Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Political Films

On the off chance you haven’t gotten enough of electoral politics or (more likely) you are looking for an alternative to election night coverage and the cable news dissection that will follow, here are some films with political stories and subjects.

All the President’s Men
The story of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward breaking the Watergate story and subsequently bringing down the Nixon administration remains one the essential political movies.

The American President
This film tells the story of a widowed president who gets romantically involved with a lobbyist. The film plays like a dry run for The West Wing, as it was written by Aaron Sorkin and shares some of the same cast members. The film includes Sorkin’s droll banter but it also suffers from his obtuse speechifying.

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story
This documentary about the career of Lee Atwater, a Republican political operative and the campaign chair for George H.W. Bush, is a terrific story of ambition and hubris. The film reveals how Atwater was among the primary architects of contemporary political campaigns.

This comedy about a Democratic senator suffering a mental breakdown has a raucous performance by Warren Beatty. Bulworth’s cultural references and racial politics are very much of 1998 but it remains an amusing and intelligent film.

Duck Soup
The Marx Brothers took on the absurdity of war in one of their best films. Fans of Saturday Night Live and The Colbert Report should check it out.

This dark comedy about a high school student government election gone awry has terrific performances by Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick and it is among Alexander Payne’s best films.

The Great Dictator
Charlie Chaplin’s reworking of “The Prince and the Pauper” is a classic piece of political satire.

Ivan the Terrible
Sergei M. Eisenstein’s two part film was originally supposed to be three parts but Joseph Stalin hated the second part so much that Eisenstein was forbidden from completing it. Nevertheless, the surviving films are impressive work by one of Russia’s most important directors.

John Adams
This made-for-HBO miniseries has a grand scope but an intimate focus, telling the life story of John Adams and his family set against the formation of the United States. Other founding fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin also figure prominently in the drama.

The Lion in Winter
This story of King Henry II and his dysfunctional family is a classic of its genre and features a haunting score by John Barry.

Meet John Doe
Although it was made over seventy years ago, this film is as relevant now as it was then as it deals with media-created celebrities and political movements.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Another Frank Capra classic, this film is often cited as one of the director’s most uplifting and inspiring works but there is a cynicism underlying it.

Oliver Stone’s biopic of the 37th president is among the director’s best work, possibly his masterpiece. The picture is not a hatchet job; in fact, Stone paints a very sympathetic portrait of Richard Nixon, casting him as a tragic figure.

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism
Liberal filmmaker Robert Greenwald examines the effect of Fox News on the media landscape and how “infotainment” impacts political discourse.

Directed by Barry Levinson, this documentary follows members of the Creative Coalition during the 2008 election while also exploring the overlap of entertainment and politics.

Oliver Stone is not usually recognized for his humor although films like Natural Born Killers, The Doors, and Scarface (which he wrote) all have quite a bit of comedy in them. W. is the closest Stone has come to a full on comedy and its contemptuous portrayal of George W. Bush contrasts with Stone’s more reverential portrait of Richard Nixon.

The War Room
This documentary about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign is a very popular and respected documentary that did much to turn James Carville into a media personality.

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