Many months ago, I had a discussion with Spesh about movies with good politics. A film's politics are primary to Spesh. I care but to a much lessor extent. A movie with a good plot, acting, writing and no message at all is fine with me. When I go to the movies, I want to be entertained. I don't want to work. The best films, even if they're serious and have good politics, make the work (aka "thinking") easy. But when I am not in the mood to think, I go see Wedding Crashers or Dude, Where's My Car? I can laugh and forget myself for a while. Spesh wouldn't be caught dead at either of those films, but I've willingly and happily seen both.
While I see a lot of entertaining crap, Spesh and I mostly agree on what is good. We have similar tastes--in both low and high culture films--as evidenced by all the sub-par movies we couldn't stop watching on cable when I visited him in Israel.
We started to make a list of the best films with good politics. We came up with five:
Salt of the Earth
The Grapes of Wrath
The Battle of Algiers
I remember how we felt after seeing Bullworth. We (I think C-money was there too) were blown away by the sheer audacity of the picture--the outrageousness of old, white, Beatty rapping about socialized medicine. It was extraordinary. Spesh was ready to vote for Beatty for president right then.
I saw Norma Rae when I was 10, living in Knoxville, TN. It was screened on campus and despite the "adult" content, my parents took me. (That wasn't unusual--they often took me to films inappropriate for my age.) I'll always I remember how I felt the first time I saw it. How sad Norma Rae was and how exciting it was when she stood up in the mill and held her "UNION" sign. Even though I didn't really understand what it meant, it brought tears to my eyes. That film may have made me a life-long union supporter (or maybe it was my left-wing parents).
The Grapes of Wrath is a great, classic film. Its visual language is so compelling, the characters hardly need to speak. It's probably one of the best things Henry Fonda ever did.
Matewan is a good film. Unfortunately, like most of Sayles work, it could have been better if a little more attention was paid to the characters. He gets that right, for once, in Lone Star (which has good politics, but might not meet the Spesh test). Despite the important and interesting topics he covers--and his courage in filming them--his work always just misses the mark for me. Still, Matewan clearly belongs on the list.
I don't know if Spesh would agree with me about The Battle of Algiers, but it fits. It's a powerful and disturbing film. Given the current situation in Iraq--or any situation where there is "terrorism"--it's quite instructive. If you get a chance, do see it. You have to think, but it's worth it.
That's what we came up with, but I'm sure there are more...any suggestions?
Grateful for: movie thinking.
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