Politics

Five of the best political movies of all time


If you want to get the whole circus in perspective in this all important election year, forget CNN and line up the DVDs



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Former President James A. Garfield once said that “the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” If the looming election and wall-to-wall Mitt-Newt-Ron-Rick coverage isn’t prompting you to pour cayenne pepper in your eyes while chewing on a ball of tinfoil and you’re up for a topical escape, here’s a 5-pack of political movies to remind you that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

 

The Battle of Algiers, director: Gillo Pontecorvo (1966)

The Battle of Algiers is that rare political film that doesn’t just spoon feed viewers a viewpoint. The film focuses on 1957, a critical year in Algeria’s struggle to gain independence from France. Shot in the streets of Algiers, the film vividly addresses popular rebellion, the costs of conflict, the loss of innocent life and terrorism as a means to achieve objectives. And it’s as crucial now as ever, offering a blueprint of what went down across the Middle East last year, and might yet spread to Algeria, Iraq, Jordan and beyond.

 

 

All the President’s Men, director: Alan J. Pakula (1976)

One of the finest films of its time, and the ultimate expose on the Watergate scandal, it stars young lion Redford throwing nothing but aces and Hoffman killing it way before The Fockers seemed comprehensible. The film hauled in eight Oscars, and it was a tough year too (not like Shakespeare in Love). A timely reminder too that once upon a time, the media actually served as government watchdog instead of lapdog. And speaking of dogs…

 

Wag the Dog, director: Barry Levinson (1997)

When the President of the United States is accused of sexual misconduct in the Oval Office two weeks before the upcoming election, Washington spin-doctor, Conrad Brean (Robert DeNiro), is summoned to the White House and charged with distracting an unsuspecting public from the scandal. For Brean, the plan is simple. Bring in Hollywood producer, Stanley Motts (Dustin Hoffman), and manufacture a war in some ridiculously far off place like Albania to shift public focus away from the scandal to the imperative and increasingly patriotic war effort. Completely over-the-top upon its release, but in today’s political climate the film may as well be a training video.

 

Primary Colors, director: Mike Nichols (1998)

Just because John Travolta stars as an obvious Clinton clone, this is no coaster. Starring Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton and Kathy Bates and based on the novel of the same name, the film tells the story of a Southern governor (John Travolta) whose unsavory appetites threaten to upend his presidential ambitions. At the time of its release in 1998, “Slick Willie” was dealing with fallout from his own appetites, so the film was largely dismissed along partisan lines. But it remains one of the best American political films in recent memory, and much more than a thinly veiled Clinton metaphor. Especially considering that the script has been flipped and we know that while “Newtie” was leading the impeachment hearings, he was demanding an “open marriage” from his MS-stricken wife.   

 

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara: director: Errol Morris (2003)

Mesmerizing documentary and provocative case study on power and the powerful, The Fog of War offers an intriguing and unnerving look into the life of former Kennedy and Johnson Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara. Utilizing archival footage, filmmaker Errol Morris probes for answers behind McNamara’s part in the World War II firebombing of Japan, the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the enduring U.S. commitment to the Vietnam War. Compounding McNamara’s steely rhetoric and ambiguous remorse is Morris’ refusal to provide a counterpoint. What’s left is an 85 year-old man in the twilight of his life dealing with the buckets of blood on his hands. Required viewing for any hack candidate throwing around the idea of invading Iran.

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