As the last few weeks have proven, there’s nothing like an imminent election to create drama and tension.
To get you in the mood for some potentially history defining voting in both New Zealand and America over the next couple of months, we’ve come up with a dozen political documentaries, features and TV series available for Kiwis to stream right now.
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All the President’s Men (iTunes, YouTube)
Just two years after being forced to resign from the Presidency, Richard Nixon had to relive it all again via Alan J Pakula’s top-notch 1976 dramatisation.
But rather than focusing on Tricky-Dick, this is all about crusading journos Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein – played here with charismatic gusto by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman – and their dogged determination to uncover the truth.
Election (iTunes, YouTube)
Before Reese Witherspoon was Legally Blonde, she was a terrifyingly whip-smart high school presidential candidate who would stop at nothing to get the top job in this 1999 comedy.
Cleverly, director Alexander Payne (Sideways) cast the coolest 1980s high school anarchist – that would be Ferris Bueller, played by Matthew Broderick – as Witherspoon’s nemesis, social studies teacher Jim McAllister.
The Hater (Netflix)
Polish duo Jan Komasa and Mateusz Pacewicz’s follow-up to their Oscar-nominated Corpus Christi (which screened here at the recent New Zealand International Film Festival) is a dark thriller about a disaffected young man who undermines the political campaign of a popular left-wing politician.
“Shot with assured, clinical reserve, The Hater casts a pall of inexorable doom over its action, and then methodically proceeds towards it without tipping its hand,” wrote The Daily Beast’s Nick Schager.
Hillary (TVNZ OnDemand)
She’s the most admired and vilified woman in America. A Chicago-born Methodist Republican who became the wife of a Democratic President. Someone who has faced “a gauntlet of unbelievable obstacles” and, as she puts it, “the most investigated innocent person in America”.
Debuting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this four-part, four-hour documentary interweaves a chronological trawl through Hillary Rodham Clinton’s backstory with fly-on-the-wall footage from her unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign. The result is a compelling portrait of a complicated life and a fascinating look at least partially how Donald Trump ended up in the White House.
House of Cards (Netflix)
Despite its King’s very public fall from grace, this six-season political thriller, rather than folding, simply went from strength to strength. Along with sharp writing and pithy dialogue, one of the show’s strengths was the casting and Robin Wright appeared to relish the opportunity to step up and truly take centre stage in the final season.
A Shakespearian tale (complete with copious soliloquies) centered on a couple’s lust for political power, Cards was also one of the best ever US adaptations of a British conceit.
How Arnold Won the West (Amazon Prime Video)
Flawed, but nonetheless fascinating 2004 documentary about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rise from Terminator to Governator.
Showcases his manipulation of the media, lack of firm policy and amazing ability to pull in the crowds and deliver one-liners off the cuff. When hit by an egg, he retorts: “That guy owes me bacon.”
Long Shot (Neon)
A razor-sharp political satire and the best rom-com since 2017’s The Big Sick, Jonathan Levine’s film is also a love letter to the early 1990s.
Aided by screenwriters Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, he has crafted a crowdpleasing comedy that feels both contemporary and a throwback to much-loved genre classics from two decades ago. Perhaps surprisingly, Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron’s chemistry is impressively convincing, while her comedic timing is quite brilliant. Throw in some serious digs at the current state of US politics and a fab Generation X soundtrack and this Long Shot becomes a slam-dunk, home run.
The Manchurian Candidate (iTunes, YouTube)
Whether it’s the 1962 Angela Lansbury-starring original or the Meryl Streep-fronted 2004 reimagining, adaptations of Richard Condon’s 1959 political thriller novel are chilling and compelling viewing.
A brainwashed political assassin was also used to hilarious effect in Zoolander.
The Plot Against America (Neon)
Having previously delved into Baltimore’s institutions, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans and the rise of New York’s adult entertainment industry, David Simon returned with another entertaining and engrossing drama earlier this year.
Like The Wire, Generation Kill, Treme and The Deuce, this adaptation of Philip Roth’s 2004 book benefits greatly from Simon and regular co-writer Ed Burns’ sharp writing, as well as their ability to create an immersive sense of place and space. Jon Turturro, Winona Ryder and Zoe Kazan star.
Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It) seamlessly shifted his razor-sharp political satire skills from Britain to America with this quite brilliant look at the chaotic life and times of Selina Meyer and her staff.
A fabulous showcase for the magnificent Julia Louis-Dreyfus, it gave her plenty of opportunity to display her comedic timing and physicality during its seven-season run.
The West Wing (Neon, TVNZ OnDemand, Amazon Prime Video)
Part of the start of “the golden age of television”, this seven-season series, which began in 1999, featured both a quite brilliant ensemble and the distinctive pop-culture-heavy, screwball comedy writing style of Aaron Sorkin.
At the heart of the story was the relationship between Martin Sheen’s US President Jed Bartlet and his deputy communications director Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe).
You’ve Been Trumped (TVNZ OnDemand)
British documentary film-maker Anthony Baxter’s 2011 film details the fight between Scottish locals and the man who would become the 45th President of the United States as he attempted to build a luxury golf course on a beach in Aberdeenshire.
“A potent study of the intimidating power of money… an examination of how a wealthy man with a boundless sense of entitlement can strong-arm all opposition without really breaking a sweat,” wrote Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan. A long-lawsuit-delayed sequel, the imaginatively titled You’ve Been Trumped Too, is scheduled for release via various streaming services later this month.
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