Throughout December, Ben Sachs and I will take turns writing about our ten favorite films that had their Chicago premieres this year.
Roughly an hour into Margin Call, the debut feature by writer-director J.C. Chandor, there’s a scene in which two high-ranking executives at a global investment firm (Demi Moore, Simon Baker) share an elevator with a late-night cleaning woman and her janitorial cart. The woman stares ahead politely as the execs rudely speak over her head, debating whom is going to take the rap for the financial debacle that’s about to take down their firm and the U.S. economy. It’s not a conversation you’d want others to overhear, but to these two snakes, the cleaning woman doesn’t even exist. Could there be a more potent image for 2011, the year of Occupy Wall Street? As New Yorker critic David Denby aptly observed, Margin Call is about “corporate manners—the protocols of hierarchy, the rituals of power, and, most of all, the difficulty of confronting flagrant habits of speculation with truth.” But it also lays bare the naked greed and self-serving rationalization of America’s financial class, who still control the levers of power in this country and whose unpunished crimes finally drove thousands into the street this fall.