Movie Project #29: All the President’s Men [1976]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

All the President's Men [1976]

All the President’s Men [1976]
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Writers: Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward (book), William Goldman (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama/History
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards
Running Time: 138 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is considered one of the greatest journalism films of all time, as well as one of the best from the 1970s.

Accolades: Won four Oscars (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Supporting Actor), nominated for four other Oscars (including Best Picture), 10 BAFTA nominations, National Film Registry, AFI’s 100 Cheers, 100 Thrills and 100 Movies lists

All the President’s Men is film that focuses entirely on one story: the investigation of the earth-shattering Watergate scandal. Everything else is trivial.

Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) are assigned to cover what appears to be a relatively unimportant news story: the burglarization of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. When it is revealed that the men — all of whom had CIA ties — had bugging equipment, it’s clear that there is more to this than meets the eye. What follows is some truly incredible journalism work, as Woodward and Bernstein go down every single possible route in order to unearth more information about this political scandal.

The two reporters call anyone and everyone who knows the men related to the scandal, they go door-to-door in hopes of securing interviews, and they search through public records, trying to find any little shrivel of information that may break their case wide open. Their attention to detail is absolutely incredible, and their persistence is admirable. Most journalists would have likely given up after reaching a dead end or two; for Woodward and Bernstein, that was even more motivation to keep going.

All the President's Men [1976]

A vital part of the story’s breakthrough comes from the mysterious figure known as Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook). This anonymous source, a senior government official, agrees to help Woodward, but only by meeting privately in an unlit parking garage. He seems to only drop hints here and there, but having an inside source is just the ticket needed to keep pushing through.

Eventually, through meticulous piecework, the two journalists are able to bust the case open, discovering a massive governmental scandal that runs far deeper than anyone might have guessed. Of course, as they say, the rest is history, with this scandal later culminating in President Nixon’s resignation.

All the President's Men [1976]

What’s most impressive about All the President’s Men is that it focuses almost entirely on this procedural gruntwork, yet it manages to remain gripping throughout. This is a political thriller where the outcome is well known, but there are still times where it’s easy to second guess what might happen. This is a testament to the excellent script, as well as the strong performances from Redford and Hoffman. These two men effortlessly gel into their roles, making them feel like bona fide newspaper reporters. Not once do they feel like actors playing journalists; they *are* the journalists. Special mention must be made of Jason Robards, who won an Oscar for his terrific supporting role as Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Post. Bradlee trusts his reporters, but he demands absolute thoroughness before their stories can hit the front page.

Now, as well-written as the film is, it can still be difficult to keep up with the investigation. Many, many names are dropped, and dozens of people are interviewed and/or called. With so many people involved, it is a bit of a struggle to tell them apart — only the important figures truly stand out.

Still, All the President’s Men is a momentous piece of filmmaking. It is especially enlightening today, as a whole new generation can look back and learn about one of the most significant news stories in our nation’s history. Watergate was a bit before my time, so I was shocked to learn just how deep the buggings ran. For its historical importance alone, this is a film that begs to be seen today, and it should be mandatory viewing in school.

8/10

Movie Project #29 and #30: Sunset Boulevard [1950] and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Sunset Boulevard [1950]
Sunset Boulevard [1950, Billy Wilder]
Starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim.

Holy hell, what a film! The fact that such a biting satire about the film industry was made in 1950 blows my mind. The movie opens up mysteriously with a dead man floating in the pool. This man, Joe Gillis (played by the brilliant Holden), proceeds to narrate the film from beyond the grave, and the movie follows the events that led up to his demise. While on the run from repo men, Gillis pulls into the garage of what he thinks is an abandoned Hollywood mansion. Well, it turns out that the long-retired silent film star Norma Desmond (the scary-good Swanson, a former silent film star herself) is living there, and she sparks up an interest in the failing writer of Gillis. What transpires is truly bizarre, as Gillis becomes involved in a love triangle with Desmond and a young writer (Nancy Olson).

The world that Norma Desmond lives in is beyond fascinating, as she has clearly lost her mind and is stuck living in the past. She believes she will make a great comeback someday, and her reassuring butler (von Stroheim) refuses to tell her otherwise, fearing she will commit suicide. Her descent into madness culminates with one of the most memorable closing lines ever uttered on film: “There’s nothing else. Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark. All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my closeup.”

Sunset Boulevard also has some terrific moments of dark humor, and I particularly loved the brief cameos from silent film stars such as Buster Keaton and H.B. Warner. This was the first time I had heard Keaton speak! There really is a lot to love about this movie, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. 10/10

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939]
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939, Frank Capra]
Starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains.

It says something about a movie’s power when a statement made 70+ years ago still holds relevance today. The always awesome James Stewart stars as Jefferson Smith, a naive Boy Scout leader who is oddly selected to take over as a US Senator after an incumbent passes away. When he gets there, he is enamored with the sights and sounds of Washington D.C., even getting himself lost in the process. He quickly finds out that he doesn’t belong there, as he has no interest in the political bullshit that goes on every day. Still, he perserveres, especially after he finds out about a scandal that would build a dam over his proposed Boy Scout campsite.

As a story of one man fighting for what’s right, it’s hard not to admire the movie. Smith, aided by his chief of staff Clarissa Saunders (Arthur), is a likable guy, and his big moment — a very, very long fillibuster — is quite brilliant. Superbly acted with a great screenplay to boot, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington still holds up today. 9/10

Movie Review: The Ides of March [2011]

The Ides of March [2011]

The Ides of March [2011]
Director: George Clooney
Genre: Drama
Starring: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood
Runtime: 101 Minutes

I hate politics. The backstabbing, corruption, greed, the selfishness. It can be downright disgusting at times, as everyone is out for themselves, seldom caring about who they take down on their way to the top.

The Ides of March is a perfect example of this debauchery, as it follows the campaign of Democratic presidential hopeful, Mike Morris (Clooney), while he battles to win his party’s nomination. At first glance, Morris appears to be an easily likable guy, one who seems different from the usual talking heads. He is backed by a campaign team that believes in him, especially Junior Campaign Manager Stephen Meyers (Gosling). Meyers is a young guy with all of the potential in the world; he has a reputation as one of the top political aides in the game, and he is a major reason that Morris has found success. Meyers has learned from the best, in the form of Senior Campaign Manager Paul Zara (Hoffman). Zara is jaded, but has been around the block more than a few times in his long career, and he knows how to play the game.

The Ides of March [2011]

There are a few questions presented by the film. Will Morris win the Ohio Primary? Will he guarantee a state senator a Cabinet position in order to get his recommendation (even though he doesn’t agree with his views)? Will Meyers continue to support his presidential candidate, even as things take an ugly turn? Political scandals develop, characters betray others, and a whole lot of bullshit happens. It’s politics, folks, and as much as I hate it, it can still be pretty damn fascinating.

It doesn’t hurt to have an all-star cast either. Hollywood darling Ryan Gosling is particularly fantastic here, in what may be his best performance yet (yes, even better than in Drive). George Clooney, of course, just oozes suave and comes across as someone who could legimately run for president. Hoffman plays up the jaded veteran very well. Other noteworthy cast members include Evan Rachel Wood as a young intern who gets dragged in well over her head, Paul Giamatti as the rival campaign manager, and Marisa Tomei as the feisty New York Times executive who stops at nothing to get her story. Seriously, this movie has a lot of firepower, and it is all the better for it.

Whether you like politics or not, The Ides of March is still a pretty damn good movie that tells a very intriguing story. It can be hard to like the characters at times, and it might leave you pissed off at the end, but the script is tight and the cast is stellar. All the makings of a gripping melodrama.

8/10