2015 IN REVIEW: The best of business in film
The ebb and flow of the movie year usually mean the best of this year’s award winners have started to fade from memory while the end of year contenders have yet to make a splash.
In the middle, the festival entries struggle to get a full cinema release and slip into the video stores or streaming services without fanfare.
This year is little different. Despite Hollywood’s dedication to making money, its treatment of business as a subject is erratic in treatment and delivery.
Of course, business themes arise in many different forms; they are at the core of organised crime and can pop up in westerns and an increasing number of documentaries.
A good example is fashion, where feature-length treatment was accorded to Christian Dior.
Fashion also featured in a comedy, THE INTERN, which made good fist of the incompatibility of matching “non-ageist” interns with the hyperactive culture of an online retail startup.
The founder (Anne Hathaway) is finding her business smarts are being undermined by her lack of organisational skills and choice of a personal partner, so she is mightily relieved when a retired but still dapper executive (Robert De Niro) arrives to rescue her and her company from burn-out.
Standing out from the mid-year festival pack was A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, about another business pairing (but this time a married couple), who challenge a home oil-heating delivery cartel in New York during 1981.
This impressive thriller, from Margin Call’s JC Chandor and starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, perhaps sounded too much like a gangster show to attract the right audience for its nuanced clash between ethics and corruption. It didn't get a cinema release but would be easily make any top 10 listing, so check it out.
Another festival standout, 99 HOMES, did receive a good cinema showing at year's end with its clinical dissection of the human effects of the thousands of lending defaults in the US subprime mortgage crisis.
A real estate agent (Michael Shannon) preys on the victims of foreclosed properties and is joined by one them (Andrew Garfield) until the scam inevitably unravels.
The Boxing Day release JOY celebrates the commerce in Christmas with the based-on-fact story of home shopping entrepreneur Joy Mangano, who invented the Miracle Mop and went on to create an empire similar to that of Martha Stewart's.
But with the versatile Jennifer Lawrence as Mangano, the story naturally focuses on the early stages of her struggle to get her innovative self-wringing and washable mop into the hands of potential buyers.
Big store resistance and early ripoffs by suppliers are eventually overcome when she turns to a new marketing tool – home buying via infomercials on a dedicated cable television channel (run by Bradley Cooper).
This results in some wonderfully tacky scenes, which complement earlier ones that feature daytime soap opera stars who are back on the screen flogging product.
Since her marriage breakup, Mangano’s mother (Virginia Madsen) spends her days watching these shows from her bed.
Director David O Russell specialises in dysfunctional families (remember the boxing brothers in The Fighter?) and Mangano’s is a beauty. Apart from the bedroomed mother, there’s a sponging ex-husband living in the basement, soon joined by Mangano's divorced father (Robert De Niro in another of grumpy old men roles), a grandmother (Diane Ladd) and two kids.
The family business is a rundown vehicle repair shop, which with some capital from De Niro’s new companion (Isabella Rosselini) is soon humming and turning out the Miracle Mop.
Like his two previous successes, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Russell knows how to stage memorable scenes, sometime with too many characters.
Unfortunately, as the cusp of success starts to reward all the hard work and tribulations of building a business, the story rushes toward a conclusion that only briefly shows Mangano getting the revenge she so richly deserves.
Already touted as a potential Oscar winner, and providing a strong contrast to 2013’s The Wolf of Street, THE BIG SHORT is due in late January.
This is already the most-acclaimed film about business in years as it cleverly skewers the other (lending) side of the subprime mortgage crisis.
Based on the Michael Lewis book, it shows a how an unlikely group of investors “shorted” the market for low-grade loans through insurance swaps and netted billions of dollars in profit when the housing and credit bubble burst in 2008.
Of interest to those in the media is another outstanding Oscar contender, SPOTLIGHT, which in a much more methodical style shows how investigative journalists at the Boston Globe newspapr exposed the child abuse in the Catholic Church, sparking a worldwide reaction that reached all the way to the Vatican.