Documentaries / Books

  • A Perfect Candidate
    Every election season, I revisit R.J. Cutler and David Van Taylor’s revealing 1996 documentary A Perfect Candidate. The setting is the 1994 Virginia Senate race between incumbent Chuck Robb and challenger Oliver North, which one voter likens to a choice between “the flu and the mumps”. The principal players in the movie are Washington […]
  • American Movie
    Chris Smith was an unknown would-be director attending film school in Milwaukee when he met a fellow would-be filmmaker named Mark Borchardt, whose career could not have looked very promising. Smith wisely made the decision to make Borchardt the subject of a documentary, and the result is a movie that succeeded artistically and financially […]
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
    How did one of the country’s largest companies go from riches to rags almost overnight, if it ever truly had riches in the first place? That question is skillfully and intelligently answered in Alex Gibney’s 2005 documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. The title refers to Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, who […]
  • He Walked By Night
    Crime investigation procedurals became popular after World War II and continue to be a staple of television and movies today. A fine example of the form with pronounced noir elements is 1948’s He Walked by Night. Normally, police detectives have substantial advantages over perpetrators. The typical violent offender is unintelligent, impulsive, minimally-skilled and ignorant […]
  • Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews
    I take a break from recommending movies in favor of recommending the next best thing: A book about the movies! I have always found Dana Andrews intriguing because he was such a towering star in the 1940s, anchoring films of superlative quality that were also wildly popular with audiences, including A Walk in the […]
  • Hoop Dreams
    Filmmakers Steve James and Peter Gilbert started with the idea of making a 30 minute TV show about kids playing basketball at an urban playground. Instead they got pulled into the lives of two remarkable families and you will be too by the astounding 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams. The film follows two African-American basketball […]
  • I Am Not Your Negro
    Late in his life, James Baldwin began writing a book about three of his friends, all of whom had been assassinated: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. The book, entitled Remember This House, was to be a reflection both on their remarkable lives as well as on the nature of America. […]
  • In a Lonely Place
    To hell with happiness. More important was excitement and power and the hot stir of lust. Those made you forget. Dorothy Hughes’ bewitching and disturbing novel In a Lonely Place was thankfully re-issued by New York Review of Books in 2017. It very much recalls some of Jim Thompson’s darkest works, though she’s arguably […]
  • Nanook of the North
    I admire Robert Flaherty and Neil Sheehan for the same reason: Their persistence in the pursuit of creation. Sheehan’s Pulitzer Prize winning book A Bright Shining Lie was almost never published because he lost 8 months of work in a computer hard drive crash and was so depressed that he nearly quit. Flaherty shot […]
  • The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley
    I direct a speakers series at Stanford Medical School which features prominent thinkers and policymakers in health. In 2015, as I huddled with advisors to choose our upcoming guests, I heard the name Elizabeth Holmes for the first time. Smart people I respect told me that she was upending the diagnostic testing industry and […]
  • The Kid Stays in the Picture
    In Vincente Minnelli’s brilliant The Bad and the Beautiful, Kirk Douglas gives one of his best performances as Hollywood Producer Jonathan Shields. Shields is self-destructive, ruthless and a user of people, yet he is also so talented and understands film so well that everyone in Hollywood wants to work with him anyway. I thought […]
  • The Naked City
    Disruptive innovations in technology have been one of the defining aspects of the short history of cinematic art. The introduction of sound in the 1920s, followed by color in the 1930s, followed much more recently by computer-generated imagery — all of which had profound creative implications — are the ones with which most movie […]
  • They Shall Not Grow Old
    Americans understandably think of World War I as a far less severe conflict than World War II. But for most European nations, the slaughter was on a larger scale in The Great War, making the 2018 Armistice centennial a major cultural and historical event. The British Imperial War Museum’s contribution to the commemoration was […]
  • Three Oscar Snubs
    Rather than focus on a single film, I am going to commend to you to three fine movies that the Motion Picture Academy snubbed by failing to recognize Oscar-worthy work. Comic performances are massively undervalued by Oscar voters, who just don’t seem to appreciate what the legendary English actor Edmund Kean allegedly said when […]
  • Unseen
    One of my formative professional experiences was clinically assessing individuals entering addiction treatment in Detroit at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. I follow each patient up many months later to see how their lives were going and whether they had benefited from treatment. In the low-income, predominately Black neighborhoods of an industrial […]