Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2017) – Spotlighting a lesser-known tale of the financial crisis of 2007 – 2008, this unapologetically Capra-esque film presents the story of Abacus Federal Savings Bank, the only financial institution to face criminal charges, rather than a bailout, for its involvement in the subprime mortgage debacle. Easily taken for granted because it’s not a broader or more hard-hitting work, “Abacus” grapples with systemic racism and other grander issues in America and its judicial system. It’s also primarily just a portrait of a single family coming together against goliath government prosecutors looking to make an example out of their business, a pillar of New York’s Chinatown community.
Cartel Land (2015) – Produced by “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” director Kathryn Bigelow, this cinematic documentary is like a real-life “Sicario.” Filmmaker Matthew Heineman embedded himself with both a group of Arizona border-control vigilantes and a band of Mexican autodefensas, armed with only a camera and his instincts. The run-and-gun style and Heineman’s jaw-dropping access will keep your heart pounding through this examination of the current War on Drugs.
The Force (2017) – After embedding us in an emergency room in his last film, Peter Nicks now drops us into the Oakland, California Police Department for a two-year stretch as it continues to make improvements in conduct while under oversight by the U.S. Department of Justice. We go on ride-alongs, sit in on police academy lectures about changes that need to be made to win the trust of the citizens, and go outside the station and encounter those citizens during community meetings and protests. This isn’t just an observational experience of the day to day routine of urban cops. Instead, brutal reality keeps rearing its ugly head in the forms of shootings and scandals as “The Force” becomes a Sisyphean tale about the struggle to overcome systemic problems.
The Hunting Ground (2015) – Kirby Dick followed his powerful, policy-changing film “The Invisible War,” about sexual abuse and rape in the US military, with this equally important documentary about sexual abuse and rape on American college campuses. Featuring testimonials from victims, convicted perpetrators, and educators, “The Hunting Ground” presents personal stories mixed with a plethora of statistics, combining emotional and factual rhetoric for tremendous effect. The film received an Oscar nomination for Lady Gaga’s haunting original song, “Til It Happens to You.”
Welcome to Leith (2015) – If you’re at all surprised by the sudden prevalence of white nationalist groups in America today, their gradual rise is briefly explained in this complex and compelling documentary about a political leader who tried in 2012 to turn an entire town in North Dakota into a hub for neo-Nazis and their families. With relative neutrality, directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker covered the attempted takeover firsthand.
See the rest of the list at Thrillist.
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