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warrenbeattybulworthsmallpi.jpgOn this election day in many parts of the country—and with the presidential primaries on the horizon (and the front page), here’s my list of the Top Ten Election movies (that I’ve actually seen). I’ve evaluated them primarily on the inspiration they give to mobilize people to make a difference with their vote—or to at least become more educated about it—as well as its star power and entertainment value. They’re also good if you want to rent a DVD while awaiting election returns!
10. “Bulworth” Warren Beatty stars as a candidate who is so disillusioned with the political process that he decides to be brutally honest with voters during an election cycle in which he has nothing to lose…because he’s organized his own assassination. It’s a whimsical tale, to be sure, but there are moments where we are actually caused to wonder: “What if a politician really just told the truth?!”
9. “Dick” A younger Kristen Dunst and Michelle Williams star in this “Clueless” or “Legally Blonde” feeling movie that young kids and teens may be interested in. Two young girls are on a tour of D.C. when they stumble upon President Nixon’s top-secret team, shredding documents. The girls are ditzy but they end up being targets of Nixon’s politico machine that (as the movie portrays) would do anything to go after anyone to control public opinion, hide truth, and win the next election.


8. “Election” Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon are the leads in a story about a goodie-goodie kids running against a rebel in a school election that offers both entertaining and insightful windows into our election process. This won an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay and is worth watching, especially with your soon-to-be voters!
7. “The Distinguished Gentleman” Eddie Murphy plays a con man who runs for Congress when he realizes he has the most valuable and important component of electability: the exact name of the incumbent congressman who dies at the movie’s outset. He makes a believable (or at least humorous) case for how such a candidate can win in today’s election process and then goes to Congress to learn he’s among his own kind (con men) more than he expected! Lane Smith, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Joe Don Baker, and Kevin McCarthy are among co-stars whose names you may not know but whose faces you’ll recognize and whose performances you’ll like.
6. “Bob Roberts” Tim Robbins (in his directorial debut) plays a right-wing folk singer who runs a murky campaign that seems to find approval from the mainstream media while one reporter tries to bring out the truth. This movie portrayed as much as any other the degree to which elections can focus on lots of fluff and not much stuff.
5. “All the President’s Men” The Redford/Hoffman classic is really more about political corruptness and the journalists’ search for truth, but it hangs on the true story of how a president and his people used their power to steal an election, and the public’s inability to really believe such a landslide could be anything but authentic.
4. “The American President” Michael Douglas plays Andrew Shepherd in this expose of how approval ratings drive political agendas and how elections drive decisions about how our laws our written. Aaron Sorkin (pre-“West Wing”) wrote the fast-moving script that Democrats love and Republicans have to get past their politics to like. Annette Bening, Richard Dreyfuss, Martin Sheen, and Michael J. Fox shined under Rob Reiner’s direction. The agendas of family values, the environment, the A.C.L.U., and flag-burning are but a few that this movie touches on.
3. “Wag the Dog” With less than two weeks to go before an election, Robert De Niro plays the wizard spin doctor who manipulates the media to distract them from the president’s immorality. Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack is among his best and the all-star cast includes Dustin Hoffman, Anne Heche, Dennis Leary, Kristen Dunst, William H. Macy, and Willie Nelson. Great light-but-meaningful fare for election night!
2. “Power” A young Richard Gere is a campaign consultant who puts whatever spin it takes on whatever candidates will pay to win whatever election he’s hired for. As the plot thickens, he gets a conscience, and becomes his own worst enemy professionally as he gains self-awareness and moral fiber…finding personal peace that doesn’t align with his chosen field of work.
1. “The Candidate” One of the few movies that actually starts, moves, and ends with an election. In this one, Robert Redford plays Bill McKay, a senatorial candidate from a political family who disdains politics for its lack of authenticity and its inability to make a real difference. The party faithful recruit him to run in a sure loser election by telling him he can say whatever he wants to advance his agenda. When his candidacy becomes serious and his race becomes competitive, he’s left to make his own choices, and the wonderfully ironic ending left us all asking our own reflective questions about the role of politics and our involvement (and investment) in it.
Those are my favorites. What are yours? Post them in the comments section. (And, if you haven’t done so yet: GO VOTE!)

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