As The Campaign Dawns, 10 Top Political Movies Position for Spotlight
"Obamacare." "Romney Hood." The political name-calling sounds like campaign season is well under-way (though does it ever end or begin?). The art of the possible will get a comical twist this weekend with the release of The Campaign, starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. The pic follows two rivals who clash in an election that will decide who will head to the U.S. Congress from their North Carolina district (Ferrell appears to even flash a not-so-subtle coif similar to former V.P. candidate John Edwards). The film, which opens this weekend, prompted ABC's Political Punch reporter Jake Tapper to offer up his Top 10 political films of all-time (documentaries were excluded) and "political film" was kept to a narrow definition. See if you agree with this list and let the campaign begin.
10. In The Loop, directed by Armando Iannucci (2009)
Starring Tom Hollander, Peter Capaldi and James Gandolfini, the 2009 Sundance premiere is a satirical play on the build up to the war in Iraq and the relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. In the film both countries are on the verge of launching a Middle Eastern war and the story follows a behind-the-scenes drama in which there are officials trying to promote armed action and those trying to stop it. A British government minister tells a radio interviewer that war may be inevitable, but is then shot down by the Prime Minister's aide, played by Peter Capaldi. But then, the aide himself makes a further mistake saying there may be a need to "climb the mountain of conflict," further muddying a delicate situation.
9. The Parallax View, directed by Alan J. Pakula (1974)
Based on the 1970 novel by Loren Singer, Warren Beatty plays a newspaper reporter who takes on a dangerous investigation into a corporation that engages in political assassination. Presidential candidate Senator Charles Carroll (Bill Joyce) is assassinated atop the Space Needle in Seattle and one witness, journalist Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss) tells her former boyfriend, reporter Joe Frady (Beatty) that she believes there is more to the killing since six of the witnesses have died and she fears she may be next. The Parallax View is the third in director Alan J. Pakula's political paranoia trilogy including Klute (1971) and All the President's Men (1976) (and also the only one not to receive an Oscar nomination or win).
8. Z, directed by Costa Gavras (1969)
Also based on a novel, this time the 1966 book of the same title by Vassilis Vassilikos, the French political thriller is a vaguely fictionalized take on the events around the assassination of democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant as an investigator, the film combines dark humor and a satirical view of politics though it managed to be the 10th highest-grossing film of the year in the U.S. in 1969. It also received both an Oscar-nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture.
7. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, directed by Stanley Kubrick (1964)
Starring Peter Sellers, George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden this black comedy takes on the nuclear scare and the Cold War. Based on Peter George's novel Red Alert, the story revolves around a rogue U.S. Air Force general who orders a nuclear assault on the Soviet Union. The President of the United States and his staff as well as a Royal Air Force officer attempt to return the planes as they head to deliver their apocalyptic payload, while separately the film follows the crew on one of the planes as it heads to its target. The U.S. Library of Congress called Dr. Strangelove "Culturally Significant" in 1989 and is preserved in the National Film Registry.
6. Bananas, directed by Woody Allen (1971)
South American politics take the focus in this comedy in which Allen stars with Louise Lasser and Carlos Montalban. Allen plays Fielding Mellish, a bumbling blue collar guy who wants to impress his activist love interest Nancy (Lasser) by getting involved in a revolution in a fictional South American country. He shows concern for the locals, but after he's nearly killed by a military chief, he is saved by the revolutionaries and he finds himself in their debt. Soon, he learns to be a revolutionary himself, but when the revolt succeeds and their Castro-esque leader goes mad, he inadvertently finds himself as their new top figure. Back in the U.S., he faces trial and he reunites with his love…
5. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, directed by Frank Capra (1939)
This classic has shown up on lists throughout the decades. Starring Jean Arthur and James Stewart and based on an unpublished story by Lewis R. Foster, the film proved a controversy when it was released back in '39, but received 11 Academy Award nominations and a win for Best Original Story. The story revolves around an unnamed Western governor who by chance chooses Jefferson Smith (Stewart) to serve out a term in the U.S. Senate following the death of the sitting incumbent. The governor believes he'll be able to manipulate the naive Smith. His good intentions soon collide with an apparatus of political corruption and then all hell breaks loose.
4. Charlie Wilson's War, directed by Mike Nichols (2007)
Aaron Sorkin adapted for the screenplay based on a true story by George Crile III's 2003 book Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. The drama recounts how U.S. congressman Charlie Wilson, a Texas Democrat, played by Tom Hanks, teamed up with the C.I.A. to support the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Also starring Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman along with Amy Adams, Ned Beatty and Emily Blunt, Wilson's political maneuvering and his allies in the spy agency's Afghanistan task force results in the mujahideen being armed to the teeth complete with stinger missiles which can shoot down Soviet choppers. The result is a Soviet quagmire and ultimately a triumph for the mujahideen, but the unintended consequences imply an unwieldy Afghanistan that was left to fend for itself after the Soviet withdrawal.
3. Wag the Dog, directed by Barry Levinson (1997)
This film came out before the Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, though the film is often identified with it. The black comedy stars Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro about a Washington spin-master who hires a Hollywood producer to create a fake war with Albania (of all places) in order to distract the electorate with a sex scandal just days before a presidential election. The caption at the beginning of the film says it all: "Why does the dog wag its tail? Because the dog is smarter than the tail. If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog."
2. All the President's Men (1976) Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
The 1976 Oscar-winning political thriller is based on the non-fiction work of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, better known as the The Washington Post journalists who blew the lid off the Watergate scandal. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Woodward and Bernstein respectively. The crisis that ensued ended in the resignation of President Nixon, the first U.S. head of state to resign and the subsequent inauguration of Vice President Ford in 1974.
1. The Candidate, directed by Michael Ritchie (1972)
Robert Redford also stars in this film about an unlikely and idealistic Democratic candidate from California. Bill McKay (Redford) is initially more interested in espousing his liberal views publicly than winning and decides to take to the campaign trail to vocalize his opinion since his challenger, the incumbent Republican is a given as the victor. McKay wins the party nomination, but then finds out he's likely to be overwhelmingly trounced in the election. He figured he'd lose, but not by such a humiliating margin. So, in order to avoid embarrassment, he broadens his appeal by dousing his ardently liberal message resulting in a rise in the polls. He also appeals for his father's help (a former governor) to endorse him since the media is speculating that his silence is a tacit thumbs up to the opposition. As the debate looms, more compromises are made and the result entrenches McKay in the political establishment.