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We Elect...

If watching the real campaign is getting on your nerves, here are our endorsements for Hollywood's best political movies.

October 31, 2008|Susan King | King is a Times staff writer.

Is it Tuesday yet? Even the most patriotic of us might be feeling election fatigue this week. Campaigns generally are messy affairs, with stories that keep changing and endings that never seem to come, and the Obama-McCain battle has been no different. But that's not the case when Hollywood directs a political race. In the movies, candidates make clever speeches, the bad guys get their due and things are wrapped up in a couple of hours. These election pictures get our votes:

Best movie for blue state audiences

"The Candidate." Screenwriter Jeremy Larner won an Oscar for his perceptive 1972 political satire starring Robert Redford as Bill McKay, a young, environmentally conscious Senate candidate who begins to compromise his ideals in order to win the election. Directed by Michael Ritchie.

Also worth a spot on your Netflix queue: Ivan Reitman's 1993 "Dave."

Best movie for red state audiences

"State of the Union." Actors Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn take a walk on the right side in Frank Capra's compelling 1948 adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway smash by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Tracy plays an aviation mogul running as the Republican candidate for president who finds himself battling his integrity during the campaign as well as having an affair with the ruthless newspaper publisher (Angela Lansbury) grooming him for the presidency. Hepburn plays Tracy's wife.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, November 01, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Election movies: An article in Friday's Calendar section about Hollywood's best political movies said that in "The Best Man," Henry Fonda played a Democratic candidate while Cliff Robertson was his Republican opponent. In fact, both characters -- one liberal, one conservative -- are in the same party, vying for the presidential nomination.

And set your DVR for Capra's 1941 "Meet John Doe."

Best suicide's-not-painless movie

"Bulworth." Warren Beatty wrote, directed and gives one of his most audacious performances in this outrageous 1998 comedy set near the end of the California primary. Beatty plays incumbent Sen. Jay Bulworth, who suffers a nervous breakdown and decides to "commit suicide" by hiring a hit man to kill him during the last weekend of the campaign. Bulworth has second thoughts after he begins to speak his mind and falls in love with a socially active woman (Halle Berry).

Best truth-is-stranger-than-fiction film

"The Best Man." Released during 1964, the LBJ-Goldwater election year, Gore Vidal's savvy adaptation of his hit Broadway play pits Henry Fonda as the idealistic Democratic presidential nominee against Cliff Robertson's ultraconservative Republican candidate. The Republican likes to play dirty, especially when he begins to exploit the fact that Fonda has a history of mental illness. The film foreshadowed the George McGovern-Richard Nixon race eight years later, when mental illness played a pivotal role. McGovern's initial running mate, Sen. Thomas Eagleton, bowed out of the race when it came to light that he had received electric shock treatment and psychiatric care.

Best Communist-assassination plot

"The Manchurian Candidate." John Frankenheimer's surreal, brilliant 1962 political thriller, based on the novel by Richard Condon, stars Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey as members of an Army patrol during the Korean War who are captured and taken to Manchuria by the Chinese Communists. The patrol is brainwashed to believe that weakling Raymond Shaw (Harvey) is a hero who saved them during an attack. In fact, he's the pawn of the Communists and his ambitious Lady Macbeth of a mother (Lansbury, in her masterful Oscar-nominated turn), and he has been programmed to assassinate the presidential nominee.

The 2004 remake directed by Jonathan Demme, while not unwatchable, paled in comparison.

Best fact-based fiction

"Primary Colors." The 1998 comedy directed by Mike Nichols is a thinly veiled account of Bill Clinton's race for the presidential nomination in 1992. The movie was based on the bestselling novel by Anonymous, later revealed to be columnist Joe Klein. John Travolta is perfectly cast as Jack Stanton, a womanizing Southern governor, as is Emma Thompson as his long-suffering wife.

Also don't miss on TCM: 1949's "All the King's Men."

Best for the millennial generation

"Election." Alexander Payne co-wrote and directed this observant 1999 comedy about the machinations behind a small-town high school election. Reese Witherspoon came into her own as Tracy Flick, the ultimate overachiever running for president who finds her bid thwarted by a popular teacher and student government advisor played by Matthew Broderick.

And our runner-up: 1968's "Wild in the Streets."

Best romantic comedy

"The American President." Aaron Sorkin penned this 1995 hit starring Michael Douglas as a widowed president about to run for reelection. In the midst of dealing with approval ratings and a right-wing political opponent (Richard Dreyfuss), the president finds himself falling in love with a beautiful environmental lobbyist (Annette Bening). Four years later, Sorkin tapped the presidential well again, creating the Emmy-winning NBC series "The West Wing" (with "American President" costar Martin Sheen as commander in chief).

Also a solid contender: 1947's "The Farmer's Daughter."

--

susan.king@latimes.com

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