A Misguided History of Film: Presidential Edition

A sarcastic and misguided critique of landmark films released during US presidential terms.

Film is still a young art, so I thought it would be interesting to analyze its technological and aesthetic progression through the lens of Presidential Administrations. I selected the best films from each presidency after the invention of cinema and offer a modern analysis of each work that gives no regard to the phrase “apples to oranges.” Movies are a lot like fruit, actually. The older they are, the better off you are just throwing them out.

Honorable Mention: Rutherford B. Hayes

Those of you who are not history enthusiasts might not know that the seeds of modern cinema were sown during the Hayes Administration. But much like Hayes’ policies, the development of film throughout his term was one-dimensional and is only remembered fondly because it made people excited for the future.

Notable Film: The Horse in Motion 1878

Cinephiles often laud Eadweard Muybridge’s illustrations as the first moving images. When viewed through a rotating device, The Horse in Motion showed the potential of animation and demonstrated how the human mind can take adjacent images and “fill in the space” with movement.

Unfortunately, this work hardly counts as a film. Muybridge was so caught up in visual theory that he must have assumed viewers of his art would also “fill in the story” with their own plots and characterization. Where is this horse going and who is riding it? Just two of the many holes in The Horse in Motion. If you want a better example of a horse on screen, I suggest checking out War Horse, a narrative that shows WWI (not even hinted at in The Horse in Motion) and demonstrates why a horse’s discomfort is more unsettling than millions of human deaths.

Verdict: Warrants naysayers.


24. Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland could be called the Grover Cleveland of presidents — a man with the remarkable distinction of being the one president in US history to serve non-consecutive terms. His administration was marred by economic adversity and lack of creative solutions, leading his critics to complain at his serious lack of imagination- an apt description for the movies of that era.

Notable Film: Roundhay Garden Scene 1888

Louis Le Prince, an early photographic innovator, captured this glimpse of a garden in Leeds, England. The Roundhay Garden Scene is thought to be the oldest surviving film in existence… apparently so old, it existed before creative titles. While this makes the list by virtue of being a full-fledged film, the lack of resolution on this scene is troubling, as is the underdeveloped frame.

There is also a lack of character diversity, as we only ever see pompous aristocrats, strolling on an undoubtedly undeserved break between tea and an afternoon ride on their carriage. Further, the film fails to live up to its most basic premise as it does not feature any semblance of a garden.

Verdict: Mis-Leed-ing, botanists beware.


23. Benjamin Harrison

What can you say about Benjamin Harrison that hasn’t already been said? No, I’m asking… Aside from being a part of the least-iconic presidential duo with his grandfather William Henry Harrison, this man was known for expanding the role of the executive office and attempting, and failing, to enforce African American voting rights. Historians have ranked this man’s presidency low, but have asserted that his personal commitment and integrity were unmistakable. In other words, historians awarded President Harrison with a metaphorical participation award trophy of presidential rankings.

Notable Film: Newark Athlete 1891

At this time in cinematic history, most cameras were designed to be small and portable, often totally reliant on natural lighting. Thomas Edison, however, created a camera that could capture footage indoors and in higher quality. It utilized a horizontal-feed kinetograph camera and viewer, and printed onto wide film. Pretty useful, right? … Wrong. The device was so big that it needed to remain stationary with subjects performing within its line of sight.

While this footage picked up more depth and details than anything else of that era, the subject of this footage presents more questions than answers. The most pressing question in this film: How can this man be called an “athlete?” His stature is unimposing and his routine is uncoordinated. For someone to be recorded in those days, one would assume they would have been a master at their craft, with the filmmakers considering the sight to be of utmost interest. If that man constituted an athlete in their books, I question their judgment. But hey, at least the subject finished his job, unlike President Harrison’s grandfather.

Verdict: Pushes cinematic technology while celebrating athletic mediocrity


22. Grover Cleveland

As noted earlier, Cleveland is the only man with a second entry on this list. So aside from igniting generations of debate about whether his times in office should be counted as more than one “presidency” did he also witness interesting film entries? If you are reading this article in the 21st century your answer to this question will likely be a resounding “no.”

Notable Film: Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat 1895

Still you can’t tell the history of film without mentioning the Lumière Brothers. This duo entered the limelight during President Cleveland’s time in office and offered the first projected cinematic footage in history. Contrasted with the typical medium of the “peepshow” kinetoscope where viewers would see a small contained image, the Lumière Brothers’ provided audiences with a life-sized thrill.

Today, a scene shot with a totally stationary camera is often referred to as a Lumière sequence. It’s said that when an audience first viewed Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat they ran out of the viewing because they thought an actual train was going to hit them, NOT due to the lack of plot and character development of the picture.

Unfortunately, nothing that these men ever captured or produced can hold a candle to Lumière from Beauty and the Beast. This flamboyant candelabra who sings “Be Our Guest” was a far superior Lumière. With his stellar choreography and impressive vibrato, the beloved Disney character proved that with a little imagination, anything is possible! A shame that the Lumière brothers were too caught up with gizmos and gadgets to notice that humanity is more interesting than a machine.

Verdict: A film that only LeFou could love.


21. William McKinley

McKinley’s presidency saw the dawn of an era where cinema was becoming mainstream. Innovative pioneers all across the world began to leap into the picture, bringing in stories and spectacle in attempts to shock and entertain audiences. Sadly, none of these artists made anything half as surprising as Leon Czolgosz’s final performance: Assassinating President McKinley.

Though McKinley’s presidency may have been cut short, it did see the beginning of renowned filmmaker Georges Méliès’ career.

Notable Film: The Four Troublesome Heads 1897

In the late 1800s, Georges Méliès was able to reverse engineer a camera and soon became the first master of cinema. As we see in The Four Troublesome Heads, Méliès was able to create astonishing effects by constructing elaborate sets and and manipulating film frames themselves.

For as good as that movie was, though, his best work didn’t come until the 20th century, dispelling any notion of greatness in the 19th century, which would have made this a more interesting timeline and, frankly, a better article. Nothing Méliès made prior to A Trip to the Moon would be interesting to modern audiences, so watch that one instead.

Verdict: Not as good as A Trip to the Moon


20. Theodore Roosevelt

Everyone loves Teddy, I mean, how could you not? He was the inspiration for the Teddy Bear, for crying out loud! The man was a moral paragon of his day and demanded greatness from both himself and everyone around him (unlike most in the film industry today). And unlike his paltry predecessor, when an assassin tried to kill him, Roosevelt not only survived, but gave a spirited speech to a public audience. History remembers this man with the utmost fondness. The same cannot be said for the movies released during his term.

Notable Film: The Great Train Robbery 1903

The Great Train Robbery was a huge milestone film, as it spanned over a number of different shooting locations, as compared to when most films of that era only had one or two scenes. The most memorable moment in this film is the ending shot, when a robber aims a gun straight at the POV of the camera, horrifying audiences of the time and living on as an iconic shot…at least, that’s what the film community would have you believe.

The truth is, most audiences of today wouldn’t recognize this moment outside of references in cartoons or modern movies, like Goodfellasso the idea that this silent crime film has lived on seems like a bit of a stretch. Name one line of dialogue from that movie. I’ll wait.

Verdict: Silent, but deadly


19. William Howard Taft

Taft is best remembered as the president who was so rotund he got stuck in his own bathtub. He is also the president that lead Roosevelt to run under the Bull Moose Party, resulting in Taft being a one-term president. There’s no great story here, he was a mediocre president and still got to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Is there no justice? Man, I miss Teddy. And apparently so did the film industry…

Notable Film: Roosevelt in Africa 1910

Theodore Roosevelt was a dedicated outdoorsman and had a strong commitment to saving and admiring our land- so much so, that he was always on the lookout for other peoples’ lands that we could take better care of! On the expedition documented in Roosevelt in Africa, Teddy ventured to exotic places throughout the African sub-continent, hunting big game and proving just how masculine he could be.

While audiences were won over by this glimpse into a foreign land and culture, Roosevelt was unable to ride the popularity into a successful bid at reelection at the request of the aforementioned Bull Moose Party. Taft’s bland reelection bid split the votes and the presidency went to some dweeb called Woodrow Wilson.

Verdict: Bull Moose? More like Bull-


18. Woodrow Wilson

President Wilson guided the US into WWI, forging an important (temporary) role for us in the League of Nations and expanding our booming industrial base. He was also was a huge cinephile, or at the very least, was a huge fan of this next title, screening it at the White House and praising its alleged historical accuracy.

Notable Film: The Birth of a Nation 1915

Georges Méliès may have been the first master of film, but D.W. Griffith was its first visionary. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation was a milestone in film because it was, in many ways, the first modern narrative. It told a complex story of characters interwoven in the Civil War and Reconstruction. The movie jumps across different perspectives and culminates in an iconic horse charge, becoming the biggest cinematic success in history at that point.

With all that said, this film is quite controversial because of many unfortunate and dated elements, which can be summed up in one image:

“The Birth of a Nation” (Epoch Producing Co.)

As you can see, these horses are covered with blankets, several of which are impeding their line of sight. This is in direct violation of the policies the American Humane Association fights hard to protect and would never fly today. Lucky for us, film has moved forward into a more enlightened era where animals are always able to see without obstruction.

Verdict: Great, but marred with vision-obscuring baggage


17. Warren G. Harding

Teapot Dome Scandal!! Alright, now that we’ve gotten the historical elephant out of the room, I can assure you that this analysis won’t be me just stringing together a bunch of tea puns. I’ll chai not to, anyway. Harding expanded the office of president, but not in the traditional sense- he hit new lows. Scandals, corruption, and dying. In other words, he embodied this next movie.

Notable Film: Nosferatu 1922

The 1920s were a remarkable time for German cinema. Characterized by a budding expressionist movement, Germans produced several classics, like Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But few titles hold up to the test of time better than F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, a nightmarish depiction of a vampire that set new standards for a film’s atmosphere and evocative performances. The tone, style, and intensity truly transcended the medium and may be one of the greatest movies of the silent era.

Of course, that is the same thing that keeps this era from being higher up on this list. The auteurs of that era were reliant on innovation to be memorable and keep an audience’s attention, but little thought was put into the sounds moviegoers might be hearing at the theatre. Water dripping down from the ceiling. People shifting in their seats. That guy Cornelius who keeps coughing. Why did he even come out? I get that some people are selfish, but how is he even enjoying himself? Isn’t he embarrassed? Uncomfortable?

Verdict: Silent film’s final nail in the coffin


16. Calvin Coolidge

Claude Fuess called Coolidge a man who “embodied the spirit and hopes of the middle class” and “could interpret their longings.” If more film producers shared that sentiment, perhaps we’d get more Titanics and fewer pretentious titles like Moonlight. Anyway, Coolidge was quite reserved, so reserved in fact that a reporter once told him “I bet I could get three words out of you,” to which Coolidge quipped “You lose.” It’s probably safe to assume that he had similar remarks to the movies of that era, or more accurately, that he had no remarks for these movies.

Notable Film: The Jazz Singer 1927

Well, I’ll be- Ladies and Gentlemen, we have ourselves a Talkie! The Jazz Singer was the first movie to not only feature synchronized speech, but a synchronized score. Al Jolson performed a series of original songs and popular standards and captivated audiences with his energized performances and captivating charisma.

The film takes a turn for the worse, however, when Jolson applies blackface makeup and begins to perform a minstrel show. Aside from the clear racism in this scene, it raises serious questions about whether “minstrel” refers to 20th century vaudeville, or 16th century music. To many crowds, ‘minstrel’ would conjure up the image of a jester, or perhaps a musician one would encounter at a festival before trying to woo the fair lady of House Norman. Anyway, perpetuating a misconception is irresponsible, and that information would have been readily available, even in those days.

Verdict: A blunder of historic proportions


15. Herbert Hoover

Contrary to common belief, Herbert Hoover did not invent the vacuum cleaner, but it’s a fitting misconception since his presidency just plain sucked. Speaking of which, it is time to discuss the Surrealism art movement.

Notable Film: Un Chien Andalu 1929

One could argue that the point of the visual art medium is to create work that looks interesting and “means something,” but now one can go to galleries to see people line up four spoons in a row. Anyway, for years, society saw a skilled painter as one who could draw a landscape that was pleasing to the eye, or if they could paint a portrait that looked like a real person. Unfortunately this standard left no room for wannabe artist with no talent. But never fear! Along came the surrealists who decided that painting real things was too hard. One of the most well-known surrealist painters was Salvador Dalí, who looked like a classic villain from a train robbery sequence. In spite of possessing extraordinary vision and technical ability, he chose to paint things that looked fake, or real-looking things that were warped. After seeing these works, one would think society’s natural reaction would be to jail the main for heresy, or at the very least take away his art supplies… but unfortunately, the church was no longer the main purveyor of art and someone had the audacity to give Dalí a camera.

In Un Chien Andalu, Dalí sought to illustrate one of his dreams. It seems that he succeeded, because it ushered in an entire generation of filmmakers that sought to be different. After all, what could be more different than random images juxtaposed next to each other? Anyway, as much as I personally despise the concept of surrealism, one thing that’s for sure is Dalí couldn’t have made any paintings while directing this feature, so there’s something to be said for that.

Verdict: The ends justify the means


14. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Where do I even begin? From the New Deal to WWII, FDR changed the landscape of modern history more than almost any other president. And he didn’t stop there. Getting credit for leading the country out of a depression was not good enough for him he also was determined to set the Guinness World Record for being the longest serving U.S. President. He succeeded here too, but just like a classmate who is using the priviledge of laptops in class to be too obvious about the Youtube videos he’s watching during a lecture, FDR ruined the privilege of being president for everyone by instigating the 22nd Amendment. FDR often vies with JFK for most popular presidential acronym, but he was definitely more influential, as were the titles released throughout his four terms in office. That doesn’t mean they were good, though.

Notable Film: King Kong 1933

Many will recall that this was Hitler’s favorite movie, but plenty forget that this was an iconic title that ushered in an era of monsters and screaming damsels in distress. King Kong was the biggest technical marvel of its day, featuring groundbreaking stop-motion animation and employed composite screen projections to achieve mind blowing set design that simply looked alive.

As great as this movie is, if you watch the remake from the ’70s, ’00s, orKong: Skull Islandyou’ll see that modern technology looks cooler and looks way more realistic, so it raises the question: Why watch an original if it isn’t as flashy?

Verdict: A jewel tarnished by time


13. Harry S. Truman

“To err is Truman,” as they said back in the day. And while err he did, he also was a very consequential president and witnessed the biggest upset in an election until, well, you know. For all of the lows of his time in office, there were definitely some highs, like the beginning of the Cold War and U.S. intervention in Korea….Well I guess those are still lows. Hey at least he witnessed a Christmas classic.

Notable Film: It’s a Wonderful Life 1946

Frank Capra might be called the Norman Rockwell of cinema. He made a name for himself by illustrating not the America as it was, but as how we wanted to see it. Each character and community Capra conjured was a cunning creation that captured how great things could be. Nowhere is this more evident in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, a title that embodies neighborhood values and clear Christian doctrine.

There is something curious about this movie, though. It was critically-acclaimed when it was first released, but failed to find a significant audience, so it went forgotten for many years. In 1974, a clerical error prevented the studio from renewing the copyright, so it went into the public domain. Television stations were looking for cheap content to broadcast around Christmastime, and, voila! A classic was reborn! — That’s right ladies and gentlemen. You may have thought you were cool getting songs for free on Napster or pirating movies from Bittorrent, but you weren’t the first. The “OG” intellectual piracy was just taking advantage of someone’s copyright error.

This doesn’t really bother people as much as it should. In an unforgiving world of cutthroat film production, one that people can pour their souls into and go bankrupt, it seems a little unfair that this movie was aided by legal interference for people to actually watch it.

Final Verdict: A classic by technicality


12. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Eisenhower is a hard man to hate since he got so much done. He was a leading General in WWII, was a driving force in creating this country’s modern infrastructure, and confused a lot of today’s politicians by expanding Social Security. Honestly, by today’s standards, Eisenhower probably championed more legislation than eight presidents could in 64 years. Tremendous! He also has one of history’s most enduring campaign slogans: “I like Ike.” After sending in the National Guard, Ike… what kind of a nickname is that anyway? Ike? Wouldn’t a nickname like “Dwi” make more sense? It’s not like his name was Isaac or something. Men with power can be so nonsensical sometimes.

Notable Film: Vertigo 1958 

One day, acclaimed director Alfred Hitchcock was speaking with a respected colleague, Francois Truffaut, and imparted some immortal wisdom about storytelling: “What is drama but life with all the dull bits cut out.” While simple, this concept is difficult to accomplish on screen, but Hitchcock always found ways to grip audiences with captivating stories fueled by perfect tension and an eye for the unexpected. The irony of this is that Hitchcock’s most enduring and influential work went in the other direction.

Vertigo was a maverick production in many ways. It showed that Hitchcock, a populist entertainer, could create a dark, unapologetic foray into deceit and obsession — a far cry from his popcorn movies. The star Jimmy Stewart was known for portraying upstanding, idealistic men, but for once chose a role of a flawed and damaged individual.

This raises the question: Are we really supposed to buy that Kim Novak would fall for a guy like that? Jimmy Stewart was only attractive because of his charisma and staunch morals- his mannerisms were, at best, an endearing quirk, certainly not enough to pull a femme fatale. The age disparity is already stretching the romantic interest, but one might believe it if Jimmy Stewart were more charming or at least had a lot of wealth. All that man had was an awkward stammer and a-ah-a creepy gaze. Sorry, Hitchcock, I ain’t buying it.

Final Verdict: Flawed characters ≠ flawed character motivations.


11. John F. Kennedy

JFK was a cool dude. His suave demeanor and mastery for the budding modern media helped him take the presidency and inspire millions to strive for a better tomorrow. The problem with this approach is that he himself couldn’t always envision tomorrow’s consequences, so when he was asked to overthrow Castro, his approach could be best summed up as: “Yeah, sure, do whateva it is you do.” However, when JFK actually cared enough to show up, he could be trusted to make the right call in a pinch, as his leadership helped us avoid disaster in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Unfortunately, he was powerless to prevent the catastrophes happening in theaters every day.

Notable Film: Lawrence of Arabia 1962

Lawrence of Arabia is an incredible achievement in film. It was a massive undertaking, after all, they spent years shooting in the DESERT, for crying out loud. Peter O’Toole is transcendent as the charismatic and eccentric Briton, while also containing so many flaws and a pervading vulnerability. This is often referred to as the defining epic film, but it is quite devoid of cliches. While Lawrence of Arabia does an impressive job capturing the grandiosity of T.E. Lawrence’s adventures on the Arabian Peninsula, the hero never really saves the day and he gets humiliated through loss. Perhaps this is a masterful way of showing the moral victory in the face of historical tragedy… or maybe it’s just bad storytelling.

I would give a spoiler warning, but in all honesty, watching the first five minutes of this movie is deflating enough. It opens with the main character dying. So much for suspense. Every moment throughout the film to evoke some level of uncertainty is derailed, all because director David Lean felt that this movie would work better as some pretentious character study. If I’m going to sit through a movie that pushes four hours, I would sure like to have some doubts as to whether the hero is going to make it or not. This isn’t rocket science, people. Although sometimes I wish it was, at least watching rocket science numbers might culminate in something unexpected.

Final Verdict: A colossal waste of time


10. Lyndon B. Johnson

President Johnson was an anomaly because that he did some very good things through his policies, but in private, he really lived up to his last name. It is said that Johnson coordinated his bathroom trips with other visiting male leaders with the hopes he could show off “Jumbo” and prove that he was a bigger man. This man’s audacity was out of this world, so it seems appropriate that his time affiliated with the Apollo mission coincided with one of the greatest films ever made about space.

Notable Film: 2001: A Space Odyssey 1968

If cinema had a king, Stanley Kubrick would have the best claim to the throne. No man had the same level of vision, innovation, and technical prowess than Kubrick. And very few filmmakers have had the level of success he had across many genres. His most acclaimed film was 2001: A Space Odyssey and it is often seen as a crowning achievement in modern cinema for its narrative leaps and for expanding the possibility of the sci-fi genre. But one thing that ought to be discussed more is this movie’s soundtrack.

One of the most memorable elements of this film is the use of classical masterpieces from the likes of Strauss to Ligeti. Plenty of flicks swipe popular songs for their soundtrack. Popular. When was the last time you heard Also Sprach Zarathustra on the Billboard Top 100? Unlike 2001,Guardians of the Galaxy proved that space doesn’t have to be droll — you can go on your own space adventure with a sick mixtape! In fact, 2001 lacks almost everything in the Guardian formula. There are no crazy fight scenes or hilarious banter, and the presence of aliens is, at best, implied. You just get the feeling like the cast was taking themselves too seriously. The onlything 2001 managed to do like Guardians was underwriting every single female character. If Kubrick had Implemented Guardian’s song formula and taken songs from 30–40 years prior, those boring zero-gravity sequences would have been so much better. In fact, let’s try it out!

I think it’s time for a remake.

Final Verdict: Way too Serious


9. Richard Nixon

“I am not a crook.” Words like these are often used by crooks or just dishonest people in general, but that’s what happens when you elect a guy called Tricky Dick. It’s hard to imagine a world where people saw Nixon as a trustworthy individual, I mean, he looks and talks like a villain out of a James Bond movie. But hey, at least he didn’t need any help from Russia to get elected? Amiright? I digress. It seems fitting that this awkward, yammering nemesis of John Lennon coincided with a decade of influential crime dramas. Maybe they inspired him?

Notable Film: The Godfather 1972

Francis Ford Coppola was one of modern masters who ushered in a new wave of cinema and what made him stand out from his peers was having such a complete overarching vision for his scripts and a hypnotic director’s touch. Everything he made after the 70s seem like they could be a public access television catalogue, but he deserves recognition for being the top talent of the most notable decade in modern cinema.

Coppola’s The Godfather is often on the shortlist of the greatest films ever made, which might have to do with most popular lists copying each other. Sure, it is stylistically perfect and the acting ensemble is unparalleled, but it perpetuates many frustrating Italian-American stereotypes. Like, that they talk a certain way and eat lots of Italian food. Also, fans of The Godfather tend to focus on Marlon Brando and his powerful, daunting monologues. What they don’t remember is is that he had a strange approach when it came to memorizing his lines… he just didn’t learn them.

If you’re going to expect someone to sit through a super long movie and praise your depiction of a mafia kingpin, why not go through the trouble of committing several minutes of dialogue to memory? Or maybe that was genius and he was just doing his best to embody a goomba.

Final Verdict:

8. Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford was a wimp. Not only did he pardon Richard Nixon, but he never once stopped Russian agents from hijacking Air Force One, so he wasn’t even the best President Ford. How can you respect a man who literally inherited the White House? That guy was the least deserving man in power until Kim Jong Un.

Notable Film: Jaws 1975

Steven Spielberg has the magic touch and has made more modern classics than just about anyone else. Before he was a household name, though, he was given the task of directing some thriller suspense with a huge mechanical shark. In spite of being a journeyman storyteller, Spielberg had all the tools he needed… well, everything except for the actual shark. That’s right, the shark didn’t work. This kind of production setback would be enough to ruin a movie and end a person’s career, but Spielberg went in a different direction — he made the movie about implying the threat of shark and building up our fear, with John Williams providing one of the most memorable, pulsating themes that film has ever seen. The rest is history. After that, Jaws became the first ever summer blockbuster, and it holds up as one of the greatest suspense films ever made next to Jaws 2, which is much better because you can actually see the shark and there’s much more Final Destination type violence.

But all of that is totally undeserved because Williams is a false prophet. We all worship his inspired themes and audience seem to think he is the Mozart of movie soundtracks. It would be more accurate to say that Williams is the Mozart of stealing. That’s right, the Jaws theme isn’t just two lazy notes over and over again. It’s someone else’s two notes! And that Star Wars theme that brings a smile to your face? Stolen.

Final Verdict: It ought to be shark bait. Ooh hah hah!


7. Jimmy Carter

President Carter is living proof that you can be the most morally upstanding person around and still be hated by half of the country. Every historical assessment of this man calls him a modern day Ulysses S. Grant: Great guy, awful president. Why is this? Well, you could point to any number of domestic policy failures and that nonsense in Iran, but it is hard to forget when the leader of the free world calls out their entire country out for being selfish. How many presidents give their people a proverbial point of the finger and say “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” Well, you listen here, Jimmy, I think that… uh.. you… I’m going to have to sit down for a while here.

Also he was a peanut farmer….and that’s just absurd.

Notable Film: Star Wars 1977

Long before the ridicule and memes, George Lucas was a genuine Hollywood maverick, and Star Wars changed the way movies were made. For one, studios realized the potential of a fully realized big-budget blockbuster, and for better or worse, started making fewer titles with a larger budget in the hopes of hitting as wide an audience as possible. It’s hard to point to just one element that made Star Wars take off (pun 100% intended). Lucas studied every great myth and hero’s journey, ingeniously combined elements of Flash Gordon with Western tropes, creating the creatures and mythos of the Star Wars universe. Furthermore, every single visual effect, sound, and costume were cutting edge, and each major performer finds a way to steal the show.

The title does raise some questions, though, and that is “What stars are at war?” Throughout the series we see many factions, races, and even entire planet systems battle over power through the galaxy, but not once do we see the conflict hinted at in the title. And it’s such a letdown, all we get is a big machine, never a standoff between shooting stars.

Final Verdict: This is not the film you’re looking for.


6. Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan was, without exaggeration, the most consequential Hollywood actor in history. Take that, Brando! Although he starred in classic films like King’s Row and the beloved Bedtime for Bonzo, he soon realized he would never get all the limelight due to his limited acting ability. So one day, Reagan said “If I can’t win the silver screen, I’m going to beat Hollywood at its own game!” And thus started the decade where Reagan’s real-world drama beat out anything churned out from the film industry. Coincidentally, Reagan’s legacy as president parallels careers of celebrities like Kanye West: Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit he was influential.

Notable Film: Blue Velvet 1986

One of the most celebrated arthouse filmmakers in Hollywood goes by the name David Lynch. What separates him from being just another pretentious auteur is that his films may be weird, but they find ways to resonate with people in unexpected ways. Lynch is seen as a master of atmosphere. His first film Eraserhead utilized ambient sounds and strange imagery so effectively that Stanley Kubrick cited it as his biggest influence when shooting The Shining. Many fans know him for his Twin Peaks series and Mulholland Drive, but his true mainstream artistic breakthrough was Blue Velvet. This film used the foundation of a straightforward crime story, but Lynch juxtaposed very traditional scenes with horrifying plot twists and his own brilliant sound design to make something that transcended the genre, influencing many postmodern filmmakers and crime series today.

Of course, who has the time to sit through something like that? I mean, creepy noises and flashy imagery have their place in a horror movie, but combining genres is flatout dishonest. Back in the Golden Age of cinema (if such a thing ever existed) we would have the characters explain everything that happened. And what happened to having good, clean villains? Bad guys are supposed to teach us lessons, not shock and repulse us, that’s what reality TV is for. I’m watching a mystery to see riddles solved and gaze at Humphrey Bogart’s dreamy eyes, not venture into how evil humanity can be.

Final Verdict: Sacrilegious


5. George H.W. Bush

Also known as the Bush that people didn’t hate, George senior was the least intimidating Director of the CIA this country has ever known. When he said “Read my lips: NO NEW TAXES,” I don’t think even Barbara Bush believed he would enforce it. You do have to give him credit for choosing Dan Quayle as his VP running mate. Quayle was the least-qualified man to ever serve as Vice President, what with his inability to spell “potato.” But he was a trailblazer. The man paved the way for modern patriots to be taken seriously, regardless of their credibility. That’s right, without Quayle, we wouldn’t have national treasure Sarah Palin (Sorry, Nic Cage) or our wonderful President Trump.

Notable Film: Goodfellas 1990

Nobody does crime movies quite like Martin Scorsese. Maybe it’s his unparalleled style. Maybe it’s his mastery of storytelling. Or maybe it is his uncanny ability to find insight into unsavory characters who draw genuine empathy from the audience. Goodfellas is an amazing example of all of these elements, particularly with its ability to own exactly what it is and still tease viewers into wanting the glamorous lifestyle onscreen, despite knowing the risks. Of course, for such an iconic and celebrated title, it is unethical. You may think I’m referring to the indirect glamorization of crime and violence, but no. The title Goodfellas is a lie.

When my poor mother went to theaters that dreadful day in 1990, she just wanted a laugh. What could offer more smiles than a movie about “Good fellows”? Well, she didn’t get any laughs. As soon as she saw that poor boy getting smacked by his father, she knew she’d made a mistake. Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) even gets aggravated when called a “funny guy.” What good fellow do you know would hate that label? Movie titles should deliver what they promise, it’s really not hard… just look at Bad Boys, or better yet, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Final Verdict: Decent, but needs a family-friendly Director’s Cut


4. Bill Clinton

Clinton was a competent president whose legacy was tarnished by an affair, but beyond his quest of trying to understand the definition of ‘is’, the lesser-discussed element of his time in office was his musicianship. Nixon’s piano-playing prowess proved to be powerful television, but he was no Liberace. Clinton, on the other hand, could play one mean saxophone. Bill’s band Three Blind Mice was a magnificent platform for his raw showmanship and charisma and unlike the tight, constrained classical piano that defined the ’70s, this music was far more accessible to Americans of all races and social backgrounds. And boy oh boy did that sax playing help him with the ladies. Amiright??

Notable Film: Pulp Fiction 1994 

Love or hate the man, Quentin Tarantino changed modern cinema with his unique style and breathed life into the indie circuits, with every studio always looking for the next Tarantino. For one, he is a genius screenwriter, who writes quirky, but captivating dialogue. Performers are always lining up to work with Tarantino because his roles tend to be so memorable and he seems to extract the best performances out of everyone (excluding himself). But what is most impressive is his ability to turn expectations… like how he just pops up in the film as Samuel L. Jackson’s friend.

Tarantino’s character Jimmy is so over-the-top that people have often called it a strange distraction. Not only is he blatantly racist, but he is a dweeb. And later on, Harvey Kietel comes over and they tease Jackson and John Travolta for how they look, in spite of Tarantino being the most out of place. For such a great writer, it is shocking that Tarantino could delude himself into thinking his portrayal of Jimmy could convince people that Jackson would even associate with such a loser.

Final Verdict: Film: A+, Tarantino’s Acting: F


3. George W. Bush

Nobody remembers what Dubya did in office so much as how he reacted to major crises, which could be the main reason he is considered a bad president. In his defense, though, he seems very personable and can paint pretty well. That seems to be his only defense at the moment, that and his PR team have coached him into swapping the Good ‘Ol Boy act for a photobombing. Though I will say, he seems like he will be perfect in the role of confused old man at family parties.

Notable Film: There Will Be Blood 2007

The title for best filmmaker is always a contested one, but the most celebrated modern master seems to be Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s hard to pick just one reason why his films seem so different, but one major part that Anderson evokes such vivid and impassioned performances from every single actor. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Daniel Day-Lewis, two of the greatest modern performers, each praised Anderson for having a unique talent for creating such powerful and unique characters at the conceptual stage and being able to capture spontaneous changes with actors on set. On top of such vivid characters, Anderson has an unparalleled ability to trigger just about any emotional response in any given scene. This combination of storytelling virtuosity and character development has left the film community in awe and constantly craving more… and never was this more prevalent than with There Will Be Blood.

Centered around a ruthless oil tycoon, we watch as he… hey, wait a minute, there isn’t actually that much blood in this movie! When you see Daniel Day-Lewis’s face on that movie poster it looks like you’re going to watch a crime drama or something, but noooo, it’s just some dark character study. The first twenty minutes has no dialogue, then the next two hours is slow buildup. And for what? A big fire and then screaming matches about milkshakes! I haven’t heard a more misleading title since The Neverending Story. There is one quality in this film, though, and it’s that Daniel Day-Lewis’s mustache looks like a push broom. I guess he’s a good actor too, but I’m not sure how I’d be expected to pay attention to what he’s saying when he’s pushing that fine specimen in my face. But overall, too much talking and ominous shots, not enough violence.

Final Verdict: More like, There WON’T Be Blood


2. Barack Obama

The fact that this man got elected is one of the single most impressive feats ever in electoral history. I’m not talking about his backstory or him being the first black president. I’m talking about his full name. His first name, Barack, is not only foreign-sounding, but rhymes with ‘Iraq,’ a country that had caused a lot of pain and concern for Americans. His middle name, ‘Hussein,’ was the last name of ruthless dictator Saddam Hussein. And Obama? Well that rhymes with a certain Osama who Barack eventually dispatched, probably in an effort remove any further negative associations.

Notable Film: Gravity 2013 

As many of our social-justice inclined readers have noticed by now, all of the directors mentioned before have been straight, white men. So, in keeping with this tradition, we would like to discuss the great Alfonso Cuarón. Since the early 2000s, we have seen remarkable entries from “The Three Amigos of Cinema” which include Cuarón, Guillermo Del Toro, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu. These great visionaries from Mexico have created some of the greatest, most innovative movies of this era and since Pan’s Labyrinth and Children of Men were Bush-era titles, Gravity had to suffice. But that’s ok, since it’s only the most amazing technical breakthrough in modern cinema. This space disaster flick was made possible by Cuarón’s eye for visceral suspense and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s virtuoso cinematography, a man who has not only popularized, but perfected the extended single-shot sequence as we know it today.

The film community is strangely divided on Gravity, however, either calling it a masterful survival story or underwritten pseudo sci-fi trash. I think it has something to do with casting George Clooney as one of the two main characters and his presence can be distracting at times. I mean, have you seen the guy? He’s so handsome. No wonder he’s had such a great career. He’s like that guy you knew from school that’s good at everything but he’s also nice so you can’t hate him. But then you see that he ends up with a gal like Amal Clooney, a beautiful and accomplished international lawyer and you realize that your entire life is a disappointment because you aren’t as smart or handsome as him and will never do what he has done. And sometimes when you’re feeling really low, you get drunk and marathon all the Batman movies just so you can watch Batman and Robin laughing at George the entire time — even when he’s not on screen. Then you purchase a fedora and start to become a men’s rights activist and blame your weight on genetics and secretly cry yourself to sleep at night because you know, somewhere deep down, that all your shortcomings in life are really your own fault and it’s just easier to blame other people. That’s when you realize that in this whole equation, there will always be a George Clooney, but it’s your choice whether you want to hate on him or take the high road and get his face tattooed on your forehead and stalk him during his morning jogs.

Final Verdict: #Clooney4Lyfe


1. Donald Trump

Bill Gates said in a recent interview about his career that intelligence was not as important as he thought it would be… so I guess that explains Donald Trump. What is there to say about the Commander-in-Chief that can’t be summed up in an It’s Always Sunny gag? He beat the odds and leveraged his celebrity profile into beating the DC establishment. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you light a fire and the media fans it at hurricane speed. And that’s really all there is to say about that…

Notable Film: Get Out 2017

It’s very early into Trump’s presidency, but thus far, Get Out is one of the stronger films of 2017. It is a rare modern horror movie that is not only well-constructed, but has done very well at the box office. In fact, with this film, it makes Jordan Peele the first black director to make a movie that has grossed over $100 million. It is impossible to escape the racial components of this film, as it is very much engrossed in the horror of subtle racism, but what is so remarkable is that this movie has proven that a socially-conscious movies can be accessible and entertaining to so many.

Of course, the one element that is totally inaccessible is the fact that it is written and directed by an African American, which totally messes up our trend of straight-white male domination of the director position. However, it should be noted this is a refreshing addition in a time our country struggles with race. Now that we have that out of the way, there’s no more white establishment, right?

Final Verdict: Almost as scary as a Trump presidency

Final Verdict: We have reached the end of our cinematic journey through U.S. Presidential History. Although most films on this list do not have enough CGI or explosions to make them bearable, we urge you to pull yourselves away from the inevitable Transformers XXV and Fast & Furious XXXVIII and instead suffer through these critical gems that aren’t that interesting, but will make you seem more cultured and give you plenty of material for your next pretentious rant at a party.

And never fear, we’ll keep this list updated, so tune in next month for President Pence!

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