The Best Films of the Decade: #1. O.J. Made in America

| January 10, 2020

The old decade is gone, and so my thoughts turn to the ten best films of the decade.  Today, #1!  The best of the best . . . according to me.

When I saw the documentary, O.J. Made in America three years ago, I declared it one of the most important documentaries of our time, a film so full-blooded, so emotionally-packed, so historically and culturally significant that future generations may look back on it to learn something of the mindset of those who had been the tenets of the latter years of the 20th century.

That might seem an odd observation to anyone who hasn’t indulged in Ezra Edelman’s grand 467-minute documentary that not only reveals the soup to nuts rise and fall of one Orenthal James Simpson but also the last 50 years of racial relations in the United States – with a special emphasis on The City of Angels.

O.J. Made in America is about many things but at its core it takes the figure of a once-great football hero who was desperate for fame above everything else, and views his journey in parallel to how poor blacks were systematically used and abused by a corrupt LAPD that ran roughshod over the community.  O.J. made himself a celebrity by removing himself from this demographic. He used his winning charm to court white celebrities, white businessmen, white women and effectively excused himself from the black community thus freeing himself from the often brutal tenants that go along with being black in America.  Then, ironically, he became the focal point of a trial that had nothing to do with race, but never-the-less became the debate point for the whole of racism in this country.

O.J.’s love affair with white America afforded him a pass when it came to permissive (and illegal) behavior seen in contrast to the black community of LA through the years.  Then after the divisive triumph of his acquittal for double homicide he became a pariah, bit by bit losing the fame and adoration that he used to rise to the top.

What makes the film special is the narrative structure.  Edelman uses a Citizen Kane-style interview approach in which he speaks with at least three dozen subjects (but never the man himself) who either knew O.J. personally or were affected by him in some fashion.  There’s an odd and singular approach that each has in their association with O.J. and it is fascinating to watch them not only recall the bizarre events but to witness each wrestle with their own conscience.  They look back over the years and linger over question their own motives and wonder about the ambivalent nature of their association with him.  By the end, the movie asks us to question our fascination with the circus of O.J. lower moments. 

O.J. Made in America is the best film of the decade because it forces us to look at our own priorities. Why does murder and scandal fascinate us? Why are we so obsessed with celebrity downfall? Why does O.J.’s misbehavior amuse us so much? How and why was his trial, which had nothing to do with race, turned into the debate point for the racial problems in America? Here is a movie about the generational loop of racism, and of our often-immoral fascination of celebrity behavior and misbehavior.  Who are we?  And we does the story of O.J. tell us about ourselves as a culture? When all is said and done, how will future generations look back at our reaction to this man as we watched him rise to great heights and then make an epic fall from grace?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2016) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized