Frank's Faves: Movies about presidents who aren't Lincoln
This week: First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of their countrymen, but not always first at the box office.
Monday is Presidents Day, which remains, at best, tied for the second-most popular American holiday ... in February, that is.
It's also our country's modern-times approach to the problem of economizing federal holidays when your two most popular presidents' birthdays fall within 10 days of each other. Hey, far be it from me to cast aspersions on authentic government attempts at economizing. But having just paid tribute last week to movies about Abraham Lincoln, how best to honor all the rest of those presidents who weren't lucky enough to preside over a civil war and get assassinated at the height of their popularity? How else, but with another February Faves list!
OK, I'll grant you, there haven't been many blockbusters about presidents who weren't Lincoln. John F. Kennedy comes closest, but sadly, many of the best movies connected to JFK have more to do with how he died than how he lived.
But there have been more than a few, and if you open up the category to made-for-TV movies ... well, the field of possibilities becomes practically a landslide. Even Richard Nixon, who was hardly one of our more popular presidents, has been the subject of enough feature films to warrant his own list — played by Oscar-winning stars from Anthony Hopkins to Kevin Spacey — which is why I restricted this particular list to just one Tricky Dick flick, or for the sake of absolute political correctness, one movie to a president. All rise, if you will, for:
MY FIVE FAVORITE HISTORICAL MOVIES ABOUT PRESIDENTS WHO WEREN'T LINCOLN
"Frost/Nixon" (2008): Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, directed by Ron Howard, turns up the screws in what is more of a high-stakes chess match than a biopic, and hence is far more fascinating.
"Hyde Park on Hudson" (2012): Bill Murray delivers one of his subtlest, and therefore best, performances as Franklin D. Roosevelt hosting King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at his country estate.
"W." (2008): Josh Brolin is surprisingly sympathetic as George W. Bush in director Oliver Stone's somewhat-spotty third feature about a U.S. president after "JFK" (1991) and "Nixon" (1995).
"Jefferson in Paris" (1995): Nick Nolte may not be everybody's first choice to play pre-presidential Thomas Jefferson, but he does manage to keep the lofty founding father well grounded.
"Amistad" (1997): Anthony Hopkins as former president John Quincy Adams totally eclipses his darker POTUS performance in Oliver Stone's "Nixon" (1995).
Honorable Mention (for recurring presidential roles): Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson in "The President's Lady" (1953) and "The Buccaneer" (1958); and Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt in "Night at the Museum" (2006), "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" (2009) and "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" (2014).
MY FIVE FAVORITE NON-LINCOLN TV PRESIDENTS
Barry Bostwick: "George Washington" (1984) and "George Washington II: The Forging of a Nation" (1986). Bostwick's best role — outside of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," of course.
Paul Giamatti: "John Adams" (2008). The second president once described himself to Jefferson as "obnoxious, suspected and unpopular." Who better to play such a self-deprecating patriot also known for his sense of honor?
William Devane: "The Missiles of October" (1974). John F. Kennedy has also been played well on the small screen by Martin Sheen ("Kennedy," 1983) and Greg Kinnear ("The Kennedys," 2011). But Devane does JFK like his previous job really was captaining a PT boat in wartime. And he has the accent down, too.
Gary Sinise: "Truman" (1995). Show me a better Show-Me-State president on screen. I don't think so.
Randy Quaid: "LBJ: The Early Years" (1987). Another career-best portrayal.