Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Favorite political films

In honor (or dishonor, depending on your perspective, of Steven Zaillan's remake of "All the King's Men," I offer to you this Wednesday morning the list of my 10 favorite political movies (or at least the 10 that strike me very early in the morning.) For me, the term "political" has a very broad meaning, so you might find some stretches here, but hey, it is my list after all.

"All the King's Men"

With the new movie opening Friday, why not start here. I simply can't grasp why anyone would want to remake what is, in my opinion, the single greatest American political film. Broderick Crawford just oozes menace as Willie Stark, and you can tell throughout his performance that this couldn't be anywhere but the American South. (As an aside: Is there even one Southerner in the remake? How many times am I going to have to watch Jude Law mangle the dialect of the place I have chosen to call home? This must be stopped now!)

I first had to read Robert Penn Warren's great novel as an assignment at Catholic U., and this is one instance where the movie manages to surpass the book. If you haven't seen it, do so soon.

The "House of Cards" trilogy

Ian Richardson's Francis Urquhart (aka F.U.), who rises from the ranks of Conservative party whip to British prime minister in this BBC gem, is so evil that he verges on being a cartoon. It's Richardson' remarkable performance and a strong sense of the cutthroat nature of British politics that makes this 11-hour-or-so series work so well.

4 Little Girls

Though there are plenty of great Spike Lee films to choose from, this is the one I've seen more than any other. He shows surprising restraint in telling the tragic tale of the bombing of 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Ala., and only near the end does he let this compelling flick delve into the land of talking heads.

Sunshine State

It's also hard to pick just one Jon Sayles movie, but this one just works for me as a great ensemble drama about what we're doing to the world around us. Maybe it was because I had just been to visit my brother in Fort Lauderdale, but when I saw this it just spoke louder to me than any of Sayles' other fantastic flicks.


Robert Altman is, for me at least, a maddeningly uneven director. "Nashville," however, has him at the top of his game, weaving interlocking stories and characters together to paint a vivid picture of America. And the ending is one of the best-staged crowd scenes you'll ever come across.

The Quiet American

Though Michael Caine does seem to be in every other movie that comes out nowadays, he still does manage to occasionally stumble upon a good one, like this Phillip Noyce adaptation of Graham Greene's novel. Noyce wisely keeps it set during the Vietnam War, but this one still speaks volumes about current American foreign policy without clobbering you over the head.

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.

I first saw this flick about a young lady from Brooklyn who finds her dreams of going to college dashed when she gets pregnant on the channel run by the programmers at UGA. Maybe it was meant as a cautionary tale for students, but what it really is is a frankly funny and direct debut from writer/director Leslie Harris. According to the IMDB, she never made another movie, but her one and only is well worth checking out.

Duck Soup

It's hard to choose among the many great political satires out there, but with proper respect given to "Dr. Strangelove" and "Election," my heart always goes back to the Marx Brothers. The tale of the warring republics of Freedonia and Sylvania has lost none of its relevancy or humor in the 76 years since it first debuted.

City of God

I've raved about this one several times in this space, so I'll keep it short. Fernando Meirelles' striking story about street kids in Brasil has a truly unique look and feel. If you haven't seen it, do it now and thank me later.

Fog of War

No director I've found can make a simple interview as compelling as Errol Morris. His subject here, former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, shows little remorse as he describes his long engagement with the American war machine. It's chilling to watch, but you won't be able to turn away.

So, there you have it. As you can see, I like my political movies with a Southern accent, but not exclusively. I'm certain there are plenty of great ones i've omitted. Please feel free to contribute some of your favorites, and have a great hump day.


Sameer Vasta said...

The original All The King's Men is really good, but just thinking about the remake makes me want to hurl. It was the only film at the festival where everyone I talked to didn't like, and I could barely manage to sit through the whole thing. Sure, it starts off pretty strong with Willie Stark's (Sean Penn) campaign, but it all falls apart from there.

City of God may be one of the most exciting and well-crafted films I have ever seen, and the Fog of War was just genius. But then again, you can't expect any less from Errol Morris.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm glad to hear the TIFF-goers have standards, Vasta .. I'm definitely gonna see this on Sunday, but mostly to see how they have mauled a movie I love dearly

Anonymous said...

I saw the screening for this movie.....the actors are great but the movie was HORRIBLE. OF course, they take that feedback and rework the film, but seriously, I don't know if you could redeem it.

Reel Fanatic said...

The cast for this one is indeed remarkable, Valerie ... I have a sinking feeling that, no matter how bad the movie turns out to be, Sean Penn will get an Oscar nomination because, well, he's Sean Penn

Terence Towles Canote said...

If I had to pick a favourite political film besides Dr. Strangelove and Duck Soup, I think it'd be The President's Analyst. I think this is a parody of nearly everything: spy movies, the U. S. government, suburbia, the phone company... It is also one of the funniest movies I've ever seen.

Chris said...

Great that you mention Nashville, and Fog of War. And, I think City of God is the best film of this decade. It's an overall good list you have here.

I admit, I haven't seen the original All the King's Men and I probably won't until I see the new version. Sometimes, it's good not to have something to compare.

One not on your list that is one of the best flicks of all time is All the President's Men. And even though the film is full of holes, JFK is one hell of a film regardless. And I don't know if "political thriller" counts (although I guess the above could go under that heading), but you can't get much better than The Hunt for Red October. For comedy, how about Bulworth? Dave was also pretty funny.

And some might even mention the original The Manchurian Candidate. I'm also tempted, in some deranged way, to include South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm ashamed to admit, Mercurie, that I had not heard of The President's Analyst, but after checking it out on the IMDB and with your recommendation of ones to see soon ...

Chris, I would definitely list the South park flick as a political one, and also one that makes me laugh pretty much nonstop .. a definite omission on my part!

Anonymous said...

"City of God" is indeed brilliant and the only one of your list that I need to find - somewhere - is "Fog of War". I remember hearing such great things about it but didn't manage a wide release here.

Reel Fanatic said...

It definitely worth searching out if you can find it, Marina ... I expected McNamara, if only because of his old age, to be a more sympathetic figure in the interview, but he just comes off as cold, calculating and thoroughly terrifying

Mel said...

I am not into political films that much but Duck Soup is a classic! When I was a kid I wanted to meet Groucho but then he died. Bummer.

Tameshk said...

Fog of the War was a very interesting film and I absolutely love the City of God, although one is a Documentary and the other is not.

Also I would like to mention The Passion of Joan of Arc by Dreyer which I think is among the best Political Films ever.

Lons said...

For me, the best political films were the '70s paranoia thrillers - "Parallax View," "The Conversation," "All the President's Men." Those films speak to the reality of massive beurocratic government better than almost any other films I can think of (save, perhaps, Gilliam's "Brazil.")

Also, is any list of great politically-themed films complete without "Network" or "Manchurian Candidate"?

Terence Towles Canote said...

Yes! I'd forgotten about The Manchurian Candidate. Definitely one of the best political thrillers ever made.

Scott Stambler said...

Would Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb qualify as one of the best political films or is that stretching it?

Or Perhaps THE RULES OF THE GAME It's pretty amazing.

As WWII began, the film was banned altogether as being “too demoralizing”. It was only in 1956, when re-released in its original length, that the film was acclaimed one of the great masterpieces of the world cinema. Voted one of the ten greatest films ever made.

As for King's Men - that film has been in post production for a VERY long while. Not a great sign.

Reel Fanatic said...

I definitely enjoy it when a list can lead to flicks I've missed out on, Portnoy .. though I had heard of Rules of the Game, I've never seen it, but I will soon!

Anonymous said...

Some good films mentioned on your list and in the comments.

I'd point out the The Godfather and The Godfather part 2 ought to be on any short list of great political movies.

Also Costa-Gavras ought to get a mention for pretty much any of his films. "The Candidate" starring Robert Redford surely deserves to be recalled, and lastly Tim Robbins' Bob Roberts is pretty darn funny.

Reel Fanatic said...

Those are two that definitely deserve mention ... "The Candidate," especially, because it is so earnest and yet still manages to be very entertaining

Divinity said...

Canadian Bacon.
That's all.

Reel Fanatic said...

Canadian Bacon is a truly hilarious one Divinity ... I sure do miss John Candy

Joanna Arcieri said...

My list would include a bunch of documentaries, specifically "Why We Fight" about current US foreign policy, "Gunnar Palace", about US soldiers in Iraq, and "Control Room", about Al-Jazeera.

Reel Fanatic said...

Haven't see Why We Fight yet, Cinefille, but I'm definitely with you on the last two .. I especially liked Gunner Palace for showing exactly who ends up on the ground when we go into battle

Anonymous said...

I add my endorsement for "The President's Analyst." I think the all-time best non-documentary political movies include "The Best Man," "Advise and Consent," "The Seduction of Joe Tynan," "Alias Nick Beal," "State of the Union" (the only Tracy/Hepburn movie directed by Capra), "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," and "Z."

Reel Fanatic said...

Those are all great picks indeed, Nell ... of those I'd have to say my favorite would be Z, with a very close second nod to State of the Union