'Watching NFL Games is Harder than Playing in One' | Pro Football Football Show - Week 3WATCH NOW

Top 100 Movies of the 1990's: #96 Election

Box Office: $14.9 million

Oscar Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay

Oscar Wins: None

Stream For Free: Amazon Prime, Paramount+

Movierankings.net: 84/100

When Election came out, it was a cynical and judgmental movie about both our election process and the banality of high school. Watching it now, it's still cynical and judgmental but it has an element that many moviegoers, including myself didn't pay enough attention to when to when it was released in 1999. Tracy Flick isn't a villain at all. She's a sympathetic figure.

Played brilliantly by Reese Witherspoon in what might be her best performance, the movie seems to want to mock Tracy's obsessive ambition. But I don't think that's entirely fair. She has incredible resilience if you look at what she had to overcome.  She came from a single parent house, had one teacher sabotage her student election but by far the most disturbing element was the storyline in the first act where another teacher sleeps with her. The movie unflinchingly shows how Mr. Novotny (played fearlessly by Mark Harelik) preyed on a young high school junior. He eventually loses his job, wife and home but even that feels like light punishment and I have to imagine he'd be dealt with differently if this movie was made in 2022.

But as Tracy Flick seems more sympathetic today, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) is even more shitty and pathetic. That's not a slight at all on Broderick who taps into that role really well. Broderick spent most of his career playing likeable characters in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, WarGames and Glory. The movie leans into that by making Mr. McAllister the "cool" teacher at the G.W. Carver High. But being the most popular teacher at the school and having a loving wife isn't enough for McAllister. He's a character jealous of his students and the futures they have in front of them. Casting Broderick who we knew as an optimistic and fearless high schooler as Ferris in a role as an unhappy middle aged teacher...and have Broderick pull it off helps makes this my favorite Alexander Payne film.

Giphy Images.

Payne, who also directed Sideways and The Descendants (and won Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars for both) seems to enjoy showing how flawed people are, even if they don't realize it themselves. This is my favorite Payne movie. Downsizing didn't work because it felt like lecture on what it means to be happy. Election just wants us to know that everyone has major issues. It's the rare movie where the most likable character is the dumbest.

The Metzler side story is the weaker element of the movie. Chris Klein plays Paul, the stupid but sweet jock who McAllister manipulates into running for student government president. His younger sister also runs for president as an anti-candidate who hates the election process and the school itself. It's nothing against the performances but whenever the story focuses on them, we just want to see more of Tracy and McAllister. They are more interesting and flawed characters. Klein did have quite a run with this coming out in April of 1999 and then American Pie being released that July. His movie star days ended when Rollerball tanked in 2002 but he's still regularly working today. He had a regular role in The Flash and his Netflix show Sweet Magnolias just got picked up for a third season.

I don't like how this movie ends. If you haven't see the movie yet, go check it out but I'm going to get into spoilers now.

According to the great book "Best Movie Year Ever" by Brian Raferty, the original ending had McAllister working at a used car dealership after being fired as a teacher. Tracy goes there to find a car and McAllister ends up signing her yearbook which was otherwise unsigned. Paramount pushed back and wanted a darker ending. Payne spent months working on a new ending and it concludes with McAllister winding up in New York City working at a museum. After randomly seeing Tracy in Washington DC working as an aide and getting in a car with a senator, he throws a drink at their car.

Neither ending works for me. I don't like the first ending for the same reason Paramount didn't. There is no way Tracy and McAllister would find peace. The second ending has McAllister as happy as we've seen him the entire movie (until he sees Tracy) and that doesn't feel honest to the character. Jim McAllister's fatal flaw is that he's never happy but always chasing it. That's why he hates Tracy so much. He despises her ambition because he has the same need for more but feels trapped and he knows it can never materialize. I disagree with the ending because I don't think McAllister can ever be content.

96. Election

97. Tremors

98. Any Given Sunday

99. The Wedding Singer

100. Clerks