Saturday, November 1, 2014

Still Life With Robin: How to Enjoy an Election

by Peggy Robin

The election is just three days away but it seems like there’s about as much enthusiasm among the voters for these "midterms" as there is among college students for their midterm exams. (Want proof? Here’s a Gallup poll) Sure, there are always the hardcore political junkies who get hyped up over these contests, but for most of us, an election is mainly an endless parade of robocalls, a barrage of negative campaign ads on TV, mailboxes overflowing with junkmail political flyers, plus the occasional strangers showing up on our doorsteps on what otherwise might have been a quiet, restful Sunday afternoon.

I propose an escape from the constant election reality show that is at last coming to a close. I think you will find it much more amusing to watch a fictional election in movie format, and to that end, I put forth a full slate of contenders, all of which have been heartily endorsed by critics and the public alike. The five listed below are in alphabetical order, which you should try not to let influence you if you wish to rank them in your own order of preference – and I have also included a write-in line for whatever you think has been unfairly excluded. (Likely nominees are Bulworth, Primary Colors, Wag the Dog, The Contender, The Candidate, and Napoleon Dynamite, among others.)

□  The Best Man (1964). Gore Vidal wrote the screenplay to this drama about the behind the scenes maneuvering between political rivals, one a man of principle (Henry Fonda – who else?), the other a ruthless bastard (Cliff Robertson). This movie only gets better with age.  

□ Election (1999). The title race in this movie is a dirty-tricks-filled three-way fight for the presidency of a high school student council. And quite possibly the best movie portrait of a political schemer ever made. You need to see this movie so that you will get the reference when you hear a candidate in a real election compared to Tracy Flick. I’ll go further than that – you need to see this movie to gain insight into the soul of Richard Nixon. And some sympathy, too. 

□ Game Change (2012). Watching this movie about the McCain/Palin campaign is like getting into a time machine and going back to 2008 and reliving the whole frenetic ten-week period before the election in two short hours. Time flies when you’re watching others not having fun! 

□ The Ides of March (2011). Now that Beau Willimon, author of the original stage play Farragut North that George Clooney adapted to become this movie, has ascended to House of Cards glory, his connection to this somewhat neglected movie should help it attract the fans it deserves. It stars George Clooney, after all. And Ryan Gosling. And Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei,  Evan Rachel Wood, and Paul Giamatti. Tightly plotted, so atmospheric you can practically smell the ratty hotel carpets, fun to watch and a whole lot less time-consuming (at a mere 101 minutes) than 26 hour-long episodes of House of Cards.

□ The Manchurian Candidate. The mother of all conspiracy-driven election movie plots. I’m talking about the B&W 1964 version only – don’t waste your time on the 2004 remake. Try not to dwell on some of the casting decisions, either – such as the 36-year-old Angela Lansbury playing the mother of the character played by 33-year-old actor Laurence Harvey. They’re both so amazingly good in their roles, and you know that Lansbury will go on to reach the age of the roles she was playing and still come across as the shrewdest person in the room.  

□ Write-in choice: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­____________________________________________________.


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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