Friday, October 24, 2008

Watch, listen, enjoy the election

11 election movies to pass the time

Express Staff Writer

As we wade through the final days of the 2008 presidential election, it may seem as if we're living in some satirical Hollywood movie rather than reality. How's this for a pitch? An older statesman takes on a young upstart for the White House. Sure. It could star Denzel Washington and Anthony Zerbe. So, if you think this campaign is a mess of cynical politicking, deflections, and outright lies, maybe it is.

But there are some cinematic gems that can help you keep things in perspective. Take a gander.

1. "The Candidate," (1972) directed by Michael Ritchie with Robert Redford as Bill McKay, a young, left-leaning lawyer and son of a famous former governor. When a political strategist (Peter Boyle) pressures him into running for the Senate, McKay agrees as long as he can continue being candid and fight for the causes he believes in. But as the campaign proceeds, Redford becomes a phenomenon on the level of Barrack Obama, which changes everything. Written by a former speechwriter for Eugene McCarthy, "The Candidate" is still vital and timely.

2. "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) directed by John Frankenheimer, is a classic thriller, packed with incredibly bizarre moments, and the kind of satire that was hugely hip and successfully managed in the 1960s. The movie stars Laurence Harvey as a recently returned Korean War hero who with his unit had been a prisoner of war. His mother, a wicked Angela Lansbury, and her husband, an oily senator, begin to use his fame to their advantage in the upcoming campaign. Frank Sinatra plays a fellow vet and POW. It ends with a spectacular scene of pure suspense.

3. "Wag the Dog" (1997). Who cares about Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in a movie together when you can see DeNiro with Dustin Hoffman in this hilarious and clever movie by Barry Levinson? With the election less than two weeks away, a White House official brings in Conrad Bream (DeNiro) to fix a situation that threatens the president's chances for reelection. So what does he do? He hires legendary Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to "produce" a war. Nice touch. We know how the country responds to the threat of war, and to a braggart president.

4. "Primary Colors" (1998). We always knew John Travolta had a little soul in him. And it is never so beautifully realized as when he played slick southern governor Jack Stanton (read: Clinton) in this enormously entertaining campaign movie. Emma Thompson plays Jack's wife and partner, with Billy Bob Thornton lending a hand as their redneck political strategist, αà la James Carville.

5. "Bulworth" (1998) Written, directed, produced by and starring Warren Beatty as a veteran senator whose marriage is breaking up and is losing a bid for re-election, "Bulworth" is a hoot. In a corner of his own making, Bulworth decides to commit suicide. Knowing his time is limited, he begins to tell the complete truth at all times, not caring about the potential repercussions of his offensive remarks. He also begins rapping, which is zany to say the least. Halle Berry co-stars.

6. "Bob Roberts" (1992) Tim Robbins stars in his directorial debut as right-wing folksinger who serenades his supporters with tunes such as "Times Are Changin' Back" and "Wall Street Rap." However, like most politicians, he has a few nasty secrets and is a master at manipulation. Appearing as news anchors and reporters are such actors as Susan Sarandon, James Spader, Peter Gallagher and Helen Hunt. Equally appealing is the believable turn by Gore Vidal as the liberal incumbent against whom Robbins is running. And why not? Vidal grew up around the seats of power as a grandson of a U.S. senator, and is related to both Al Gore and Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

7. "The Best Man" (1964) Speaking of Gore Vidal, he penned the play and screenplay of this film, about the political back-biting and smear politics involved in a presidential election year. A dying president refuses to throw his support behind his party's presidential hopefuls. Running against each other are liberal do-gooder William Russell (Henry Fonda) on the brink of a divorce and Joe Cantwell (Cliff Robertson), a slick and unscrupulous political monster who will use or do anything to win.

8. "Election" (1999) Director Alexander Payne takes the scandal and nasty mudslinging of a presidential election and transposes them to a high school election for student council. Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) plays a teacher who will stop at nothing to prevent the perfect Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) from winning the election. It has a brilliant script, hysterical set pieces and Reese's big breakthrough.

9. "Recount" (2008) mixes news footage and verbatim dialogue into fictionalized re-creations of the one of the most controversial presidential elections in U.S. history. The hugely entertaining film examines the tortuous process that culminated in the Supreme Court decision in Bush vs. Gore. The HBO movie stars Kevin Spacey, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., Laura Dern, John Hurt, Denis Leary, Bruce McGill and Tom Wilkinson.

10. "Swing Vote" (2008) stars Kevin Costner as hard-drinking assembly-line worker Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner), who has no interest in politics. His 12-year-old daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll), changes all that when she forges his name on a ballot, which gets stuck in a voting machine, thus triggering a crisis in the presidential election. Costner is good as this not-so- smart dude. His forte is exactly this type of role.

11. "State of the Union" (1948) If you watch this Frank Capra movie you will know for whom to vote. Writing for The New York Times when the movie came out, Bosley Crowther suggested that a "spontaneous grassroots movement" could develop to send Tracy and Hepburn to the White House.

"For, among other things, Mr. Tracy, who plays a presidential aspirant in this film, is a much more attractive-looking candidate than anyone who has yet declared and he certainly makes a much more forceful stump speech than any this corner has yet read. Likewise, Miss Hepburn as his helpmate and as his conscience in moments of need, gives every assurance of making the most stylish first lady we've had in years."

Running in the presidential election that year were incumbent President Harry Truman, Republican challenger Thomas Dewey and running as a "Dixiecrat," and winning four southern states, Strom Thurmond.

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