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2016 has been a crazy year, Britain has voted for Brexit and two of the most unpopular candidates ever have run for the office of President of the United States: one of them has been investigated by the FBI and the other keeps making outlandish claims, policy announcements and stated his brief in conspiracy theories. Sometimes real life can be stranger than fiction.
America is heading to the polls to vote for a new President, as well vote in the large mix of congressional, state and local elections, we at Entertainment Fuse thought now is the time to look at some of the best movies about the political process. Since politics can be a broad term this list will focus on movies that are about governance and lawmaking, electioneering or political campaigning.
Not all political movies are about are high government, world-changing campaigns or even focus on local issues: Alexander Payne’s satirical comedy Election serves as a case study. Based on a novel by Tom Perrotta Election is set in a suburban high school in Omaha, Nebraska and follows three students running for student council president: annoying overachiever Tracy Enid Flick (Reese Witherspoon), popular but dimmed witted jock Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) and his outsider younger sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell). Quickly the election turns nasty as characters perform dirty tricks against each other’s campaigns: actions include a speech denouncing the pointlessness of student government, betraying loved ones and destroying their rival’s campaign materials and the movie ends with an attempt at vote rigging. It was a maelstrom of dirty politicking, awful candidates and corrupt officials. A horrific look at high school life through the prism of an election.
9. Thank You for Smoking
In keeping with the theme of political satire let’s move on to the 2005 comedy and Jason Reitman debut Thank You for Smoking. Like Election Thank You For Smoking was based on a novel (this time authored by Christopher Buckley) and this movie takes aim at the lobbying industry in Washington D.C.
Thank You For Smoking focuses on Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a spokesman for the Tobacco industry, smooth-talking his way out of a crisis, preventing the industry from gaining bad press or negative legislation and find new ways to promote smoking. His actions during the movie include bribing a former cigarette spokesman who has cancer from speaking out, battle a US senator who campaigns against smoking and tries to facilitate the introduction of smoking product placement in Hollywood films: leading to one of the funniest lines in the film regarding smoking and space travel. Naylor’s friends in the industry are alcohol and firearms lobbyists and they call themselves the Merchants of Death.
Eckhart was extremely slick in the main role, being incredibly charismatic and persuasive in the main role: Christopher Nolan admitted that this was the role that earned Eckhart the Harvey Dent role.
Thank You For Smoking takes aim at both sides of the smoking argument: Senator Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy) was so zealot in his crusade that he argued that smoking scenes should be removed from classic movies and as Naylor argued one of the main exports from Finistirre’s state is also responsible for causing Americans health issues.
8. Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom
Based on Nelson Mandela’s huge autobiography Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom was a board overview of Mandela’s career as a lawyer, his 27-year imprisonment and his negotiations to end Apartheid as well as his relationship with wife Winnie. Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom was not as well received as it would have liked, only mustering a 59% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a shame because the biopic was the best overview possible about Mandela’s life without it being a three-hour long film or a miniseries.
Mandela: A Long Walk Freedom looks at Mandela’s recruitment into the ANC, his terrorist campaign against the Apartheid government before his arrest and Mandela and his team outwit the government during the negotiations for their freedom and the transfer of power. When Mandela was released from prison his position changes; becoming the man preaching peace and reconciliation while Winnie became more militant, advocating violence.
The movie centered itself around the relationship between Nelson and Winnie, but it was at its best showing how South Africa changed during this period, from the National Party winning power and making Apartheid official policy and by the ’70s and ’80s South Africa became ungovernable, forcing the Apartheid government to negotiate with the ANC to resort peace.
2012’s Lincoln was a passion project for Steven Spielberg, a historical drama based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The Spielberg movie focused on the end of the American Civil War, looking at the efforts to bring peace to the Union and the efforts of President Lincoln and his allies in Congress and making the Thirteenth Amendment which was meant to abolish slavery. As the North win on the battlefield Lincoln has to fight off calls to compromise for the sake of peace and Lincoln has to use all his political might to bring in the change that the Civil War was meant to enforce.
Lincoln was about the political dealing that had to be done to ensure they were enough votes for the amendment to pass. The movie is considered one of the most accurate portrayals of American politics on film.
6. The Ides of March
Based on a play by Beau Willimon The Ides of March was a political drama that featured an ensemble cast and focuses on the age-old debate between idealism and pragmatism. Ryan Gosling stars as Stephen Meyers a young campaign manager for an idealistic Democratic Governor running for President and fighting a close race in Ohio which the winner could secure the party’s nomination. The Governor played by George Clooney promises to take on the banks and elites and promises not to make any deals to seal the nomination. However, Meyers gets sucked into a world of deceit, double-crosses and lies as his own ideals are challenged by scandals. The Ides of March is one of Clooney’s better efforts as a director, making a great moral drama and shows how someone with ideals can deteriorate over time.
5. In the Loop
In the Loop is a spin-off from the BBC comedy series In The Thick Of It, expanding from the Westminster bubble to a Transatlantic story and acted as a satire to the war planning for the Iraq War and the British-American “Special Relationship”. In the Loop follows a collection of British and American officials and diplomats as they scramble to stop the allies from invading a nameless Middle Eastern nation. Figures include the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy), Lieutenant General George Miller (James Gandolfini) and British Cabinet Minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) while the Assistant Secretary of State for Policy Linton Barwick (David Rasche) is saber rattling.
Some of the parallels with the run-up to the Iraq War were blatant like the reports advising against invasion and post-invasion planning being non-existence: but the movie was more about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering within the American and British political systems as well as having some jabs against certain institutions and individuals. Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker was a satire of Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications Alastair Campbell was one of the targets and he uses a lot of shouting and swearing to get his way. However despite being powerful in Britain in America Tucker is dismissed by given meetings with a junior staffer, much to his annoyance.
Foster also tries to use his political clout to force through his position, butting heads with the British government toughest enforcer, while he deals with local issues from those pesky constituents.
4. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was one of Frank Capra’s most famous movies, a drama about an earnest boy scouts leader played by James Stewart somehow becoming a US Senator. Stewart’s Jefferson Smith was a patriot and a believer in the US constitution and American ideals but ends up seeing the political process isn’t as noble as he thinks. This leads to the famous filibuster scene as he gives a non-stop, impassioned speech on the Senate floor, unaware of the support he had at home.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a little cheesy by today’s standards, the worst offenders being the Governor being convinced to pick their scout leader to be a US Senator and the scouts breaking the stranglehold on the local media by distributing news about Smith’s heroic deals directly. Yet it was a nice spirited movie about political idealism and the plotline of someone finding out that they are being misled a powerful political figure has become so standard that it is now cliché. It was the movie that made James Stewart into a star and you would certainly want to vote for him.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning the award for Best Original Story and was preserved in the Library of Congress in 1989.
Harvey Milk is an important figure for gay rights, he was the first openly gay made to be elected to public office in California and affectionately known as the Mayor of Castro Street. The 2008 biopic focused on his political career as he ran for office to become a city supervisor in San Francisco and a representative in the California State Assembly, his complex relationship with City Supervisor and eventual murderer Dan White and his campaign against Proposition 6, an initiative that aimed to ban LGBT people from working in public schools.
A lot of quality actors and filmmakers worked on the movie with Sean Penn and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black winning Oscars and Gus Van Sant, Josh Brolin and the producers were nominated. Milk worked because it focused on two major parts of Milk’s political career, his attempts to be elected, with every election brings a little more success and Milk leading the fight against Proposition 6. It gives audiences a flavor of the discrimination that LGBT people suffered during this period, from the Stonewall Riots to Anita Bryant’s campaign group Save Our Children. It is a great example of a film focusing on local politics and the grassroots efforts it takes to get someone elected.
The Martin Luther King biopic Selma is the most recent movie to make it onto this list and it certainly no less worthy because of it. Selma looks at a specific campaign during Dr. King’s life, the Selma March where Civil Rights Activities marched from Selma to Montgomery to protest against racist laws in the South that were designed to prevent African-Americans from voting. Selma was a comprehensive look at this protest, showing the build-up planning, the different factions that were involved in the Civil Rights’ movement, from Malcolm X’s movement who becomes a surprising ally to the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who questions King’s leadership. While on the government side President Lyndon B. Johnson was apathetic, J Edgar Hoover was hostile and the racist Governor George Wallace wanting to crush the protest. All this takes a toll on King who has to bear the weight of the movement and the community, leading to him doubting himself. It made King more vulnerable and human.
Selma was a wonderful celebration of peaceful protest and showing the efforts people went thought to have the right to vote. There were some historical anachronisms, the big one being LBJ was sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement and it was under his presidency that the Civil Rights Act pass, but that doesn’t detract from the movie’s message.
1. All the King’s Men
Based on a novel by Robert Penn Warren All the King’s Men is a classic tale of power corrupting and the 1949 version of the story was critically acclaimed: it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning three for Best Film, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. All the King’s Men follows the rise and fall of Willie Stark, a local politician and campaigner who fights against corruption in his rural county, climbing the greasing pole. But Stark ethics erodes as he becomes governor of the state, using his position to make his friends and himself rich and uses populist policies to appeal to his loyal base. Stark was loosely based on the controversial Louisiana governor Huey Long who was praised for his efforts to help the poor and rural community but criticized for being a populist and a demagogue and was assassinated in 1935.
All the King’s Men was remade in 2006 with an assemble cast that featured Sean Penn, Jude Law and Kate Winslet. Despite the quality of the cast, the movie was seen as desperate Oscar bait and only earn an 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.