1. The Distinguished Gentleman
There isn’t an Eddie Murphy classic I wouldn’t recommend watching — and by los clasicos, I mean Coming to America, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and even The Golden Child. But The Distinguished Gentleman, in which he plays a con artist who gets elected to Congress solely on name recognition, is a keeper for campaign season. First, the late Lane Smith plays majority leader Dick Dodge perfectly — he would seamlessly fit in on the Hill. Then there’s the thin, pretty much non-existent lines between the “cons” Murphy’s character pulls to move up in Congress and tactics used in real life. And his campaign victory speech is a classic mish-mash of tired campaign cliches — in a movie made 16 years before the 2008 campaign that, eh, used some of them.
2. My Fellow Americans
Former President Matt Douglas, played by James Garner, is a Democrat and a serial philanderer (“You could spit in a Petri dish and start a whole new civilization,” he’s told). Former President Russell P. Kramer, played by Jack Lemmon, is a Republican and married to Lauren Bacall (“Don’t say ‘freaking’, Russ. If you have to use the F-word, go for the gold!”). They teamed up in this 1996 comedy, and one of the most fun things about watching it is soaking in how much fun they were having making it. Plus, Lemmon pretty much sums up politics and campaigning when he’s told that Washington ignores the voice of the people and responds, “‘The voice of the people.’ There is no such thing. You got 240 million voices all yelling for something different.” So true.
A presidential impersonator (Kevin Kline) is recruited to stand in for the president, who’s off on a tryst when he suffers a debilitating stroke. The gig is extended until he starts wanting to do stuff in his new presidential role, and chief of staff Bob Alexander — played very convincingly by Frank Langella before the age of Rahm Emanuel — tries to get rid of him. The movie’s not just about the hollow words politicians spout to fill the press corps with soundbites, but also the well-intentioned political visions that need a viable plan to back them up (i.e. how was Dave ever going to pay for or structure his jobs plan?). Tons of great political cameos include Oliver Stone trying to convince Larry King of his conspiracy theory about Dave’s identity. There’s a sweet love story that culminates in a city council campaign. Plus, who wouldn’t feel safer than any commander in chief has ever felt with Ving Rhames as your Secret Service detail?
4. The Campaign
Rep. Cam Brady (D-N.C.), played by Will Ferrell, begins by repeating his mantra for a standard campaign stump: “America, Jesus, freedom.”
“What does that even mean?” the Democrat says. “Shit, I don’t know.”
Marty Huggins (Zach Galfianakis), a small-town tour guide in faire-isle cardigans with little to recommend him other than a powerful dad, is hand-picked by the Motch Bros. to be a Republican challenger to Brady, who expects that, as usual, he won’t face any challengers at all — but whose favorability ratings become vulnerable when he accidentally leaves a racy message for the mistress du jour on a churchgoing family’s answering machine. Huggins earnestly sees the race as a chance to help his community, but is made over by Motch campaign-manager-in-the-clutch Tim Wattley. Dylan McDermott does a great job as the campaign manager all Washington reporters know too well.
Some of the best parts of this campaign send-up are how the script mocks campaign ads and debates — with impressive accuracy.
5. Wedding Crashers
So this doesn’t fit the campaign theme except for being set in Washington, D.C., and having cameos by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Democratic strategist James Carville. But a year from now we may be angling for Christopher Walken, who plays Treasury Secretary Cleary, to run for president. Or at least hoping the new president will stack the Cabinet with Christopher Walkens. If any president looked at ISIS the way he eyeballs Vince Vaughn for messing around with his daughter, we might be OK. More cowbell, 2016.