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Five Most Overrated & Underrated Political Films

Andrew Payne Andrew Payne
November 14th, 2008 9:57am EST
WWe just went through the most fascinating and compelling election season ever in the television age. A lot of people are glad it's over, but there are those who simply can't get enough of the entertainment that is politics.

Unfortunately for the latter group, the only politics on TV right now involves Sarah Palin making the rounds and discussing the matters of a state with a population density that makes the Sahara Desert look like mid-town Manhattan. In other words, it's a snoozer.

So the last respite for these political junkies is the political movie. But which to choose? There's so much hype around a lot of these films that it's hard to tell which are actually good and which aren't. Also, there's several films that have been lost in the political shuffle, not gaining the support they deserve.

Here are the five most overrated and underrated political films of all time:

OVERRATED

5. "All the President's Men" (1976)

Films and TV shows about journalism just are never that exciting. That's because journalism really isn't that exciting. A lot of digging through papers and interviewing people who really have nothing to say. This movie captures that perfectly - the boredom of it all. Yes there are some thrills, and an excellent examination of maybe the most important investigation ever conducted by a newspaper, but it's overlong and never really compelling enough to earn its monumental reputation. This is a pretty good movie, but nothing more than that.

All the President's Men



4. "Air Force One" (1997)

This would not have made the list (who knew anybody liked it?) until a recent AOL MovieFone article found Harrison Ford being voted the number one movie president of all time by a substantial margin. What? This is a great movie president? A guy who does nothing more than say "Get off my plane"? Please. The movie isn't much better with some thrills building up to a ridiculous climax and a premise that's even more ludicrous. "Get off my list of favorite movie presidents."

3. "W" (2008)

Not all movies are overrated in terms of quality; there are plenty of other ways to enter those ranks. For this film, controversy, actually lack thereof, is the reason it's overrated. All anybody could think when this film was announced was, "Ooo, Oliver Stone's take on George W. Bush? Gonna be a major conspiratorial attack piece." Then the movie came out, and it wasn't. It actually made Bush look good, like a smart man with deep convictions prone to the occasional flub. Sure it made Dick Cheney look like Machiavelli and Colin Powell a sellout, but who didn't know that already. Despite this, the controversy remains and probably always will - probably because nobody actually saw the movie and the words "An Olive Stone Film" carry more weight than anything else.

W



2. "The Manchurian Candidate" (2004)

This is not about the first brilliant film; it's about the abhorrently mediocre remake that ruined an incredible cast. This movie never quite matches the paranoia or suspense of the original. Instead, it's a labored film that can't decide between politics and eeriness and ends up failing in both regards. For some reason, critics completely ignored these facts and hailed it as not only a worth remake, but a first-class political thriller. Don't believe the hype, rent the original and leave this one to gather dust.

The Manchurian Candidate



1. "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004)

This is overrated in regards to both quality and controversy. First of all, it's not controversial at all. There's no way a reasonable person could think it is. For all its "attacks" on Bush, there's little more than video of news clips from the previous few years, making this a CNN recap for those who haven't been paying attention. Sure, there are attacks, but this is just Michael Moore making fun of Bush like a school kid mocking a substitute teacher from the back of a classroom. That's also the problem with the film's quality - it's little more than a mocking movie on a par with talk radio set to pictures. Moore never establishes a clear thesis, like he did with the excellent "Bowling For Columbine", and just meanders around occasionally making a lucid point. This is not a very good film and it certainly isn't controversial, no matter how hyperbolically high the buzz reaches in either direction.

Fahrenheit 9/11



UNDERRATED

5. "The Candidate" (1972)

This is one of the most honest portrayals of the political process ever put on film. In it, we meet a young and idealistic lawyer (Robert Redford) who's forced into a seemingly unwinnable race for a Senate seat. He accepts the spot, because he's told he'll be able to talk about whatever he wants, but soon as the polls show him gaining ground, his message changes into a mush of clichés that eventually put him over the top. A great example of how the only way to get elected is to never tackle a real issue and just come up with slogans (Barack Obama, anyone?). Few have seen, those who have understand its brilliance, there just aren't many of them.

4. "Bob Roberts" (1992)

Similar to "The Candidate" in terms of its ruthless evisceration of the American election process, Tim Robbins' first directorial effort is a hilarious mockumentary in which a folk singer challenges for the senate seat as a sort of conservative rebel. There is plenty of biting satire and a ton of laughs along the way. Another little seen film that's highly respected by the few who have seen it, but that number is sadly low.

3. "Medium Cool" (1969)

We're using a very loose term here for a political film, but it does take place at the tumultuous 1968 democratic convention. Rather than look simply at politics, this film expands to the entire medium of television as a group of reporters covering the event wonder when it's ethical to interrupt TV's coverage to intervene in extreme situations. Various political issues are discussed and there was actually footage shot at the '68 convention since the director expected there to be a riot - life imitates art. This is a very important movie that while political has even more on its mind. Too bad nobody's heard of it.

2. "The Contender" (2000)

This was a movie that inexplicably vanished soon after its 2000 release. It's a brilliant political thriller with top-notch performances from Joan Allen, Gary Oldman and Jeff Bridges - three of the best actors alive. The story concerns Allen's character's being appointed Vice President by Jeff Bridges' Commander-in-Chief and Oldman's Senator's subsequent attacks on the nominee. Critics raved, but audiences yawned as the film didn't even gross $20 million. It's a shame as this is the best political film this century and one that resonates even stronger today with the unbelievable reach of attacks that continue to dominate campaigns.

1. "All the King's Men" (1949)

All the satire of corruption, attacks, and sleazy campaigns done well in every other film are done better in this masterpiece, the Best Picture winner from 1949. This is a searing attack on Southern politics of the time, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren. It's a damn near perfect movie complete with brilliant performances and an engaging story that doesn't let go. Sadly, it's old (strike one) in black and white (strike two) and was remade into one of the worst films ever made where Sean Penn's over-the-top performance as Willie Stark made Jon Voight in "Varsity Blues" look restrained. That's three strikes, dooming one of the best political films ever made into eternal underrateddom.

Check back next week as we go off the board for the most overrated and underrated holidays in honor of Thanksgiving.

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Andrew Payne
Story by Andrew Payne

Starpulse contributing writer