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10 Election-Themed Movies to Watch When You’re Finished Voting in the Midterms

Whether you Pick Flick or Vote for Pedro, make sure you cast a ballot.

Reese Witherspoon in "Election"

Reese Witherspoon in “Election”

Bob Akester/Paramount/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

As you may have heard, there’s an election today. Its importance is impossible to overstate no matter which side of the political aisle you’re on, and Bill Hader thinks you’d be “a moron” not to vote. Our imperfect electoral system has inspired many great movies over the years, a few of which celebrate it but most of which either lampoon it or show how vulnerable it is. After you, being the responsible citizen you clearly are, fulfill your civic duty by voting in the midterm election today, take a break from anxiously watching the results by watching one of these 10 films instead.

“All the President’s Men”

All the President's Men

“All the President’s Men”

The soft glow of Deep Throat’s cigarette in a shadowy garage; Ben Bradlee’s (Jason Robards) “Okay we go with it” order to Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) as his elevator doors lightly close in front of him; the rat-tat-tat patter of a typewriter announcing the President’s resignation. There are so many images and sounds that stick with you from Alan J. Pakula’s adaptation of Bernstein and Woodward’s book about the events that led to the end of the Nixon presidency. But it’s to Pakula’s credit that they all feel a natural part of telling the story of the 20th Century’s biggest American political scandal – there’s no unnecessary adornment to his craft, as if Pakula himself, like the best of journalists, believed that clarity and precision are the highest virtues. “All the President’s Men” is the standard to which all subsequent depictions of investigative newspapers journalism aspire to, from “Spotlight” to “The Post.” —Christian Blauvelt

“The Candidate”

The Candidate

“The Candidate”

Robert Redford plays the idealistic son of a former California governor who the Democratic party taps to run as a token candidate in a seemingly unwinnable race to unseat a popular and powerful Republican Senator. Thinking he’s going to lose no matter what, Redford’s character, named Bill McKay – leading to the slogan “McKay: The Better Way” – decides to enter the race just so he can say whatever he wants. But that honesty is refreshing and McKay looks like Robert Redford so of course he starts winning over the electorate and having a real shot at winning. That’s when the special interests come in and want to tweak McKay’s brand for their own purposes. Director Michael Ritchie brings a vérité feel to this cinematic autopsy of a campaign that keeps going right when even the candidate himself isn’t sure he wants the job. —CB

“Citizen Ruth”

Citizen Ruth

“Citizen Ruth”

One of the most underrated Alexander Payne films is also his directorial debut, and his writing never quite reached such biting political satire levels again (even in “Election”). “Citizen Ruth” stars an inspired Laura Dern as the comically self-destructive Ruth Stoops, a poor woman with a huffing addiction who finds herself in the family way despite having four kids already in foster homes. She becomes an unwitting mascot of a local anti-abortion activists (Mary Kay Place and Burt Reynolds), before being lured to the other side by a couple of liberal lesbians (Swoosie Kurtz and Kelly Preston…swoon). But as both sides fight over Ruth, she realizes she’s only a pawn in their game, proving she isn’t as dumb as everyone thinks she is. The comedy is as black as it comes, with themes as relevant today as they were in 1996, unfortunately. “Citizen Ruth” has much to say about how political polarization affects ordinary Americans, and it’s one hell of a fun ride. —Jude Dry

“Election”

Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon in "Election"

Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon in “Election”

Bob Akester/Paramount/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

“Larry, we’re not electing the fucking Pope here. Just tell me who won.” So says Matthew Broderick in Alexander Payne’s biting second feature, which finds the former Ferris Bueller opposite a never-better Reese Witherspoon. That the high school teacher he’s playing doesn’t realize the importance of electing a student-body president will soon bring about his downfall. A year before hanging chads and the Florida recount, the fallout from the race between Tracy Flick vs. Paul Metzler coming down to two discarded ballots may have seemed overblown; nearly 20 years later, it’s quaint. Which isn’t a knock on “Election” — it remains both hilarious and relevant, not to mention an always-timely reminder that every vote really does count. So as you head to the ballot box, remember: Pick Flick!  —Michael Nordine

“Game Change”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Hbo/Playtone/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5879759c)Ed Harris, Julianne MooreGame Change - 2012Director: Jay RoachHbo Films/PlaytoneUSATelevisionTv Classics

“Game Change”

Playtone/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Everyone loved Tina Fey’s “Saturday Night Live” impersonation of Sarah Palin, but it was Julianne Moore who transformed the former Alaska governor from a cartoon into a real character — and an ominous harbinger of the populist wave to come. Ed Harris plays John McCain during his 2008 presidential bid, with Woody Harrelson and Sarah Paulson as his campaign managers Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace. They’re the ones who suggest Palin to be McCain’s running mate and eventually become horrified at the monster they’ve unleashed (Wallace ultimately didn’t even vote for McCain, a moment immortalized in the film with a tearful Paulson saying, “I…couldn’t do it”). Scene from the perspective of today everything about Palin’s candidacy as depicted in Jay Roach’s HBO film seems like a prologue to the Trump era — Schmidt and Wallace have been two of loudest anti-Trump voices and both have become fixtures on MSNBC. —CB

“The Manchurian Candidate”

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)Directed by John Frankenheimer Shown from left: Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury

“The Manchurian Candidate”

United Artists/Photofest

“Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.” Why is it that all the ex-GIs who served with Shaw, a Korean War hero, finds it necessary to say that about him? And that they go into a trance-like state when they do? This tale of brainwashing and gaslighting centers on the political ambitions of Shaw’s parents: his father, a Senator in the mold of Joe McCarthy who peddles fierce anti-communist sentiment in a bid to be the running-mate to his party’s next presidential nominee, and his wife (Angela Lansbury), an actual communist agent who uses her husband’s bluster as the perfect shield. “The Manchurian Candidate” is invoked a lot these days to refer to a foreign power’s influence over a presidential candidate – but its most powerful insight may be in its depiction of the gaslighting Lansbury’s character engages in: the idea that she projects onto her opponents everything vile that she does herself. —CB

“Napoleon Dynamite”

Napoleon Dynamite

“Napoleon Dynamite”

There’s nothing like a highly competitive student body election to remind you of the sweet smell of democracy. Pedro Sánchez might be the most famous fictional candidate ever to run for office, causing a boom in “Vote For Pedro” shirt sales. If this election could be swayed by a hypnotically strange dance to Jamiroquai, we’re sure Jon Heder would gladly oblige. If nothing else, “Napoleon Dynamite” serves as reminder that if we don’t get out and vote, we may be doomed to spend another two years like Tina the llama, forced by a petulant teenager to “eat the food.” —JD

“Shampoo”

Shampoo

“Shampoo”

The story goes that it was Warren Beatty’s idea to set “Shampoo” on the eve of the 1968 election. Pulling triple duty as the star, co-writer, and producer of Hal Ashby’s sad and frothy sex comedy, Beatty argued that Nixon’s victory was “when the American people came face to face with who they really were.” It’s certainly a fitting backdrop for his character, an oversexed Los Angeles hairdresser who needs to work on his roots. A beautiful mutterer with a remarkable mane, George has sex with virtually every woman he meets (his conquests include Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, Lee Grant, and possibly even a young Carrie Fisher, and that’s just over a 24-hour period!), but this Vietnam War-era Casanova can’t bring himself to really be with any one of them; he’s so afraid of commitment that he condemns himself to a lifetime of loneliness. Although a large chunk of the film takes place at a party in Nixon’s honor, you get the sense that George is one of those people who didn’t vote; he goes where the wind blows him, and still has the nerve to get angry about where he ends up. The future, “Shampoo” reminds us, belongs to those who want it most. —David Ehrlich

“The War Room”

war room

“The War Room”

If you think “The War Room” is too serious a title for a documentary about a presidential campaign, you haven’t seen “The War Room.” Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s account of Bill Clinton’s ascent to the White House focuses not on the 42nd president himself but rather James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, the braintrust who got him there. “It’s the economy, stupid” indeed, and though the political machinations on display here may seem tame after the two most recent election cycles, “The War Room” more than earns its title. —MN

“Weiner”

weiner documentary

“Weiner”

Sundance Selects

It’s hard to imagine how Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s “Weiner” even exists — though not the why, because who doesn’t love a no-holds-barred inside look at the downfall of a failed American politician? — as the documentary (and bonafide Sundance sensation) closely chronicles the (second) implosion of ruined political animal Anthony Weiner from inside the closed ranks of his own home and campaign. Kriegman and Steinberg’s film picks up in the midst of Weiner’s 2013 campaign for New York City mayor (he had previously run in 2003, long before his name was tainted by any whiff of scandal), with the former congressman eager to not only jump back into the political world, but to remind people of all the good he was capable of doing in the process. In a different universe, the film could have been a gritty look at a man determined to work his way back to the top; in this one, it’s a film that chronicles yet another very public downfall for a guy who never learned that the personal is political, and always has been. As Weiner limps towards another embarrassing Election Day, his life crumbles around him, and the only creature that comes out even slightly intact is one of his pissed-off cats, who appears during a fraught meeting scene to essentially stink-eye the fallen politician. He’s the best stand-in for the American public we’ve got. —Kate Erbland

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