1. 49 Up (2005)
Back in 1964, British documentary makers shot a black-and-white film of a bunch of seven-year-olds from varied backgrounds—some rich, some poor, some in between—as the kids talked about their hopes for the future. Every seven years since then, the filmmakers have caught up with their cast to see how reality has measured up to their childish hopes.
Our take: This is the mother of all reality shows and it’s still the best. Watch these 49-year-old lives unfold and you can’t help but reflect on how fate plays tricks on all of us—sometimes, it turns out, pretty nice tricks.
2. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling convinced Wall Street that Enron was an unstoppable profit machine. When the machine blew up in 2001, Lay and Skilling walked away with millions of dollars while thousands of Enron employees lost their jobs and their pensions.
Our take: This terrific documentary depicts the swaggering nerds, downhome liars and true believers that made Enron the multi-billion-dollar con job it was.
3. The Great Happiness Space (2006)
Can you sell love? Well, maybe not, but you sure can merchandise a reasonable facsimile. This documentary explores the world of an Osaka “host club” where young women splash out small fortunes for the chance to talk to giggling, overgroomed boytoys.
Our take: Your jaw will drop as you learn how much seemingly intelligent people will pay for a small moment of poorly simulated affection.
4. The Corporation (2004)
This documentary examines the role of the corporation in modern society. It concludes that large companies are, by nature, psychopathic.
Our take: Put us down as unimpressed. This smackdown of business is as gullible as a 16-year-old, as one-sided as a Soviet show trial. If its creators truly believe that corporations are evil, they should try living in a society without any—North Korea, for instance.
5. Just for Kicks (2006)
How did the ugly white running shoes worn by yuppie joggers get all jiggy and become the dopest icon of the inner city? This film tells the story.
Our take: Don’t miss this hilarious, street-wise account of how hip-hop culture jumped into bed with huge sneaker corporations. It demonstrates how capitalism exploits artists—and, better yet, how artists exploit capitalism.