7 Films to Help You Work Through Labor Day

The working world involves all sorts of labor. Here's how it is seen through the lens of Hollywood.

It’s that time of year again. Summer is ending. The school year beginning and you’re not supposed to wear white belts or white shoes anymore. Yes, it’s Labor Day. So seek out Redbox, Blockbuster or Netflix, because here is a list of seven movies about the working world to enjoy on your day off. (Click the titles to see movie trailers.)

Office Space (1999, Mike Judge)

After his hypnotherapist dies in the middle of a session, Peter Gibbons, (Ron Livingston), is left with a permanent hypnotic suggestion to do whatever he damn well pleases. His new-found nonchalance turns his life around, gets him a promotion and makes him the envy of everyone at the office. But, things get more complicated when he helps some of his laid off friends in a get rich quick scheme that gets them far too rich, far too quickly. 

One of the most popular movies that no one ever saw in the theater, Office Space is a quick-witted and endlessly quotable comedy about hating your job and learning to love your life. Kind of. 

Hoffa (1992, Danny DeVito)

Jack Nicholson stars as the doomed union organizer Jimmy Hoffa in this David Mamet-penned biopic directed by and costarring Danny DeVito.

DeVito gives the film his all, clearly aiming to match Scorsese’s classic gangster opus Goodfellas. It never quite reaches that level, but it is on par with Scorsese’s 1995 film, Casino, which is no small praise. Love him, hate him, fear him or deplore him, Hoffa was a complex figure deserving of the big screen treatment and DeVito crafts what is probably the best possible version of this story by showing Hoffa warts and all, and avoiding extensive theorizing about the man’s mysterious demise.

Network (1976, Sidney Lumet)

After discovering that he is about to be fired, network news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) sets to the airwaves and delivers a devastating rant designed as his statement of resignation. But, when audiences responded to his impassioned cries against a world gone mad, Beale is reinvented as a commentator and used as a pawn in a much larger game of behind-the-scenes chess.

Arguably the best and most prescient media satire ever produced, (thanks to a flawless screenplay courtesy of Paddy Chayefsky), Network barely registers as comedy today. In fact, when I first saw it during high school, I thought it was a drama. Almost every absurd circumstance and putrid media ploy featured in the film has come true. Are Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann really that different from Beale? Couldn’t the internal intrigue be a documentary about the development of MSNBC or Fox News? It’s funny because it’s "true," and that has never been a more fitting description.

Sullivan’s Travels (1941, Preston Sturges)

A glib, self-centered film director (Joel McCrea) takes up life as a hobo in order to research a film, only to discover that he’s not very good at being a hobo. With the help of a beautiful young actress, he finally learns that making an ‘important’ film won’t help the needy as much as making them laugh.

One of Preston Sturges’ best films, Sullivan’s Travels matches the snappy pace of His Girl Friday andBringing up Baby with a sharper sense of satire and social awareness. Sturges makes lucid points on the arbitrary perspective that depressing material is more "important" than comedy. Plus, the movie’s really funny and Veronica Lake is dreamy in one of her first starring roles.

The Social Network (2010, David Fincher)

A crass revenge prank by a jilted and socially awkward Harvard undergraduate (Jesse Eisenberg) leads him to revolutionize the internet and invent a billion dollar corporation with his friends and classmates. Then everyone sues everyone else, but is it over money or personal pride?

This film has it all. Engaging characters, a great story, sharp as a razor dialogue, swift pacing, beautiful cinematography, a memorable score, pretty girls, handsome boys and a real statement on this moment in time. But what is perhaps most impressive is how two middle-aged men, director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin, got it all right. The details of the college world are specific and real, down to the brand of sandals on Eisenberg’s feet and the cut of the fraternity boy’s muscle tees. And the ending of this film; wow. Just devastating.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, James Foley)

A group of real estate salesmen struggle to keep their heads above water during a "sales competition" where first place is a Cadillac El Dorado, second place is a set of steak knives and third place is: you’re fired.

1992 was a good year for fans of David Mamet. In addition to Hoffa, filmgoers also got this adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize winning stage play and it’s actually better than the source material. Brutal, hilarious and unforgettable, this is a film about the working world and what it is to be a man in America. Always be closing.

Rocky (1976, John G. Avildsen)

When Rocky Balboa, (Sylvester Stallone) gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fight in a heavyweight boxing match, he uses it as a motivator to turn his whole life around. The fight is only supposed to be a publicity stunt, but Balboa uses it to make himself into a whole new man.

Rocky is an examination of everything good in America. It is a perfect rendition of the Horatio Alger myth made all the more potent because Stallone’s real life basically was Rocky. Heck, even the tagline is perfect: “His whole life was a million-to-one shot.” If that doesn’t make you appreciate what you’ve got and want to run up a bunch of stairs, I don’t know what will. Maybe the score?

TLS September 03, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Norma Rae?
Cheryl Ortega September 03, 2012 at 03:29 PM
You forgot Norma Rae, the greatest pro-labor, union organizing movie, ever.
Chip September 03, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Labor Day celebrates unions and workers. SIlkwood. Matewan. North Country. Oh, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because if there is one group of workers that sorely needed a union it was those Oompah Loompahs who worked 24 hrs./day for gumdrops.
chris watts September 03, 2012 at 11:03 PM
Matewan was a pretty badass labor day movie….


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