As a writer, you should focus on reading books.

Right, I get it. Reading well helps you to become a better writer. But sometimes we need to change up the medium. And what better way to recharge from the page than with a great movie.

I’ve spent a lot of time watching films, having worked in the entertainment industry for a few years and simply being a fan of the screen. But not every movie leaves you thinking, wondering, motivated to go out and create your own art. It takes a special film to do that.

Now, there are plenty of film adaptations of great books—To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great GatsbyThe Shawshank Redemption, to name a few—but that’s not what I was looking for with this list. That could be an entirely separate list altogether. No, these are movies, all fairly recent, that left me thinking, simply, “I need to sit down at my computer and write.”

Honorable Mentions:

Movies that were close, but didn’t quite crack the Top 5 include The Ghost Writer, Papa Hemingway in Cuba and Stranger Than Fiction. All worthy films about writing. Now, let’s get to the list.

5. Spotlight

(available on Netflix)

I know it’s about journalists and not novelists, but writing is writing. There’s a reason this film won Best Picture—it’s powerful and shows the vital importance of investigating a story and telling it accurately.

4. Genius

(available on HBO)

This biopic explores the life of Thomas Wolfe and his relationship with famed Scribner editor Maxwell Perkins. It takes you back into the 1920’s and 30’s publishing world of New York, and it makes you appreciative of the value a good editor brings to the table.

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Photo from Facebook.

3. The Words

(available on Amazon Prime)

A story inside a story inside a story. This is just a plain good writing movie. When the world rejects your work, what are you willing to do to make your dreams a reality?

2. Midnight in Paris

(available on Netflix)

This 2011 film feels like a classic from the get-go. Owen Wilson is a screenwriter who is trying to make the leap into the world of literature with a new novel. While on vacation in Paris, he meanders the streets late at night and in a strange twist of magic, he ends up alongside literary icons such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein.

1. Salinger

(available on Netflix)

To put it simply, no film has inspired me more to be a writer. First of all, J.D. Salinger as a man is an incredibly interesting story. The trauma he faced in his younger years, his perseverance in the literary world, and then the instant phenomenon with The Catcher in the Rye—and then to virtually disappear.

Salinger is unlike the other movies on this short list. It is not fiction and it’s not a biopic. This is a two-hour documentary that makes you think how unbelievably brilliant—and a little nuts—you have to be to write something like Catcher. But it leaves you understanding that, aside from the fame and the book signings and the royalty checks, the most important aspect of being a writer is staying true to the work.

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6 thoughts on “Five recent movies all writers should watch

  1. I need to check some of these out.

    Now the thing that caught my attention most was in the review of Salinger. The words, “Stay true to the work” caught me by the throat. I know too many times I’ve been tempted to “Compromise” (I reckon that’s the word) to water down some of my stuff so it’s a little more acceptable.

    Example. Will Diaz is a good Christian man living and working in a world where people die and get hurt. On top of that he’s faced with dealing with his own personal demons (he suffers from PTSD, someone is trying to kill him, not to mention he’s suspecting he might not be cut out to take on that world anymore).

    When some of my friends read it they were “Some of this stuff is to graphic for a Christian novel”. Their objection was in a scene where Will is investigating a rape that occurred at gun point. He’s asking the female officer who’s helping him to ask if the victim was sodomized. They felt that was a little too much for a Christian to ask.

    What they missed is that rape is brutal crime and in the world, it happens. And I was sorely tempted to cut the line. But in doing so, I would have made the bad guy a little nicer. Yes, he does have good manners when arrested (despite the fact he took a shot at my hero, he still says, “Please” and “Thank you”), but he’s till very much an animal.

    Well, I never said it was a Christian novel despite the fact God is well represented in it. It’s intended to show people clinging to faith in the middle of the biggest nightmares they can face. The majority of the stories happened, and I’ve got news for my friends, reality tends to be pretty nasty.

    To water it down so the book would be softer and more acceptable would be, in my opinion, a disservice to my characters, my readers (when I get them), and last and not certainly least, God.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for sharing. I couldn’t find the others but The Words and I’m so glad to have watched it. It is inspirational and it’s so true about what goes through a writer’s head. The words are there but the emotions aren’t and that’s where we as writer’s find inspiration in our lives and of those around us to make a great story. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You have picked some terrific films. I’ve seen Spotlight, The Words and Midnight In Paris and they are really enjoyable films that make you think. I was unaware of the other two and will definitely look out for them now so thank you for the info.

    Liked by 1 person

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