Politics are all over the news lately. A number of local and state elections take place next week. More than that, you can’t turn on the TV or open social media without hearing about one major scandal or another. Setting aside the real-world disaster that is our current political landscape, what are your favorite movies about politics?
M. Enois Duarte
Remembered as his first true sound film with spoken dialogue, Charlie Chaplin made what I consider the greatest political satire ever in ‘The Great Dictator‘. The plot’s hysterical criticism of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and the ideologies they represented is not the only reason for the film’s greatness. What really makes it a masterpiece is the film’s insightful jabs at fascism and the breakdown of government systems that prescribe to such hateful rhetoric. To this day, the final speech delivered by Chaplin’s dictator Adenoid Hynkel is one of my favorite moments in cinema, an emotionally poignant harangue that remains as relevant today.
Although it focuses on a small high school and the campaign for Class President, I don’t know that there’s been a better movie made about the dark side of politics than Alexander Payne’s ‘Election‘.
This 1999 film stars Matthew Broderick as Jim McAllister, a high school teacher who has an absolute hate for his overachieving young student, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon). You see, Tracy had a fling with Jim’s best friend and fellow teacher. His friend got fired and then divorced, but there were no repercussions for Tracy whatsoever. So when the perky blonde decides to run for Class President, Jim does everything in his power to make sure she loses… with disastrous results.
A cult classic almost since its release, ‘Election’ is finally getting the Criterion treatment on Blu-ray at the end of this year, and I can’t recommend it more highly.
I’m not exactly the biggest fan of purely political pictures. However, I’m a huge fan of political thrillers. Full-blown political films are typically depressing (just like true politics), so I prefer a dose of sensationalism with mine. Ever since I was an early teen, I’ve always been drawn to political thrillers. The one that I first truly fell in love with was the second Tom Clancy adaptation, ‘Patriot Games‘.
I love all five Jack Ryan movies and look forward to Amazon’s upcoming series, but ‘Patriot Games’ is still my favorite. The mix of global politics, behind-doors CIA spy stuff and heated Sean Bean revenge make it the perfect package. Considering a very real threat level and the fact that no one – not even Ryan’s wife and kid in D.C. – are safe, makes it a very satisfying and intense film that has aged extremely well. If only we could get a new remaster for home viewing.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
I completely understand why you’re rolling your eyes right now, but there’s something close enough to politics at the core of ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!‘. Federally funded experiments were directly responsible for the rise of colossal, sentient tomatoes with a taste for human flesh. Press Secretary Jim Richards is tasked with making a woefully incompetent, pen-crazed President come out looking good in all this, working with the PR agency that handled the Prez’s re-election campaign to put a happy face on the tomato invasion. Just think of what staggeringly large tomatoes could do for pizza! As it turns out, the true source of the red menace is Jim Richards himself. His scheme is to secure the Presidency as his own, certain to be voted in by thankful survivors once he singlehandedly puts an end to the crisis that he secretly engineered. Sure, ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ it’s not, but considering Frank Capra’s well-publicized bias against carnivorous tomato movies, that’s no surprise.
I mentioned ‘Bob Roberts‘ not too long ago in our Roundtable about Worst Movie & TV Politicians, but it’s too good a pick not to highlight again. Tim Robbins’ blistering satire stings just as deeply today as it did back in 1992, a sad reminder that not much has changed in the meantime. If anything, the cartoonish exaggerations Robbins played for laughs have all come true in real life.
For something a little more sobering, ‘Nixon‘ remains one of Oliver Stone’s most underrated and complex works. Far from the hatchet job that everyone expected out of Stone, the film is a nuanced, surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a complicated man undone by the fatal flaws in his character. The director isn’t afraid to acknowledge Nixon’s accomplishments and victories, as well as his failures and ultimate fall from grace. The story is engrossing from start to finish, even with a Director’s Cut running over three-and-a-half hours. Sad as it is to say, the movie may actually leave you pining nostalgically for the days when Richard Nixon was viewed as the worst President our country ever had.
Give us your picks for best movies about politics in the Comments below.