For President’s Day, a list of films that have done justice to the occupants of the Oval Office.

5. Independence Day (1996)

This A-level B-movie casts Bill Pullman as a ‘war president’ who flew fighter jets in the Gulf and, after giving his version of the St. Crispin’s Day speech to the survivors of a world-wide alien attack, takes a jet to the skies against the extraplanetary invaders. It was a different world back then, one in which aliens could incinerate the White House and the special effect was dubbed ‘cool’ and made the cover of Newsweek; a world where the American President could sincerely be the ‘leader of the free world.’
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4. Wilson (1944)

Adjusted for inflation, one of the most expensive movies ever made; and, unadjusted, certainly the most expensive movie ever made extolling the virtues of the United Nations. In this case, of course, it was the U.N. pre-cursor, The League of Nations, which president Woodrow Wilson dreamed would be “an assembly so large and various as to be really representative of the great body of the peoples of the world.” Wilson also deals with the death of the President’s first wife and the outbreak of World War I. Lavishly produced by Wilson-booster Darryl F. Zanuck, this now-forgotten movie paved the bio-pic groundwork for such recent cinematic thunder peals as…

3. Nixon (1995)

Before the even-more bizarre director’s cut, this epic film was the closest the US could claim to Shakespeare’s histories: a dramatization of liberties being taken (in which historical liberties are taken). Writer-director Oliver Stone casts Nixon as a justified paranoiac, a victim of the ‘military-industrial complex’ that slew his great rival, JFK; a Nixon who could never achieve power enough to bring his dead brother back to life. Anthony Hopkins, a Welshman, throws himself into the tortured role with gusto, and his bond with his wife Pat, played by Joan Allen, is both tender and twisted. For a chaser, make it a double-bill with Dick.
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2. Warm Springs (2005)

This recent made-for-HBO movie stars another U.K. thesp as an American icon. Kenneth Branagh plays an episode from the life of FDR, the wealthy scion who truly had the common touch. How he developed that touch, and the clout — in the age of photography and newsreels — to keep secret his physical disability can be traced to a season he spent trying to regain his ability to walk at a Georgia hot springs clinic. As history shows, FDR did not miraculously regain his power to walk. What he did gain was a perspective on his disability that made him realize his political career wasn’t over, it was just beginning. It was only a hop skip and a jump from being an advocate for the disabled to being an advocate for the poor to being an advocate for the oppressed peoples of Europe in the Second World War. FDR has been called “the only great modern president.” Expect, as the years go on, more excellent biopics like this one.
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1. Dave (1993)

A Capra-esque movie made long after the time of Capra. I defy anyone to watch this film without a big grin on their face. Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline) is a look-alike, who, thanks to a conspiracy lead by the vice-president (Frank Langella), is substituted for the real president (who has fallen into a coma). A happy-go-lucky manchild, Dave continuously puts the conspiracy in peril by warming the cockles of the American people’s hearts, and thawing the relationship between the President and the First Lady (Sigourney Weaver). No political pushover, he comes to realize that he has the upper hand over the conspirators. After all, he’s the president. In Dave’s world, one can lure one’s accountant friend (Charles Grodin) to the White House on promise of gourmet pickles, and proceed to balance the national budget overnight. Writer Gary Ross and director Ivan Reitman will perhaps be the last ever to create a feel-good, patriotic tale about the White House. If that’s the case, we have only ourselves to blame. After all, we vote with our movie attendance.
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