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A Dozen Sleazy Reporters

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Newspaper reporters make great bad guys. They’re nosy, they’re impertinent and they often dress lousy. Here are my picks for the worst of the lot.

KATE MARA IN “HOUSE OF CARDS”

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TV audiences are getting a real treat with Mara’s performance on the Netflix original series, “House of Cards.” She’s a talented, twisted scribe who has no ethical boundaries in her pursuit of personal fame. She’s scary good.

BURT LANCASTER IN “SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS”

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Lancaster is pure evil as columnist J.J. Hunsecker in “Sweet Smell of Success.” He makes and breaks reputations, reveling in the tremendous power he wields. That’s not a good thing if you’re trying to marry J.J.’s beloved sister. Burt is like a coiled snake.

BRUCE WILLIS IN “THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES”

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This is not one of Bruce’s better films, for a variety of reasons. However, his tabloid reporter character here is highly memorable. He opportunistically pounces on a scandal involving race, class and politics and holds on for dear life.

MIRANDA RICHARDSON IN “HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE”

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I love her name: Rita Skeeter. She’s the snarky reporter in the Harry Potter series, and she definitely puts a spin on her stories – complete with questionable quotes and outright lies. She can’t even get poor Harry’s age right.

BRODERICK CRAWFORD IN “SCANDAL SHEET”

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Crawford, who plays the gruff editor of a tawdry “scandal sheet,” has a bit of a situation on his ink-stained hands. The wife he used to beat up and then abandoned has threatened to expose him. He deals with her in the way film noir characters usually do, but then he has to assign one of his reporters to cover the story and hope he doesn’t get caught. Get me rewrite!

HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN IN “SHATTERED GLASS”

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This is perhaps the most frightening item on The List, because it’s a true story. “Shattered Glass” is the story of disgraced journalist Stephen Glass, who fabricated parts of dozens of stories in The New Republic magazine. It’s one of those movies that slowly, painfully reveals the depths of the villain’s deception. Peter Sarsgaard is very good as the editor who gets to the truth.

ROBERT DUVALL IN “THE NATURAL”

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Sports reporters can be sleazy, too. In the great baseball movie, “The Natural,” Duvall is clearly more interested in a juicy yarn than in the game. He’s just as corrupt, in his own way, as a greedy owner or a player on the take.

BARBARA STANWYCK IN “MEET JOHN DOE”

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Because this ends up being a comedy-drama with social overtones, you tend to forget that Stanwyck’s character did something pretty bad. She’s being laid off from her gig as a newspaper columnist, and she decides to print a letter from a made-up person threatening to kill himself on Christmas Eve because the world is unfair to the downtrodden. It gets even worse when the paper hires Gary Cooper to be the fictional “John Doe.”

ORSON WELLES IN “CITIZEN KANE”

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I had to include good, old Charles Foster Kane, although he’s more of an executive than a lowly reporter. Apart from the film’s overall greatness, it is also a testament to the notion that information is power. You can even start a war with it.

AUBREY PLAZA IN “SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED”

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Even interns need to follow this rule: Don’t get emotionally involved with your source. That’s especially true if he claims to be a time traveler.

SALLY FIELD IN “ABSENCE OF MALICE”

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This is a tough one, because Sally Field’s reporter character isn’t intentionally trying to do harm. But that’s the point. By being so easily manipulated (thanks Bob Balaban!) she indeed does great harm to Paul Newman and Melinda Dillon. It’s an excellent film.

KIRK DOUGLAS IN “ACE IN THE HOLE”

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My man Kirk is magnificently malevolent in this picture, directed by the brilliant Billy Wilder. Kirk is a former New York City reporter, now working in New Mexico, who stumbles across a gripping story of a man trapped in a cave. Not only does he delay the rescue operation in order to string out the story an extra day or two – he seduces the wife of the guy in the cave! That’s just wrong. “Ace in the Hole” is a smart, snappy tale of sensationalism gone wild.

Wow. That’s a lot of jerky journalists.

Best Olympics Movies Ever

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As we head into another edition of the Summer Olympics, here’s a List of Olympics-related film dramas and comedies to get us in the mood. No documentaries, though – the Games will provide all the reality we need for the next two weeks.

CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981)

Let’s start with the gold medalist. While it’s debatable whether “Chariots of Fire” deserved its Oscar for Best Picture, the fact that it is a classic character study told with grace and dignity is undeniable. The film presents running in the 1924 Olympics as a matter of religious faith, personal struggle, patriotic duty and elite frolic, depending on the individual.

JIM THORPE — ALL-AMERICAN (1951)

This one is more of a tragedy. Burt Lancaster plays the great Jim Thorpe, who won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics, only to have the medals taken away because he’d been paid once to play summer baseball. In the 1980s, after his death, Thorpe’s medals were reinstated. This movie, in some of the action scenes, used actual footage of Thorpe.

DOWNHILL RACER (1969)

Now for a little Winter Olympics action, with plenty of star power. Robert Redford is excellent as an aloof, driven Olympic skier. What I like so much about “Downhill Racer” is the way it showcases the rivalries, politics and competitiveness among athletes and even coaches on the same team.

PERSONAL BEST (1982)

Mariel Hemingway stars in this drama set around the 1980 Olympic games. The story works on two fronts. First you have the various personal relationships involving women’s track and field athletes. Then you have the emotional aftermath of President Carter’s decision to boycott the 1980 games.

COOL RUNNINGS (1993)

Highly enjoyable, Disney version of the Jamaican bobsled team that took the Olympics – and the world – by storm in 1988. Far from being a documentary, it stars John Candy, Doug E. Doug and the always-charismatic Leon Robinson.

WALK DON’T RUN (1966)

The 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo is the backdrop for this old-fashioned romantic comedy. Cary Grant, in his final film role, plays matchmaker to speed walker Jim Hutton and Samantha Eggar. It’s very sweet.

WITHOUT LIMITS (1998)

“Without Limits” was one of two films in the 1990s to profile Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine, who ran in the 1972 Munich games. I prefer this one, which stars the fine actor Billy Crudup as Prefontaine and Donald Sutherland as his coach. As a side note, “Without Limits” also features the legendary runner Frank Shorter – although he doesn’t play himself (Jeremy Sisto plays Shorter).

MUNICH (2005)

I think this is one of Steven Spielberg’s great films. It starts with an extended recounting of the brutal terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich games and continues forward with a story of Israeli agents responding to the attack in the years that followed. Eric Bana and Daniel Craig star. The movie ends with a visual that some might find cliched, but I found to be among the most haunting I’ve ever seen.

MIRACLE (2004)

We finish on an inspirational note. “Miracle” gives us one of the truly joyous moments (for Americans) in sports, with the U.S. hockey team’s incredible run at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Kurt Russell is perfect as coach Herb Brooks.

Did I leave any good ones out? Add them to The List!

Great Swimming Pool Scenes

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Let’s celebrate the first official weekend of summer The Jimbo List way – with a slate of great swimming pool scenes from movies and television. Go ahead. Dive in!

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

The technological wonders of 1946 are on full display in this delightful scene, in which Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are dancing in a high school gymnasium. Someone flips a switch and – wouldn’t you know it – the gym floor opens up to reveal a swimming pool!

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION (1983)

Christie Brinkley will be forever known for her sexy pool scene with Chevy Chase in this 1980s comedy classic. Oh, the things that happen on the way to Walley World.

MEET THE PARENTS (2000)

Of course, there’s plenty of adventure to be found in the pool right at your own home. One of the many humiliations that Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) endured at the hands of his in-laws, including Robert DeNiro, was a brutal game of pool volleyball. Hilarious.

SNL’S “SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING” (1984)

This filmed bit from “Saturday Night Live” is absolute brilliance. Harry Shearer and the great Martin Short play a couple of guys hoping to make the summer Olympics as male synchronized swimmers.

THE SWIMMER (1968)

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve always found this movie compelling. Burt Lancaster stars as a Connecticut suburbanite who decides to swim home via all the backyard swimming pools in his path. Because this is an adaptation of a John Cheever story, you know there’s going to be plenty of alienation and dysfunction along the way.

CADDYSHACK (1980)

On a much less serious note, we have that masterpiece of attitude and snarky charm, “Caddyshack.” You’ll never look at a candy bar the same way again, thanks to a particular scene featuring a stray Baby Ruth.

RUSHMORE (1998)

Bill Murray gets a back-to-back visit to The List. This is one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, “Rushmore.” No one rocks Budweiser trunks like our man Murray.

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

“Sunset Boulevard” takes the swimming pool scene into the realm of film noir. Poor William Holden plays a Hollywood screenwriter who winds up in the deep end of things.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)

Bueller’s buddy, played by Alan Ruck, tries to distance himself from his youthful fears and hurt by sinking to the bottom of the family pool.

WILD THINGS (1998)

Although it was not a great film, “Wild Things” did make waves due to a steamy pool scene with Neve Campbell and Denise Richards.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE’S THE BEWITCHIN’ POOL (1964)

In this episode, two unhappy children discover, at the bottom of their parents’ pool, a doorway to a special place where mom and dad don’t fight. Bad acting, but a bracing concept.

COCOON (1985)

For those who thought they’d never want to see Wilford Brimley topless, I offer “Cocoon.” A key scene has Brimley and a cadre of duffers taking a VERY rejuvenating swim.

TOWER HEIST (2011)

“Tower Heist” didn’t get great reviews, but it really wasn’t bad. It also happened to include one of the coolest pools in movie history.

BATHING BEAUTY (1944)

This film gives us one of the true wonders of cinema – Esther Williams and a phalanx of swimmers, turning a pool into a Technicolor playground. The cast of this odd musical featured the unlikely duo of Red Skelton and Basil Rathbone.

SPECIES (1995)

The sci-fi/horror movie genre takes a memorable dip in “Species.” Natasha Henstridge plays a gorgeous woman looking for love, but she isn’t exactly what she appears to be.

TOMORROWLAND EPISODE OF MAD MEN (2010)

“Mad Men” fans will remember how important it was when Don Draper saw his kids playing in the hotel pool with his secretary, Megan. The watery frolic showed him the possibility of a young, fun, fresh new start.

THE GRADUATE (1967)

Rarely has there been such a perfect blend of acting, directing and zeitgeist. This scene makes a swimming pool the focal point for a larger statement about youthful anxiety and discontent.

So that’s my List. What would you add?

5 New/Old Movie Double Features

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Sometimes when you watch a movie, you get a sudden, happy flashback to another film you enjoyed years ago. It might have a similar theme, locale or situation – but it makes you want to see that old film again for comparison’s sake. Here are five such double features that have come to mind recently.

FRIENDS WITH KIDS (2012)

AND…

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989)

They’re both smart, they’re both funny and they’re both romantic comedies about best friends who become more intimate. I greatly enjoyed Jennifer Westfeldt’s “Friends With Kids,” which features a winning cast that includes Adam Scott and Maya Rudolph. My one problem was its unbelievably clunky ending. It seemed to grasp at elements from several earlier films – including “When Harry Met Sally.” That’s a movie I liked a lot, as well. Its ending was schmaltzy, but it worked. And it had classic performances by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. But something it didn’t do was bring children or grandparents into the mix; Harry and Sally existed in this sort of unrealistic bubble.

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (2012)

AND…

LOCAL HERO (1983)

Here are two quirky, wonderful films. “Salmon Fishing” is about a crazy plan to bring salmon fishing to a desert; “Local Hero” is about an oil company attempting to purchase a town in Scotland for a refinery. Different as those stories are, they share a common sensibility. They feature isolated main characters (Ewan McGregor and Peter Riegert) who find something magical and invigorating during a business trip to another country. They also encounter charismatic authority figures (Amr Waked and the great Burt Lancaster) and a host of oddball supporting characters.

WANDERLUST (2012)

AND…

LOST IN AMERICA (1985)

Times and technology may change, but young married couples will always need to negotiate their personal version of the American dream. Albert Brooks explored this theme with hilarious results in “Lost in America,” one of the funniest films ever made. He turns the words “nest egg” into something sublime and his scenes as a school crossing guard are brilliant. “Wanderlust” offers smart performances by Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston in their own journey of discovery, via a hippy-dippy commune. It’s not on a level with “Lost in America,” but it has very witty moments and a solid supporting cast.

SAFE HOUSE (2012)

AND…

MIDNIGHT RUN (1988)

Bear with me on this one. You’ve got two branches of the action movie genre here, but they both feature one guy tasked with bringing another guy to justice. That other guy, meanwhile, is trying to get into the hero’s head and find a way to escape. A road trip and lots of bonding ensues. In “Safe House,” Denzel Washington is a tough, rogue spy being escorted to authorities by young spy Ryan Reynolds. Washington is rakishly sly and intimidating, and the film boasts all the quick-cut, hand-to-hand combat scenes that today’s audiences crave. Yet its greatest strength is the easy chemistry between Washington and Reynolds. The same is true for action-comedy-buddy movie “Midnight Run.” Robert DeNiro is a bounty hunter taking embezzler Charles Grodin to Los Angeles. Grodin masterfully nags, jokes and irritates tough guy DeNiro into submission. Again, chemistry is the key.

THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)

AND…

BATTLE ROYALE (2000)

Full disclosure: This one is based on sage observations by friends of The Jimbo List. “The Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale” are both about dystopian futures in which teens are forced into deadly battle with each other by authoritarian governments. The difference is cultural. “The Hunger Games” takes place in a version of North America, while “Battle Royale” is set in Japan.

So that’s five. Now let’s hear your suggestions for new/old double features!

A Menagerie of Memorable Last Films

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Obviously, actors don’t usually know when the final film of their career is coming. If they did, Jimmy Stewart wouldn’t have gone out on “The Magic of Lassie,” and Gene Kelly wouldn’t have said yes to “Xanadu.” But here are some final films that I find particularly memorable.

RICHARD HARRIS

(HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS, 2002)

Perhaps it was his reputation as a scalawag intermingling with the role, but I always thought Harris imbued Dumbledore with a deep sense of danger and mystery, beyond the plot of the movie. This is by no means a slap at the work of Michael Gambon, who took over the part in subsequent Harry Potter films.

HEATH LEDGER

(THE DARK KNIGHT, 2008)

Purists may argue this wasn’t his last film, since he did appear later in “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.” To my thinking, however, “Imaginarium” wasn’t a full performance and shouldn’t be considered as such. His Joker, on the other hand – that was a complete performance. And an amazing one, too.

MARILYN MONROE & CLARK GABLE

(THE MISFITS, 1961)

Such an odd twosome, yet it worked here. What’s more, these were fitting roles for their last film: he’s full of craggy, manly force and she’s a volcano of vulnerability.

PAUL ROBESON

(TALES OF MANHATTAN, 1942)

This selection requires some explanation. It’s an episodic film about how a fancy suit with tails comes into various lives and has some unusual effect. Some parts of it are quite good, but then we get to the great performer Robeson’s episode. He’s a poor rural farmer who finds the suit, which is full of money. Robeson came to see his role in this film as playing into an African American stereotype and spoke out vehemently against it. He never acted in another film.

HENRY FONDA

(ON GOLDEN POND, 1981)

Fonda ended a fine movie career with this emotional crowd pleaser, which he knocked out of the park. Of course, he was helped nicely by Katharine Hepburn and his daughter, Jane. The old poop got an Oscar for it, too.

INGRID BERGMAN

(AUTUMN SONATA, 1978)

What a lucky break for serious movie fans that Ingrid Bergman, one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the screen, got to end her career this way. She’s a high-achieving pianist who has a soul-searching visit with her two grown daughters. Ingmar Bergman wrote and directed.

RICHARD BURTON

(NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, 1984)

Burton is simply terrific as the intense interrogator, O’Brien, in this version of George Orwell’s famous novel of humanity amid totalitarianism. Those eyes, that voice…

WILLIAM POWELL

(MISTER ROBERTS, 1955)

As the ship doctor aboard a cargo vessel in World War II, Powell had a chance here to hint at all the things that had made him a great leading man from the silent era right on through the Depression. He was wise, he was funny and he was on the side of the angels.

MADGE SINCLAIR

(THE LION KING, 1994)

So what if it’s an animated film? Madge Sinclair was a class act, and her vocal performance helped give “The Lion King” deep emotional resonance. She played Simba’s mom.

PETER FINCH

(NETWORK, 1976)

Iconic part in an iconic movie. Finch was the crazed, network anchorman Howard Beale, whose deranged antics on camera proved to be a sage warning of things to come in our profit-obsessed culture of today. He was “mad as hell,” and so were we.

JAMES DEAN

(GIANT, 1956)

This is a big, melodramatic story about rival Texas ranchers fighting over money and women. Dean plays a guy named, I kid you not, Jett Rink. Also starring Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, “Giant” is full to bursting with 1950s hubris.

JEAN ARTHUR

(SHANE, 1953)

Among other things, “Shane” was about people wishing their lives were different, yet sticking with the roles the world handed them. Jean Arthur’s character, a frontier wife and mom who may or may not be in love with noble gunslinger Shane, was no different. Arthur was one of the best comic actresses of her era, yet she played this role completely straight.

RANDOLPH SCOTT

(RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, 1962)

The modern Western film began right here. Scott and Joel McCrea play former partners who must take a shipment of gold through some sketchy territory. Turns out Scott is kind of sketchy, too. This movie was directed by Sam Peckinpah, and he loaded it up with incredible dialogue and visuals that spoke to growing old in a changing landscape.

WOODY STRODE

(THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, 1995)

He only appears at the beginning of the film, but I love Woody Strode so I put him on this List anyway. He’s the local coffin maker in a freaky Western town where the head honcho (a smirking Gene Hackman) holds a gunfighting contest that includes Russell Crowe, Sharon Stone, Leonardo DiCaprio and a cast of thousands.

SPENCER TRACY

(GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?, 1967)

Thankfully, society has changed enough to make this film seem more and more dated. At the time, though, it was a big deal. Tracy is an elderly dad whose daughter is planning to marry an African American man. The big scene comes toward the end of the film, when Tracy gives a speech about the enduring, sustaining nature of love.

WILLIAM HOLDEN

(S.O.B., 1981)

Good as he was in his younger days, I’ve always liked Holden’s later work best. In “S.O.B,” he satirizes the Hollywood movie industry very effectively. The 1980s had to have seemed insane to people who came of age in the 1940s and ’50s.

BURT LANCASTER

(FIELD OF DREAMS, 1989)

They just don’t make movie stars like this guy anymore. Lancaster appeared to relish every second of his career, playing good guys, bad guys, pirates, acrobats, prison convicts, soldiers, mobsters, preachers and lawmen. The gleam was still in his eyes as Doc “Moonlight” Graham, in Kevin Costner’s baseball fantasy. There’s one scene here, where the camera sweeps around to catch a big close-up of Burt’s face, that plays now like his farewell to movies. Beautiful.

So tell me, what are your favorite final films?