Human Resources (2000)

Laurent Cantet’s first film presents a meaty interpersonal crisis for the modernized age of the MBA. A new biz-school grad (Jalil Lespert) returns to his hometown to take a managerial position at the factory where his father (Jean-Claude Vallod) has been working for thirty years. Once the layoffs begin, the bile between the generations begins to flow. Shot ultrarealistically, Human Resources makes for mesmerizing drama, all of it completely convincing.

Office Space (1999)

Office Space
Office Space (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A brilliantly unassuming comedy by Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge. A stressed-out software drone (Ron Livingston) takes a hypnotic suggestion at its word and ceases to care about his job—doing it or keeping it or even showing up—a disorienting mode of behavior that’s mistaken for self-directed confidence by the consultants who’ve been hired to determine who gets the ax. Although ignored upon its release, Office Space has become the definitive white-collar movie of techno-era America. Gary Cole’s smarmy manager, in particular, will leave a heel print on your brain. With Jennifer Aniston.

How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989)

Many jobs call for ethical compromise, and in How to Get Ahead in Advertising, a devilishly uncomfortable comedy, an adman’s anxious doubts about his job manifest as a giant pimple on his shoulder. Soon enough, the zit sprouts eyes and a mouth, and begins persuading him toward new heights of capitalistic venality. As both perpetrator and victim, Richard E. Grant is a whirlwind of neurotic craziness.

How to Get Ahead in Advertising
How to Get Ahead in Advertising (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)

In this bestseller-derived drama, Gregory Peck plays a memory-haunted vet who returns to his suburban life and a new media PR job, only to struggle with the banality of corporate striving, with the ghosts of the war still impinging on his consciousness. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit may be the first film to seriously weigh the difference between leading a happy life and succeeding in the business world—a common, if not easily dramatized, modern dilemma. Fredric March plays the hard-charging boss as if he’s imagining the saddest future possible for his bank-exec vet character in 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bank Dick (1940)

The Bank Dick
The Bank Dick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bank Dick is perhaps W. C. Fields’s masterwork, in which the unfocused, red-nosed layabout takes a job as a bank guard; the structural demands of employment only add to the Fields persona’s already looming mountain of agitations. Brutally hilarious, especially if you, too, are pickled (on the job?!). Fields was easily the most despicable comic figure in Hollywood history, making dour jokes about his own alcoholic ruin, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t know what was funny.