Election Season: Required Viewing

It’s safe to say that this election season is shaping up to be unlike any other in recent memory. Candidates are angry. Voters are angry, and frustrated. These three films – two features and a documentary – help us understand how we’ve gotten to this point.

The Big Short (based on the bestselling nonfiction book by Michael Lewis) breaks down the enormously complex origins of the housing crisis that led to the Great Recession. The players include Christian Bale as a brilliant but socially challenged fund manager who identifies, and bets against, a housing market that’s about to go bust; Steve Carell as a hedge fund manager whose firm accidentally picks up a tip about the impending crisis; Ryan Gosling as a sleazy trader Carell reluctantly partners with; and John Magaro and Finn Wittrock, two bit players who try to capitalize on the crisis with the help of retired investment banker Brad Pitt. But wait, there’s more! Celebrity cameos offer explanations for the nitty gritty details, so we’ve got Margot Robbie on subprime mortgages, Anthony Bourdain on collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and Selena Gomez on synthetic CDOs. The Big Short is intelligent and funny, but it’s also sobering and infuriating. You may have all the answers to the origins of the housing crisis, but you’ll have new questions as to how no one has been held accountable.

Fruitvale Station, from 2013, tells the tragically all too familiar true story of a young Black man killed by overzealous police officers. It’s New Year’s Eve 2009, and Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) is a 22-year-old African American man in Oakland, looking forward to celebrating the new year in San Francisco. Oscar has had difficult relationships with his mother Wanda (Octavia Spencer) and girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), spent time in jail and unsuccessfully tried to get his old job back. On the way back to Oakland, an altercation between Oscar and a former inmate turns into a fight on the BART train, and when police arrive on the chaotic scene, Oscar is shot in the back and killed by an officer on the Fruitvale station platform. The incident – recorded by passengers on cell phones – documented the tragedy, for which the police officer served eleven months. Fruitvale Station shows viewers the struggles that young African American men in America face every day, and is required viewing for those who want to understand the motivation behind the Black Lives Matter movement.

Best of Enemies shows that the seeds for the tenor of today’s political discourse were sown in 1968. ABC is consistently last in the prime time news wars, and to improve ratings the network signs up two intellectual titans to reflect on, and debate, the Republican and Democratic national conventions. For the right, we have William F. Buckley – the patrician, shrewd founding father of the modern conservative movement; for the left, there’s Gore Vidal, the erudite, acerbic author and bon vivant. Buckley and Vidal sat down for ten vitriolic debates; to say they despised each other is an understatement. Best of Enemies is fascinating – and wildly entertaining – for showing how two brilliant thinkers and speakers can be blinded by hatred, and not much has changed in today’s political climate since.

~posted by Frank

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