The Lists: Top 10 films about politics

Posted by · 8:37 am · October 4th, 2011

When Kris invited your thoughts on “Take Shelter” last week, one reader”s comment in particular caught my eye: Jessica claimed to have felt cheated by the film”s ending, which she described as “too right-wing.” The comment struck me as interesting not because I agreed with it at all – for me, Jeff Nichols”s markedly ambiguous psychological drama doesn”t forge any political affiliations in its study of security and paranoia – but because it demonstrates how almost any film can become political if viewed through a certain lens.

It was a comment I bore in mind as I began assembling this week”s list, which Kris and I had already decided would be dedicated to political cinema – a category into which one of this week”s major releases, George Clooney”s “The Ides of March,” rather less arguably falls. If political subtext is often in the eye of the beholder, how exactly does one define what a political film is? It”s certainly not as simple as “films about politicians,” though that”s a long and distinguished list in itself, and one which certainly contributed to my eventual Top 10.

(Clooney’s film, by the way, noble prestige entertainment that is, falls wide of the all-time mark for me – as, I suspect, might a later 2011 entry, “The Iron Lady.”)

So as to help narrow things down, I kept the definition on the literal side, classing political films as ones that engage with social realities, past, present or future, in such a way as to invite the audience to consider their personal politics, as well as the institutions that govern them. That can take the form of non-fiction storytelling explicitly referencing major political figures and occurrences, but it can just as easily come clothed in hypothesis and allegory, or indeed fantasy. (I was sorely tempted to include Frank Darabont”s “The Mist,” but space was tight.)

With a brief this elastic, I make no claims for the list being definitive, but all ten films gathered here strike me as inherently political, even (and sometimes especially) when politics aren”t the focus.

Check out the list at our new gallery, and feel free to share your favorites in the comments section below.

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