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Article updated: 11/2/2012 6:28 PM

12 elect-ifying films for the campaign season

By Dann Gire

What? You say you just can't get enough election coverage from the news media?

You want more?

You're in luck, election junkies, because Hollywood has produced some humdingers when it comes to movies about elections. They come in all varieties: comedies, parodies, serious dramas and documentaries.

Here are a dozen suggestions on how to feed your election obsession before you head to the polls Tuesday. But fear not.

You won't find Chris Farley's "Black Sheep" -- about David Spade's efforts to keep a candidate's idiot son from spoiling his chances of winning -- on this list. We have standards, you know.

"All the King's Men" (1949) -- John Wayne turned down the lead in Robert Rossen's scathing look at the machinery that launches the political career of the ambitious Willie Stark, allowing Broderick Crawford to step into the role and go on to win the Best Actor Oscar (ironically beating Wayne's nominated role in "Sands of Iwo Jima").

To prepare for his electrifying performance, Broderick studied newsreels of Louisiana senator and Gov. Huey Long, the inspiration for Robert Penn Warren's novel upon which this movie is based. It still holds up. (A 2006 remake loses a lot in translation, despite Sean Penn's earnest approach to the character.)

"The Best Man" (1964) -- Presidential politics take center stage in Gore Vidal's account of the nasty fight between Henry Fonda's idealistic nominee and Cliff Robertson's shameless, hypocritical nominee. Oh, the intrigue!

Will Fonda's wife leave him before the election and ruin his chances? Will Robertson use reports of Fonda's mental instability against him? What will Fonda do when he finds out that Robertson held a "rendezvous" with a man a few years back? Dialogue by Vidal. Photography by Chicago's own Haskell Wexler.

"Bob Roberts" (1992) -- Tim Robbins directs a mockumentary about a right-wing conservative politician and folk singer (played by Robbins) whose hard-fought campaign to be elected a Pennsylvania senator is followed by a pesky British documentary filmmaker (Brian Murray). The satire comes with both an attempted political assassination (of Roberts) and a successful one (Giancarlo Esposito's reporter is shot by a right-wing fanatic).

"The Campaign" (2012) -- A surprisingly funny, bipartisan comedy about corrupt businessmen (modeled after the Koch brothers) who pit a bumbling, easily manipulated tourism director (Zach Galifianakis) against a corrupt incumbent congressman (Will Ferrell). Dirty tricks, outrageous claims and a healthy moral to the story ensue.

"The Candidate" (1972) -- Jeremy Larner, speechwriter for Eugene McCarthy's 1968 Democratic presidential nomination campaign, wrote this acidic script about a governor's son (Robert Redford) who runs for senator against an unbeatable Republican incumbent. Free to say anything he wants, the contender soon realizes the more generic and evasive his stands are, the more electable he becomes. The ending sentence, "Marvin, what do we do now?" is an all-time classic.

"Election" (1999) -- Alexander Payne's hilarious satire of politics takes place in a Nebraska high school where a well-meaning teacher (Matthew Broderick) fixes the ballot box so that an obnoxious cheerleader (Reese Witherspoon) loses and a total doofus (Chris Klein) wins. It's funny, disturbing and relevant.

"The Ides of March" (2011) -- Hypocrisy, disappointment and disillusionment set in when an idealistic campaign staffer (Ryan Gosling) realizes his boss, the charismatic candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination (director George Clooney), is soiled material. By making Democrats the hypocrites, the liberal Clooney jumps over partisan finger-pointing and concentrates on public trust, truth and character. Paul Giamatti rules as a rival campaign manager.

"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) -- Cold war politics don't get icier than this. John Frankenheimer's masterwork follows Laurence Harvey's Korean War hero as he returns home, unaware he and his squad (including Frank Sinatra) have been brainwashed and are part of a chilling conspiracy to assassinate a presidential nominee so that a selected candidate can take over. After the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, Sinatra withdrew the movie from circulation for two decades. (A 2004 remake starring Denzel Washington was an ambitious effort, but never achieved the traction of the original.)

"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939) -- Frank Capra's political masterpiece stars Jimmy Stewart as Jefferson Smith, a political innocent appointed to replace a U.S. senator, theoretically so a powerful pol (Claude Raines) can easily manipulate him.

Not so fast! Capra's story simply points out that for evil to flourish, all it takes is the inaction of good people. Washington pols blasted the movie for accusing them of corruption. Meanwhile, fascist leaders in Europe banned the film because it proved that democracy works. Go figure.

"A Perfect Candidate" (1996) -- This behind-the-scenes doc by R.J. Cutler and David Van Taylor shows how Oliver North, relieved of his duties as a U.S. Marine by President Reagan for his role in the illegal Iran/Contra affair, bounced back to run for U.S. senator against Democrat Charles Robb.

North lost, but viewers win with this illuminating look at how spin doctors operated, at least in the final years of the 20th century.

"Swing Vote" (2008) -- Some people hated the ending of this drama. I loved it. Through a systemic quirk, the presidential election comes down to the vote of a single man (Kevin Costner) who doesn't possess a political bone in his body. Joshua Michael Stern's nifty little film reminds us of our American moral imperative to vote.

"The War Room" (1993) -- Fascinating doc by D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, given insider access to Bill Clinton's presidential campaign run by Communications Director George Stephanopoulos (now a "journalist" for "Good Morning America") and strategist James Carville.

The ending is the real capper, an alarming reminder that power -- even if you're just the guy who got another guy into the White House -- can be a powerful aphrodisiac.

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