I enjoy good satire. Good satire can expose the hypocrisy, illogicality, or inconsistency in parts of society. Though satire cannot tell us what to do, it can ofttimes tells us what not to do. Satire is often very funny, usually darkly funny. Much of what passes for satire presently is inane parody. It is sophomoric, junior-high-locker-room mockery. Seeing bad satire can help us appreciate so much more how difficult it is to create effective satire. So I highlight my favorite satirical films.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This is not only one of the best satires ever made, it is one of the funniest movies ever made. It takes place during the Cold War. An Air Force General goes "funny in the head" and orders a full-scale nuclear strike on Russia. It features one of the silver screen's greatest comedic performances, by the peerless Peter Sellers, who plays three different rolls. No other film makes the Cold War so silly. There are so many hilarious scenes in the film. The greatest and most famous line from the film is, "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here. This is the war room." I like the scene where General Mandrake (Peter Sellers) needs to call the president with the recall code, but can't as he doesn't have enough change for the pay phone. I also like the outrageous plan that Dr. Strangelove (again, Peter Sellers) has for repopulating the earth. Most people have seen the last scene in which General Kong (a perfectly cast Slim Pickens) rides the bomb like a rodeo bull. This is one film I can watch endlessly. The following clip is where there President (Peter Sellers) calls the Russian Premier to inform him of the strike. It is classic:
The Manchurian Candidate. I am speaking here of the original 1969 version, not the modern Denzel Washington remake (which I have not seen). Though this film was made over a decade after the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, it perfectly sums up the fears and anxieties of that time. In the film, the Communists kidnap a US soldier, and brainwash him, making him the perfect assassin. Though it relentlessly mocks and ridicules the idea of Communist subversion (which was not just an possibility but an actuality), it does it with such insight and finesse that I enjoyed it tremendously. Like many satires, I have to overlook the philosophy and politics of it, with which I disagree. Setting those aside, this is an entertaining and very suspenseful film. Frank Sinatra is very good in the lead role. This film is at times shocking and bit violent, which add to its effectiveness. Here is a scene with Angela Landsbury, more evil than you can imagine her to be:
Network. The screenplay for this film is considered one of the greatest ever. It was made in the 70s, but nearly everything it says is true of today. It is a piercing examination of the entire ratings-hungry media culture. It very plausibly prophesies what lengths producers will go through to obtain those ratings. It is difficult to pick a weak performance out of this film. Every actor is spot on in their rolls. In this clip, Howard Beale (Peter Finch in an Oscar-winning performance), the "Mad Prophet of the Airways," delivers one of his best monologues (Warning: There is foul language in this clip):
Sunset Boulevard. Almost every film by Billy Wilder is a classic. This is his best. Hollywood has almost always had a knack at satirizing itself, from All About Eve (though that is more about theater than film), to The Bad and the Beautiful and Sullivan's Travels (neither of which I have seen, though I plan to), to The Player, to most recently For Your Consideration. All except the last one a great films. Sunset Boulevard is the best. This is a dark, scathing picture that is also very witty and memorable. The characters are so well drawn. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is completely over the top. That is exactly how she should be. The final scene (clip below) has been parodied so many times, in-itself it seems like a parody. Yet, it fits perfectly at the end of the film, and is much more tragic in context:
Postscript: I have updated my two previous posts to include video clips. See them here and here.