by Monica Peck
Buck up, folks. The Pennsylvania primary this week may be the decider of the Democratic candidate in November. It's high time to revisit some fine politically minded movies to stir our electoral souls. And with Jay Roach's Recount out next month (Kevin Spacey movie coming out this year) - one wonders where that film will sit if we revisit this list later. At any rate, here is some required viewing to gear up for another tumultuous election year.
1. No election year would be complete without Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. As poignant as it was in 1939, nothing beats those election blues like hearing Jimmy Stewart's voice ring out that eternal question: “What happened to freedom?”
2. On the opposite end of the spectrum, but no less relevant, is Alexander Payne's Election, about ethical transgressions committed around a high school election campaign. Reese Witherspoon's character Tracy Enid Flick has inspired troubling comparisons with Hilary Clinton: “[The competition] think they can just all of a sudden, one day, out of the blue, waltz right in with no qualifications whatsoever and try to take away what other people have worked very, very hard for their entire lives.”
3. Unprecedented is a great, hard-hitting documentary about the 2000 scam-paign. Joan Sekler and Richard R. Perez take you through the premeditated Florida voter fraud courtesy of Jeb Bush.
4. In case this election campaign has sparked a little innocent hope, be sure to douse it with Oliver Stone's audacious, epic psychodrama Nixon, which features arguably one of Anthony Hopkins' best performances. "They can't impeach me for bombing Cambodia. The president can bomb anybody he likes."
5. Robert Redford's Oscar-winning (for Ring Larner's screenplay) campaign in The Candidate was highly cynical in 1972 and, alas, as timely as ever. Peter Boyle and Melvyn Douglas lend capable support. (I've heard that Groucho Marx has a cameo, but have yet to spot him, so maybe it's apocryphal.)
6. For a dose of quasi-reality, hit up Robert Altman's Tanner '88. This should have made it onto my last list as well, with its run time of 353 minutes. If you're really hardcore, follow up this election-flick debauch with the sequel Tanner On Tanner.
7. For bleak, black comedy about the absurdity of war (which doesn't hit home now or anything), I never miss an excuse to watch Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb. One highlight: Peter Sellers' inimitable delivery (as the American president) of “You can't fight in here! This is the War Room!”
8. Which leads us to... The War Room, the illuminating vérité doc about the 1992 Clinton campaign from D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, in which campaign manager James Carville becomes a star (and now he's really acting, playing the Governor in Assassination of Jesse James…)
9. Feed, the documentary about the 1992 New Hampshire primary, patches together raw satellite footage of candidates allowing for a behind-the-scenes we're-still-putting-on-our-make-up feeling. Key hitters abound, including Ross Perot. Remember him?
10. For a refresher on the perils of computerized voting, there's Hacking Democracy put together by Simon Ardizzone and Russell Michaels.
And one more:
11. Bulworth: Warren Beatty's squirmy, ballsy political satire on a politician who loses it - or does he - during a campaign, transforming himself into a hip-hop rhyming, no-BS, suicidal campaigner. (Sample rhyme: "We've got people in this country that can't even buy a meal! Ask a brother who's been downsized if he's gettin' any deal. Or a white boy bustin' ass till they put him in his grave, he ain't gotta be a black boy to be livin' like a slave. ") If only.
Some honorable mentions:
Barry Levinson's Man of the Year stokes the heart-fires of humor around a computer malfunction that elects Tom Dobbs (Robin Williams). Although it falls a bit flat in places, John Sayle's Silver City still deserves an honorable mention here if only for Chris Cooper's eerie resemblance to the current president and Daryl Hannah's archery antics. Other honorable mentions include Wag the Dog; Frontrunner; and Voting in America.
Also: Try to catch a screening of Charla Barker and Matthew Kraus's documentary How Ohio Pulled It Off. It outlines the voting mechugas of the 2004 election in Ohio and what the filmmakers call "the theft of the presidency." As screenings are set, they'll post it here.
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