With the midterms right around the corner all thoughts are on politics, especially in this supercharged partisan environment.
Back-stabbing, muckraking, intrigue, coups and political assassination attempts are all found in these films — just as they are in real life. Even high school politics aren’t spared in Newsmax’s list.
These are our picks for the best in fictional political films, listed in alphabetical order.
"Advise & Consent" (1962)
Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning Allen Drury novel of the same name, this centers on the controversy of a U.S. secretary of state nominee (depicted by the legendary Henry Fonda).
As concerns arise during the Senate investigation of the nominee’s qualifications, the committee chairman sees the proceedings devolving into heated exchanges, with other committee members vying to promote their own career and agendas. Sound familiar?
Wrote Tom Milne for Time Out, "Grips like a vice thanks to the skill with which Preminger's stunning mise en scène absorbs documentary detail."
"Advise & Consent" won the National Board of Review: NBR Award for Best Supporting Actor, (Burgess Meredith) in 1962
"The American President" (1995)
Reelection appears in the bag for President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), who is a widower approaching the end of his first term. However, his overwhelming public support begins to waver when he falls in love with a lobbyist (Annette Bening) in this political romantic comedy-drama.
His political rival smells blood in the water and goes on the attack as Shepherd chooses between love and career.
Wrote Janet Maslin for The New York Times, "With great looks, a dandy supporting cast, a zinger-filled screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and Mr. Douglas twinkling merrily in the Oval Office, The American President is sunny enough to make the real Presidency pale by comparison."
"The Best Man"(1964)
This depicts a battle for the White House between a principled secretary of state (Henry Fonda) and a populist senator (Cliff Robertson), who sees himself as the man of the people. Each candidate has his own fatal flaw: Fonda’s character is caught up in a recent sexual scandal threatening both his marriage and his candidacy. The senator’s determination to do whatever it takes to win at all costs is also his flaw.
Each candidate is seeking their party’s nomination and are stopping at nothing — including mudslinging — to get the the outgoing president’s endorsement.
Wrote Alison Gillmor for the Winnipeg Free Press, “Adapted by Gore Vidal from his own stage play, this look at a viciously contested presidential primary is full of cynicism, snark and spark."
"Bob Roberts" (1992)
This satirical political film was written, directed, and stars Tim Robbins in the title role as a wealthy conservative folk singer who launches a challenge against an incumbent senator. Roberts fires up his rally crowds by singing '60s-style folk songs with lyrics that promote his conservative values.
Film reviewer Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, stating, "I like 'Bob Roberts' – I like its audacity, its freedom to say the obvious things about how our political process has been debased."
"The Candidate" (1972)
A liberal lawyer (Robert Redford) is recruited to challenge a popular Republican senator who’s up for reelection. As his challenge draws on, Redford’s campaign manager (Peter Boyle) pushes him to adopt a more centrist message.
While his initial platform gets watered down, his popularity rises.
The film won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Wrote Kim Newman for Empire magazine, "Redford's superior acting talents, which not-often-enough are tapped by the scripts he decides to do, are nearly all on display herein in a virtuoso peformance."
Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) uses her unethical tactics to get what she wants — in this case her election as high school student body president. When the school’s government teacher (Matthew Broderick) concludes that Tracy will be a poor influence on student government, he convinces a popular student athlete to run against her.
Wrote Jay Carr for the Boston Globe, "You've got to laugh at Witherspoon's tightly wound Little Miss Perfect, rising at dawn to do her hair and encase herself in a preppy look before baking cupcakes to pass out at school as vote-getters in her campaign for student council president."
"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962)
As the Korean War is winding down, a platoon of American soldiers is captured and are brainwashed. One of those war prisoners, Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) was brainwashed to become a Communist agent and assassinate a presidential candidate.
Following the war Shaw is proclaimed a hero by his platoon members — a status his mother uses to advance the career of her husband — a U.S. senator. Shaw’s company commander, Captain Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra), who s plagued by nightmares, uncovers the plot.
"The Manchurian Candidate" won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress and Best Film Editing.
Roger Ebert included "The Manchurian Candidate" on his "Great Movies" list, describing it as "inventive and frisky, takes enormous chances with the audience, and plays not like a 'classic', but as a work as alive and smart as when it was first released"
"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939)
This classic film may restore your faith that good people can take on the system and actually win. An idealistic young Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is appointed to the United States Senate, and gets mentored by an experienced, powerful but corrupt colleague.
When Smith uncovers his mentor’s latest crooked scheme, he takes his case to the Senate floor and filibusters against his former friend and his cronies.
"Mr. Smith" was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning one for Best Writing of an Original Story. Wrote The Hollywood Reporter, "James Stewart is the perfect choice for the role of the naive, idealistic Mr. Smith. Under Frank Capra's guidance Stewart turns in the finest performance of his career."
"Seven Days in May" (1964)
At the height of the Cold War, the president (Fredric March) hopes to lower international tensions by signing a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union. A hawkish general (Burt Lancaster), who is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, plans a military coup within seven days.
His aide (Kirk Douglas) gets wind of the planned coup and alerts the president. This begins a desperate race to stop the general’s plot to overthrow the government.
Wrote Bosley Crowther for The New York Times, "As dismal as is the complication that they and this picture present, the acknowledgment of its possibility and the discovery of how it might be resolved, with wisdom and fundamental courage, make this a brave and forceful film."
"Wag the Dog" (1997)
As a president’s reelection is two weeks away, he becomes embroiled in a sex scandal. In order to divert public attention away from the scandal, a spin doctor (Robert De Niro) and a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) team up to fabricate a fake war in Albania.
Once underway, the public and media are totally fixated on the war. But behind the scenes in this dark satire there’s chaos, coverup, and even murder.
Wrote Kenneth Turan for the Los Angeles Times, "A wicked smart satire on the interlocking worlds of politics and show business, Wag the Dog confirms every awful thought you've ever had about media manipulation and the gullibility of the American public."
Michael Dorstewitz is a retired lawyer and has been a frequent contributor to Newsmax. He is also a former U.S. Merchant Marine officer and an enthusiastic Second Amendment supporter. Read Michael Dorstewitz's Reports — More Here.
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