This list wasn't meant to be in any particular order but, if it were, this movie would probably be number one. Luis Bunuel's 1961 sinister satire of how governments form and evolve, represented by a single household, has it all--the disenfranchised poor, the sexual abuse and barriers to leadership faced by women, the failure of the ideals of the upper class to meaningfully connect with the working class, and, above all, the rise of an arrogant strong man. Jorge may actually be a better person than Donald Trump but a scene like the one where Jorge helps a dog only to fail in noticing another dog being treated just as badly shows how short-sighted a rule based on one man's narcissism can be.
Wikipedia says, "Brazil's bureaucratic, totalitarian government is reminiscent of the government depicted in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four except that it has a buffoonish, slapstick quality and lacks a Big Brother figure." Sounds about perfect, right? The way terrorism functions in the film and the patronising, contented attitude of Mr. Helpmann are more reminiscent of Thatcher Britain but its portrayal of a consumer society disconnected from its own suffering is certainly resonant to-day. And unlike Michael Radford's 1984, Brazil illustrates the breakdown of imagination and meaning in language and how it infantilises society.
The Bad Sleep Well 1960
Akira Kurosawa used Hamlet as a template for this contemporary tale of government conflict of interest with private business. It's not the first time Kurosawa criticised the capitalism that transformed Japan after World War II but the portrayal of politics and business being separated from personal responsibility is here shown in a familiar corporate setting.
The Lower Depths 1957
I couldn't help it, I had to list two Kurosawa films. There are two geniuses behind this story, though, Kurosawa and the author of the play the film's based on, Maxim Gorky. The play had been adapted to film several times before, including by Jean Renoir in the 30s, but Renoir himself said Kurosawa's was the better version. And Kurosawa's is much closer to the original play, despite its setting being moved to 19th century Japan. Rashomon might be the obvious Kurosawa film to recommend when talking about different perspectives, but The Lower Depths shows how human beings depend on a fragile dream in constructing their institutions and figures of authority. This film depicts a diverse group of very poor, living together in a flophouse and the insight with which an out of work carpenter's pride or a gambler's cynicism are depicted has plenty of resonance now. Tentative romance between a thief and the landlord's daughter, their dream of escaping this life leaning on the words of a man who may only be pretending to be a monk, show how vulnerable the connexions and trust in society are and how dependent they are in trusting figures of authority. And how disastrous it can be, on a very personal level, when that trust is lost.
A few more films I'd probably include:
Hands Over the City
A Face in the Crowd
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs