WASHINGTON—Political Washington revels in nothing more than its own importance. Except, perhaps, its delusion that it's glamorous.
And nothing quite blends the two like movies about Washington and politics.
Two new ones came out this fall: a remake of "All the King's Men" and "Bobby," about the day Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Neither made much of a ripple in D.C.
But they serve to remind that there are plenty of good movies about politics out there, some available for rental or purchase during the holiday break.
Here's my Top 10, in chronological order:
_"Gabriel Over the White House." 1933. Walter Huston stars as a playboy president who's taken over by an angel after an auto accident. Ignore the fantastic politics and watch how the newly angelic president sets out to put the country right. It's an early look at the influence of the divine in the Oval Office. What would Gabriel do today?
_"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." 1939. Every new senator probably comes to Washington thinking he or she is playing the role that Jimmy Stewart made famous, the idealistic good guy who's going to shake things up. Yet somehow a lot of them end up turning into the Claude Rains character, cynical and maybe even corrupt. Whom would you cast in each role?
_"Meet John Doe." 1941. Gary Cooper as an average Joe who's turned into an icon by a scheming media boss, used as a pawn, then discarded when he stands on his principles. See any of today's media bosses in there? Real heroes?
_"State of the Union." 1948. Spencer Tracy as a businessman drafted to run for president, facing unwelcome compromises along the way—a road map for any campaign. Tracy's candidate also set the standard for art inspiring life when his character insisted on speaking his mind with a microphone that he paid for—a line that fellow actor Ronald Reagan used dramatically in a 1980 debate.
_"All the King's Men." 1949. Broderick Crawford as the fictionalized version of Huey Long, the Louisiana pol of the 1930s. This is the darker side of politics, where politicians are more like Mr. Hyde than Dr. Jekyll, and campaigning and governing are more cynical than idealistic.
_"The Last Hurrah." 1958. Spencer Tracy as a New England mayor. This is big-city politics as fun, populated by a mayor and his cronies more at home with working folks than with bankers and church leaders.
_"Advise and Consent." 1962. Henry Fonda as a nominee for secretary of state who's accused of being a communist. This one captures the political intrigue of a contentious Senate nomination. It might sound out of date, but imagine it centered on a Supreme Court nominee today facing other accusations and it's timeless.
_"The Manchurian Candidate." 1962. A Korean War veteran is brainwashed by communists to assassinate an American presidential candidate as Frank Sinatra races to stop the plot. A 2004 remake cast the villain as a multinational corporation, but the Chinese at the height of the Cold War seemed more menacing.
_"The Candidate." 1972. Robert Redford plays the idealistic son of a former politician who enters politics to make a noble point, then compromises when he finds he actually could win. Today's campaigns are littered with second-generation politicians. Think Bush, Casey, Kean or Kennedy fits the role?
_"All the President's Men." 1976. The one great political movie that has no one playing a politician. It's all about the fall of Richard Nixon, seen through the eyes of two reporters for The Washington Post. Intrigue and suspense.
(Steven Thomma is chief political correspondent for the McClatchy Washington bureau. Write to him at: McClatchy Newspapers, 700 12th St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20005-3994, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)