Movies for the holiday -- presidential history flicks

Movies for the holiday -- presidential history flicks

These movies are based on historical events:

1776: The 1972 movie, based on the Broadway musical of the same name, doesn’t include any presidents—because the first president would not take office until 13 years later. But it does feature three future presidents: George Washington (who is mentioned frequently but doesn’t actually appear onscreen), John Adams (portrayed by William Daniels) and Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard). Some critics quibble about inaccuracies and omissions, but what do they expect? It is a musical after all. The movie hits close to the mark on the broad outlines of the debate for independence and it’s a fun, family-friendly way to celebrate the Fourth.

All the President’s Men:  Watergate journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are portrayed by actors Robert Redford and Dustin Huffman in this movie about the scandal that brought down the Nixon presidency.

Amistad: This movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, deals with the legal aftermath of an 1839 rebellion on a slave ship, the Amistad. After the ship, with the Africans aboard, sails to the United States, the central question is whether they should be considered free people. The case goes all the way to the Supreme Court. There are two presidents in the 1997 movie, Martin Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne) and John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins), who -- after his time as president -- argues the case before the Supreme Court. The movie is noted for its depiction of the horrors of the slave trade and for the powerful performance of Hopkins, who won an Oscar for best supporting actor.

Frost/Nixon: British talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) persuades former President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) to give televised interviews. Directed by Ron Howard and based on the play by Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon is a smart movie, a battle of wits worth watching. 

Hyde Park on Hudson: The king and queen of England visit the home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the pivotal period before World War II. The interplay between Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and the royals plays out against the backdrop of Roosevelt’s affair with his distant cousin, Daisy (Laura Linney).

JFK: Directed by Oliver Stone, this movie centers around Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), the New Orleans district attorney who investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and believed a conspiracy was involved.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler: A White House butler (Forest Whitaker) quietly witnesses the internal workings of government, starting in the Eisenhower administration and continuing through the Civil Rights era and the Reagan years.   

Lincoln: This well-written portrait of the 16th president should be seen again and again. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie tells the story of Lincoln’s attempts to get the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery) passed as the Civil War drew to a close. Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for his portrayal of Lincoln. Other notable performances include Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward and Tommy Lee Jones as U.S. Rep. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania.

Nixon: Oliver Stone takes on Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) in this biopic, which examines the life of the only president to resign. While long -- roughly three hours -- it is also compelling and well-acted.  

Thirteen Days: In October 1962, President John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) and his administration worked to contain the Cuban missile crisis. While this story has been told before, this version takes the point of view of Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner), a Kennedy confident.

W: Josh Brolin stars in an Oliver Stone flick about the beleaguered 43rd president. The movie hit screens in 2008, as Bush was leaving office. Despite strong performances by Brolin and Elizabeth Banks as Laura, the movie feels hurried and unfinished.

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