who’s character is television-personified) after he announces that he will blow his brains out on national television. (Both Finch and Dunaway won Oscars; Finch is Nielsen-ratings in a bottle and Dunaway is Nielsen-ratings in blood.) But the masterstroke of Paddy Chayefsky’s blazing script is the less quotable monologue from corporate-ruler — and thereby a world-ruler — Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty). He explains that there are no nations anymore, just businesses.
Although Jensen addresses his monologue at Beale, he never gets close to him. Because we never can actually get close to world-rulers. Jensen is at the end of a boardroom table lined by endless newsroom lamps. His distance from Mr. Beale makes it appear as though he’s been dropped from another world. He’s been sent here from his elevated plane to tell a popular messenger that everything he’s mad about — in some way or another — contradicts something else in the bigger scheme of money movements. Jensen describes this network of money as being the “primal forces of nature.”
Network gives the audience a battle cry about being mad at the bigger systems. Then it forces them to become depressed and dispirited — something that journalism tries to avoid, which sometimes means avoiding the truth of the world. And with many popular sites on the Internet doing away with anything negative, will we just learn to no longer be mad? And thus, no longer meddle with the “primal forces of nature”?