Labor Day 2016: Movies About Work

Posted on September 2, 2016 at 8:00 am

Happy Labor Day and many thanks to everyone who works.  Some of my favorite movies about the workplace:

The Pajama Game He (John Riatt — Bonnie’s father) is the new boss at the pajama factory.  She (Doris Day) represents the union.  Can this relationship work?  This tuneful treat features classics like “Hey There” and “Steam Heat.”

 

Norma Rae Sally Field won an Oscar for her performance in this fact-based story about the fight for the rights of textile workers.

9 to 5 Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton star in this story of three women in an office run by an lazy, corrupt, and sexist boss.

Office Space This cult classic about disaffected office workers has some sharp Dilbert-style observations about organizational inefficiency and unfairness.

Working Girl Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford star in this story of a secretary with ambition and her arrogant, selfish boss.  Carly Simon won an Oscar for the theme song, “Let the River Run.”

The Apartment This Best Picture Oscar winner stars Jack Lemmon as an insurance company worker with a chance to advance his career by making his apartment available to executives for their assignations.

Made in Dagenham Sally Hawkins and Miranda Richardson star in this fact-based story of women fighting for equal pay at a Ford plant in England.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying Anyone who has worked in an office will tell you that this raucous musical satire of office life is far less exaggerated than it seems.

The Solid Gold Cadillac This witty 1956 comedy about corporate corruption and overpaid executives starring the brilliant Judy Holliday is still valid — if you add three zeroes to all the numbers.

The Closet This French comedy is about a nebbishy numbers guy who is laid off from his job.  He lets the bosses think he is gay so that they will be afraid of a discrimination complaint and the attention it brings him teaches him some important lessons.

 

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The Worst Movie Bosses

Posted on July 6, 2011 at 9:00 am

This week’s release of “Horrible Bosses” made me think of some of the other terrible bosses in movies.  Here are some of the bosses we love to hate on screen.  Who am I leaving out?  And which movie boss is most like your all-time worst boss?

The all-time bad movie boss champ has to be Kevin Spacey, who adds to his list by appearing in “Horrible Bosses” as a cruel, manipulative, and paranoid company president.  I’m going to limit him to two on this list, but could choose others as well.

1.  Kevin Spacey in Glengarry Glen Ross There’s no meaner workplace in cinema history than this brutal and back-stabbing real estate company.  Spacey’s electrifying performance shows that his self-loathing is only exceeded by his contempt for everyone around him.  (Special credit to Alec Baldwin for a stunning turn as a guy from the home office brought in to give a pep talk:  “Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”)

2. Kevin Spacey in Swimming With Sharks Reportedly, this screenplay was inspired by the author’s own experience.  The assistant in the story gets his revenge on his sadistic bully of boss by torturing him, but in real life he just put his most appalling behavior up on screen.

3.  Gary Cole in Office Space He doesn’t yell.  He does not insult his staff.  He is just massively inconsiderate, making inane and dehumanizing and agonizingly insincere “requests.”  I don’t know which is worse — the cover on the TPS reports or Hawaiian Shirt Day.  (Special credit to screenwriter Mike Judge, the movie’s screenwriter, as Jennifer Aniston’s boss at Chotchkie’s, who tells her she should have more than the minimum flair.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IwzZYRejZQ

4. Sandra Bullock in The Proposal Everyone is terrified of this greyhound-slim and rattlesnake-mean editor, who can make the slightest error into a career-killer.

5.  Fred MacMurray in The Apartment Jack Lemmon discovers that the only way to get ahead in this enormous insurance company is to let the boss use your apartment for his assignations.

6. Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl She pretends to support her assistant’s dreams for advancement, but instead, she steals her ideas.  I love her line about why she is sure her boyfriend (Harrison Ford in a magnificent performance) will propose: “We’re in the same city now, I’ve indicated that I’m receptive to an offer, I’ve cleared the month of June… and I am, after all, me.”

7. Dabney Coleman in 9 to 5 Based on interviews with many working women, Coleman’s character was designed to exemplify just about every awful characteristic: lazy, sexist, dishonest, incompetent, and predatory.

8. Alistair Sim in A Christmas Carol Until he learns a lesson from the three Christmas ghosts, Scrooge is a demanding, nasty, and of course very cheap boss who keeps poor Bob Cratchit underpaid and shivering in the cold.

9. Charles Laughton in Mutiny on the Bounty Based on a real-life story, Laughton plays Captain Bligh, whose cruel treatment of his men led to a mutiny, putting him off the ship in a launch.  (The real-life Bligh was exonerated after making it back to England in what is still an un-matched feat of navigational skill.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtmV2tpbnjA

10. Denzel Washington in Training Day Ethan Hawke plays a young police officer assigned to work with Washington’s character, a corrupt narcotics detective who manipulates and blackmails him, drawing him into a quagmire of corruption.  Washington won an Oscar for his dazzling performance of a man who loves control but is losing his capacity to maintain it.

Dishonorable mention: Paul Giamatti as Howard Stern’s boss in “Private Parts,” Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada,” Laura Linney in “The Nanny Diaries,” and Tom Cruise in “Tropic Thunder”

Many thanks to David Apatoff and Christopher Orr for sharing their suggestions.

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The Corporate Villain in Movies — My First Appearance on Ebert Presents

Posted on April 11, 2011 at 12:41 pm

I was thrilled that my first appearance on Ebert Presents At the Movies was a discussion of corporate villains on screen from 1909 to the present — why they are so popular and how the portrayals have evolved to reflect changing times.  It was inspired by the piece I wrote for Bnet at the end of last year about the corporate villain in the movies of 2010.  Thanks to all who wrote to say they watched and especially those who said I inspired them to track down some of these films so they can see them.  Enjoy!

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My List of Comfort Movies

Posted on January 10, 2009 at 8:00 am

My gallery about the best movies to watch when you’re in bed with the sniffles or flu has been posted.
The right movies can help you pass the time until you feel better. They can even help you recover faster, too. Author and editor Norman Cousins pioneered “humor therapy” after he found that watching silly movies and television shows did more to ease his pain and cure his ailment than conventional medicine. Laughter can decrease blood pressure and boost your immune system. So a good comfort movie can not only help you get better faster; it is good preventative medicine as well. It is also a nice way to spend a cold and snowy weekend, even if you are perfectly healthy because it will help keep you that way. After all, Proverbs 17:22 tells us that “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” And, almost as important, Dr. Netflix does make house calls.

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What Makes a Cult Movie?

Posted on September 13, 2008 at 3:13 pm

Desson Thomson has a great interview with Scott Simon on NPR about cult movies — what (and who) defines them and what is appealing about them. What do the Coen brothers have in common with “The Wizard of Oz” and “Blade Runner?” Listen to Thomson and find out.

Entertainment Weekly has a list of the all-time top cult classics, though I’d argue that some of them, like “Blade Runner,” “Spinal Tap,” and “Willie Wonka” are now so firmly and widely established they are canonical. The A.V. Club has an edgier list and I like the way they helpfully point out the movies influenced by their choices and give their honest view of how well the films on the list hold up.

I don’t think a movie has to be a horror film or low-budget to be a cult classic. It just has to have a small but passionate audience. The best cult films gradually find a broader fan base — or maybe it just takes a while to find its audience — or for the audience to catch up to it. My favorite cult classics include Office Space and The Big Lebowski, a movie which is now so beloved it has annual gatherings of its fans.

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