MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON FRANK CAPRA, 1939
Appointed to fill out a Senate term because the state bosses think he's naive and malleable, Jefferson Smith eventually stages a one-man filibuster to get his message out beyond the corrupt lawmakers and to the electorate. Capra-corn was never so spicy or savory as in this angry, impassioned political weepie. James Stewart, below, expertly plays every emotional key, from innocence to hysteria to exhaustion.
CITIZEN KANE ORSON WELLES, 1941
Best film ever? Maybe. But beyond the epiphanies of film form and camera work, Kane offers an acute view of American politics that applies today as much as it did then. Like Silvio Berlusconi and Michael Bloomberg, Kane (Welles) is a media magnate who runs for office. Like Mark Foley, he is caught in a sexual scandal just before the election. The brilliant script by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles is about a powerful man's need to be loved by the millions of people whose lives he dominates. And when they jilt him, he rationalizes the rejection by spinning tales of conspiracy. His newspaper runs the headline FRAUD AT POLLS.
THE LAST HURRAH JOHN FORD, 1958
This bluff and vigorous Ford film, based on the Edwin O'Connor roman à clef about four-time Boston Mayor James Curley, winks at the chicanery involved in getting into office and staying there. Spencer Tracy, right, is Frank Skeffington, on his final run for a job he believes is his by divine right. Doing favors, making deals, smiting enemiesto Frank, that's just politics. Has anything changed in 50 years? The big-city machine the film elegizes may be gone, but the malady lingers on.
ADVISE & CONSENT OTTO PREMINGER, 1962
Preminger, no less a wheeler-dealer than he was a producer-director, persuaded the powers-that-were to let him shoot in the Senate, which no Hollywood film had done before. That was generous of them, and foolish, since the film (and the Allen Drury novel on which it was based) portrays Washington as almost systemically corrupt. The scandal at the heart of the plot: the news that one Senator had a homosexual relationship. Really, now, who would believe that?
THE CANDIDATE MICHAEL RITCHIE, 1972
A handsome young lawyer (Robert Redford) uses his charm and telegenicity to challenge an aging Senate incumbent. Welcome to the new politics. Jeremy Larner, who won an Oscar for his screenplay, had been Eugene McCarthy's chief speechwriter in the 1968 campaign. His insider's take was a cautionary tale of such subtlety that it sailed over the heads of some viewers--like Dan Quayle, who said the movie inspired him to be a politician.
REDS WARREN BEATTY, 1981
Only a golden boy like Beatty would have had the clout and cojones to make a 3-hr. romance about U.S. communist John Reed and his love affair with both Bolshevism and feminist Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton). Beatty set out to make a great movie and came damn close, finding epic heft in Reed's trek from Greenwich Village to Red Square. On its 25th anniversary, the film looks even better. Jack Nicholson is a sexy standout as Louise's lover Eugene O'Neill.
BOB ROBERTS TIM ROBBINS, 1992