Agatha (1979) Agatha Christie’s eleven-day disappearance in 1926 isn’t really great mystery fodder, in as much as the cause is fairly evident. The only debate surrounding the event is whether she purposefully left hubby Archie – who had requested a divorce, so he could marry Nancy Neele – in order to land him in the soup on suspicion of murder, or she was so distressed that she fell into a genuine fugue state (two doctors diagnosed “an unquestionable genuine loss of memory”). The fact of the manhunt for her was a big national thing, though, so it’s unsurprising it
Broadcast News (1987) I enjoyed Broadcast News when I first saw it in the 1980s. I think the things I enjoyed about it then – the well-drawn characters, in particular the dry, superior tone of Albert Brooks – are the things I still enjoy about it. And yet, there’s a lingering negative quality I was also vaguely conscious of at the time, one that carries through, of something shapeless about the picture in style and plotting, almost like a TV show (even the title is almost wilfully vanilla, nondescript). Which is perhaps appropriate for its setting. But there’s also something else.
Richard Jewell (2019) Clint Eastwood’s unfussy, no-frills approach to directing rarely lends itself to great movies. Rarely, he happens upon a dynamite script (Unforgiven) and the rest is gravy, but more often, deficiencies present in the material and casting tend to be exposed unflatteringly for all to see. Plus, the idea of a proactive editor seems entirely foreign to his being. Richard Jewell could certainly have done with about twenty minutes shaved off it, but that aside, this is that surprisingly strong late – very late – period Eastwood picture, one that finds the reliably angry old Republican taking an axe
Roman Holiday (1953) If only every Disney princess movie were this good. Of course, Roman Holiday lacks the prerequisite happily ever after. But then again, neither could it be said to end on an entirely downbeat note (that the mooted sequel never happened would be unthinkable today). William Wyler’s movie is hugely charming. Audrey Hepburn is utterly enchanting. The Rome scenery is perfectly romantic. And – now this is a surprise – Gregory Peck is really very likeable, managing to loosen up just enough that you root for these two and their unlikely canoodle. Even the sting in the tail – Peck’s journalist
The Post (2017) The Post might be Steven Spielberg’s most prestige-lite filmmaking endeavour yet, a tick-box exercise that doesn’t do a whole lot wrong (until the last twenty minutes, at any rate), but feels like it has no true reason to be, and no real inspiration behind it (other than the evident boy-with-his-trains thrill of showing the workings of a good old-fashioned printing floor). Spielberg can churn these worthy, earnest based-on-real-events tales out, and they’ve been his bread and butter in fishing for critical and peer approval since the mid-80s, but they’ve only served to underline a mind that prioritises
Truth (2015) Two notable films on the subject of journalism were released in 2015, one concerning dogged reporters successfully exposing the cover-up of decades of institutional wrongdoings, the other about still-diligent reporters tripping up and having knives sharpened at the expense of their perceived shoddy workmanship. One went on to win Best Picture Oscar, the other received mostly tepid reviews and made only a couple of million dollars at the box office. Truth admittedly veers towards the tepid, truth be told, but it didn’t deserve such an unmarked interment. I’m just not so sure there’s any conspiracy theory to be fashioned
Personally, I’m of the opinion that for a paper to best perform its function, it really needs to stand alone.
Spotlight (2015) The two Best Picture Oscar contenders focussing on recent real-world scandals take approaches that couldn’t be more different, yet both are appropriate to their respective material. Adam McKay musters interest in the inaccessible background to the subprime crisis (and from thence the decade-long downer of global economic meltdown and its aftermath) through a poppy, absurdist spin. Tom McCarthy treats Spotlight with contrastingly sombre sobriety, refraining even from the subdued thriller mechanics that informed the reportage genre’s greatest avatar, All the President’s Men. Occasionally, his picture allows the tensions involved in getting the story to press intrude, but mostly, and rightly,
Kill the Messenger (2014) Is Kill the Messenger Peter (“I think that any rational person would think that Oswald acted alone”) Landesman’s atonement for whitewashing the JFK assassination as the actions of a lone gunman in Parkland?* Probably not, but leaping from one adaptation that is extremely anti-conspiratorial to one that is extremely pro- (to the point where it includes an impartial-but-leading end text about its real-life protagonist’s death, although screenwriter Landesman believes it to be suicide) is at least curious. Maybe, as a former journalist, he just likes provocative texts (although most found Parkland dissatisfying to some degree, regardless of its take on
All the President’s Men (1976) It’s fairly routine to find that films lavished with awards ceremony attention really aren’t all that. So many factors go into lining them up, including studio politics, publicity and fashion, that the true gems are often left out in the cold. On some occasions all the attention is thoroughly deserved, however. All the President’s Men lost out to Rocky for Best Picture Oscar; an uplifting crowd-pleaser beat an unrepentantly low key, densely plotted and talky political thriller. But Alan J. Pakula’s film had already won the major victory; it turned a literate, uncompromising account of a resolutely unsexy
Wrong is Right aka The Man With the Deadly Lens (1982) For two of the last three decades, Richard Brooks’ media satire Wrong is Right was mostly forgotten. Then, in the wake of 9/11 and the wave of fear that followed, very gradually, a re-discovery began. Perhaps not on the level of a genuine cult following (although, hit and miss in tone and ramshackle in production, it is ideal fare for such protective endorsements) but certainly sufficient that multiple and audible gasps of amazement have been uttered at its prescience and topicality. The extent of one’s cynicism over the West’s current