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Politics Not As Usual: My Top Ten Favorite Political Films

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By Brian DeLuca

What is the cure for too much politics? Why more politics, of course! Or at least some really great films about politics. With the recently-released "Lincoln" and "Argo" playing at your local multiplex, it appears that Americans have more of an appetite for political wrangling on the big screen than they do on their TV screens.

Lincoln poster

The just-released "Lincoln", loosely based on Team of Rivals, the New York Times bestseller by Doris Kearns Goodwin, is set in the last few months of the Civil War, but it has virtually no battlefield scenes, at least not in a traditional sense. The battleground in this film is the halls of Congress and the back rooms of power, and we see Lincoln in a way we haven’t before: the consummate political power player, a man of the people, and a besieged family man. "Lincoln" not only restores the humanity to Lincoln, but it also celebrates the best parts of the American political system.

Argo poster

"Argo", based on the book of the same name by Antonio Mendez, is about one of the darkest moments in modern American history, the Iranian Hostage Crisis. With the lives of six Americans who are hiding from Iranian Revolutionaries hanging in the balance, bureaucratic infighting and Hollywood horse trading lead to an unusual solution.

In no particular order, here are my top ten favorite political films:

1. Primary Colors (1998)
Based on the book by "Anonymous" which is allegedly based on Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign.

Control Room

2. Control Room (2004)
This documentary examines the Arab news network, Al Jazeera, as it covers the second War in Iraq and makes a name—good or bad—for itself just as CNN did with the first Iraq War.

3. Wag the Dog (1997)
A scandal before an election causes a Presidential administration to fake a war with Albania using the media to win re-election. Based on the book, American Hero, by Larry Beinhart, this film’s title has passed into the lexicon of modern politics.

4. The War Room (1993)
This documentary is an inside look of the 1992 Clinton Presidential campaign and primarily features James Carville and George Stephanopoulos as they change the tactics of the modern political campaign.

In the Loop

5. In the Loop (2009)
With some characters drawn straight from the BBC show "The Thick of It", this film plays like a mash-up of the "The West Wing" and "The Office." When the U.S. President and the British Prime Minister decide to go to war in the Middle East, they leave it up to middle management, the Assistant Secretaries and lesser Cabinet Ministers, to find a casus belli. With the look of reality TV and catch phrases like "room meat" and "climb the mountain of conflict," this dark comedy hits the mark.

6. State of Play (2003)
Originally a British TV show, and later remade as a Russell Crowe film, this mini-series follows a politician that becomes the center of a murder investigation.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

7. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
A masterpiece from Frank Capra and starring Jimmy Stewart in the role of his lifetime, this classic of a man unwilling to back down from corruption in Washington DC is best known for its filibuster scene.

8. John Adams (2008)
Paul Giamatti plays John Adams, the irascible second President of the United States and the intellectual giant who formulated so many of our nation’s founding documents and institutions.

9. Our Brand is Crisis (2005)
James Carville and others from the two Bill Clinton Presidential campaigns formed their own consulting firm to start exporting American election tactics to politicians in other countries. This documentary examines what happens in Bolivia when those tactics run into a fragile, fledgling democracy.

10. All the President’s Men (1976)
Based on the Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein book of the same name, this film follows the two investigative reporters as they follow the trail of the Watergate Scandal that eventually brings down the Nixon Administration.

There are so many more great films that could be on this list, too.  What's your favorite political film?


I can't wait to catch some of these that I've somehow missed. A film that will enhance this list: A Face in the Crowd with the great Andy Griffith. It's about how this ordinary joe with a talent for rabble rousing hits the big time!!!
Posted by: Nate at 11/29/2012 3:50 p.m.


Brian, outstanding selections! I particularly applaud inclusion of STATE OF PLAY and IN THE LOOP (are you watching Peter Capaldi on BBC America's THE HOUR, SEASON 2?)
Posted by: Tom Warner at 12/13/2012 9:52 a.m.


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