Political films you may have missed

MAY 4 — It’s voting time again, and in honour of the electric political mood that we’re all in at the moment, let’s take a look at some excellent and probably underrated (or overlooked) films about politics or the election process that you may have missed throughout the years.

I won’t be including the more mainstream or popular ones like Primary Colors, Wag The Dog, The Campaign, The Ides Of March, Mr Smith Goes To Washington or All The King’s Men because they’re pretty obvious choices, so I hope the more left-of-field recommendations I’m making here will provide you with much enjoyment.


This teen movie starring Matthew Broderick and a young Reese Witherspoon is not exactly unpopular, but due to its status as an MTV Films production most adults would have probably passed it over because they think that it’s just another dumb MTV teen movie. Wrong! 

Cleverly transplanting the election process onto a high school situation, it’s actually a remarkably funny and surprisingly smart satire, driven by Witherspoon’s relentless performance as a relentless go-getter who’ll stop at nothing to win.

If that still doesn’t convince you, then the fact that it was directed by Alexander Payne, who made Sideways, About Schmidt and The Descendants will probably change your mind, especially when it’s — in my humble opinion — still the best thing he’s done so far.

The Candidate

Despite starring Robert Redford at the height of his fame in the ‘70s, I don’t think that many people are aware that this film exists. Telling the story of how an idealistic candidate played by Redford gradually loses his nerve for being honest in his campaign because he’s fallen behind in the ratings and polls, it’s an especially special film for possessing an understated yet highly depressing ending that hits you like a sledgehammer (but softly).

Being There

One of the gentlest and funniest satires I’ve ever seen, this classic by forgotten New Hollywood man Hal Ashby (at least compared to his more famous compatriots from the same era like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg) comes at the tail end of his remarkable string of outstanding films in the 1970s (which include Harold And Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo and Bound For Glory), but may be the finest one in that outstanding bunch. 

It’s about a simpleton gardener called Chance (played by Peter Sellers) who knows only gardening and what he’s seen on TV, and by chance (i.e. a hilarious series of misunderstandings) stumbles into the inner circle of political power brokers and rises all the way to the top, even being mentioned as a presidential candidate. Do check this one out.

The Contender

Smear campaigns are something that we Malaysians are more than familiar with in the political and election game. Because of the different sets of morals that we Malaysians have compared to Americans, the whole moral point of this film, in which Joan Allen’s vice-presidential candidate was subjected to an appalling smear campaign concerning things that happened when she was in college, will unfortunately never apply over here. 

But that shouldn’t stop us from watching this electrifying thriller, which will no doubt inspire some moral steel in some viewers.

Advise & Consent

Made by Hollywood legend Otto Preminger three years after his classic hit Anatomy Of A Murder, this awesome examination of the kind of dirty tricks and backroom deals necessary to make things happen in the political and governmental machine is rather forgotten now, despite the kind of star power it has (Henry Fonda, Walter Pidgeon, Charles Laughton). But if you find the deal-making parts of Spielberg’s recent hit Lincoln intriguing, then I assure you that you’ll be overjoyed to see this one.

King’s Game

In the great tradition of ‘70s paranoid thrillers and conspiracy movies, this Danish film is a hugely efficient thriller that uncovers what happens when a leading candidate for prime minister became involved in a car crash 11 days before the parliamentary elections, and the behind-the-scenes power play, cover-ups and media spin involved when other politicians smell an opportunity to strike and rise to the top. Again, the ending is a huge downer, but when a political film wants to be “real”, there really is no other choice for endings, right?

Silver City

US indie legend John Sayles rarely makes films that one would call “entertaining” or “easily digestible”, but this political satire, which combines elements of a whodunit or murder mystery as well as the usual elements of political satire is a surprisingly pleasurable watch. Chris Cooper’s very George W. Bush-like accent and vocal performance probably helps a great deal, but this is truly one political-film-with-a-bite that deserves to be seen by more people than its rather pathetic US$1.4 million (RM4.25 million) worldwide box-office collection suggests.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.



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