The Twenty Greatest Political Films

November 20, 2016

My, but this has been a most perverse election year.  Just plain ugly.  However, it has made me reflect on a genre that is not easy to do by any standard-the political film.   I think these films work best when the personal becomes the political.  So, on that note, I give you “The Twenty Greatest Political Films”.

In no particular order…

1.”The Best Man”  (1964)  Franklin J. Schaffner.  Based on a play by Gore Vidal, this smart film shows the ugliness that goes into a political campaign.

2.”Dr. Strangelove”  (1964)  Stanley Kubrick.  Cold war inspired masterpiece that still makes my jaw drop.

3.”Missing”  (1982)  Costa Gavras.  This powerful film, financed by Gulf and Western, was about America’s cooperation with a deadly coup in Chile .

4.”Bullworth”  (1998)  Warren Beatty.  This lively satire actually beats with a leftist heart.

5.”Battle of Algiers”  (1967)  Gilo Pontecorvo.  It feels like it’s happening in real time, but this monumental piece is perhaps one of the most realistic of political films.

6.”Nashville”  (1975)  Robert Altman.  Critically-acclaimed Altman film looks at the fabric of America, and how easily it can tear.

7.”Seven Days in May” (1964)  John Frankenheimer.  Rod Serling scripted this intense film about a possible military takeover in government.

8.”The Candidate”  (1972)  Michael Ritchie.  This film has a documentary feel to it.  Also, it’s one of the most incisive films about our electoral process.

9.”Norma Rae”  (1979)  Martin Ritt.  One of the better films made about the labor movement.  This humanistic director always brought out the best in his actors.

10.”A Face in the Crowd”  (1957)  Elia Kazan.  This was way before its time.  Kazan and Shulberg put together a remarkable film about the building of a demigod.  An early reminder of the danger of the media (television).  Timely, eh?

11.”Gabriel Over the White House”  (1933)  Gregory La Cava.  A really unique film about a conservative who has a political conversion after a head injury.

12.”Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”  (1939)  Frank Capra.  Naive, but still entertaining look at an innocent thrown into the madness that is Washington.

13.”The Great Dictator”  (1940)  Charles Chaplin.  The moment he breaks character and talks to the audience is one of the most moving moments in cinematic history.

14.”Salvador”  (1986).  Oliver Stone.  My favorite of Stone’s films; it is able to convey its message without sacrificing its stylistic cool.

15.”The Year of Living Dangerously”  (1983)  Peter Weir.  Weir is more spiritual as a director than he is political, but the mysticism that surrounds this film makes its point, potently.

16.”Under Fire”  (1982)  Roger Spottiswoode.  It’s remarkable that any film as progressive as this one was released during Reagan’s reign.

17.”All the President’s Men”  (1976)  Alan Pakula.  Politics as a detective story…that is what’s so great about this film.

18.””Wag the Dog”  (1997)  Barry Levinson.  Clever satire of a political cover-up dressed as a war.  It’s funny and quite alarming.

19.”Cutter’s Way.  (1982)  Ivan Passer.  This modern day Moby Dick is in it’s own way political.  This Ahab is going after the great white capitalist!

20.”The Last Emperor”  (1987)  Bernardo Bertolucci.  People were so infatuated by its visual opulence that they may have missed its sly Marxist message.