The Top Ten Craziest Political Satires
Political satire was stabbed in the neck last November.
Even so, there are films that can still be considered incisive, intelligent and even prescient about the current Divided States of America. To earn a place on this revised list, the films had to be about corruption, malfeasance, and ineptitude in public office. They also had to seem bat-shit crazy, because the time we live in.
Let me know what you think in the comments.
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
The first time I put together this list I left out this movie because it’s the political satire everyone knows and enough already. Also, I didn’t think it was terribly relevant anymore. A year later, it’s more relevant than ever.
Director Stanley Kubrick originally planned this as a serious drama about the threat of nuclear war. He decided to make it into a comedy to better make his point and made the most hilarious and disturbing film about war and the U.S. government since…ever.
Peter Sellers, the legendary actor who played the eponymous Dr. Strangelove and 2 other parts, (including the President) improvised all three parts. According to a Making of documentary, Sellers and Kubrick would confer before shooting the scene and Sellers would have at it. He is brilliant.
Writing the script with Terry Southern Kubrick would ask: “What’s the most outrageous thing he (The President) can say and still remain credible?” Just like now except for the credible part, amiright?
Citizen Ruth (1996)
This unexpectedly hilarious film is director Alexander Payne’s (Sideways) first film. Laura Dern plays Ruth Stoops, a drug addict who gets arrested for the umpteenth time. She gets two surprises while in jail: She learns that she’s pregnant for the 5th time and that she will be charged with a felony which means serious jail time. All four of her previous children have been removed from her care, which moves the judge presiding over her latest arrest to offer her a deal: Have an abortion and I’ll let you off easy. When abortion protestors jailed with her get wind of the situation, all heck breaks loose. Ruth becomes a pawn of both pro-choice and anti-abortion activists. There’s equal opportunity skewering here and it’s very well done.
The Confederate States of America (2005)
This brilliant mockumentary purports to be a long-suppressed film produced by a fictional British network. The film surveys American society and history after the Confederacy won the war and expanded slavery to infect the rest of the country. There are even fictional commercials. The alternate history that goes with this scenario is mind-blowing but the depiction of everyday life is uncomfortable, and unfortunately for Americans of color, familiar. Those faux commercials tho. This is a must-watch.
Wag the Dog (1997)
A stellar cast stars in this story of political corruption and Hollywood collusion. The President of the U.S. on the eve of re-election gets caught with his wiener in the wrong place. To divert the attention of the press and the public, he decides to invent a war with Albania because of “terrorism”. We follow the elite team of fixers who arrive in Hollywood to get a top producer to manufacture the footage needed for the news broadcasts.
The Great Dictator (1940)
Silent film legend Charlie Chaplin came out of retirement to write, direct and produce this film, which was his first sound picture. Chaplin skewers fascism in general and Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini in particular. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards. Below, my favorite scene, “Hitler’s” balloon reverie.
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
This classic film is a black comedy about race and politics in America. It’s based on the 1969 novel by Sam Greenlee, who was a co-producer of the film.
The CIA hires it’s first Black recruit (Lawrence Cook) strictly as a token. After he completes the training he’s put in charge of the copy machine. After years trying to do work he was trained for, he leaves the agency and starts training young men in the Black Nationalist movement.
Bob Roberts (1992)
Bob Roberts is Paul Ryan with a guitar and a voice. This is another mockumentary about the rise of a folk-singing reactionary who becomes the top candidate for the U.S. presidency. He slings his conservative agenda with gosh-darn country lyrics and plays his supporters like violins. Nothing he says is true, there’s not a sincere bone in his body, but damn, the people love him. The stupid people, that is. Politics, the media, and the celebrity culture all get skewered in this one. Tim Robbins performance is chilling.
The President’s analyst (1967)
So our hero, Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn) a gifted psychiatrist, is tapped to be the President’s psychiatrist, for which he will be taken out of his life and be paid a ton of money to be on call 24/7. It sounds like a dream gig until he actually starts the job and the pressure of what he’s hearing starts getting to him. And is he being followed? Are his phones tapped? Is he being paranoid? Well if they really are out to get him, then no. Right? When he decides to ditch the job and run things get very interesting. And head’s up for the wholesale wiretapping of U.S. citizens.
In the Loop (2006)
Howlingly funny sequel to the British political tv comedy. UK-U.S. relations are skewered here especially how both governments collude to influence global politics. The current crises is a possible intervention (read: war) in the Middle East. Will we or won’t we? Cue over-caffeinated policy wonks scrambling to avert missile launches and diplomatic meltdowns.
The Distinguished Gentlemen (1992)
What’s and ex-con with no skills to do? Run for Congress! Due to having the same name as a dead incumbent, he’s elected in a landslide. To his delight, the corruption and graft are just as he suspected; a dishonest man can make a fortune.
Thank You for Smoking (2006)
A savage indictment of the lobbying industry, specifically the alcohol, tobacco, and firearms lobbyists, whose products kill the most Americans. Of course, they spend the most money greasing palms in Congress and constructing fake fronts that give them credibility. I mean, the Academy of Tobacco Studies? Hilarious.
Americathon 1998 (1979)
If a dystopia can be funny, this is it. In the then future of America, the nation is so strapped for cash that a telethon (for you millennials that’s how causes raised money before texting and gofundme) is started to get itself out from under. President Chet Roosevelt (Jack Ritter) sold the White House and moved to a luxury condo in California. The best part of this movie isn’t about the telethon but the surrounding insanity. The groovy 70s vibe is a plus.
Which movies would you add? Let me know in the comments!
This post is a revised and expanded version of a post that originally appeared on MsLake last year.