As you've probably noticed, unless you just this minute slipped out of a coma (and if that's the case, stop reading this and go call your loved ones), it's election day. Four years on from the election of the first African-American commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama is squaring off at the ballot box against the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney in what looks likely to be the tightest election since... well, 2004, probably.
Needless to say, if you haven't cast your vote, stop reading this go vote, and then come back -- it's just about the most important thing you'll do this calendar year. But if you've already done your civic duty and you're looking to take your mind off desperately checking FiveThirtyEight and exit polls every five minutes, we've pulled together a list of five of our favorite election-themed movies. Check them out below, and let us know your own favorites in the comments section.
Who is Bob Roberts? It's a testament to Tim Robbins’ directorial debut, a film that people still discuss today, that everyone has a different answer. Robbins plays Roberts, a “self-made” political candidate, running against Democrat rival Gore Vidal, who develops a strong grassroots connection to “the people” by espousing anti-government, anti-liberal sentiment. Yep, Robbins saw the Tea Party coming a mile away. Sure the picture may take on a more insidious feel in 201, but that ignores the ingratiating charm of Robbins’ Roberts, who sneers with a smile and smiles with a sneer as he strums his guitar and sings ditties about the lower class being lazy and full of complaints. “Bob Roberts” keeps the truth at bay with the structure of a mock-documentary focusing on Roberts' campaign, and aside from all the famous faces that appear the illusion seems pretty airtight, with an uncomfortable ambiguity to the director’s lens that avoids, ahem, “gotcha” moments until the very last, disturbing gag. It’s “The Manchurian Candidate” as directed by Christopher Guest, at once wildly funny and incredibly plausible, with Robbins receiving great support from Giancarlo Esposito as an intrepid liberal reporter, Alan Rickman as a sleazy campaign manager, and loads of cameos that memorably include John Cusack as a fringe comedian who backs out of his own sketch comedy show when Roberts guest stars. Wildly funny and creepy in all the right ways.
Forget the Sundance Kid and Bob Woodward, Robert Redford’s turn as would-be Senator Bill McKay is possibly his greatest role. It’s certainly his least narcissistic and most spiritually ugly turn -- as the son of a popular former governor, McKay is gradually unraveled and exposed to be as cosmetic as his dashing side-burns, a fate only compounded by winning the damn election. Whatever timid political convictions the character is depicted as possessing are steamrolled in favor of refashioning the man into a photogenic tabula rasa, a bespoke "man of the people" grown like Ellen Ripley in a lab (a potential voter simply remarks, “Handsome is as handsome does”) who’s able to coast right into public office on a roster of meaningless platitudes. Not so much worn down by the political machine as ground by it into a fine patty, “The Candidate” is ostensibly a comedy from the man who would go on to direct “Fletch,” with Michael Ritchie’s handheld deadpan style sly, impressive and vaguely horrifying, especially with Peter Boyle hovering over McKay as a scruple-free campaign manager. The indignities depicted in the film (gross self-censorship, vile manipulation of advertisements that encourage voters to choose a candidate “the way they choose a detergent”) are of course laughably meek by the standards of the dubious chicanery that abounds in political campaigns today, but McKay’s ticket, run on the promise of restoring “hope and faith in government,” has obvious timeless implications beyond its early 1970s setting. Its famous last line (the clueless inquiry: “What do we do now?”) is a touch didactic and McKay’s descent is perhaps now an overly familiar one, but when his father eventually slaps his tousle-haired sprog on the shoulder and chuckles, “Son, you’re a politician!” the remark rattles through the rest of the film like a death sentence.