A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

“Scoop,” “Origin” and more added to Quill’s ranked journalism movies list

By Lou Harry

The hits — and flops — just keep on coming.

With the help of the team from Midwest Film Journal, we’ve added 10 more films to our growing Journalism Movies Ranked list, including 2023’s outstanding “Origin” and the just-released “Scoop.”

To find out where these rank on our list — which now numbers 190 flicks — visit here. (And look for the list to hit 200 with our next installment).

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor in “Origin.” Photo courtesy of Neon.

Origin (2023). We’re used to movies about an intrepid journalist trying to track down a story. But here comes one where a journalist is trying to hone a thesis. If that sounds like a drag, well, writer-director Ava DuVernay proves otherwise. Origin tracks real-life Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson (expertly played by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) through an intermixed professional and personal journey. While dealing with the sudden loss of her husband and mother, Wilkerson searches for a link between American slavery, the Holocaust and the plight of Dalits – once labeled “untouchables” – in India. No surprise that what she finds is caste, given that that’s the title of Wilkerson’s book that is the basis for the film. What’s surprising is that a film about ideas can be this personal and this powerful. Uniquely, the film portrays a journalist with a full, complicated life who still, steadfastly and with curiosity and warmth, gets the job done. Origin refuses conventional Hollywood beats, instead mixing a dramatization of the author’s personal struggles with both the ideas and the lives of those she researches. It adds up to a thoughtful and compelling film that refreshingly respects the intelligence and curiosity of its audience. (LH)

Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell in “Scoop” (Netflix)

Scoop (2024). Don’t confuse this with the other Scoop far down this list. This Netflix production skirts past its genericized title to deliver a compelling adaptation of a real-life journalistic coup. A female anchor, editor and booker at the British Broadcasting Corporation pooled their talents to secure a 2019 interview with Prince Andrew concerning his ties to American financier and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Scoop certainly emphasizes the effective, empowering work performed here (as well as the more clearly cutthroat response that would await the team as women had it been bungled). But it also carefully folds in pyrrhic but pragmatic concerns about their victory — that all the oft-retweeted rebukes to the rot they exposed would simply be replaced by something lighter, softer and more easily meme-able after a few days of refreshing Twitter. Propelled by strong performances by Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell (almost unrecognizable in prosthetics as Prince Andrew), Scoop simultaneously champions journalistic initiative and also considers the palpably human introspection of what that even means anymore in a 24-hour news cycle further sluiced by 24-second attention spans. The film does not insist the court of public opinion is no longer valid. It simply questions, with appropriate skepticism and skillful drama, whether the chirp of an app can match the rap of a gavel. (NR)

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (2008). If you kowtow to celebrities, your byline will grace the glossy pages of culture magazines but your heart will burn dim. That’s essentially the concluding message of this film, which is sufficient for a soft romantic comedy but disappointing given the sharp source material of controversial British writer Toby Young’s 2001 memoir. Young took a bloody bite out of the Big Apple, shaking things up at Vanity Fair and having disastrous run-ins with Kenneth Branagh, Mel Gibson and Diana Ross, among other celebrities. The film adaptation, in which Simon Pegg plays a stand-in for Young, is surprisingly toothless, eschewing Young’s juicy behind-the-scenes drama in favor of clichéd comic situations, such as an awkward interview in which Pegg’s character asks a musical-comedy star whether he’s gay. The film soon sets up more promising comic targets, including a deliciously douchey director, and Pegg makes you root for Young to take them down. But screenwriter Peter Straughan and director Robert Weide always pull the punches, making the film seem as lily-livered as the starstruck journalists it’s supposedly aiming to satirize. (SW)

Players (2024). In a romantic comedy this juiceless, you must savor joy as you can — like surprisingly accurate bits about the Kronos Quartet or unexpected focus on the work of a data journalist (Damon Wayans, Jr.). He’s among a group of single Brooklyn reporters whose evenings consist of convoluted cons intended for them all to get lucky — an endeavor of lying both fundamentally antithetical to their careers and almost impossibly expensive for their salaries. (Fast & Furious or Mission: Impossible heists cost less than these bar tabs.) When a sportswriter (Gina Rodriguez) stuck covering chess-boxing and turtle racing meets a dashing war correspondent (Tom Ellis), she decides she’s ready for long-term love and the group runs its biggest play yet. Unlike the interrogation-room scheme of most streaming romantic comedies, Players is lit like a real movie. It’s the nicest thing to say about it, as the exertion Rodriguez and Wayans exhibit to keep this watchable will just make you wish they had different agents. Even less believable than the romantic fantasy: One well-written feature story will save you when the layoffs arrive. (NR)

Revenge of the Radioactive Reporter (1990). This Canadian horror-comedy plays like a cross between the ultraviolent Troma shenanigans of The Toxic Avenger and the gloopy, radioactive B-horror of The Incredible Melting Man, but it never quite captures the micro-budget magic of those accidental masterpieces. Revenge of the Radioactive Reporter serves as a harrowing lesson to journalists: Do not stand over a vat of nuclear waste when interviewing an evil head of a nuclear power plant, where he can easily push you in with absolutely no witnesses. In this instance, it causes our heroic reporter, Mike R. Wave (ha!), to return as a disfigured mutant hellbent on revenge — a story we hear about far too often in real-world journalism. (MR)

Blood on the Sun (1945) The second film from James Cagney’s namesake production company won an Academy Award (for black-and-white art direction), but this vanity project/propaganda piece proved a financial failure. Cagney is Nick Condon, a fictionalized American editor in early 1930s Tokyo seeking proof of the Tanaka Memorial, a real-world document that outlined Japan’s imperial plans for global domination but has since been widely debunked as a forgery meant to foment discord between China and Japan. Before slugging a traitorous colleague in the face, Condon does find time to pen a sandbagging front-page editorial about the guy. But the film generally finds Cagney flirting with Sylvia Sidney’s femme fatale, showing off the judo skills he learned for the role and speaking in occasional Japanese with his “dirty rat” voice. Released on the wane of World War II, Blood on the Sun falls in line with its era’s lamentable parlances and yellowface performances, and it uses a pretext of thrills to assure Americans that the atomic bombs dropped on Japan were of material use. Neither is a surprise, but that leans its legacy toward Hollywood indignity rather than journalistic integrity. (NR)

After Office Hours (1935). “Who wants to listen to music? There could be a good murder any second!” That throwaway line of comic relief sums up the tonal clash here between Clark Gable and Constance Bennett’s enjoyable rat-a-tat romance and darker turns into crime and death. Jim Branch (Gable) is a New York editor getting stonewalled on a story about a banker, his bride and the senatorial candidate who may be breaking up their marriage. Sharon Norwood (Bennett) is a socialite who doesn’t need her arts-reporting gig but berates Branch for taking it from her after she gives a Beethoven performance bad marks. When Sharon turns out to be longtime pals with the candidate Jim is chasing, and a murder transpires, Jim seeks hard evidence and his softer side in wooing her. Typical of its time, the film considers journalism as a loop-de-loop of larks and vendettas — more interloping and agitation, less investigation and analysis. To quote a newsroom banner: IS IT INTERESTING? Not really, other than chronological proximity to Oscar glory for Gable, who won Best Actor for It Happened One Night days after this film’s release. It’s the sort of vibe for which I Love Trouble also aimed decades later with only fair-to-middling results. (NR)

Monolith (2024). A disgraced Australian journalist (Lily Sullivan) tries to salvage her flailing career as the host of Beyond Believable, a paranormal podcast attempting to explain the unexplainable. (“I thought you said you were a journalist,” one source tells the unnamed writer upon hearing the word “podcast.” The sting is real.) Following an anonymous tip about mysterious black bricks turning up at random points around the world, the podcast becomes a sensation. But sources tell her “something awful is coming.” Is this pursuit helping to stop whatever that is … or simply facilitating destruction? Subtle tweaks to the sound mix underscore the psychological tension of the unnamed journalist’s ethically dubious sculpting of the story, and Sullivan shines in a one-woman show where she’s supported by voice-only actors. Monolith is the platonic ideal of a headphones movie, with only a few modest adjustments from a plausible pivot into an audio-only thriller. Perhaps that would have been the better play for a story that’s at its finest when gazing into the gap between the skills of listening and language and less so when it employs underwhelming visual analogs to stronger science-fiction films of recent years. (NR)

The Underworld Story (1950). This underseen gem from blacklisted director Cy Endfield has a deeply cynical heart beating at its center that makes Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (still a top-15 film on the list) look downright quaint by comparison. The movie follows disgraced reporter Mike Reese (Dan Duryea), who creates mass public hysteria in his sensationalistic coverage of a Black woman falsely accused of murder. Eventually, Reese gets entangled with organized crime and judicial committees, and he’s forced to choose between his own moral redemption or damnation. Some egregiously dated elements aside (including white actress Mary Anderson playing a Black character), this is an engrossing noir whose themes still resonate. (MR)

A Flash of Green (1984). This film is notable for deromanticizing the life of a reporter. In Palm City, Florida, Jimmy Wing (Ed Harris) doesn’t wear slick suits and scoop up stories at classy clubs. He sweats out cocktails at dingy bars and cranks out copy in a cramped, cluttered office. When the county commissioner (Richard Jordan) cuts him in on a real estate deal, Jimmy starts to see his world open up, but he loses sight of his hometown loyalty — especially to his best friend’s widow (Blair Brown), for whom he harbors love. Adapting the novel by John D. MacDonald, writer-director Victor Nuñez seamlessly balances several subplots and maintains slow-burn suspense in his exploration of Jimmy’s double life. Harris effectively conveys the added weight a reporter carries as a resident of a small town where everybody knows your name. A Flash of Green takes on shades of noir as shadowy thugs follow him wherever he goes — like manifestations of his guilty conscience. This film shines bright as a hidden gem. (SW)