#1 ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN 1976
Everything about this picture rings true. Even though the ending is never in doubt, it is so well made that we tend to forget that and go along for the ride anyway. It is easily Robert Redford’s best film. Jason Robards is also terrific.
#2 THIRTEEN DAYS 2001
As a history lesson this well-acted, well-written movie is almost perfect. Most of what you see on the screen actually happened during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, except for the exaggerated input attributed to Kevin Costner’s character, Presidential Aide Kenny O’Donnell. That he often advised JFK there is no doubt, but his role during the crisis has been blown up to fit the magnitude of the actor playing him. Both Bruce Greenwood as JFK and Steven Culp as RFK give excellent performances.
#3 CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR 2007
It is not too often that an actor steals a movie from Tom Hanks, but the late Philip Seymour Hoffman may have just pipped him in this under-rated picture. He certainly had the best lines to deliver anyway. Charlie Wilson was a kind of poor man’s Oscar Schindler, without putting too light an emphasis on either man’s achievements. Both were flawed characters who rose above their shortcomings to do some good in the world. This is a rather ‘light’ movie, full of very beautiful (and smart) women, but it is the snappy dialogue that makes it one of my favourites.
#4 THE GATHERING STORM 2002
Albert Finney makes a most convincing Winston Churchill in this gem of a film about the man’s marriage to Clementine in his later years as he simultaneously strives to awaken his countrymen to the threat of Nazism. Vanessa Redgrave is equally good as Clementine.
#5 BREAKER MORANT 1980
When watching this story unfold, especially the courtroom sequences, it is difficult not to become frustrated by the obvious railroading exercise being perpetrated on the defendants. Consequently, this tends to obscure the most important issue – that these guys were as guilty as sin. I am not a Jack Thompson fan at all, but he does a solid job here and outshines his co-stars comfortably.
#6 THE DAY REAGAN WAS SHOT 2001
When you watch this movie it makes you wonder how in Hell did the world wobble through the Cold War without some trigger-happy idiot in the halls of power blowing up the lot of us? If the people left in charge when Reagan got shot are any example of the level of intelligence and common sense that prevails at the highest levels of US government, then heaven help us all. It is probably best to treat this picture as a black comedy. Maybe, just maybe, it didn’t happen this way.
#7 SALVADOR 1986
Speaking of tough places to be, El Salvador in 1980 was about the toughest. James Woods plays a real person, journalist Richard Boyle, but the man was not directly connected to the murders of Archbishop Romero and the four American nuns. Nevertheless, the tension is palpable throughout Salvador, as we wonder what kind of man deliberately injects himself into such an environment.
#8 UNDER FIRE 1983
Under Fire and Salvador were both made in the early to mid-eighties and are similar in many ways. This picture is set in 1979 Nicaragua, but it could just as easily be 1980 El Salvador. Corrupt right-wing juntas, drug cartels, death squads, disappearances and indiscriminate killings permeate both countries, yet news hungry journalists still take their chances there. I think Under Fire is slightly inferior to Salvador, but only just.
#9 JFK 1991
Oliver Stone’s flawed masterpiece about Clay Shaw, the only man to be charged over the assassination of John F Kennedy. The movie is way too long, but it keeps our interest throughout. Unfortunately, it is chock full of unsubstantiated data that detracts from the overall effectiveness of the screenplay.
#10 THE LADY 2011
Our world has far too few genuine heroes and heroines, but this remarkable lady, Aung San Suu Kyi, is truly a remarkable human being. Single-handedly she has opposed the military junta that has oppressed her native Myanmar for decades, often under threat of death, separated from her family, and kept under house arrest, yet still she continues her fight against injustice. This film at least presents her story to the world. The quite remarkable Michelle Yeoh plays her with grace and poise.