Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
29 April 2010

The 10 greatest political films

Do you agree with our list?

By Staff Blogger

This week’s Critics is a cinema special, so in honour of the occasion we have compiled a list of the 10 greatest political films. Tell us: do you agree with the list below? Which films would make your top ten?

All the President’s Men, dir: Alan J Pakula (1976)

This real-life dramatisation of how the Watergate scandal was exposed makes the NS list not just because it details the work of the hotshot journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman), but because it is a fantastic thriller that lays bare the corruption of the Nixon presidency.

Battleship Potemkin, dir: Sergei Eisenstein (1925)

Made in the flood of ideas that followed the Russian Revolution, Potemkin tells the story of a mutiny, and helped shape film as we know it. Although it may be dismissed as Soviet propaganda in some quarters, that only raises the question: how much of what we watch today is propaganda of one sort or another?

Godzilla, dir: Ishiro Honda (1954)

Fans of Stanley Kubrick may protest that his satire on the atomic bomb, Dr Strangelove (1966), did not make our top ten; this is because Godzilla pipped it to the post. Honda’s science-fiction tale, made less than a decade after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is a thinly veiled polemic against nuclear war. And it has a giant monster in it.

In the Loop, dir: Armando Iannucci (2009)

Not only was the Oscar-nominated satire (based on the television series The Thick
of It) proof that British comedy can transfer successfully to the big screen, but its sharp dialogue demonstrated how grotesquely language is manipulated by politicians in the pursuit of power.

Kadosh, dir: Amos Gitai (1999)

Set in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish area of Jerusalem, Kadosh details the plight of two sisters trapped by their community’s strict customs. Gitai’s stark realism and willingness to confront the harsh truths of Israeli society have made him a controversial figure in his home country.

La Chinoise, dir: Jean-Luc Godard (1967)

An alumnus of Cahiers du cinéma (see Emilie Bickerton’s piece, facing), Godard became a more overtly political film-maker towards the end of the Sixties. Loosely based on Dostoevsky’s 1872 novel The Possessed, La Chinoise is a portrait of a group of French students with revolution on the mind that vividly renders the excitement – and frustrations – of youthful idealism.

Land and Freedom, dir: Ken Loach (1995)

Following the journey of a young man from Liverpool who volunteers to fight in the Spanish civil war, Loach’s film covers similar territory to George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. What makes Land and Freedom a great work in its own right is its ability to forge compelling drama from the battle of ideas that raged within the anti-fascist movement.

Nashville, dir: Robert Altman (1975)

Centred on the country’n’western music business and a shady political campaign, this two-and-a-half-hour epic was a state-of-the-nation address to the United States as the country approached its 200th birthday.

Strawberry and Chocolate, dir: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (1994)

The world-renowned Cuban director trod a fine line between supporting his country’s revolution and taking a clear-eyed look at Cuban society. Fresa y chocolate is about a university student who is befriended by a gay artist resisting the Castro regime’s persecution of homosexuals.

The Battle of Algiers, dir: Gillo Pontecorvo (1966)

The Italian director’s gritty, black-and-white study of Algeria’s anti-colonial war against France is an uncompromising look at the politics of independence struggles. It also serves as a warning to armies that seek to crush guerrilla movements – the Pentagon screened the film for staff shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.