Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House (2017)

‘All The President’s Men’ is so famous it doesn’t need to be on this list. That movie details how journalists Woodward and Bernstein investigated Nixon’s crooked administration into extinction, aided by their top-secret insider source, nicknamed ‘Deep Throat’, after the 1972 porn film of the same name. But nobody knew who Deep Throat was. Well, now we do! It was this guy, and he’s played with steely gravitas by Liam Neeson in this low-key but effective expose that came out a decade or so after the 2005 revelation of Felt’s identity.

Watch the movie for the story of who Mark Felt was and why he did what he did. It doesn’t stray far from his life and career in the immediate lead-up to the Watergate investigation but despite the lean and modest scope it is absolutely fascinating. So many movies and documentaries cover the events of 1972-5 in Washington that this one doesn’t bother rehearsing them or baby-sitting the audience, it assumes a prior knowledge of the timeline and instead focuses on the internal motivation of the most famous anonymous source in the history of journalism.

It’s a subdued and understated treatment in drab, icy, greyed-out colors with a sometimes comically doomy soundtrack, but that suits the subject matter in what turns out to be a cerebral and masterly meditation on corruption and integrity.

George Wallace (1997)

Well-made miniseries about probably the most controversial figure in recent American history. This TV effort could easily have been very forgettable but for a couple of factors that elevate it to watchability at least for anyone interested in US politics. Firstly there’s an intense, career-best performance from Forrest Gump’s Gary Sinise as Wallace, and secondly the sure hand of a master in director John Frankenheimer – the OG political thriller maker from the sixties.

While there’s nothing spectacularly cinematic here from Frankenheimer and this is a ultimately a pedestrian TV-movie that plods along at a slow pace, his ability to build intensity and maintain a steady focus are noticeable. The longer running time also allows this movie to chart the Southern demagogue’s rise and uniquely long career as Alabama State Governor in a lot of detail. If you haven’t heard of Wallace before you will probably find more that is familiar to you in this story of racial tension in the sixties South than you thought.

Angelina Jolie makes an unexpected and somewhat incongruous appearance in the second half as the Southern belle trophy wife, and Clarence Williams III is excellent as the film’s moral center. Wallace certainly had an eventful life and the plot twists continue right up until the end.

Snowden (2016) & Citizenfour (2014)

These films should probably be required viewing in every school in the world. Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ is the movie version, Laura Poitras ‘Citizenfour’ is the original Oscar-winning doco. I watched the movie first and would recommend it this way round as the doc is a little less accessible if you don’t know what’s going to happen.

It’s not often that something comes along that is not only great entertainment but also world-changing and massively relevant to all of our lives both now and in the future. The shocking story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is all of that.

Basically if you have not seen these yet watch them immediately. Your relationship with your devices will probably never be quite be the same again! It’s an incredible tale and adequately related in the above-average movie that has hipster favourite Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing Snowden. The story itself is the real star though. You will be impressed.

Veep (2012-2019)

Epic and unprecedented mock fly-on-the-wall sitcom that purports to pull back the curtain on the White House corridors of power and show you what’s really going on. The focus is the administration of fictional female Vice President, later President, Selina Meyer, played with gusto by Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as she navigates election campaigns, scandals, press junkets and internecine office rivalry alternately abetted and thwarted by every conceivable caricature of Washington’s parasitical lobbyist and political advisor swamp-life in her attempt to stay one step ahead of the competition.

This foul-mouthed but hilarious series is the brain-child of Italian-Scottish satirical genius Armando Iannucci, whose resume includes many similar razor-sharp political offerings such as ‘In The Thick Of It’, ‘In The Loop’ and ‘The Death Of Stalin’. Iannucci was ‘stepped down’ as showrunner after series four, presumably because of egos in Washington dented by the show’s relentless tirade of coffee-spewing verbal bombshells and insinuations lobbed at White House hangers-on and the ‘political class’ in general. Consequently the quality takes a rapid nose-dive after about series five, but the first five seasons are solid gold. Indeed, the rarity of such an unfiltered window into this world is only highlighted by the later series’ sad lapse into Hollywood’s usual slapstick, saccharine, inoffensive and anaemic mush.

Selena is aided in her daily political machinations by a colourful assortment of sycophants, political scientists, lawyers, campaign veterans, journos and interns and really it is the realpolitik between them, the unspoken ‘greasy pole’ system of Washington’s internal career advancement and preferment that is the central theme of this kaleidoscopic, rapid-fire entertainment.

Chappaquiddick (2017)

This is a pretty average retelling of the 1969 scandal that ended the Kennedy brothers’ domination of the Democratic Presidential scene. However, the fascinating centrality of the event makes this movie compelling nevertheless.

After John F Kennedy and Robert Kennedy are shot, the falls to younger brother Teddy Kennedy, who is now the frontrunner for the 1972 Democratic Presidential nomination. But then this happens…

Watch the movie to find out what! Essentially an unfortunate road accident exposes Teddy’s bad judgement and morally questionable demeanour.

The enjoyment of the movie is in the details of how the regrettable event is dealt with and spun by the Kennedy political machine orchestrated by shadowy Patriarch Joseph, who does remarkable rapid rebuttal work ensuring the young playboy gets off without legal repercussions. But the damage is done. The Kennedy era is over.

The Day Reagan Was Shot (2001)

Fantastic play-by-play of a forgotten incident in modern American history. This movie covers the immediate response and aftermath to the 1981 shooting of newly-elected US President Ronald Reagan by a family friend of Vice-President George H.W. Bush. Things could have gone sooooo differently! As it happened, unlike Kennedy, Reagan survived and became a beloved President.

The movie focuses on Secretary of State and ex-soldier Alexander Haig, played brilliantly by Richard Dreyfuss, who according to this telling, went slightly ‘Dr. Strangelove’ in the hours following the shooting, setting himself up in the bunkers of power as the emergency dictator of America, ready to act in response to what he thought might be a more widespread attack on the country.

The enjoyment of this overlooked gem is in the details of the procedural machinations of the different departments and personalities that make up the head of the behemoth that is the US federal government as they talk to one other, try to figure out what’s going on, bicker and ultimately put together plans for control of the apparatus of the State going forward.

Weiner (2016)

Absolutely the most hilarious and entertaining politics doco ever! It’s almost beyond belief that this really happened. The bouncy and snappy editing doesn’t waste any time setting up the backstory for this riotous fly-on-the-wall presentation of the unfortunate Anthony Weiner’s unsuccessful 2013 New York mayoral election bid.

Basically, Weiner can’t stop sexting pics of his ‘weiner’ to random women, who proceed to publicise them, causing major problems for the charismatic politician’s otherwise unstoppable campaign. Further raising the stakes and adding fuel to the scandal, his wife is a major confidante of Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and an important member of her inner circle. You just can’t make this stuff up!

The enjoyment of this entertaining documentary is somewhat marred by the sobering fact that Weiner’s self-destructive sex addiction was such that, after the film was released, it cost him not only the election but also his wife and a spell in jail.

Nevertheless, this remains an amazing film and a defining moment in political documentary history.

Trumped (2017)

The name of this doco alone makes it essential viewing for anyone interested in the 2016 US Presidential election. It was apparently hastily assembled in the wake of the shock result from footage captured for Showtime’s series ‘the Circus’. But the film, subtitled ‘inside the greatest political upset of all time’ is much more than an offshoot and will likely outlive the show that spawned it, because in shooting for the series the film-makers unwittingly captured the unfolding and unexpected events of a truly incredible period in US political history.

Largely ignored by many media outlets at the time because of its refusal to editorialise on the incendiary and wildly entertaining footage captured, it is quite simply the definitive screen statement on the momentous election, and great credit must be given to Showtime, a production company that seems to specialize in great political docos, for editing it together brilliantly and sharply to make a document that will truly last. The moment when Mark McKinnon is informed about the Comy letter is history unfolding right before your eyes.