Love politics? Hate politics? Tired of the debates? Looking forward to them? Have you already made up your mind or are you still undecided? If you need a break from the 2012 election, but love a good political tale, here’s some TV shows and movies that are well worth a second visit (or first visit, for that matter).
Since most lists are completely arbitrary (or at the very least subjective), this one will be in no particular order at all.
The West Wing. Okay I lied. This is the best politically-themed entertainment you’re ever going to find. An entire article (if not an entire book) could be written extolling the virtues of this show, but I shall do my best to be succinct: This is the best politically-themed entertainment because not only is it funny, smart, dramatic, and at times heart-breaking, but almost every episode is dedicated to a particular subject, problem, or debate. By the end of the episode, not only will you understand that particular subject, problem, or debate, you’ll have an opinion on it. And sometimes your opinion will be different than the heroes of the show — but you’ll understand why they believe the way they do and fight for the things they fight for. This show is completely responsible for my political awakening and I cannot recommend it enough. Aaron Sorkin created it and scripted the first four seasons. It’s spectacular.
The Ides of March. This is the flipside of The West Wing. While The West Wing can be idealistic to a fault, George Clooney’s subtle thriller The Ides of March exposes the idealistic politician as just another man working/abusing the system for his own political gain. Seen through the eyes of a young, idealistic staffer who basically has his heart broken by the man he’s been fighting for, this compelling film will leave you feeling a little hollow by the end. Not to say that it’s bad, I quite like it, but by the end you have this nagging feeling that this is exactly what the inside of politics is like.
12 Angry Men. Loren and I discussed this still compelling, still relevant film in episode 14 of the podcast. While not specifically political, it’s a movie that celebrates our judicial system and will make you hope that should you ever find yourself in court, you’ll have at least one Henry Fonda on the jury.
Rome. This was an HBO show that I wasn’t really sure about when I sat down to watch it for the first time. An episode in and I was hooked. The first season is especially compelling, as it climaxes (spoiler alert) in the assassination of Julius Caesar. It’s no surprise to those who know their history, but this show is so expertly crafted the moments that lead to his death and his final moments of life are just heart-breaking. The rest of the show is a wonderful blend of fiction and non-fiction as we are treated to a look of every level of Roman society and how the politics of the upper class affected even the most mud-covered peasant.
Game of Thrones. I have a hard time recommending this obscenely compelling, enveloping, and addictive HBO show because it is filled with horrible people being horrible to each other. It’s a word devoid of honor and humanity, completely corrupted by selfishness and greed — making it the best political fantasy TV show/book series ever.
All the President’s Men. A movie so good, it’s ridiculous It really shouldn’t work as well as it does. It’s nearly a documentary. It ignores all the rules of “proper cinematic story-telling” and delivers the compelling true story of the two reporters that stumbled onto the Watergate scandal. Loren and I discussed this film in episode 24 of the podcast and if you haven’t seen it yet, stop what you’re doing and go watch it now. And when you’re done with that, as an excellent epilogue, watch Frost/Nixon.
Young Mr. Lincoln. Before he was a vampire slayer and before he was Daniel Day-Lewis, Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer. This 1939, John Ford-directed film is a fictional account of one of the greatest court cases the young Mister Lincoln ever faced. It’s something of an origin story for The Great Emancipator, a loving and touching film that explores what made the man so great and, as an extension, what makes our country so great.
Charlie Wilson’s War. It’s bizarre to think the Taliban were once our allies. But “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” as the saying goes. This fascinating Aaron Sorkin-scripted drama (starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as well as Amy Adams and Emily Blunt) explores the true story of one Texas congressman’s war to arm Afghanistan against Soviet Russia. So much of what we’re still facing today has its foundation in these events. Really a must-see.
A Man For All Seasons. A dramatic examination of the friendship of Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More. While usually cast as more of a morality play, I have always viewed this film as highly political. What do you do when your government asks you to do something you cannot? At what point do you put your personal convictions aside for what is seen as the good of all? Do you ever? This adaptation from the stage play of the same name is definitely a talky, but it’s one I’ve revisited on numerous occasions.
The Queen. We get a peek into the royal family’s life the week following Princess Diana’s death and how it exposed the fundamental change in politics that Princess Diana represented. The world is an ever-changing place and its people have ever-changing demands. We’re demanding and expecting things of our politicians that we never have before. Casting the Queen of England as a symbol of the old ways and Tony Blair as a symbol of modern politics, this is a fascinating look a grief, politics, and a moment in history that will never be forgotten.
There are, of course, many other films and television shows of a political nature (Mr Smith Goes to Washington, John Adams, The Newsroom, The Manchurian Candidate, J. Edgar, JFK, V For Vendetta, Swing Vote, Man of the Year, The Conspirator, W, The American President . . . ). These are just a few of the ones I’ll be revisiting in the near future and think you might want to, too.