Thursday, September 4, 2014

18 of the Greatest Films About Capitalism, Business, and Working

Labor Day has passed, and with it a moment to reflect on the place working has in daily life. Despite the occasional Norma Rae, Hollywood tends to not be interested in producing a lot of movies that explore the nature of business and working in America or anywhere else, despite the fact that most adults’ jobs are the major concern of their lives.

Great films about the blue- and white-collar world tend come along every decade or so. Here is a list of some of the ones that have endured the test of time and, due to their artistic merit and social insight, remain relevant today:

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
A high-profile Hollywood morality tale of naked greed and the quest for the "American Dream" played out in a hunt for gold.

The Fountainhead (1949)
What is genius, and how far must someone go to protect it? Like all of Ayn Rand’s work, it’s a story worth paying attention to not for its life lessons, but for how it depicts the way certain segments of business and the “creative class” see themselves.

The Wages of Fear (1953)
On one level, it’s a white-knuckle action film. On another, it’s a harrowing tale of poverty that highlights the real dangers faced by low-wage industrial workers throughout history.

On the Waterfront (1954)
Featuring one of many classic Brando performances, this is one of the few high-profile American films to focus on blue-collar labor issues.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)
There’s a straight line between this iconic film and the TV series Mad Men. The stifling modernist aesthetic of 1950s business culture acting as a veneer for the sex, greed, and violence lurking underneath.

A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Nothing Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh does is new. This film (featuring a wonderfully out-of-character Andy Griffith) shows how businesses have been using public passion to sell things since mass media was invented.

Network (1976)
One of the greatest stories put on film of how the Media influences American life. It’s also about getting old in an industry and country where doing so is almost a criminal act.

Nine to Five (1980)
It’s a star vehicle, but it also highlights issues about sexism in the workplace, something that was still at epidemic proportions only 30 years ago.

Wall Street (1987)
“Geed is good.” Michael Douglas was reportedly appalled when young business go-getters started using his character as a role model. Many still do, which tells you all you need to know about Wall Street “integrity.”

Roger & Me (1989)
A provocative, disturbing, and wickedly funny examination of what happens when a city loses its job.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Worth watching for Alec Baldwin’s speech alone, the desperation of the salesman is played out by a group of legendary actors.

The Insider (1999)
Russel Crowe and Al Pacino give powerful performances in a story about what being a corporate trouble-maker costs you.

Office Space (1999)
To me, it’s still the greatest movie made about the Dot-Com era. The first half completely nails what working in a faceless technology corporation was like at the turn of the century.

Boiler Room (2000)
Cinematically, it's good, not great, but it is one of the few films of its time that directly addresses the Dot-Com bubble era and the greed behind it. It’s also an interesting view of a generation that absorbed its business and life ethics from Gordon Gekko and Tony Montana.

The Corporation (2003)
A dizzying analysis about how a particular artificial legal entity utterly dominates life in America and the world.

Independent Lens: "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” (2005)
The “best and the brightest” in business need to lie, cheat and steal to make money. Just about everyone else suffers as a result.

There Will Be Blood (2007)
A heavily stylized historical tale of all-consuming greed that shows as long as American Capitalism exists, there will be a venue for sociopaths to become rich and powerful.

The Informant! (2009)
A warped, hazy true story that views the glassy-eyed alternate universe of the corporate criminal. If you haven’t heard the This American Life episode this film is based on, you really should.

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