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Presidential Flicks – The Round Table Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Posted by JB* in DeadOn Round Table, Great Movies You Might Have Missed, JB*, movies, undergroundBTO, Yostal.
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As some of you may have heard, today is Election Day in the United States. Possibly not coincidentally, the DeadOn crew were asked to field the question, What was the best Presidential movie from our lives (approximately 1980 forward)?

We left it loose to cover movies which are about the Presidency (W.), prominently feature the President (The American President), are kind of-sort of-in a way are about Presidential things (First Daughter) or just randomly are politically-related (Welcome to Mooseport).

Pull up a chair to the round table… after the jump.

I, personally, have always had a particular fondness for Dave. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s really charming. There’s a lot of small things and Kevin Kline just works so well. Plus, evil Frank Langella, always a plus.

The American President is a great movie on its own, but it’s also clearly the proto-West Wing, which always affects me when I see it today.

Air Force One, well, I just like the idea of a President rooting for Michigan to beat Notre Dame, more the better that he’s a President named Ford. Plus, Dean Stockwell does a great job in this movie as the pragmatic SecDef.

Thirteen Days is probably my favorite movie on this list. I’ve seen it 21 times now (I show it every year in both my AP U.S. History and International Relations classes because it breaks down the nature of a crisis and because it has a great moment for Adlai E. Stevenson and I figure the kids should have some idea for whom the school is named.) I think Greenwood’s President Kennedy is good because it’s more about the essence than about a pitch perfect impression. He has the manners, the cadence, and the general demeanor down. Stephen Culp is one of my favorite “That Guy” actors and his Bobby Kennedy carries a lot of the weight of the film. I’ve previously discussed the good and the bad of this film in one of the very first DeadOn articles, now that I think about it.

For me, it’s In the Line of Fire, hands down. I’ve been fascinated with the Secret Service ever since I saw the Hinckley attempt on Reagan (well, not in person) – I was 7 years old, and I sent the President a picture (of him being shot! Oops) and got back a letter signed by Reagan himself (okay, his official seal) thanking me for my concern. The concept of individuals so dedicated to their country and their job that they would literally give up their own lives to save the President is staggering when you think about it (which is not to say that sacrifice of soldiers is any less significant). It has always been said that all that is necessary to assassinate the President is the willingness of the assassin to trade his life for the opportunity. The same can be said of the Secret Service, in that their most important characteristic has to be their unwavering resolve to give up their lives.

Okay, as for the movie itself – Rene Russo (meh), Clint Eastwood, and creepy John Malkovich made for some intense scenes. Watching the battle of wits between Eastwood and Malkovich when each knew what the other was planning was great, especially the scenes where Malkovich is practicing (e.g. with his plastic gun), or when Eastwood is reliving his failure to protect JFK. Obviously, the ending is predictable – you know that Eastwood will win out in the end, but getting there is a fun ride.

I also greatly enjoyed JFK, despite Oliver Stone’s occasional hyperbole, because I think it is still one of the greatest mysteries of our government. Did you know that when George H.W. Bush was the head of the CIA, documents related to investigation disappeared? That’s a shady business!

I’ll start off by throwing a vote in for a political-(ish) movie that is non-Presidential but great all the same – Election with Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick. That said, I move on to the task at hand of best Presidential movie.

One of my favorites is Bobby, the 2006 film directed by Emilio Estevez about the day Bobby Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel and twenty-two people who were in the hotel that day. It is a winding, intermingling tale about the lives in the hotel surrounding his appearance and life after the fateful moment.

The cast is just flat out sick – Laurence Fishburne, Harry Belafonte, Estevez, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Heather Graham, Josh Jackson, Christian Slater, Ashton Kutcher, Shia LeBouef, Lindsay Lohan, William H Macy, and on and on. As with Titanic, yes, we know the ending. But the fact is just a backdrop, serving as the reason (in most cases) for everyone to be in the Hotel and driving the feeling of excitement from so many of the characters.

While Bobby is one of the numerous movies made at the time with the “large cast/numerous stories/hey look they tie out in the last ten minutes” – the Babel/Crash phenomenon – in this case, it did not feel forced since there was the Victory Party to bring all the cast together.

Admittedly, my grandmother spoke in revered tones of the Senator and Candidate, so I probably had some bias coming in. But the story was so not about him and more about the energy surrounding his candidacy and what impacts it could have on the lives of many. The best way I can sell it is that Mrs.JB watched it for the first time with me and could only utter “Wow – that was really, REALLY good”, and she is inclined to the rom-com fare. Netflix Bobby and thank me later.

And there you have it – DeadOn’s recommendations of movies you may want to check tonight once the hours of coverage wear on you tonight. Please add your thoughts below, and though everyone has heard it for weeks on end, please remember to go vote.



1. Bill - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sorry folks, the correct answer is “Wag the Dog” with an honorable mention to miniseries (yeah it’s not a movie per se) John Adams. Though I do give props to 13 Days. Often overlooked is Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” which is a fascinating look at the man (if distorted via Stone as usual) and a great performance by Mr. “Farva Beans and Chianti” himself. Finally, I do remember enjoing Primary Colors an awful lot and was one of Travolta’s renaissance era movies.

To me, Wag had the right mix of shocking truth and humor that was well played by a great cast (including Willie Nelson with his great “sit on my lap if you love me” gag).

2. fizzball - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Dead Zone. Creepy Walken, and when I look at Sheen I think Greg Stillson, not Jed Bartlet.


Also, the Demme Manchurian Candidate remake was surprisingly good.

3. DougOLis - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Does Independence Day count? Can I go completely off the board and just pick West Wing? It’s on DVD and all.

Otherwise I’m with Yostal on Air Force One and UndergroundBTO on JFK.

4. Rockabye - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I’m punting: watch The West Wing DVDs.

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