The end of March is time for annual fiscal reports in many countries around the world. Companies and corporations submit (hopefully truthful) reports of losses or profits that will determine how much they will pay in taxes, or how many loopholes they will jump through. Their reports will also determine whether they will continue to receive loans from banks or other financial institutions. Incidentally, on this day in 1957 the European Economic Community was created, grouping Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and Netherlands under one single umbrella economy, which was later expanded to the European Union in 1993. Today, 55 years later, the question about the future of this union is what everybody, and not just in Europe, is talking about (especially given Europe’s economic situation, and the world’s in general, after the 2008 financial crisis.) The economy sucks wherever you are, whether it’s in Europe, the US or Asia (in Africa, nothing’s changed, the situation has been, and still is, terrible). At the same time, capitalism is both the new religion, and a despicable one. If you’re feeling lost in all the mess and confusion that’s ruling the world of finance, you’re not alone. Even the experts are not bold (nor stupid) enough to predict what will happen to tomorrow’s stocks or gas prices. The globalization process has connected everyone to everything, and the relations of cause and effect are now ever more complex. Lucky for you, I have compiled a list of titles that will help you make sense of (or get mad at) the economic world. From informative and thought provoking via touching to exciting and entertaining, here they are:
1. The Corporation (2003) – This is the first of a trilogy of documentary films that I consider to be essential films, which could easily replace any macro-economics course. They explain how we got to where we are today. The premise is an 1886 Supreme court decision that gave corporations many of the rights people have. So the filmmakers set out to profile what type of a person a corporation would be. It’s sort of the reverse “what kind of animal are you?” game. The answer is pretty bleak and disturbing – a psychopath. Although it was made in 2003, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling from 2010, that gave corporations and unions the right to spend unlimited political money (just like you and I would) makes it ever more relevant. It’s a pretty biased film (to the left, if you’re wondering), but one conclusion is unquestionable: Money in politics is bad.
2. Food, Inc. (2008) – This documentary will show you the effects of the industrial revolution and capitalism on the food industry. You will understand that making money and making food don’t really go together after this eye opening and very thorough documentary. The fact that health food is the province of the rich makes the saying “It’s better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick” ever so true and a bit less funny, but we do get a glimmer of hope towards the end.
3. Inside Job (2010) – Both chapters lead us to the grand finale – the 2008 financial meltdown. you will get mad, you’ll get depressed, you’ll feel helpless… all the things a good documentary should make you feel. The fact that no one really paid the price or acknowledges responsibility for the abuse of the financial system, and that everyone just wants to keep going like nothing happened, makes the first movie’s claims so very accurate (one of the traits of the psychopath is the inability to feel guilt).
4. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) – This is a guide on how to go from being named “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six years in a row (1996-2001) to going bankrupt in 24 days. Many companies go bankrupt, few do it in such a dramatic fashion. All of this is thanks to the magic of deregulation. It’s a tale of corruption, greed, hubris and human nature. Thanks to filmmaker Alex Gibney, bankruptcy and economics never looked as exciting or as funny (in a sad and infuriating way). Maybe too funny and exciting, as 2008’s crisis proved the lesson wasn’t learned.
5. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (2010) – You might ask ‘Isn’t Eliot Spitzer the lawyer guy who resigned after admitting to frequenting prostitutes? How is that relevant to the economy?’ This precise question is answered in this clever documentary. This is a story of a meteoric rise to the top, and subsequent and painful downfall of one of the most promising politicians of this century (who exposed Enron’s corruption). His ambition ultimately did him in. He thought he was invincible, going after corporate crimes and Wall Street corruption. He was a relentless reformer, that got things done, but he flew too close to the sun. Exposing his sexual vice was enough to melt his wings… He is such a charismatic and complex character that you will be captivated throughout this film.
6. Margin Call (2011) – If the documentary genre is too much for you, here you will find a fictional account surrounding the 24 hours leading to the financial meltdown of 2008. It’s a thriller, and its goal is more to entertain than to inform, but the cast is very good (Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and Zachary Quinto), and while you know pretty much what happens you’ll be on the edge of your seat.
7. Better Off Ted (2009 – 2010) – After I depressed the hell out of you with those documentaries, let’s look at the corporate world in a humorous way. Jay Harrington and Portia de Rossi headline this workplace sitcom about a the on-goings in a wacky corporation. It’s a great satire, and De Rossi steals the show by perfectly embodying the spirit (or lack thereof) of the modern corporation, with obvious lack of emotion or basic social skills. It’s a shame it was cancelled after only two seasons.
8. Mondays in the Sun (2002) – Set in Spain way before the EU crisis, this drama about unemployment couldn’t be more relevant today, as the unemployment rate has recently reached more than 22%. Spanish heavyweights Javier Bardem and Luis Tosar play struggling working class people in the port town if Vigo. It’s an intimate portrayal of the harsh reality of people dealing with their plight from pride, proving men to be helpless and useless, and it is dealt with great sincerity. You will not stay indifferent to this film. Today’s Spanish youth doesn’t even have the memories of the good old days to hold on to.
9. Battle in Seattle (2008) – History repeats itself. This movie depicts the 1999 chaotic protests against the World Trade Organization meetings that were scheduled there, accusing it of widening the gap between rich and poor. Sounds familiar? Today’s Occupy Wall Street movement’s claims are very similar, so things don’t really change (sigh). What was planned as a peaceful demonstration soon deteriorated into chaos and mayhem in the streets. The violent outburst undermined the activists’ agenda, just like every violent incident by protesters today hinders their message and effort.
10. V for Vendetta (2006) – If you’ve followed the news in the past year, chance is you’ve seen the mask of V. This anti-hero became one of the symbols of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and many organizations claiming to fight the system. Although the movie does not really deal with the economy, the rebellious attitude has crossed over to the economic protest, proving without a doubts that the cliché is right: money does make the world… (go round, fight, unite, anything really).
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