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April 17, 2012


On DVD/Blu-ray – Death and Taxes

This post was originally published for Tax Day 2010. It is being reprinted in observance of Tax Day 2012.


The annual day of reckoning is upon us. Soon we Americans will be released from the prolonged agony that inevitably precedes every April 15. In recognition of Tax Day, I’ve decided to devote this week’s DVD post to movies about death and taxes.* The spotlight shines on three films that revolve around the two great inescapables. To set the stage and for the edification of my lucky readers who do not have to prepare their own tax returns, I’ve also included a few representative tidbits from the 2009 Form 1040 and accompanying 100-plus page Forms and Instructions.

42 Exemptions. If line 38 is $125,000 or less and you did not provide housing to a Midwestern displaced individual, multiply $3,650 by the number on line 6d. Otherwise, see page 37.

The Untouchables

First up is a movie about the take-down of America’s most notorious tax scofflaw, Al Capone. Directed by Brian De Palma from a script by David Mamet, The Untouchables (1994) was inspired by federal agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his incorruptible team’s crusading efforts to bring Capone (Robert De Niro) to justice and destroy his crime syndicate in Prohibition-era Chicago. There’s a lot of historically accurate death in this film, which fully points up the irony inherent in the famous true crime tale: Capone eluded murder and racketeering charges only to be convicted of federal income tax evasion. You’ve probably already seen The Untouchables, but if you haven’t, this is a good time of year to check it out. It’s calming to be reminded that the federal tax code has been a force for social good.

If you have to file Schedule D and Schedule D, line 18 or 19, is more than zero, use the Schedule D Tax Worksheet on page D-10 of the Instructions for Schedule D to figure the amount to enter on Form 1040, line 44. But if you are filing Form 2555 or 2555-EZ, you must use the Foreign Earned Income Tax Worksheet below instead.

Stranger Than Fiction

A kinder, gentler version of “death and taxes” figures in Stranger Than Fiction (2006), directed by Marc Forster from Zach Helm’s script. An IRS agent (Will Ferrell) starts hearing a voice… and it’s narrating his life. That’s disquieting enough, but then the voice starts talking about his imminent death. The self-reflection this prompts is encouraged by his budding romance with the small business owner (Maggie Gyllenhaal) he’s auditing. Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman are a treat in supporting roles as a novelist and literature professor. The film is clever and amusing, and it also has a lot of heart. Auditors may complain about their profession being used as shorthand for being dead inside, but they should remember that movies are made by taxpayers.

If you are taking the standard deduction and you checked any box on line 39a, 39b, or 40b or you (or your spouse if filing jointly) can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s 2009 return, see pages 35 and 36 to be sure you entered the correct amount on line 40a.

The Blues Brothers

All right, I admit it, I’m stretching the point with my third pick: No one dies in The Blues Brothers (1980), at least not that I can recall. Only in a movie would no one- principals or bystanders- have been killed after the stunts they pulled. More to the point, the sword of doom hangs over Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd, who also co-wrote with director John Landis) Blues as they fulfill their “mission from God.” The object of their mission? To raise enough money to pay the back property taxes on the orphanage where they grew up and save it from closing. It’s a good one to watch to put our tax preparation travails into perspective.

*There is an actual movie with the title Death & Taxes, but it’s a sketchy-sounding, out of print documentary and therefore not the subject of today’s column.

New releases this week: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Shame

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Apr 17 2012

    Believe it not but I like the film version of “Meet Joe Black”. Characters in the film even use the phrase “death and taxes”. I know that it’s 3 hours long but I found it fun and have watched it more than once.

    It fits with you post, Helen. :O)

    Btw, here in Canada you can file and receive your tax return (or have to pay the government) as early as March. I already got mine a month ago. :OÞ

  2. Apr 17 2012

    That’s one I haven’t seen. I like the ’30s “Death Takes a Holiday” with Fredric March (of which “Meet Joe Black” is a sort-of remake) but I don’t remember there being a tax angle.

    We can file earlier but I never do because it’s such an ordeal that I want to put it off as long as I can. Well, almost as long. I never wait until the absolute last day to go to the post office, which is good because statistics show that the rate of car accidents spikes every year on Tax Day. I’m not making that up.

  3. Apr 17 2012

    I can believe that. We’re talking about America here. :O)