1st January 1999
1. Inside Job
Charles Ferguson's exposé of the 2008 financial meltdown is without doubt the must see movie about money this year. While some criticise the film for oversimplification and naivety, it is one of the most watchable documentaries ever made about the mechanisations of money and features some engrossing, excruciating interviews. Inside Job is funny, infuriating and riveting, just don't expect a balanced view of the industry.
With a cast this good perhaps the title was self-reflexive: Too Big To Fail features William Hurt, Paul Giamatti, James Woods and Billy Crudrup and is an adaptation of Andrew Ross Sorkin's book on the 2008 financial crisis. Nominated for 11 Primetime Emmys and another triumph for HBO (it was shown on Sky Atlantic in the UK), the series manages to humanise those at the centre of the storm, whilst remaining detached enough to remain a credible, if simplified vision of the meltdown. Superb performances and reliably brilliant HBO production values.
Adam Curtis's 3 part documentary for the BBC perhaps lacked the cohesion of some of his earlier work (The Century of Self, The Power of Nightmares), but Curtis again proved he is one of the most informed, passionate and innovative documentary makers of the 21st century. All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace traces the journey of cybernetics and system theory from the Universities of the United States, to the Cold War tech-boom, the dot-com bubble and through to the financial markets of today – Curtis argues that our blind allegiance to systems and technology is based on flawed logic, and that our financial systems which rely so heavily on such theories are in a perilous position. Curtis is a dogmatic and didactic filmmaker and rarely pulls his punches. His work is not for everyone, but it's scope and complexity has to be admired.
Whilst the documentary is unlikely to be released on DVD (It uses countless hours of expensive archive footage and pop music) you can read Curtis's fascinating and always entertaining blog.
A surprise ratings hit for the BBC, the timing of Ian Hislop's documentary on the ethical bankers of Victorian Britain came just as the latest round of banker bashing began and St Paul's was being Occupied. Hislop is a natural storyteller and this is a fantastic piece of history. Hislop is wise to allude to the Dickensian inequalities that were prevalent in Victorian society, although some may argue these differences are just as pronounced today. The program is filled with some fascinating philanthropists, although some may quite rightly irk at the title's assumption that all bankers are now inherently bad. Expect a BBC4 repeat in the New Year.
5. Margin Call
Set for a UK release in January, Margin Call is another film with a stellar cast about (you guessed it!) the 2008 financial crisis. With an incredible ensemble cast (Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci and ahem…Demi Moore) the film plays out as an episode of 24 in an investment bank. Whilst entertaining, and more than a little bit silly, the film has enough surrealism and dry humour to please a more cerebral audience. While the film is good and layered with surprising humanity – (Spacey burying his dog is absurd, loaded with bathos and surprisingly touching at the same time) one is left with the feeling that given the cast and tight script this could have been excellent.
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