An evolving filmography about power

Updated: November 14, 2021. First created: November, 14, 2021.

I have been fortunate enough to teach university classes on politics and film. I am certain few students in these classes could guess how stressful it was to assemble a list of films for each semester. The films I showed in class or assigned as homework have to touch on political issues, but they also have to be quality films. I did not want a political issue to be the subtext of a film, as too much subtext would require a pre-screening lecture on why the film is being shown. But I also worried that some political films could be too pedantic, which risks students getting the point of the film early and then growing bored of watching to the end.

I was reminded of this stress when a forum post about cinema appeared on capitalaspower.com. It was asking for films that would speak about power in society, and the post was inspired by the list of novels recommended by Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler. Nitzan and Bichler are two political economists whose research has been very influential in my study of the Hollywood film business. Moreover, they have championed inter-disciplinary approaches to the study of capitalism. Good cinema, like good literature, can look at power in society without being limited by disciplinary barriers or one-sided perspectives.

Below is a list of films that, in one way or another, look at power in society. I’m recommending them in the style of the course I taught. They can be recommended without a lot of preamble on why they speak about power.

TitleDirectorYearRuntime
Ace in the HoleBilly Wilder1951111
Ali, Fear Eats the SoulRainer Werner Fassbinder197493
Army of ShadowsJean-Pierre Melville1969145
BadlandsTerrence Malick197393
BamboozledSpike Lee2000135
Barton FinkJoel Coen1991117
Battle of Algiers, TheGillo Pontecorvo1966120
Beau TravailClaire Denis199990
Belle de JourLuis Buñuel1967101
Black GirlOusmane Sembène196655
Black NarcissusMichael Powell and Emeric Pressburger1947101
Blue VelvetDavid Lynch1986120
CachéMichael Haneke2005118
CarlosOlivier Assayas2010338
ChinatownRoman Polanski1974131
Come and SeeElem Klimov1985142
DaisiesVěra Chytilová196676
Death Race 2000Paul Bertel197582
Do The Right ThingSpike Lee1989120
DogtoothYorgos Lanthimos200997
Dry White Season, AEuzhan Palcy1989107
Eating RaoulPaul Bertel198283
Executioner, TheLuis García Berlanga196390
Firemen’s Ball, TheMiloš Forman196773
Four LionsChris Morris201097
Friends of Eddie Coyle, ThePeter Yates1973102
Germany, Year ZeroRoberto Rossellini194878
Godfather Part II, TheFrancis Ford Coppola1974200
Godfather, TheFrancis Ford Coppola1972177
Heaven’s GateMichael Cimino1980219
HungerSteve McQueen200896
La HaineMathieu Kassovitz199598
Last Emperor, TheBernardo Bertolucci1987163
Leopard, TheLuchino Visconti1963185
Magnificent Ambersons, TheOrson Welles194288
Man Push CartRamin Bahrani200587
McCabe & Mrs. MillerRobert Altman1971121
Medium CoolHaskell Wexler1969110
Modern TimesCharlie Chaplin193687
My Beautiful LaundretteStephen Frears198597
NakedMike Leigh1993131
New World, TheTerrence Malick2005150
Night of the Living DeadGeorge A. Romero196896
No Country for Old MenJoel Coen and Ethan Coen2007122
Player, TheRobert Altman1992124
Repo ManAlex Cox198492
Rome, Open CityRoberto Rossellini1945105
Smooth TalkJoyce Chopra198591
Sullivan’s TravelsPreston Sturges194194
SátántangóBela Tarr1994439
There Will Be BloodPaul Thomas Anderson2007158
Thin Red Line, TheTerrence Malick1998170
Touch of SinJia Zhangke2013130
Tree of Life, TheTerrence Malick2011139
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with MeDavid Lynch1992134
Two Days, One NightJean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne201495
Wages of Fear, TheHenri-Georges Clouzot1953148
White Ribbon, TheMichael Haneke2009144
Wind That Shakes the Barley, TheKen Loach2006126
Working GirlsLizzie Borden198693
ZCosta-Gavras1969127
Zéro de conduiteJean Vigo193344

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