1. The Candidate

Robert Redford plays Bill McKay, a liberal lawyer who reluctantly makes a quixotic run for Senate under the guidance of a political Svengali played by a be-bearded Peter Boyle. McKay is the son of a popular governor, but his relationship with his father is so strained, there is a danger his dad will endorse his opponent. The best part of the film is seeing McKay pulled between speaking his mind and speaking political platitudes, how gradually and subtly the system perverts his initial idealism until his community organizer friends are ready to disown him.

Rent on Amazon, iTunes.

2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

This Frank Capra-directed film is the Ur-text of political idealism. Jimmy Stewart plays an out-of-his-depth senator who finds himself leading a filibuster against the forces of “graft and corruption” in his home state. Although it made filibusters seem like an awesome and essential part of American democracy, we have to forgive this movie. Jimmy Stewart is just too likable!

Rent on Amazon, iTunes.

3. Recount

The made-for-HBO film entertainingly captures the seesaw battle over votes in Florida in the 2000 Presidential election. The Gore team’s leader (Kevin Spacey), is an apathetic political hack at the beginning but finds his passion in his desire to see every vote count. The Bush team’s leader (Tom Wilkinson), is a genial man who knows how to play hardball. And then there’s Laura Dern as Katherine Harris, a bizarro performance in honor of a real bizarro American character. Even though I knew how it ended, I was massively entertained by the process. You really believe it could go either way.

Streaming on HBO Now, HBO Go.

4. Primary Colors

A thinly-fictionalized account of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, based on the novel written by Anonymous (later revealed to be Newsweek reporter Joel Klein). John Travolta in drag plays Bill Clinton and Emma Thompson of all people plays Hilary, sorry Jack and Susan Stanton. If you’re looking for the real thing, check out the documentary The War Room. There has probably never been so much access, both fictional and real, in one presidential campaign.

Rent on Amazon, iTunes.

5. Dave

In the great tradition of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the movie Dave asks the question: what would happen if a normal person got unexpected political power? Kevin Kline plays the titular Dave, who is an exact look-alike for the President, who happens to have landed in a coma. A dark faction installs Dave in the hopes of keeping the President’s condition under wraps — and also implementing their own agenda. However, Dave has other ideas, including maybe falling for the First Lady, played by Sigourney Weaver. This is the kind of movie where your accountant friend can balance the federal budget overnight fueled by nothing more than some good, crunchy pickles. Dave was written by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) and directed by Ivan Reitman and it will take you back to a kinder, gentler time in American politics.

Rent on Amazon, iTunes.