Tuesday, November 7, 2006

15 political movies for your Election Day fun

In case you don't feel like watching the polls this Election Day, how bout a politics themed movie night? (Wow, how lame did that sentence sound?). Here, for your approval, are a few of the best movies related to politics.

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)-Frank Capra
The old Standby. I was watching it again last night, and there's still something that bothers me about this movie: it's too optimistic. But I guess that's it's charm..virtue overcomes corruption. The Everyman succeeds in the political process and Aristotle's "Polity" comes true. Jimmy Stewart gives us hope for a brighter future in everything we do.

Citizen Kane (1941) -Orson Welles
On the other hand, Orson Welles Citizen Kane shows corruption. Or rather, tries to humanize a corrupt figure. Charles Foster Kane attempts a run for political office, but is caught in a sex scandal right before Election Day. After his bitter loss (to someone who was much more despicable than the morally questionable Kane), he has his newspaper print that the Election was tainted. What does this show? Even though Kane was hated by some (and rightfully so) and even though Kane is not a clean, pure, likable person (as was Jefferson Smith of the movie above), he was still probably a better politician than the winner, and probably cared more for the people than any of the politicians that he shook hands with, or married the daughters of.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)- John Frankenheimer
Now we're getting into movies that are a touch more complicated. The original Manchurian Candidate focuses on the Cold War paranoia that was spreading around the country in the 60s. Here politics and fear come head to head and an uncomfortable relationship is made between the two. What does this movie say? Just because someone is preaching the values we want to hear, doesn't mean that they will vote that way (paging Hillary Clinton!). Never assume that you see the full picture of Washington DC. Never assume that the hero you admire really believes what they say, and never fall into voting for someone out of fear.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)- Stanley Kubrick
How absurd was the political chess game known as the Cold War? Very absurd. At least that's what Stanley Kubrick is telling us. The President might think he is in control of everything, but in reality, no one is in true control. A minor general could hold more power than the Commander-in-Chief, or an Air Force Pilot could determine the United States next facet of foreign policy. And what is driving all of these men? Well, of course: Sex! Sex! Sex! Don't be fooled, the President has no clue what's going on everywhere at once, and he has no way to stop what others do--that includes nuclear war!

All The President's Men (1976) -Alan J. Pakula
Or does he? Nixon had more power than any President since FDR (and that..s even debatable). The power kinda went to his head, as he and his staff thought they could get away with the Watergate break-in. So what is this movie telling us? Well, the President might think he..s a dictator, or in an "Imperial Presidency", but he's no different than you or I, and he can be taken down just as easily. Nixon was impeached, his staff was convicted, and their political careers ruined. One branch cannot become too powerful, because there's always a check and balance there to stop you. Here of course, it was the unofficial branch: the media.

Bob Roberts (1992) -Tim Robbins
Bob Roberts is about a musician that decides to run for Senate--and wins. His music takes the form of propaganda, grabbing a hold of and identifying with people. Bob Roberts didn..t just use pop culture, he was pop culture. People who vote for him are the same people who would vote for Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. Just because they're celebrities, and just because they have an opinion, doesn't mean they can run a nation or make laws. His catchy-tunes trick you just as his fake assassination attempt tricked the voters, just like TV tricks you into thinking Stewart can handle himself against the likes of Jon Ashcroft and John Kerry. This is the pop culture politician. This is Ronald Regan, this is Bill Clinton, this is George W. Bush, John Kerry, Sonny Bono, Jim Bunning, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Gore, Jesse Ventura. The list goes on. This is where America is heading. Pop culture and politics are the same thing now, and to understand one, means you have to understand the other.

Distinguished Gentlemen (1992) - Jonathan Lynn
How easy is it to get elected? Pretty easy it seems that even a criminal can achieve political office (see New Jersey's Senate race). As long as you have an endorsement, and a name, you can do anything. The people don't know who they're voting for, they probably also don..t care. They also don't listen to a word you say. As Eddie Izzard said: "It's not what you say but how you say it." As long as you sound like a politician, you are a politician, and therefore electable. This movie also shows us another thing: Who are the bigger crooks, the ones in jail, or the ones in the House of Representatives? In Washington, deception and corruption is King. The politics don't even matter.

Dave (1993) -Ivan Reitman
In a time when movies were filled with anti-political sentiment, it took one Republican screenwriter to bring optimism back to politics. Dave is the successor to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in that the good guy can succeed and do well for the people. Dave Kovic is a populist. He wants to help others, especially the people that he now seems to be the President of. Well, technically Bill Mitchell is the President, he just looks like him, but that's a technicality. Dave shows that the mistakes of the past don't mean that someone can't do well for the people now. It's refreshing to see hope again in political movies.

My Fellow Americans (1996)- Peter Segal
Many probably think this movie is a joke that takes cheap shots at both The Republicans and The Democrats. Well, there's more there than that. Though the situation both main characters are put into seems a little overkill, and though one would think that none of this could possibly happen in real life, the message of it all is something that we hope can be true. Even though people have different political parties, and political beliefs, when it comes down to it, those differences can be cast aside to work together, and help those that need help. Republicans and Democrats are not that different in the end, they just like to pretend to be (mostly for comical zingers).

Air Force One (1997) -Wolfgang Peterson
When the situation seems at it's worst, a President can over come anything by ju--yeah, just kidding.

Wag The Dog (1997)-Barry Levinson
Wag The Dog follows in the tradition of Bob Roberts. The election of the President is basically the control of pop culture. The election process is like getting a movie off the ground, you need a pitch, a budget, a crew, a trailer, a soundtrack, product placement, everything--and on Election Day, the people will come out to choose what movie they want to watch for the next four years. The President is the greatest movie character of all time.

Primary Colors (1998)- Mike Nichols
The opposite of Dave--the past of the President will come up to haunt them later on. It adds to their character. In fact, everything the person does relates to their character. Does that make him a bad man? Primary Colors says no, but the voters might think so.

Bulworth (1998)- Warren Beatty
Do you ever wonder if a politician realizes his or her own ludicrousness? Do you think they ever feel bad for it? What if the politician has the same problems that a teenager trying to identify has? Granted, we might call it a mid-life crisis, but that..s only because they're fifty. Anyway, the theory is that the politician is a representative of their constituency. What if their constituency is absolutely nothing like they are? Well, as their representative, then the politician is then forced to fight for their causes, forced to be like them. How much is too much like them though?

Election (1999)-Alexander Payne
Election takes place in a high school--true. The major party politics of Election can best be defined as Coke vs. Pepsi--also true. But here's the thing, Election might be the best critique of democracy since The Prince. The person who is seems to be the best for the job, isn't always electable, and the person who is detested by all, is the one who will do the most good. Should politics be that way? Well, if you try to change it, you..re just going to get yourself in more trouble.

American Dreamz (2006) -Paul Weitz
Ok, so this movie wasn..t that good. There is something here that one can take from it though..the election of the President and the state of foreign policy is like the TV show American Idol. Ok, let me explain. TV is the place where everything comes together for all to see. We live in a world where people make decisions on who to vote for based upon an SNL sketch. To master politics means you need to master pop culture (something that this whole list is preaching). What..s the biggest pop culture sensation currently? American Idol. (Where more people voted for Justin Guarini than they did George W. Bush). The new political battleground will be audience-participation events, places where people can call in, or ask questions directly to the candidate. When Bill Clinton got asked "Boxers or Briefs?" on MTV we all called it stupid--now, that may be the most important question of the modern age.

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