It's the first November of 2009, which means it's time to pull that lever, touch that screen or figure out whatever newfangled contraption your district has provided: today is Election Day, so cast that vote!
I put that exclamation point in there not because I'm excited to vote in New York's mayoral election, but because Election Day gets me thinking about what a rich topic elections have been for cinema. Combining intrigue, corruption, passion and the odd sex scandal, politics in general and elections in particular have made for some big screen gems over the years. Here are my favs.
Thomas Jefferson Johnson (Eddie Murphy) in "The Distinguished Gentleman": This flick is potent satire lurking within broad comedy: Johnson's conman epiphany is to ditch his illegal shenanigans and start sucking the enriching teet of the Washington establishment. He looses his ode-to-a-forefather's moniker, appropriates the name and campaign signage of a recently deceased politician and – bingo! – Eddie's on his way to Capitol Hill. The message? Be an engaged citizen — get to know your candidates and elected officials. The other message? "Distinguished Gentleman" was Eddie Murphy's last funny movie.
Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) in "Nixon": Whiny, megalomaniacal and often drunk out of his gourd, Nixon runs through a handful of campaigns during the movie, including losing bids for President and Governor of California. As compelling as the insight into the nitty-gritty of a campaign is the exploration of the toll a campaign takes on a candidate's family. Time and time again, Tricky Dick promises his wife Pat (Joan Allen) that he'll quit politics. He never does – until, post-Watergate, it's too late – but Pat continues to stand by her man, despite how embittered she's become.
Bill McKay (Robert Redford) in "The Candidate": No election round-up would be complete without this one. Over thirty years after its release, the movie is as timely as ever: McKay is a small-time community organizer who has every intention of running as a government reformer. The faster he rises, though, the more he's tempted to ditch his values and engage in the very substance-free phoniness he wants to eradicate. After securing victory, he turns to an aide and asks, "What do we do now?''
Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) in "Election": Dirty politics isn't just the domain of Washington insiders. Uber-organized and hyper-competitive, Tracy will seemingly do anything to win her high school presidential election, such as trash her opponent's campaign paraphernalia. And her opponents – none more ruthless than her teacher (Matthew Broderick) – will do anything to stop her, including threatening to destroy her credibility and actually engineering voter fraud.
Senator Aaron McComb in (Ron Silver) "Timecop": Sometimes you can't rely on the usual stuff – campaign commercials, stump speeches, fundraisers – to win a presidential election. Sometimes what's necessary is a time machine and an evil streak. That's how McComb travels to the past, enriches his younger self and suddenly goes from forgotten candidate to frontrunner. Not even the ability to transcend the bounds of space and time, however, can prevent one thing – and that's a pissed-off Jean-Claude Van Damme coming to beat the pulp out of you.