Spotlight Is the Best Movie About Journalism. The Worst? A Battle Between Brenda Starr and 10 Days In a Madhouse.

Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists, has rated 110 movies about journalism from best to worst.  The ten best:

1. Spotlight
2. All the President’s Men
3. His Girl Friday
4. Citizen Kane
5. Shattered Glass
6. Zodiac
7. Sweet Smell of Success
8. Network
9. Christine
10. Groundhog Day

There are lots of other good ones from 11 to 100—The Killing Fields, Good Night and Good Luck, The Quiet American, The Post, Capote—but the most fun may be the comments about the 10 worst:

110. Brenda Starr (1989). The comic strip about the gutsy reporter lasted from 1940 to 2011. But after sitting on the shelf for years because of rights issues, the film, starring Brooke Shields, disappeared quickly – with good reason. Bob Mackie costumes provide the only interest.

109. 10 Days in a Madhouse (2015). It opens with a bloody scene out of a grade Z horror film and ends with one of the worst original songs ever heard in a movie. In between is an earnest but painfully amateur you-go-girl flick that looks like it was shot by people who couldn’t get work making those bio-docs for the History Channel. Nelly Bly’s pioneering undercover investigation of asylum conditions deserves better than this flop, which barely cracked five figures at the box office. Christopher Lambert and Kelly Le Brock appear, for no clear purpose besides their names, in supporting roles.

108. Scoop (2006). Upon its 2006 release, “Scoop” was reviewed as one of writer-director Woody Allen’s lesser efforts and time has not been kind. After receiving a tip from a ghost (Ian McShane, a standout), intrepid journalism student Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson) attempts to seduce billionaire socialite Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), who may be a murderer. The ethos “anything for the story” rules, but Allen’s script mostly defines it as Johansson using her looks to get ahead — or not. A nice smattering of screwball comedy presages other, better roles in the actress’s future while the lackadaisical pace and one-note characters also, unfortunately, preview Allen’s later work.

107.  I Love Trouble (1994). Screenwriter Nancy Meyers hit sweet spots before and after with “Baby Boom,” “Father of the Bride” and “The Parent Trap” (which she also directed). But here she can’t create sparks between Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts, nor can she and director Charles Shyer navigate the delicate balance of romance and thrills. Nolte and Roberts play rival reporters at Chicago dailies who collide when covering a train wreck. Their investigations — separately and together — unearth a plot involving, no kidding, bovine hormones. But the test of these sorts of films is whether you want the bickering pair to eventually get together, not whether or not the mystery plot works. In this case, though, both chemical efforts fizzle.

106. Bonfire of the Vanities (1990). Director Brian De Palma’s colossal botching of Tom Wolfe’s decade-defining novel is clear from the opening, a five-minute tracking shot following narrator/tabloid reporter Peter Fallow (Bruce Willis) to an awards ceremony. You may wonder how they did it. By the end, you’re more likely to wonder why. DePalma’s bloated take on Wolfe’s swirling novel — about the downfall of a Wall Streeter (Tom Hanks, miscast) who incites a racial incident — is more cartoonish than crystallized. Upside: It gave us Julia Salamon’s “The Devil’s Candy: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood,” one of the best books about making movies.

105. The Naked Truth (aka Your Past is Showing) (1957). With a concept that sounds more promising on paper than it plays out on film, this British offering concerns a sleazy tabloid publisher (Dennis Price) with a blackmail scheme. His rag, The Naked Truth, will run a friendly profile of a famous person next to a scandalous story about that same — this time, unnamed — person, leaving it up to the reader to make the connection and absolving him of libel. A politician (Terry Thomas) and media personality (Peter Sellers) join forces with others to fight back but their antics generate few laughs before an absurd — and very welcome – conclusion. For Sellers completists only.

104. -30- (aka Deadline Midnight) (1959). Fans of old school TV may get a kick out of seeing William Conrad, Joe Flynn, Richard Deacon and David Nelson fill out the cast. Plus there’s Miss Arkansas of 1959, Donna Sue Needham (yes, she’s billed in the opening credits that way). But there’s not much to recommend in this look at the overnight activity at a big city daily. Few films on this list spend this much time in the newsroom — or this much time focused on coffeemaking — but the tone is all over the place. Director/producer Jack Webb saddles himself with playing an editor adjusting to the idea of adopting a child. Conrad (better known as TV’s “Cannon”) comes across as an unfunny Jackie Gleason (“You had better rustle your bustle, Nelly Bly,” he says when giving a young female reporter an assignment”). An overwrought score punctuates matters throughout, particularly when the drama turns to a kid missing in a storm drain.

103. Up Close and Personal (1996). It’s hard to imagine credited screenwriter and literary journalist Joan Didion approved much of 1996’s “Up Close & Personal,” a movie that plays like “Broadcast News” by way of Nicholas Sparks, and lacks any of the intimate despair of her best work. What began as a biopic of the late NBC News reporter Jessica Savitch was eventually altered beyond recognition by Touchstone Pictures and released as a saccharine romance vehicle for Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer. Admittedly, it’s impossible for these actors not to be endearing, but they’re trapped in a forgettable studio vehicle from director Jon Avnet that has as much to say about journalism as “She’s All That.” In fact, Pfeiffer even gets the same makeover treatment here.

102.  Bright Lights Big City (1988). Casting Michael J. Fox as the coke-snorting lead in an adaptation of Jay McInerney’s seminal ’80s novel seemed a bad idea at the time. Viewing it 30 years later, it’s an even worse idea. That being said, it’s one of the only cinematic treatments of the challenges facing fact checkers — in this case a hard-partying staffer for a New Yorker-ish magazine. The scenes at the magazine office (where Swoosie Kurtz, Frances Sternhagen and John Houseman lend support) are at least less cringy than the nightlife and domestic drama scenes.

101. The Mean Season (1985). Strung-out Miami reporter Malcolm Anderson (Kurt Russell) becomes a serial killer’s public mouthpiece in this nicely shot, thematically daft schlock about the line past which storytellers become the story. Adapted from former Miami Herald reporter John Katzenbach’s novel (and filmed in the Herald’s offices), Phillip Borsos’ 1985 film parks a truck of red herrings to rot in the sweltering Florida heat. Malcolm’s girlfriend, Christine (Mariel Hemingway), exists only for the killer to endanger, after which Malcolm improbably jumps a bridge to save her. Imagine if Jake Gyllenhaal free-soloed Coit Tower to stop the Zodiac Killer. Plus, Malcolm’s paper uses a passive-voice headline when Christine is taken. Poor form, especially on A1.


  1. Ed Kosner says

    The best movie about journalism is “Citizen Kane”—thr
    scene in which Kane tells the fuddy-duddy editor that
    things are going to change, and especially when
    Kane finishes drunken Jed Leland’s pan of Kane’s
    wife’s recital. Second best is “Deadline USA,” in
    which Bogey , crashing in his ex-wife’s couch, answers
    the phone “City Desk” and hold the phone to
    the running presses, telling the monster “ you
    hear that…that’sthe Power of the press.” Days
    beyond recall.”

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