The year’s best political movies and television shows

The year’s best political movies and television shows

NIGHTLY FLIXPolitical junkies had a lot to watch this year. Aside from wall-to-wall coverage of the midterm elections, there was the summer spectacle of the Jan. 6 Committee hearings (which one critic named as one of his top TV shows of 2022).

But wide-angle shots of congressional hearings and talking heads predicting doom for Dems weren’t the only political content — on the small screen and the big — this year. Satires of the rich, meditations on cancel culture, depictions of revolution and American exceptionalism were everywhere we looked.

In that spirit, here is Nightly’s list of movies and television shows that said something interesting about our politics and values — and, most importantly, kept us entertained.

Tár: A beautifully designed epic from director Todd Field, Tár tells the (fictional) story of famous conductor Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett) as she spirals out of control while rehearsing Mahler’s 5th Symphony. It might sound like a tough sit, but it’s a dynamic, darkly funny look at how fame, and the power that comes with it, can lead to evil, destruction and madness. Tár imagines herself to be above the dominant discourse online or in classrooms, but as the political dance that comes with fame changes, she plows forward without regard for others or how she might be held to account. The film will surely spark discussions about cancel culture, but it’s also about power, abuse and the relationship between boss and worker or teacher and student. It’s such a realistic depiction that it had people on the internet asking whether Lydia Tár is a real person.

Andor: Disney’s need to milk Star Wars content and ride the nostalgia train has made for a handful of lackluster shows, such as “The Book of Boba Fett” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” But “Andor” is a breath of fresh air. The basis of the Star Wars franchise has always been political, and “Andor” dares to explore the quotidian intricacies of both the Empire and the Rebellion in a way that previous films and series have avoided. In this prequel to the “Rogue One” film, the main character Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) practically stumbles upon the Rebel cause after initially spurning the fight against the Empire. We see the ways in which the Empire travels from planet to planet as unforgiving imperialists, and how their stifling, authoritarian reign impacts the financial stability and health of those it preys upon. The reason “Andor” succeeds is because it ties back to the original Star Wars message that people everywhere are surviving however they can, and that very little is black and white.

NOPE: Director Jordan Peele’s latest effort doesn’t deal as explicitly in the political as either of his first two films. Unlike, say, 2017’s “Get Out,” there are no characters proudly proclaiming they’d vote for Obama for a third time if they could. Without spoiling too much of the plot, “NOPE” asks questions about what it means to put “the other” on display. What seems like an alien life-form arrives around a farm; how each character deals with this — treating it as something to be feared, something to be conquered, something to be gawked at — speaks to their own motivations and how Americans deal with anything they deem unfamiliar or foreign.

The White Lotus: According to “White Lotus” creator Mike White, while the first season of the HBO dramedy focused on wealth, season two was all about sexual politics. There was plenty of time to watch rich people cavorting around Sicily, but a sharper focus on interpersonal dynamics took the show to new heights in its sophomore effort. In one episode, a couple horrifies their friends with their pronouncement that they no longer watch the news — and may not have voted. “It’s just too depressing,” Daphne (Meghann Fahy) says. What the characters don’t realize is that they’re distillations of the privileged, clueless rich themselves. White creates spot-on depictions of everything from the desires of “banker and tech bros” to the white male guilt of Albie (Adam DiMarco), a son of affluence who wants nothing but to prove that he’s different from his misogynistic father and grandfather. All of the guests at The White Lotus are in search of some kind of salvation, and willing to take a wrecking ball to the people and places around them to find it.

The Menu: There was no shortage of “eat the rich” satires on screen this year, including “Bodies, Bodies, Bodies,” “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” and, to an extent, “The White Lotus.” “The Menu,” though, takes things to new heights — guests at an immersive restaurant experience on an island are treated to a meal that quickly turns sinister. The restaurant industry critiques are a bit sharper than the political ones, and director Mark Mylod has a sense for how to move the camera to depict the wealthy guests at their most callous, thanks to his time working on “Succession.”

Top Gun: Maverick: There’s little that’s more American than “Top Gun.” “Maverick,” the sequel to the 1986 classic, did big business in the box office by playing the hits, so to speak — a bunch of (good looking) fighter pilots who believe in service to their country while also having some fun. As Derek Robertson wrote about the movie in POLITICO Magazine this summer, “after years of Twitter, Trump, Covid, social upheaval, and an ever-more-bland, oppressive pop-cultural sameness, a large number of Americans are desperate for permission to collectively feel good about our life, country and culture, without any of the attendant political baggage.”

Atlanta: In its four-season run, “Atlanta” pushed the boundaries of classic storytelling. What began as a drama about an up-and-coming rapper in Atlanta ended with episodes in seasons three and four — both out this year — about cancel culture, how money and power corrupts, and death and remembrance. Throughout it all, showrunner and star Donald Glover imbued a nuanced understanding of race in America like nothing else on television. “Atlanta” was never simple.

Kimi: A fast-paced, frenetic thriller from Steven Soderbergh, “Kimi,” which stars Zoë Kravitz in the titular role, is a pandemic-era drama that actually works. Kimi, an agoraphobe whose anxiety has only gotten worse throughout Covid, hears a message during her work (from home) on a new smart speaker from a woman who claims she’s in trouble. As Kimi pushes her concern for what’s on the message up the chain of command, she realizes that the company she works for is trying to bury this information. She’s forced to go outside and confront the world. Kimi comes home with an understanding that big tech has invaded our lives, that the government has structures in place to allow it to do so and that resistance to powerful, faceless corporations can be deadly.

RRR: A three-hour epic set in a British colonized India in the 1920s, “RRR” manages to surprise audiences again and again. The Telugu-language film follows two powerful revolutionaries (based on real Indian revolutionaries) who are practically unstoppable against the British regime, but their clashing motives become a wrench in their friendship and goals. Rama Raju (Ram Charan) is one of Britain’s top soldiers, with the ability to fight a crowd of 500 men and come out victorious. Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.) is a motorcycle-wielding member of the Adivasian God tribe who travels to Delhi to save a young girl who was “bought” by the British empire. “RRR” celebrates the reclaiming of one’s land from imperial overlords, shown through song and dance and action-packed, slow-motion-driven battles. It is a film that explores the lengths one is willing to go to take down an oppressive regime.

Dishonorable mention: Don’t Worry Darling: All the drama at Cannes aside, Olivia Wilde’s biggest budget directorial effort yet tried to wade into questions of incel culture, the evolution of women’s rights and the postwar American experience. It fails spectacularly. All the high-minded concepts are over-wrought and under-considered, and the movie feels like it was made by a group of people who have been in Hollywood for so long that they’ve completely misunderstood the social and political ills actually plaguing the country. It’s the closest thing we got in 2022 to 2020’s Imagine video.

Welcome to POLITICO Nightly. Contact tonight’s authors at [email protected] and [email protected] or on Twitter at @calder_mchugh and @katherinealong.

We’ll be off from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2 for the holidays. Nightly will resume its regular programming on Jan. 3.

THE SANTOS SAGA — Republican Rep.-elect George Santos stands accused of fabricating major portions of his biography, from his Jewish ancestry to what companies he worked for. But disgust for Democrats is so strong among some voters in the district whose seat he flipped, they’d rather have a fabulist representing them in Congress, reports Janaki Chadha and Julia Marsh.

“Of course it bothers me,” Daniel Zimmerman, a 70-year-old registered Democrat, told POLITICO as he left a local pharmacy Thursday in Great Neck, a waterfront enclave in the heart of the district. But, he added, he’d vote for Santos again. “Right now I’m a Republican because Democrats, they’re destroying our country. I don’t like the president.”

John Catsimatidis, a Republican billionaire and political powerbroker who often hosts fundraisers at his Long Island home, said GOP leaders “should have done a lot more due diligence” on Santos before he was elected. But, Catsimatidis said, Santos “should be held to the same standard as” Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D), who exaggerated his military service record when he ran for the Senate in 2010.

But not everyone in Santos’ soon-to-be district was willing to easily forgive.

Joanne, a 66-year-old Manhasset resident who wasn’t comfortable sharing her last name, said she wouldn’t cast a ballot for Santos again. But she also said she doesn’t think much of politicians from either party. “All of them, they’re getting away with it. And he’s going to get away like the Democrats are getting away [with it]. Everyone in politics, it’s all lies now,” the registered Republican said.

Bruce Blakeman, the Nassau County executive and a Republican, said in an interview with POLITICO that he’d withhold judgment until he heard Santos’ remarks.

Seven takeaways from the Jan. 6 committee’s final report: The Jan. 6 select committee’s long-awaited final report recounted almost every step of Donald Trump’s last-ditch plan to stay in power and slammed home its conclusion: The former president should never hold elected office again. But the end product of the committee’s year and a half of investigative work painted a more comprehensive picture of Trump’s attempt to stop the certification of electoral votes that would seal his loss of the White House to President Joe Biden. Cobbling together nearly 1,200 witness interview transcripts and hard-won documents, the 845-page report uncovers themes and patterns that select panel members clearly hope are of use to the Department of Justice.

House sends $1.7T government funding bill to Biden: The House today approved a mammoth $1.7 trillion funding package, capping a chaotic week as party leaders dashed to avoid a shutdown and an intensifying winter storm just days before Christmas. The spending bill, which includes a pile of high-profile year-end priorities from Ukraine aid to an election law overhaul, will be Democrats’ final legislative act before surrendering their House majority to Republicans in January. And with their post-midterm leverage boost, GOP leaders successfully negotiated huge hikes to the bill’s military spending, adding billions of dollars beyond what Biden sought, to the consternation of many progressives.

Biden signs defense bill repealing military vaccine mandate: Biden signed an $847 billion defense policy bill today, killing his own administration’s mandate that troops receive the Covid vaccine. The National Defense Authorization Act, which prescribes military policy and budget priorities each year, cleared Congress this month with overwhelming bipartisan support. The compromise bill also prescribes a whopping $45 billion increase to the defense budget proposed by the Biden administration and would mark a roughly 10 percent increase in military spending over last year.

Tax forms reveal steep legal fees for voting rights group founded by Stacey Abrams: The voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams, Fair Fight Action, spent an additional $12 million in legal fees in 2021, bringing its running total to $37.7 million from 2019 through 2021 alone, according to new filings by the group. A significant portion of the fees went to a single voting rights case that ended this September when a judge rejected the group’s final claims in a bench trial. The recently filed federal 990 form for 2021 also shows that the group paid an additional $4.4 million to the self-described boutique law firm of Abrams’ former campaign chairperson and longtime friend, Allegra Lawrence-Hardy.

Black voters are moving to the suburbs — and transforming American politics: The latest story in POLITICO Magazine’s “Next Great Migration” series shows how the percentage of Black Americans living in suburbs has increased steadily since 2000, while the percentage of Black Americans in cities has decreased at the same time. Today, more than one-third of Black Americans live in suburban areas — the fastest-growing areas in the country for Black people. This realignment is already leading to suburbs that are more friendly to Democrats, though challenges in sustaining and growing that political power remain.

THEY’RE WATCHING — TikTok’s parent company ByteDance accessed the data of two journalists and other users in an attempt to track down company leaks in revelations that will likely intensify security concerns in the West about the popular video app’s Chinese ownership, writes Clothilde Goujard.

ByteDance employees in China and the U.S. inappropriately pulled the data including the IP addresses —which reveal a person’s general location — of journalists from BuzzFeed News and the Financial Times and people they had connected with via TikTok, according to an internal investigation. ByteDance had tried unsuccessfully to identify staff who had shared internal company documents with the reporters.

The news comes as Congress is set to vote this week to ban TikTok from U.S. federal government phones over fears about privacy and national security. There is also growing European concern over the case.

“We expect clear explanations and irrevocable commitments from TikTok,” tweeted French digital minister Jean-Noël Barrot today. “France and Europe will never compromise on the freedom of the press.”

The investigation conducted by an outside law firm was revealed in emails that ByteDance’s general counsel Erich Andersen sent to employees on Thursday and were shared on Thursday with media outlets including The New York Times. It followed previous reports alleging the company had gathered U.S. users’ data, including their location, phone numbers and birthdays.

CASH RULES EVERYTHING AROUND MEEight months ago, the Central African Republic — one of the poorest countries in Africa — celebrated its status as the only country in Africa to adopt Bitcoin as a legal currency. The decision was rooted in decades of colonial rule from the French, which included a “colonial currency.” Bitcoin was something different, but it comes with its own risks; a downturn in the crypto space has imperiled the project. Ben Hunte reports for VICE.

ASK THE AUDIENCEOver the past week, we’ve asked you to write to us about the year’s most important news stories. We’re grateful for all the responses — including from our readers around the world. Here are your rankings of the top stories from 2022, along with excerpts from some of the most interesting answers:

1. The Russian invasion of Ukraine: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine effectively created the perfect storm,” wrote Constantinos St. Loizides of Nicosia, Cyprus. “First, large scale war in Europe with loss of life among civilians, with the risk at any time of escalating into a nuclear confrontation by strategic dint or even by accident; Energy price hikes of tremendous proportions; Huge disruption of food supply lines; After COVID, further deterioration of commerce through logistics and transportation challenges. The invasion also highlighted, to weary citizens of democratic nations, the growing numbers of autocracies around the world, especially China.”

Karlis Streips of Riga, Latvia adds about the invasion: “I give most of the credit to President Zelensky, who no one expected to be a true war leader, but that is exactly what he has become.”

2. The January 6th Committee: “The careful and systematic investigation conducted by the Committee, and the Committee’s rational conclusions and referrals to the Justice Department, refuted the image of a spontaneous event and revealed a long-planned and organized attempt to overthrow the rule of law and the peaceful transition of power in our democracy,” wrote Dennis Hopwood of Milton-Freewater, Ore.

Patricia Palmer of Boston added that she was most impressed during the hearings by “the gutsy, principled Liz Cheney” and Alitha Young of Round Pond, Maine, said that “[the committee is] helping to secure our precious democracy. What could be more essential or important than that?”

3. America’s southern border: “My nomination would be the de facto open southern border of the United States, with the Biden Administration showing no real interest in controlling it.” wrote Thomas Farrelly of Seattle, Wash. “The story is barely covered by progressive media, including Politico.”

4. The Santos scandal: “The extraordinary level of fabrication by Rep-elect George Santos in his distributed resume, public statements, falsified government filings and outright disrespect for his constituents and the Constitution [is a huge story],” wrote in Sal Samperi of Naples, Fla. “The Santos case is the epitome of destructive disinformation that leads to a completely unwarranted outcome.”

As a bonus, we also got two interesting notes about media and entertainment. “The continuing biggest story is the media’s addiction to profit over truth,” said William Donelson of Memphis, Tenn.

Longtime film critic Daniel M. Kimmel of Somerville, Mass. told us about the state of his side of the industry: “…even as people are returning to movie theaters after the worst of the pandemic, there seems to be a real shift. Many movies are released on streaming services either simultaneously with their theatrical releases or shortly thereafter. While I’ve attended some press screenings this year, I’m reviewing mostly from at home screeners that I can watch from secure apps on my TV. It’s not the end of movie theaters, but it’s a significant change in how we consume movies and I’ve been hearing predictions of this for forty years. It seems to be finally happening.”

Did someone forward this email to you? Sign up here.