It's Election Day, which inevitably means the acceptance of bitter compromise and unfulfilled dreams. But it doesn't have to be that way, or at least, not in the movies. These five films are guaranteed heart-warmers, and they're practically an antidote to the attitude of irony and disinterest that permeates the current political and cultural sphere. Because admit it: there's still a sucker inside you who believes in this stuff, if only for a little while.
5. The American President Aaron Sorkin's Capra-flavored optimism is always something to behold, whether it's in the genuinely well-meaning characters of The West Wing or the White House-centered romantic comedy of The American President. Watching the 1995 film can be a little jarring today -- any depiction of a presidential administration not bogged down in multiple unwinnable wars feels somehow wrong, or at least quaint -- but don't let that throw you. The screenplay is a warm, winning one about a leader just trying to do what's right, and Rob Reiner's competent direction is perfectly suited to the film's generally amiable tone. Funny, touching, and possessive of a typically grand Sorkin speech, it's a movie to watch when you need a reminder that government of and by the people just might be a good thing.
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4. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington The original and still the best when it comes to flat-out cornball optimism, Frank Capra's 1939 drama stars Jimmy Stewart in all his stammering populist glory. As Jefferson Smith, Stewart is the embodiment of folksy honesty and a commitment to truth and decency, exemplified in his film-ending filibuster against a public works bill. The movie's a little hindered by its era -- right after the filibuster ends, so does the film, and the suddenness always trips me up -- but definitely worth checking out.
3. Dave Ah, the summer of 1993. Clinton was still fresh in office and known mainly for being a predictable cad, not a liar. The first President Bush had left office after turning the first Iraq War into a PR coup. Jurassic Park was in theaters, people. Do you remember that level of optimism, that sense of knowing that maybe we would all have jobs for a while and no one would have to go to war? Sure, the good times wouldn't last, but it was fun to think they would. That's where Dave comes in. Anchored by Kevin Kline's performance, it's a totally enjoyable comedy about an average guy who gets picked to impersonate the president and winds up crusading for noble causes. He even wins over the First Lady, who had grown distant from her cheating husband, and decides to enter politics on his own terms after handing the reins over to an equally respectable vice president (an underused Ben Kingsley). Rent this and believe all over again in the possibility of achieving the best.
2. Born Yesterday Judy Holliday won an Oscar for her portrayal of a showgirl in this by-the-beat but still pleasant comedy from 1950, in which she learns all about the real meaning of politics and friendship and all that from a journalist played by William Holden. Holliday's Billie Dawn goes from uncultured rube to caring individual in a tidy 100 minutes, and she does it in such a natural way you'll wonder why they don't make more films like this one.
1. Charlie Wilson's War To those of you who say this movie isn't inspiring, I say: It's harder to find an upbeat political movie than you'd think. Yes, the film ends on a down note, as Rep. Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) realizes that his valiant efforts to support the Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets will be rewarded only by the United States' ignorance and dismissiveness. (In another coincidence, it was also scripted by Sorkin.) But you have to admit, the fact that he was able to pull off as much of the operation as he did is a testament to what one determined person can accomplish when he or she is devoted to a cause. Hanks is charming, Philip Seymour Hoffman is wonderfully bristly, and Julia Roberts isn't terrible. Compromise, people.