Politics on Film

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Bob RobertsSo, it's Oscar night this weekend, and it seems a good time to ask the question - what are the best political films of all time? What movies changed your world, knocked your socks off, helped you question your assumptions - or just entertained you?

For the purposes of this conversation, let's restrict ourselves to fiction - not documentary.

My top dozen?

What's your top five or ten?

  • Bob R. (unverified)

    I'd add "Wag the Dog" to that list.

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    Duh, right - Wag the Dog. Love that one. Thanks, Bob.

  • Eric Berg (unverified)

    I'd add: Dr. Stranglove, Life of Brian, Clockwork Orange, Gandhi, Biko, Norma Rae, Matewan, In the Name of the Father, Do the Right Thing, Being There. I don't agree it's anti-FDR/New Deal leanings, but Mr. Smith Goes to Washington deseves to be on anyone's list of best political movies.

    What I hope to add to the list someday: a mockumentary by Christopher Guest, et al (This is Spinal Tap, etc) centered around political campaign.

    My top ten (in no particular order):

    Bulworth, Election, Wag the Dog, Dr. Stranglove, Life of Brian, Bob Roberts, In the Name of Father, Matewan, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Do the Right Thing

  • Patrick Allen (unverified)

    Here's three:

    The Seduction of Joe Tynan The Candidate Primary Colors

  • (Show?)

    What a great topic.

    The Distinguished Gentleman was a great movie. Cheesy, yes, but there were some good points - like how powerful name recognition can be (and how little voters pay attention). And of course Eddie Murphy is always good for a few laughs. Or at least he was in the 20th century.

    Mr. Smith goes to Washington is also an all-time fave. Yeah, so what if it's 65 years old. It's still a great movie. A true classic.

    All the Presdident's Men, Primary Colors, and Wag the Dog would also be on my list.

    Oh and what about Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, & Blonde? Hehehe. Juuuuuust kiddin'.

  • Brian Grisham (unverified)

    Good for you, Pat. THE CANDIDATE! Great Redford film and although it covers a 70s California Senate race, it is eerily accurate even today. Mr. Smith, well what can you say, absolute classic. If you haven't seen it, True Colors is a dark take on political ambition starring Cusak and Spader. Not bad.

  • Anthony (unverified)

    Lord of the Flies The Killing Fields Trainspotting Funny Dirty Little War (No Habrá Más Pena Ni Olivido) A Man For All Seasons Death and the Maiden

  • Aaron (unverified)

    My Top Ten Political Movies(in order):

    1)Hotel Rwanda 2)Sadat 3)Gadhi 4)The Last Emperor 5)A Woman named Golda 6)Malcolm X 7)The Killing Fields 8)Schnilder's List 9)JKF 10)Lawrence of Arabia

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    Henry Fonda, as President, orders a nuke strike on Manhattan, after we accidentally nuke the Russians...and FAILSAFE doesn't make anybody's list? My goodness...that scarred the crap out of me as a kid.

    At least DR. STRANGELOVE made a few lists, the best movie of ALL kinds, ever.

    But Keri's question was about what movie "knocked your socks off" and that would be, for me, Costa-Gavras' "Z". Liberal reform, faith in the courts and legal system...up against corrupt militarists about to lose power then, bam. One of the best political films ever, by one of the best filmmakers.

    Frank Dufay

  • Hisham (unverified)

    I'm surprised no one's mentioned The Manchurian Canidate (original) and Fail-Safe.

  • Hisham (unverified)

    Oops. Frank beat me to Fail-Safe. I should also add Erin Brokovich and Traffic. Soderberg was on a roll.

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    It doesn't figure on my Top Ten list, but Chris Rock in Head of State has been getting more than usual play on the movie channels.

  • Todd Birch (unverified)

    "Bullworth"? You're kidding, right? It's practically a cartoon. Awful. As is "Arlington Road." "Bob Roberts" was funny when I was like 12 or something, but it's pretty much a caricature, too. "Wag the Dog" seemed good for a few minutes when it came out before the Clinton administration’s real life duplicity made it look like the work of unimaginative pikers.

    Speaking of the Democratic penchant for covering up the sexual impropriety of their leaders, I'd like to see a madcap comedy about the ethical lassitude and unhinged morality of a loose-nit clan of quirky Smart Growth zealots and their efforts to run the government of a second-tier West Coast city. The plot could revolve around the bawdy mischief that their sociopathic leader and his doting inner-circle get themselves in to as they go to great and campy lengths to protect the public from crass commercialism, and from finding out that their hero has an inveterate habit of riding the commuter rails on solitary quests for teenage girls he can lure back to his eco-friendly mansion and violate on the basement pool table. I think the Coen bros. could make it worth the price of admission.

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    Sounds like you've got a plot worked out, Todd, so go ahead and start writing it, then. I'm sure you could do major box office as the feature film at next CPAC's film fest. They love that irrational stuff.

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    Some good ones not mentioned yet:

    Citizen Cane Being There Wizard of Oz All the King's Men (Huey Long, not Watergate) How to Get a Head in Advertising To Kill a Mockingbird Mississipi Burning

    Hisham, the No on Measure 35 committee is pleased to see Erin B make your list!

    -- Todd Birch,

    How about a zany comedy about the adventures of a gay right wing prostitute given White House press credentials in exchange for lobbing softball, pro-administration "questions?" Think "All the Presidents Men" meets GOPAC meets hot man-on-man action.

  • Jim Clay (unverified)

    I suppose some may disagree that my offering is a political movie. But I believe that Longtime Companion, a collaboration of late director Norman René and writer Craig Lucas, amounts to a profound political and personal story, highlighting AIDS as experienced by a group of friends at the end of the 1980s.

    Companion captured the essence of authenticity and intimacy in a way unmatched to date.

    Film reviewer Tom Keogh said “the film works well on a number of levels, not least of which is the enviable closeness of the characters, the script's wit, the bittersweet experience of loss, and a celebratory attitude at the end mixing wisdom with defiance.”

    I’ve seen it 4 or 5 times, but I’ve needed years between viewings. Fifteen years later I still find that I need to brace for the ending. I recall watching Reagan’s willful, neglectful silence as nearly all my friends died.

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    My cousin Ira worked on that film (a long time ago). The link has his more recent work. I was proud of him for being involved in the project.

    Tough film to watch but definately moving and well made.

  • Todd Birch (unverified)

    Charlie Burr,

    How about a zany comedy about the adventures of a gay right wing prostitute...?

    Sounds like a winner to me. Might be a good script for David Brock to work on.

  • Christy Splitt (unverified)

    American President! It is on the fun and silly side, but it's Aaron Sorkin.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Folks have mentioned many great flicks, but there is quite a bit of lattitude in what is considered "political." "How to Get Ahead in Advertising" is one of my favorites, but is it a political movie? Depends on how one defines the scope of politics. Here are some of mine, limiting myself to flicks that deal with governmental leaders and/or elections. I'm also excluding films that are largely historical in nature:

    Being There Bulworth JFK Dr. strangelove The Killingfields Primary Colors Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Farenheit 9/11 All the Kings Men Citizen Kane [which was much more than a political movie]

  • Jon (unverified)

    Todd Birch-

    Sounds like an interesting plot, and I think have a title for you....how about "Goldshmidt?" ;-)

    As for my fave political movies, I dont know if I can come up with ten, but I thought the new "Manchurian Candidate" was pretty good. I also think "Dr. Stranglove" and "Schindler's List" would make my list.

    Also, I really dont think anything made by Oliver Stone should be called "political." More like "crap."

  • (Show?)

    What about my all time favorite "A Clockwork Orange", wherein conservatives design a foolproof method of neutralizing sociopaths, but in the face of crtitcism from a liberal group (headed by one of the protagonist's victims), restores the protagonist to his "natural" sociopathic state, in the interests of retaining power.

    <h2>Malcolm McDowell's hospital bed scene toward the end of the movie, where he's being handfed by his erstwhile tormentor is still a comedy benchmark for me........</h2>

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