Given the prevalence of zombie and vampire themes in recent films and television series, it is safe to say that the world is currently infested. Then there’s the continuous economic downturn.
At least 20 documentaries and narrative films have been made about the financial crisis in the last five years by filmmakers from Hollywood and beyond. Margin Call, an ensemble thriller about a 24-hour period in a Lehman-esque investment firm at the height of the crisis, premiered this week.
It’s getting good reviews now, but to compete with the best films about the financial crisis, it’ll need to pick up the praise fast. The cast includes Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, and Penn Badgley. On the other hand, as you can see in the list below, which ranks previous financial crisis films from best reviews to worst reviews, it is likely to avoid being among the worst recession films.
1. Inside Job (2010) Add to Netflix Queue
In my opinion, it’s the most important documentary you’ll see this year, if not the most important of the new century.”
Filmmaker Charles Ferguson’s documentary on the financial crisis has won an Oscar, as well as critical acclaim, making it the best of its kind. Using a combination of talking heads, well-conceived charts, and Matt Damon’s narration, the director transforms what could have been a complex and dry subject into something both understandable and compelling, placing the blame for the downturn on the greed of the financial industry, its long reach, and its unchecked influence over the government and education.
2. Up in the Air (2009) Add to Netflix Queue
“In Up in the Air, the rug is pulled out from under people’s feet. It’s a film for our time, in other words.”
In spite of the fact that Up in the Air’s story of corporate downsizing was based on a Walter Kirn novel that appeared in 2001, the film’s depiction of such events resonated with the zeitgeist of 2009. It’s also worth noting that the film’s first few minutes feature interviews with some real-life victims of the present economic collapse, played by George Clooney. Many critics chose Jason Reitman’s dramedy as one of the year’s best, and it went on to get six Oscar nominations and over $160 million in international box office receipts.
3. Collapse (2009) Add to Netflix Queue
In my opinion, Ruppert presents a persuasive case that the world is on the verge of an unprecedented paradigm shift.
Michael Ruppert, a former police officer turned novelist, claims to have foretold the worldwide economic disaster. In Chris Smith’s (American Movie 84) gripping picture of obsession, the documentary Collapse is an 82-minute monologue by Ruppert compiled from interviews over the course of a week. Although Ruppert’s views on the financial crisis, peak oil, and societal trends have been debunked, he is confident in his ability to present a terrible image of the impending collapse in human civilisation, regardless of your opinion. It’s wonderful that filmmaker Smith refrains from passing judgment on Ruppert’s assertions.
4. I.O.U.S.A. (2008) Add to Netflix Queue
A “smartly compiled wake-up call on the nation’s poor spending habits proves to be as unexpectedly energetic as it is dispiriting,” according to a reviewer.
I.O.U.S.A., a well-reviewed and mainly non-partisan documentary about the federal government’s mounting debt burden, is a textbook example of how to communicate difficult information on screen in a visually appealing way. In 2008, when former US Comptroller-General David Walker traveled the country to warn the country of the mounting threat, the national debt was less of a hot-button topic (and even more of a concern). An older version of the documentary (the debt has grown by almost $5 trillion since the film was filmed) can be seen in its entirety for free on YouTube.
5. The Company Men (2011) Add to Netflix Queue
For those laid off, their families, and even the layoffees themselves, it gets things correct enough to make audiences uncomfortable. “
So far this financial crisis, The Company Men is the best-reviewed drama on the impact of unemployment on the individual that has emerged. The Company Men is the first film directed by TV veteran John Wells (ER, The West Wing). Up in the Air focuses on only one side of the firing issue, whereas Company Men examines both the executives responsible for firing and the people who are laid off and have to deal with long periods of unemployment. It was a box office disappointment in early 2011 despite (or perhaps because of) the relevant subject matter and a stellar cast that included Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, and Tommy Lee Jones (among others).
6. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer 68 (2010) Add to Netflix Queue
“Alex Gibney has crafted a film worthy of Eliot Spitzer, no matter what you think of him,” said one critic of the film.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room 82, Alex Gibney’s Oscar-nominated Enron documentary, is just one of the many financial documentaries he has worked on. Former New York attorney general and Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s prostitute scandal in 2008 is the subject of this chapter. Client 9 argues that Spitzer was brought down by the same dynamics in New York’s financial services business that were at least in part responsible for the current financial catastrophe (including failed insurer AIG, which was being targeted by Spitzer).
7. Too Big to Fail (2011) Add to Netflix Queue
“If you can call watching an economics lecture from hell fun, then yeah, HBO’s Too Big to Fail is entertaining.”
Curtis Hanson’s HBO film adaptation of Andrew Ross Sorkin’s nonfiction book about the early days of the financial crisis plays almost like a dramatized version of Inside Job, with William Hurt, Paul Giamatti, James Woods, and Billy Crudup playing prominent politicians and executives like Henry Paulson, Ben Bernanke, Dick Fuld, and Timothy Geithner. Too Big to Fail was nominated for 11 Emmys, but some critics said that the film’s subject matter didn’t make for a compelling drama, despite the film’s entertainment value.
8. Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders (2007) Add to Netflix Queue
However, the documentary does a good job of highlighting the scope of the problem, but it avoids the question of how and by whom it might be addressed.
Our list would be incomplete without a look at Maxed Out, which examines the effects of predatory lending practices by banks and customers’ inclination to overextend themselves before the present crisis even began (it was initially shown in 2006). (though the film largely places the blame on the former). In spite of the documentary’s focus on credit card debt, we now know that such questionable (and possibly illegal) lending practices were a major cause of the real estate boom and bust, as well as the current global economic situation and the personal crises that so many people are currently experiencing. Despite the importance of the subject matter, the filmmaking of filmmaker James Scurlock was not universally praised.
9. Capitalism: A Love Story (2009) Add to Netflix Queue
Many of the individual parts in Moore’s film are classics, and his scattershot approach is more engaging than some filmmakers’ emphasis.
Liberals will even acknowledge that capitalism isn’t a provocateur. Some critics claim that Michael Moore’s best picture suffers from a lack of focus, and this may be the case. There are a wide range of themes covered in the video, however some are more pertinent than others in terms of the present economic downturn (the foreclosure problem, the 2008 bailout, the role of the Federal Reserve) (religion, prisons, life insurance). Because of Moore’s usual wit, the proceedings are kept from becoming too depressing. In spite of this, Capitalism was a money failure and Moore’s lowest-grossing film in more than 10 years.
10. American Casino (2009) Add to Netflix Queue
“There’s no Michael Moore-style dynamism in this movie, and it’s a downer. It is saved by the fact that it puts a human face on the situation and calls out corporate greed.”
In her documentary American Casino, Leslie Cockburn takes a look at the subprime mortgage crisis and the greed-driven predatory lending practices of major mortgage banks. It’s hard to argue with the film’s depiction of the catastrophic impact on families and neighborhoods, yet some found it “visually uninspired” and “workmanlike.”
11. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) Add to Netflix Queue
‘It’s not much more admirable than the deceitful, money-grubbing elite it’s seeking to take down in its empty-headed pride’
This late sequel to Oliver Stone’s legendary look at Reagan-era banking world Wall Street may have arrived around 20 years too late for anyone to care, but at least it was topical in its subject matter with a scenario set in the 2008 financial crisis. The film’s critics, however, found it dull, despite Michael Douglas repeating his role as Gordon Gekko (now redeemed and out of prison). Money Never Sleeps failed to draw in large crowds in the United States, but it made enough money (nearly $130 million) to cover the costs of its production.
12. Larry Crowne (2011) Add to Netflix Queue
“Losing one’s career or one’s love is dealt with melancholy optimism in Edgeless. When it comes to unemployment-themed movies, Hanks’s cheery image of life after the pink slip pales into insignificance compared to the more realistic portrayals of ‘The Company Men’ and ‘Everything Must Go’, respectively.”
Give Tom Hanks some credit: A feel-good romantic comedy about an ailing economy is what he has so far come up with. Hanks plays a middle-aged man who gets laid off from his lengthy employment at a Wal-Mart-like business in only his second directing effort (after the far superior That Thing You Do! 71). Even if you’ve recently lost your job, you may enroll in a community college where you’ll meet new people, fall in love, and live happily ever after with Julia Roberts, who is played by Julia Roberts. When NBC’s Community does something similar with humor, intelligence, and creativity, labeling it a sitcom would be insulting.)