According to Kathy Gill, the top ten American political movies are as follows:
1. Air Force One (’97). . The American President (’95). 3. All the President’s Men (’76). 4. Born Yesterday (’50). 5. Candidate (’72) 6. Dave (’93). 7. Dr. Strangelove (’63). 8. The Manchurian Candidate (’62, remade recently). 9. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (’39). 10. Wag the Dog (’98).
Of course, a function of lists is to inspire disagreement. I think of Air Force One as a thriller, of The American President as a romance, and of Dave as a version of The Prince and the Pauper. Wag The Dog was pretty good, except a better ending would have been for the Hollywood guy to make the government guy disappear–more in keeping with how things work, I think.
I’d certainly put The Candidate, Dr. Strangelove, and The Manchurian Candidate on my list. I’d add Cool Hand Luke, which in terms of language-manipulation, the dynamics of power, and the price of resistance, is a political movie–and a good one, maybe a great one. I like JFK, not because it presents a conspiracy theory but because it presents almost all the conspiracy theories at once and therefore, implicitly, suggests that a) something besides what the Warren Commission concluded happened, and that b) we’ll never know what happened.
I think Malcolm X is a good political movie, as well as the original screen adaptation of All The King’s Men. Invasion of the Body Snatchers and/or the original Stepford Wives may do a better job that political movies, per se, of showing what happens to people exposed to politics, the political spectacle, and political language too long. Then I’d probably round out the list with The Amistad and Nixon.
There: now you can disagree with my list.