December 21, 2011

Top 10 Movies for Great Financial Advice

"Great," that is, if you believe crooked lawyers, con men and serial killers

Rudy Giuliani makes a habit of referring to “The Godfather” as “one of the best narratives on business management ever produced.” An interesting take on the bloody crime classic, but not easily dismissed coming from a two-term mayor of one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas and whose official title is now Sir Rudolph William Louis Giuliani, KBE (seriously).

It got us thinking of other celluloid pearls of wisdom that translate to real life. With that in mind, here are 10 films that offer quality financial advice in addition to quality entertainment.

Family Man1). “The Family Man” (2000)

Uber-successful investment banker Jack wakes up one morning to find his narcissistic existence completely changed. He now has a wife and kids and a job at his father-in-law's local tire shop. Confused and frustrated by his new surroundings, Jack contemplates an affair with a neighbor. Best-friend Arnie comes up with this classic bit of advice, true in love and in money:

“Flirtation is harmless, but you're dealing with fire here. The fidelity bank and trust is a tough creditor. You make a deposit somewhere else, they close your account—FOREVER.”

Boiler Room2). “Boiler Room” (2000)

Vin Diesel as a crooked stockbroker? Puh-lease … If he ain’t crashing cars, we ain’t watching (and most of America agreed, judging from box office receipts). Giovanni Ribisi is a college dropout who’s estranged from his family. But of course he's actually really smart, and gets a job as a broker for an investment firm that turns out to be—surprise—a boiler room. 

It’s hard to watch, as one client (sucker) is a family man trying to buy a new house. The crooked activity gets the innocent man into an impossible financial situation, and his wife and children leave him. A crisis of conscience from the main character appears to rectify the situation by movie’s end:

I had a very strong work ethic. The problem was my ethics in work.”

Changing Lanes3). “Changing Lanes” (2002)

The next time you’re in an accident while on your way to file court papers in a complicated scheme to defraud high-net-worth clients, don’t leave the scene. Ben Affleck didn’t follow our advice, and Samuel L. Jackson exacts his revenge, setting off a depressing chain of events as each man tries to destroy the other, only to seemingly cement their tragic fate. In other words, a light-hearted comedy the whole family can enjoy!

Ben Affleck as character Gavin Banek: “Sometimes God likes to put two guys in a paper bag and just let 'em rip.”

Working Girl4). “Working Girl” (1988)

It’s doubtful a title that references prostitution for a movie about women and high finance would get the green light today (thank God), but the movie itself did a great job of detailing the challenges women faced when attempting to enter the Wall Street good-old-boys club a quarter of a century ago. We’ll try to forget the real-life inspiration for the movie’s main character, Tess McGill, was one of the first people convicted in the insider trader scandals that hit New York in the 1980s, which makes the following quote from the movie unintentionally appropriate:

“You can bend the rules plenty once you get to the top, but not while you're trying to get there. And if you're someone like me, you can't get there without bending the rules.”

Rogue Trader5). “Rogue Trader” (1999)

This fictionalized version of real-life events recounts the exploits of Nick Leeson, a trader in the early 1990s for Barings Bank whose risky bets brought down the 233-year-old institution that, among other assets, housed the finances of the British Royal Family. If, at your own firm, you find yourself in charge of multiple trading accounts that are supposed to act as checks and balances on each other, do the smart thing and walk away, or you’ll find yourself making statements like this:

“I, Nicholas Leeson, have just lost 50 million quid … in one day.”

 

Other People's Money6). “Other People’s Money” (1991)

A lesson we like much more than anything gleaned from the “Wall Street” franchise, with its spot-on analysis of Reagan-era greed. Who better to deliver the following exhortation than Atticus Finch himself, the late, great Gregory Peck as Andrew Jorgenson, the film’s conscience?

“I want you to look at him in all of his glory: ‘Larry the Liquidator.’ The entrepreneur of post-industrial America, playing God with other people's money. The robber barons of old at least left something tangible in their wake—a coal mine, a railroad, banks. This man leaves nothing. He creates nothing. He builds nothing. He runs nothing. And in his wake lies nothing but a blizzard of paper to cover the pain.”

The Game7). “The Game” (1997)

Cold, emotionally distant Michael Douglas learns to open up the hard way in this 1997 thriller. “Ruthless businessman” doesn’t begin to describe him. Sure, the plot requires “a willful suspension of disbelief,” but it’s a fun ride nonetheless.  If the following quote is really an indication of how he ran his business, we’d invest with him in an instant:

“And you really believe that just because you publish children's books, people are going to care about my reputation? You can have pictures of me wearing nipple rings … the only thing they care about is the stock and whether that stock is up or down!”

The Firm8). “The Firm” (1993)

Crushing student loan debt, a lemon of a car, a brother in jail, a tough childhood in Okefenokee; still no reason to do business with the mob (or the feds, for that matter). Once you’re in, you can never get out.

The response by Mitch McDeere, Tom Cruise's character, sums it all up pretty well: "Let me get this straight: you want me to steal files from the firm, turn them over to the FBI, and send my colleagues to jail... breach attorney-client privilege, thus getting myself disbarred for life, then testify in open court against the Mafia... Let me ask you something: are you out of your f***ing mind?"

Trading Places9). “Trading Places” (1983)

Mortimer and Randolph Duke’s explanation of commodities trading to Eddie Murphy’s Billy Ray Valentine (and Valentine’s reaction to it) alone makes it worth a watch. Spoiler alert: Murphy breaks character by looking incredulously at the camera in response to the Dukes’ condescending tone.

Billy Ray Valentine: “No thanks, guys; I already had breakfast this morning.”

Mortimer Duke: “This is not a meal, Valentine. We are here to try to explain to you what it is we do here.”

Randolph Duke: “We are commodities brokers, William. Now, what are commodities? Commodities are agricultural products ... like coffee that you had for breakfast ... wheat, which is used to make bread... pork bellies, which is used to make bacon, which you might find in a bacon and lettuce and tomato sandwich.”

[Valentine looks at the camera]

American Psycho10). “American Psycho” (2000)

Think of it as an updated version of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”, except instead of window washer J. Pierpont Finch, the lead character is serial killer/investment broker Patrick Bateman. Take it at face-value, or for the satire many believe Bret Easton Ellis (author of the book on which the movie is based) intended; either way, it’s exceptionally creepy. Get past the murder, torture, blood spatters, profane language, sex and weapons and you’re left with a witty (if completely over-the-top) tale of the absolute ridiculousness of American material pursuits in — once again — the 1980s.

Detailed deconstructions of the larger social implications of Huey Lewis and the News and Whitney Houston's debut album stand out while the killer is slicing up a victim. A sample:

“Do you like Phil Collins? I've been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. It was on Duke where Phil Collins' presence became more apparent. I think ‘Invisible Touch’ was the group's undisputed masterpiece. It's an epic meditation on intangibility. Take the lyrics to ‘Land of Confusion.’ In this song, Phil Collins addresses the problems of abusive political authority. ‘In Too Deep’ is the most moving pop song of the 1980s, about monogamy and commitment. This is ‘Sussudio,’ a great, great song, a personal favorite.”

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Top 10 lists from AdvisorOne:

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