Books have an enormous influence on film and there is something incredibly satisfying in watching a movie about writers. To experience their challenges and successes onscreen can make us feel seen, and have a rejuvenating effect on our own works-in-progress.
While by no means an exhaustive list, below are five film recommendations that can also be counted towards your research and learning time:
- Best Sellers (2021, Drama) starring Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza
Lucy Stanbridge inherited her father’s publishing house and is struggling to keep it afloat amid low sales and circling competitors when she discovers that the company’s most lucrative author still has a book under contract, now nearly fifty years delayed. (Breathe a sigh of relief at your own writing block here.) Convinced that the new book will solve all her business woes, she publishes it and…nothing. There are no reviews, no sales—the novel that held all her dreams (and is exceptional to boot), is getting no traction. Lucy shepherds the reclusive author on a book tour that is as dull as expected until a catchphrase makes him a viral sensation and saves the day.
- Midnight in Paris (2011, Romance/Fantasy) starring Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard
A frequent rewatch for us, this film is delightful in both its exploration of Paris and the light-touch of time-travel to the Roaring Twenties. Gil Pender is an aspiring novelist on vacation in Paris exploring the city alone while his fiancé is busy with her friends. One night he is invited to a party with a group of people who bear uncanny resemblance to Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein, among others of the Jazz Age’s icons of art and literature. The more he spends time in 1920’s Paris, the more disenchanted he becomes with his regular life, pushed to examine what he truly wants and the change it requires.
- Capote (2005, Drama/Crime) starring Philip Seymour Hoffman
In what is considered the best performance of his career, Hoffman plays Truman Capote on assignment from The New York Times to cover the trial of the accused in a Kansas family murder. Forming a bond with one of the accused, Capote is seized by inspiration that becomes the basis for his most successful book, In Cold Blood. At the same time, Capote is swiftly deteriorating, with his drinking out of control, fully aware that he is exploiting another for his own gain. Based on the book Capote by Gerard Clarke.
- Spotlight (2015, Drama) starring Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton
A team of journalists at The Boston Globe investigate numerous child sex abuse accusations against a priest, conducting interviews with survivors to provide proof of the widespread cover-up of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. Based on the true story of the investigative articles published in the paper in the fall of 2001, the film won Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards in 2016. A love letter to journalism and a nod to the power of writing to affect change.
- Poetic Justice (1993, Drama) starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur
A poet, Justice, is mourning the death of her boyfriend the only way she knows how—by writing poetry. Invited on a road trip by her best friend, Justice finds new love in a fellow traveler and gains some wisdom from another poet, in a cameo from the great Maya Angelou. Layered with themes of violence and systemic oppression, this film is a classic and delivers on the power of poetry for emotional expression and healing.
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