With Presidents Day around the corner, we are gearing up to celebrate and remember our country’s leaders and their story. No matter what side you are on, we can all agree being responsible for an entire country is not an easy task, and sometimes, our leaders fail to live up to their tasks at hand. Whether it’s a failure or a triumph, a responsibility this large sure does make for a great film!
Celebrate with us as we enter a new Presidential term. We found a regal list called 20 best movies about american presidents. Here are some of our favorites!
2017’s Oscar-nominated Darkest Hour told of one of Winston Churchill’s most trying moments as he faced down Germany, and Thirteen Days does something similar for John F. Kennedy, tracing the tense weeks during the Cuban Missile Crisis showdown with the Soviet Union. Bruce Greenwood plays JFK as a distant, complicated, hesitant figure, but the film is actually told from the perspective of his trusted adviser Kenneth O’Donnell (Kevin Costner). Directed by Roger Donaldson with a minimum of fuss, Thirteen Days emphasizes strategy, debate, deliberation, and anguished choices — it’s a film where the electricity comes from ideas and dialogue. As such, the film has the appeal and limitations of a well-mounted play, but the actors (including Steven Culp as Bobby Kennedy and Dylan Baker as Robert McNamara) dig into the screenplay’s bare-bones, life-or-death drama.
This is the slightly cuckoo, slightly reverent Lee Daniels movie about a White House butler (Forest Whitaker) who serves multiple generations of presidents and attempts to raise a family (with wife Oprah Winfrey and son David Oyelowo; this movie does not lack a pedigree, that’s for sure) through a particularly combustible period in our nation’s history. The movie moves along well enough but, oddly, screeches to a halt every time we meet a president played by a famous actor who doesn’t so much inhabit the real-life figure as wave bemusedly behind his mask. Robin Williams’s Eisenhower and John Cusack’s Richard Nixon are both just strange, but there’s a little more going on with Alan Rickman’s Ronald Reagan (with Jane Fonda as Nancy!). A whole movie with Rickman as Reagan might have been onto something.
The timing of the Primary Colors film couldn’t have been better: The Lewinsky scandal broke two months before the movie’s release, so its story of a smart, well-intentioned presidential candidate whose excesses wouldn’t allow him to get out of his own way felt particularly resonant. (Though it didn’t help the film make a profit.) This was John Travolta at the peak of his powers, and his Clinton (or “Clinton,” wink, wink) oozes charisma while remaining slippery: It really does feel like Bill. Emma Thompson is kinder to Hillary than the next two decades would be, and the movie feels both of the moment and quaint today … neither of which is a bad thing. Plus, Kathy Bates’s terrific performance reminds us of why we all believed in the Clintons … and how they ultimately let us all down.
Cinema has no shortage of movies about monstrously ambitious American men who reach great heights, only to be undone by the same insecurities and failings that fueled their drive in the first place. A lower rung from Citizen Kane and There Will Be Blood, Nixon is all the more compelling because of the filmmaker who conceived it. Oliver Stone isn’t the sort of guy you’d picture as a Richard Nixon apologist, but even though he depicts our 37th president as an unsavory, power-hungry man, the JFK auteur also goes out of his way to explain what drove Nixon — namely, a sense of inadequacy that spurred him on throughout his life. Anthony Hopkins doesn’t look so much like Nixon, but he embodies him, and the looming shadow of the Watergate investigation that dominates Nixon’s last third is both riveting and sickening — you can feel the sense of doom slowly enveloping a politician who, at heart, was always a fatalist. You don’t walk away from Nixon with rosy feelings toward Tricky Dick, but you are swamped by the sense of the tragedy of his life — how his ego and anger and ambition could never ever transcend his self-doubt, no matter how much he hoped otherwise.
The genius of Spielberg’s Lincoln — and we do think it’s one of his best films — is that it doesn’t focus on Lincoln the leader, or the orator, or the hero, though it of course also contains all those things. Instead, the movie’s optimism comes from its faith in politics itself, as Lincoln grinds the gears of government to try to fundamentally change the world by cajoling and palm-greasing and, if that doesn’t work, actually appealing to hearts and minds and people’s fundamental goodness. Daniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln is a massive figure, but he doesn’t play him that way: He is just a guy trying to do what he can, using the materials he has, to do what is right. It’s a movie that believes, truly, in the presidency and what it can achieve. One wonders if Spielberg still feels that way six years later.