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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.

11 Little Big Men of Cinema

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Some of the roughest customers in cinema have been surprisingly small in stature. From the earliest talkies to today’s 3D extravaganzas, they’ve used their moxie and personal magnetism to project a powerful screen presence. Here are my favorites.

ROBERT DUVALL

Duvall, one of the best actors in film history, has this way of strutting around like a banty rooster. Two examples: the insane American officer in “Apocalypse Now” who marches along a beach oblivious to the explosions going on around him; and the overbearing father in “The Great Santini,” who wreaks emotional havoc on his family.

BRUCE LEE

Even decades later, the action sequences in “Fists of Fury” and “Enter the Dragon” remain truly astonishing. Lee’s intensity and charisma are unrivaled in action films, and countless movies since have tried to copy his unique style.

JAMES CAGNEY

James Cagney was a bull terrier of an actor – a compact package full of charm and snarl. In pictures such as “White Heat” and “The Public Enemy,” he lit up the screen with an electric energy. I hear he could dance, too.

ADOLPH CAESAR

Caesar’s turn as a sadistic U.S. Army sergeant during World War II is an amazing bit of work. It is full of bitterness, frustration and power. The movie (and the play it is based upon) wouldn’t hold together if the audience didn’t feel threatened by little Caesar.

EDWARD G. ROBINSON

Speaking of “Little Caesar,” there’s the great Edward G. Robinson. Here’s a guy who isn’t big – isn’t even muscular – yet everyone is rightfully afraid of him. Robinson had a mug on him that could stop traffic, plus an imperious, dead-serious aura that made him oh-so-dangerous.

AL PACINO

Whether he was playing Tony Montana in “Scarface,” or Michael Corleone in “The Godfather,” Pacino’s eyes were always a window into a volcano of violence. He may not be tall, but his reputation as an icon of American movies looms quite large.

BEN KINGSLEY

Hang on now – what is this? Why is “Gandhi” on a list of Little Big Men of the movies? All I can say is, go and watch a dandy, 2000 British crime drama, “Sexy Beast.” Kingsley got an Oscar nomination as a deliciously brutal thug who wants his old crew to do one last job. He’s utterly convincing.

JACKIE EARLE HALEY

Haley was dynamite as the psycho superhero, Rorschach, in “Watchmen.” But if you think about it, he’s been playing spunky fighters for years, going back to “Breaking Away” and even “The Bad News Bears.” There’s a fearless edge to his acting that takes him to some dark places.

JACKIE CHAN

He’s unlike anyone else on this List, in the sense that his persona is rather sunny. He brings a joy to his fight scenes that jumps out at you as much as the acrobatics. Yet even so, you come away very much aware that this is one tough dude.

BEN FOSTER

I loved Foster’s deranged gunslinger in the remake of “3:10 to Yuma.” His emotionally wounded soldier in “The Messenger” was even better. Though wildly different characters, both of them were capable of sudden violence at any moment.

JOE PESCI

No disrespect to Jimmy Cagney & Co., but Pesci has to be my No. 1 Little Big Man of movies. His Tommy DeVito in “GoodFellas” is a crazy gangster for the ages, and just about every guy I know has done that “Funny how? I mean, funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you?” riff multiple times among friends. Then you have “Casino,” “Raging Bull” and “My Cousin Vinny.” Great roles, and he made them look easy.

But that’s just me. Who are YOUR favorites?