[Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand in support of Indie Film Month. Today’s pick, “Our Brand is Crisis,“ is available now On Demand. Need help finding a movie to watch? Let TWC find the best fit for your mood here.]
“Our Brand is Crisis” (David Gordon Green, 2015)
Unjustly overlooked at the box office, David Gordon Green’s mainstream-leaning political comedy may not reach the levels of dark satire it sets out to achieve, but it is nonetheless an entertaining ride into the behind-the-scenes chaos of political campaigns. Billed as being “suggested by” the 2005 Rachel Boynton documentary of the same name, “Our Brand is Crisis” takes that movie’s portrait of the marketing tactics behind the Bolivian election of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and runs with it. As “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a dynamite Sandra Bullock plays a political fixer whose brilliant abilities to manipulate public opinion bring to mind Olivia Pope from television’s “Scandal” as much as any real world figure. Bullock, however, imbues her part with a ferocious energy that constantly elevates the straightforward material. Jane’s crafty maneuvers make it easy to get swept up in the excitement of the campaign while forgetting its questionable purpose, which drives much of the movie’s subversive political criticism.
“No” (Pablo Larraín, 2012)
Released a couple years before “Our Brand is Crisis,” Pablo Larraín’s Oscar-nomianted “No” tackles similar subject matter, though it does so from the perspective of a complete outsider. The film is set in Chile during the haphazard 1988 plebiscite election, in which citizens voted between keeping their tyrannical dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, in power for eight more years or having an open democratic presidential election the following year. Gael García Bernal, in his best performance to date, stars as René Saavedra, a hotshot advertisement creator who is approached by the pro-election side to head the marketing team for the “No” campaign. What erupts is an engrossing battle between propaganda forces, as Saavedra is transformed into an unexpectedly passionate political animal whose material takes the “No” campaign to the national zeitgeist.
“The Ides of March” (George Clooney, 2011)
After riding a wave of critical buzz at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, George Clooney’s “The Ides of March” faded fast in the awards season after it failed to gain much heat at the box office. Financial success aside, “Ides” is a taunt, polished and nerve-wrecking political thriller that covers the fictional presidential campaign of Democrat Mike Morris (Clooney), whose junior campaign manager, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), is pulled into the seductive and powerful world of political animals. When he’s offered a position on the staff of Morris’ rival in the Democratic primary race, Meyers jumps ship, and the movie becomes a thrilling exposé of politics as a web of business-like intellect and deceit. The movie’s also one hell of an ensemble piece, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffery Wright and Evan Rachel Wood all tearing through meaty supporting roles. “Ides” isn’t perfect, but it’s a searing dive into the shady dealings of political animals.
“Street Fight” (Marshall Curry, 2005)
Directed by Marshall Curry and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, “Street Fight” is a no-nonsence look at the 2002 mayoral race in Newark, New Jersey between Corey Booker (D) and Sharp James (R). As we are first introduced to the charismatic nominees and learn about the political landscape of Newark, Curry presents a standard battle between a veteran political figure and the new kid on the block. But with some expert interviews and perfectly paced editing, “Street Fight” slowly becomes a real-life thriller as Sharp James’ political machine is revealed and the nasty tactics he uses to bribe people to vote for him come to light. You’ve never seen a more outrageous political animal than James after he throws a giant street rally, complete with games, food, amusement park rides and propaganda-prone sing-a-longs. Equally hilarious and riveting, “Street Fight” chronicles Booker’s attempts to take the position from the incumbent James, whose hold on the city of Newark and its people is frightening and manipulative. When it comes to elections, the small political race in Newark becomes a microcosm for dirty American politics as whole. It’s political animals at their most desperate, in James’ case, and inspiring, in Booker’s.
“In the Loop” (Armando Iannucci, 2009)
Before Armando Iannucci made a splash in America with his award-winning HBO comedy “Veep,” he perfected the art of the ferocious political black comedy in his outrageously funny satire, “In the Loop.” The film sends up the alliance between America and Britain with razor-sharp wit and uncovers what facilitates a country’s ridiculous need to go to war in periods of international distress. After British Cabinet Minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) prematurely remarks that war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable,” he sends his team of political animals into disarray, particularly the notorious spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi). Unfortunately, Tucker can’t cover up the quote fast enough, and when it travels across the pond, Foster is invited to come to America, igniting a battle of political maneuvering that sees each country hilariously trying to size the other up.
“Wag the Dog” (Barry Levinson, 1997)
Perhaps the sharpest political satire ever made, Barry Levinson’s “Wag the Dog” is an inspired slice of black comedy that gets more precise in its searing study of political animals the more ludicrous and overblown its story becomes. The comedy takes place in the aftermath of a scandal in which the President of the United States is caught making advances on an underage girl (ironically, the movie came out just months before the Clinton scandal). The solution to the problem: Create an even bigger scandal to divert attention away from the original one. What kind of scandal? A war, of course. Enter Robert De Niro as Conrad Beane, the best political spin doctor on the planet, who recruits a famous Hollywood director, played by Dustin Hoffman, to stage the war on a soundstage and properly pass it off as the real deal. What ensues over the brisk 97-minute runtime is nonstop gags and set pieces that speak to the cringing limits political animals are willing to go to get the job done and save their official asses.
“Recount” (Jay Roach, 2008)
Jay Roach took politics to the big screen this year with his dramatic feature debut “Trumbo,” though he found greater success and more dramatic material in his 2008 HBO movie “Recount,” which chronicles the intense 2000 Presidential election between Al Gore and George Bush. Beginning with the election on November 7 and ending with the Supreme Court’s stopping of the recount on December 12, this insider’s look at the corkscrew tension that amassed on both sides of the election is involving, surprising and outright enraging. Both sides do whatever it takes to ensure their candidate the Presidency, and the ace script from Danny Strong pinpoints the confounding moments that took the election out of the people’s hands and into a frustrating sphere behind the curtain. With an ensemble cast for the ages — Kevin Spacey, Laura Dern, Tom Wilkinson, Denis Leary, John Hurt, Bob Balaban and more — “Recount” is a real story of political animals that is so true it hurts.
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