F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 5, 2011)

5 08 2011

I decided to hold using Charles Ferguson’s “No End in Sight” for my pick as “F.I.L.M. of the Week” (contrived acronym meaning First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie) as I didn’t think it would be proper to publicize a movie critical of the government when Washington was in the midst of a debt ceiling deadlock.  But now that the debacle has put postponed the doomsday clock until 2013, I figure now it’s no longer kicking a man while he’s down.

Much like he did in his Academy Award-winning documentary “Inside Job,” Ferguson sees a blunder and ruthlessly investigates and holds everyone responsible.  While he has a pointed emphasis on the cabinet of George W. Bush, no one goes unexamined in this tale an operation gone tragically wrong in the face of simple, avoidable mistakes that were the result of clarity-blinding egos.  Ferguson is simply the best documentarian out there at taking complex things like the War in Iraq and breaking them down into simple, understandable components without dumbing down the entire movie.

He shows how the Persian Gulf War fought under the first President Bush led to mistaken assumptions that the Shi’ites would welcome a United States invasion, just as Donald Rumsfeld mistakenly believed that we could invade them with half the troops.  By giving us this tragic set-up, Ferguson makes the botched administration of the occupation magnify in disastrous impact.  While some might argue that Ferguson only presents one side of the story, his interviewees are highly competent and he, along with narrator Campbell Scott, matches their level-headed retrospect.  It’s less a call for heads as it is a call for reason and logic.  If Libya were to go south, I guarantee Ferguson would make “No End in Sight 2” and point the same finger at President Obama.

REVIEW: Inside Job

24 11 2010

I see a lot of movies, and I don’t exactly try to hide it.  People often ask me, “Have you seen this movie?”  I breathe and most often reply, “Yes, I have.”  Then I brace myself and wait for the inevitable follow-up question: “How was it?”

I have a nice reservoir of descriptors that I’m ready to whip out at a moment’s notice, but I usually start with the simple good.  If a movie is particularly noteworthy, I might add very in front.  If people are particularly curious, they might probe for more, asking “Really?”  At this point, I’ll take the time to more thoroughly explain my thoughts, pointing out a certain performance or technical aspect I found to be exemplary.  It’s also at this point when I whip out more sophisticated adjectives, like dazzling, flooring, and mind-blowing.

With “Inside Job,” I can skip over good and go straight to the vocabulary that no movies ever allow me to use.  It was infuriating, an outraging movie experience that left me reeling and in total shock.  How often does a movie come along that merits the use of those words?

Given that it took a $20 trillion global meltdown to bring me such sentiments, I’d rather have this be the only time I have to feel similarly.  But we have to face the facts: it happened, and documentarian Charles Ferguson goes all the way back to the era of Alan Greenspan to show how the financial crisis began.  He then takes us through the next twenty years, stopping along the way to show all the ways that the recession could have been prevented.

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Oscar Moment: “Inside Job”

8 10 2010

There are many categories on my Oscar ballot that I always call a toss-up, such as the short films.  However, one such category regrettably includes the Best Documentary Feature, which I have, in the past, had little interest in.  These movies tackle important current events or shine new perspectives on old ones, and as I’ve become more educated, these have become more intriguing to me.

So in 2010, I’ve vowed to take an active interest in handicapping the Best Documentary Feature race, and it starts today with this Oscar Moment.  First on tap is Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job,” the documentary on the 2008 financial collapse that opens today in New York and Los Angeles.

The documentary first made a blip on my radar when it premiered at Cannes back in May.  There it was the best reviewed movie of the festival, receiving nothing but the highest of praise from all angles.  According to IndieWIRE, “Inside Job” was the only movie at Cannes to score an A average.  Sony Pictures Classics picked it up there in France and played it at the Toronto and Telluride Film Festivals last month and the New York Film Festival last week.

The movie makes the argument that Wall Street has been heading for collapse ever since the 1980s when institutions were allowed to trade on their own behalf.  The idea that banks and firms are betting against the customers is frightening, and the marketing campaign behind the movie seeks to make it look like an “economic horror movie.”  It’s an interesting notion, and given some of the movie’s revelations, Sony Pictures Classics may be on to something.

The movie is more than just Ferguson’s hypotheses based on CNBC reports; he managed to get some high-profile figures on camera.  While there’s no Alan Greenspan or Ben Bernanke, he did manage to land former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and a high-end Wall Street prostitute.  These interviews make for an interesting aspect, according to Kris Tapley of In Contention:

With the brave subjects at apparent fault who somehow thought it was a good idea to go before Ferguson’s lens, the filmmaker takes on the role of interrogator, holding fast as they squirm and never allowing retreat (to the point that one subject, clearly flustered, asks that the camera be turned off for a moment). The thickness of the material and the dizzying nature of the underhanded tactics held up for examination pretty much becomes the point as the film moves on.

The movie is narrated by all-American boy Matt Damon, but it seems to me like Ferguson is the big character in the movie.  He has a stance, and he’s not afraid to put himself out there to make it known.  This isn’t just the facts; there is a slant.  The politics of “Inside Job” line up nicely with Academy politics, so the movie’s opinion certainly won’t work against it.

The real question is if “Inside Job” will align with the Academy’s flavor of the month in the documentary category.  Last year’s winner, “The Cove,” dealt with a very strong ethical cause that had not been anywhere in the news.  Two years ago, “Man on Wire” told the story of Philipe Petit’s 1973 walk between the World Trade Center towers.  Three years ago, Ferguson’s own Iraq documentary “No End in Sight” lost to “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which took a look at American policy on torture in Iraq.  Four years ago, winner “An Inconvenient Truth” made global warming an issue.  Five years ago, “March of the Penguin” charmed everyone in America.

Political hot-button issues may have a place on Fox News and CNN, but the Academy doesn’t always welcome them as we can see by their track record over the last five years.  With the economy being all over the news, do we need it again at the Oscars?

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Documentary Feature