It’s that time of year – election season! What a relief, but I digress. Voting = yes, and America! So here are five of our favorite political movies to help you feel civic!
1: Absentee, starring/directed by Clint Eastwood
In this gripping character thriller, Eastwood plays a retired Lieutenant who recounts his history of voting while fighting abroad. The movie consists entirely of flashbacks, each one going back four years to the previous election. And at six hours long, you’ll definitely need extra popcorn! Although it makes excellent use of de-aging effects, it’s not always plausible – he’s conveniently involved in every major event in American military history, from the assassination of Bin Laden, to the attack on Pearl Harbor, to the Battle of Gettysburg, even as far back as the Revolutionary War. Setting aside the obvious age issue, not every battle took place during an election year. But the double meaning of the title, implying both that his vote and his life are ‘absentee’, is powerful stuff, and veterans of all epochs will be moved by his patriotism and ability to shoot bad guys.
2: I Hate The News, directed by Harold Ramis
In this classic screwball comedy from the late 80s, Bill Murray plays Ned Ryerson, a cynical political reporter. As a way to boost his career, he makes a deal with the devil to turn himself into a news magnet of sorts. Anywhere he goes, something newsworthy or scandalous happens, often to comic results. He becomes the most sought-after reporter in the country, but he soon realizes that his opportunism comes with a price: it’s one thing to embarrass a politician, but his twisted Midas touch has ripple effects that impact everyday people. While his character arc is predictable, the moral of the story feels as fresh as ever. Fun fact: the movie was the inspiration for the 2014 film Nightcrawler.
3: Echo Chamber, Black Mirror Season 12, directed by Charlie Brooker
While technically not a movie, the Black Mirror episode Echo Chamber is at the top of our list when it comes to must-watch political commentary. Lydia West plays Ruby, a socially awkward young adult who buys a high-tech Echo Chamber. The Echo Chamber uses DeepFake AI technology to generate a simulated human face called an Other, which the user can discuss politics with. You can adjust the settings on the Other to be right-leaning, left-leaning, open to change, hostile, submissive, angry… whatever you prefer. Ruby quickly becomes obsessed with dominating her Other, and what starts as casual discussions escalate into rants, toxicity, and a terrifying superiority complex. Spoiler Alert: in the final scene, unbeknownst to Ruby, we realize that the Other is not an AI-generated simulation of a human. It’s a real human who’s forced to be a punching bag of sorts for the Echo Chamber user. Yikes! Kudos to Charlie Brooker for delivering such a terrifying but socially necessary message.
4: The Blues, directed by Spike Lee and Jordan Peele
In a unique collaboration known as a Jordan Joint, the two acclaimed directors have crafted an intriguing, bizarre, truly unforgettable satire. Chi McBride stars as Simon, a bluegrass musician and political newcomer who’s running for president in the 2020 Democratic primaries. He becomes a rising star, but starts to face mounting pressure from wealthy donors to conform on certain issues. About midway through the movie, he discovers that the DNC is building an army of rabid partisan zombies. Simon realizes that this is happening all around the country to Republicans as well – voters en masse are being programmed into hostile, braindead monsters, completely unable to think for themselves or engage in reasonable discussion. Inevitably, the third act is a gory zombie apocalypse, a jarring finale to be sure. But McBride is brilliant as the zombie ‘fixer’, who uses his music to reanimate the populace, and the commentary could not be more timely.
5: Transformers 17: Fight Club, directed by Michael Bay
By far the most outrageous entry on the list, and consistently ranked by critics as one of the worst movies of the last century… Transformers 17: Fight Club is exactly the sort of schlocky, mindless, ham-fisted commentary that we need right now. The movie is about Optimus Prime realizing that politicians are Earth’s worst enemy, so he creates an arena called the Fight Club where Transformers kill politicians while voters watch. The politicians are no match for the autobots, but that’s the point. It’s two hours of Senators and Governors being pulverized and massacred in the most ridiculous ways possible. It’s loud, it’s dumb, the CGI sucks, and there are no clever references to the original Fight Club. But what do you expect?
Alright, hope that list left you feeling politics! Don’t forget to election this November, and may the odds be ever in your favor!