Thursday, May 16, 2013

And the Top Five Political Films Are...

I love movies and wanted to share my top five films about politicians.  Here they are — leading up to Number One...

#5  Primary Colors (1998) takes us on the roller coaster ride of a political campaign with fictitious Governor of a southern state Jack Stanton as he runs for his party's candidacy for the Presidency.  John Travolta as the candidate is awfully close to a Bill-Clinton-act-alike — with his strategic and loyal partner of a wife (whom he deceives) and a campaign fraught with shenanigans and plenty of young naive political junkies who believe in their candidate.   Kathy Bates is especially obnoxious and strangely ethical.

#4  Take Ryan Gosling and George Clooney (not bad in the looks department) supported by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood (none bad in the acting department) as players in the Ohio Democratic presidential primary and you've got The Ides of March (2011).  In the beginning of the film, a New York Times reporter (Tomei) tells the eager, ambitious campaign press secretary Steven (Gosling) about his idol the Governor, "He will let you down.  Sooner or later."  And it's sooner not later.  This is a film where the ugly underbelly of politics is front and center and scene after scene as it gets seamier and seamier, you grimace and cringe but still — you keep watching.

#3  Early on in Meryl Streep's career, after Julia, the TV mini-series HolocaustThe Deer Hunter, and Manhattan, she did a little film written by and starring Alan Alda, The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979) where he convincingly portrays a popular US Senator (long-married to an intelligent wife, Barbara Harris, who hates being a political spouse) who isn't just seduced by the young, beautiful lawyer Streep plays, but — as the tagline for the movie cautioned — "There are many ways to be seduced. Fame. Power. Love. Joe Tynan knows them all."

#2  Do you notice that Joan Allen always plays a really principled person in films?  It's no different in The Contender (2000) where she's Laine Hanson, a savvy Senator who is thrust into a nomination for the Vice Presidency and ends up pushed between a rock and a hard place when stories surface that cast doubt on her past and everyone is pressuring her to confirm or deny her sexual behavior but she, she holds firm and refuses to engage in the dirty politics of the day.  There are loads of villains played by Sam Elliot, William Peterson, and others but Gary Oldman is especially evil and Joan Allen exceptionally pure.

#1  Maybe it's because it all happened in my time or that I knew the story from the daily newspaper headlines, nightly newscasts, and the televised hearings, but Watergate was seminal for me and marked a huge turning point in our nation's collective psyche when we stopped trusting our government and sadly started questioning the integrity of the presidency. The number one for me is  All the President's Men (1976) — a real political thriller with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman that drags you along on a harrowing Alice-in-Wonderland scary journey as two stylistically opposed reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, team up and famously track down the story of our century — that was all true.

Okay, so I know I've disappointed/upset/enraged some of you out there by leaving out one of YOUR favorites, so do post and let me know what I've missed! Now I KNOW I'm going to disappoint/offend/enrage some of you out there by leaving out some film-favorite of do feel free to post your comments on what I've missed!


  1. Call me nostalgic but I tend to go for demagogic good-ole-boys, or corrupt, big city bosses when it comes to movie-making about politics. In terms of the former, nothing beats 1949's 'All The King's Men' with Broderick Crawford in the roll of Willie Stark, Robert Penn Warren's send-up of Louisiana 'Kingfish' Huey Long. I say that, even though I have never seen the 2006 remake with Sean Penn and an all-star cast. Crawford will always be Willie Stark for me, much as Lee J. Cobb will always be Willie Loman.
    The other 'must-see' for politics in the trenches, is John Ford's 1958 version of 'The Last Hurrah' by Edwin O'Connor, loosely based on Boston's Mayor Curley. A good story with a lot of insights on old school ward politics. And Tracey is great as usual.
    When it comes to more modern fare, I read and very much enjoyed 'Game Change' (about the 2008 campaign) but haven't seen the move.

    1. Thanks Scott! Others wrote in about All the King' Men so I'll have to watch that one. The Last Hurrah I vaguely remember (was Henry Fonda in it?) but Game Change, I just can't recall.