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The Greatest Political Movies Ever Made, Part I

We feel a little icky after six very unpleasant items in a row. Meanwhile, thanks to the advent of summer (academic summer, not calendar summer), we are in a position to clear some of the backlogged non-news content we've got. And so, let's return to a question we asked in the February tracking poll, namely " What is the greatest movie about politics ever made?"

We came up with 25 options of our own, and also allowed write-ins. Today, we're going to share some of the more popular/interesting write-in choices. And since nobody can know every movie, we'll give a little information about each. Away we go (note that these are in alphabetical order):

A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Directed By: Elia Kazan

Starring: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, Walter Matthau and Lee Remick

What's It About?: A radio journalist named Marcia Jeffries crosses paths with a drunken, drifter musician named Larry Rhodes. She sees that he has some very useful raw qualities, and puts her considerable PR skills to work creating a career for him in the media. The more obnoxious he gets, the richer, more popular, and more politically influential he gets.

Representative Quote: "I'm not just an entertainer. I'm an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force... a force!"

A Bit of Trivia: The drifter role was originally set to be played by Marlon Brando, but when he dropped out, he was replaced by Griffith, for whom the film was his debut role.

Advise and Consent (1962)

Directed By: Otto Preminger

Starring: Franchot Tone, Lew Ayres, Henry Fonda, Walter Pidgeon and Charles Laughton

What's It About?: The president knows he's dying and doesn't trust his VP to implement the correct foreign policy. So, he appoints a like-minded fellow as Secretary of State, and an ugly chess game begins.

Representative Quote: "I'm an egghead. I'm not only an egghead, I'm a premeditated egghead. I set out to become an egghead and at this moment I'm in full flower of eggheadedness, and I hope to spread the spores of egghead everywhere I go."

A Bit of Trivia: To play one of the Southern senators, Preminger tried to recruit... Martin Luther King Jr., so as to make a pro-Civil Rights Movement statement, despite the fact that there were no Black senators at the time (and wouldn't be for another 5 years). King strongly considered it, but ultimately decided it would alienate some supporters of the Movement.

Canadian Bacon (1995)

Directed By: Michael Moore

Starring: John Candy, Alan Alda, Rhea Perlman, Kevin Pollak and Rip Torn

What's It About?: Looking to boost his popularity, the president decides to start a new Cold War. Russia doesn't work out as a target, nor does "terrorism," so he settles on... Canada.

Representative Quote: "Like maple syrup, Canada's evil oozes over the United States."

A Bit of Trivia: The movie made more money in Canada than it did the United States.

The Distinguished Gentleman (1992)

Directed By: Jonathan Lynn

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Lane Smith, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Joe Don Baker and Victoria Rowell

What's It About?: Con man Thomas Jefferson Johnson meets congressman Jefferson Davis "Jeff" Johnson, and learns that members of Congress can get rich. When the congressman dies, the con man runs for the seat as "Jeff" Johnson and wins, powered by his slogan "The Name You Know."

Representative Quote: "We're not going to show you Jeff Johnson waving a flag. We're not going to show you Jeff Johnson kissing babies. We're not going to show you Jeff Johnson doing anything because you already know what Jeff Johnson can do. Tomorrow, vote Jeff Johnson. The name you know."

A Bit of Trivia: Lynn was also the co-creator of the British political comedy series Yes Minister.

Idiocracy (2006)

Directed By: Mike Judge

Starring: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, Terry Crews and David Herman

What's It About?: U.S. Army librarian Joe Bauers is selected for a 500-year hibernation experiment because he's the most average person in the military. The government cannot find a suitable female soldier to join him, so they hire a prostitute named Rita instead. When the duo emerge 500 years into the future, they discover that mankind has evolved to be very, very stupid, making Joe and Rita the smartest people in the world, and allowing Joe to commence a political career.

Representative Quote: "The years passed, mankind became stupider at a frightening rate. Some had high hopes the genetic engineering would correct this trend in evolution, but sadly the greatest minds and resources where focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections."

A Bit of Trivia: Judge was inspired to write the screenplay after a trip to Disneyland.

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Directed By: John Huston

Starring: Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Saeed Jaffrey and Shakira Caine

What's It About?: Based on a short story by Rudyard Kipling, two Britons of modest talent find that they are unable to corruptly enrich themselves in the increasingly well-run British Raj of the 1880s. So, they decide to try their luck in neighboring Kafiristan instead.

Representative Quote: "Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men."

A Bit of Trivia: Of all the movies he made, this was Connery's favorite.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Directed By: John Frankenheimer

Starring: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury and Henry Silva

What's It About?: This was supposed to be on the original list of films to vote for; it was excluded due to a copy and paste error. Anyhow, Sergeant Raymond Shaw is a war hero and Medal of Honor recipient who is being used by his scheming mother and U.S. Senator father to advance his father's political prospects. What they don't realize is that Shaw is also being used by an international communist conspiracy, having been brainwashed to do their bidding.

Representative Quote: "I'm sure you've all heard the old wives' tale that no hypnotized subject may be forced to do that which is repellent to his moral nature, whatever that may be. Nonsense, of course."

A Bit of Trivia: In much of Europe, particularly eastern Europe and Scandinavia, the film was banned until after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Directed By: Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess

Starring: Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell, Efren Ramirez and Tina Majorino

What's It About?: A lovable loser is one of the many quirky residents of a town in the Idaho sticks. He encourages his Mexican-American friend Pedro to challenge the most popular girl in school for the presidency of their class.

Representative Quote: "Look, Pedro, I don't know how they do things down in Juarez, but here in Idaho we have a little something called pride. Understand? Smashing in the face of a pinata that resembles Summer Wheatley is a disgrace to you, me, and the entire Gem State."

A Bit of Trivia: The movie was made on a shoestring budget, which is why there are no scenes set at night—the filmmakers couldn't afford to rent lighting.

Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

Directed By: George Lucas

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness

What's It About?: The Rebel Alliance resists the Evil Empire long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Many readers suggested this film, or others in the Star Wars canon, as they lend themselves very well to interpretation as political allegories. But are they an allegory for Nazism? The Vietnam War? The Nixon administration? That's the hard part.

Representative Quote: "Mos Eisley spaceport: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious."

A Bit of Trivia: The first Star Wars movie sold 178 million tickets in North America over its various theatrical runs. The only movie to sell more is Gone with the Wind, with 202 million.

The West Wing (1999-2006)

Created By: Aaron Sorkin

Starring: Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, John Spencer, Allison Janney, Dulé Hill

What's It About?: It's a TV show, not a movie, but many readers argued it should be included, and we can see their point. Over the course of its 7 seasons, the show tells the story of the dramatic presidency of Josiah Bartlet, from its beginning to its end.

Representative Quote: "You're a smart, savvy woman, who could easily consider world domination as a next career move."

A Bit of Trivia: While filming on location in Georgetown, very late at night, the cast and crew were accosted by a woman in a bathrobe. She had two complaints: (1) they were making noise, and she needed to be up early for meetings, and (2) the show was unrealistic, because it had no Secretary of State character. The complaining woman was Madeleine Albright.

We'll have 10 more films suggested by readers in the next installment, followed by the top 10 finishers in the actual vote. (Z)

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