Amongst all the star cameos in Lee Daniels’s late-summer hit The Butler, one performance stands out as a particularly curious bit of stunt casting. John Cusack, with nary any make-up, a slight gruff in his voice, carrying that aura of meandering disinterest and slight condescension he’s fine-tuned for nearly a decade struts onto the screen as none other than Richard Milhous Nixon. Cusack’s turn as Nixon is both ingenuously lazy and charmingly surreal – no effort is made to convince the audience that the man onscreen is anybody but John Cusack (in contrast to Liev Schreiber’s Norbit-esque turn as LBJ), yet the continued reference toward Cusack as one of modern history’s most readily recognizable and continually invoked Commanders in Chief has a certain Dadaist charm to it, as if Daniels and Cusack were admitting playfully that this was simply yet another star turn and that Nixon was too large and imposing a historical figure to channel with any serious effort for a film not about Nixon. Nixon himself, of course, probably wouldn’t stand for a film not about Nixon. Nixon is a figure that refuses to leave public consciousness. The central subject of more narrative films than any modern President, Nixon’s endless contradictions, standalone history, and almost inscrutable public appeal has provided a subject of endless fascination for storytellers of all stripes, from John Adams to Robert Altman. Here’s an overview of the 37th President’s cinematic highlights.


The Best Damn Oscar Blog

The release of Lincoln could not be better timed. The plan must be to get as much of a boost from the presidential election as possible, yet at the same time avoid being cast as part of the political debate, by opening after November 6th. Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner would rather their film be seen as a portrait of a great American hero above contemporary politics, or at least not see it hijacked by 21st century bickering.  They have every right, even though upon closer inspection it might become clear where they stand. However, let’s leave that for later and move on to some Oscar history. Only four men have earned Best Actor nominations for playing US Presidents, with Daniel Day-Lewis now certain to be the fifth. (For context, the Academy has over the years nominated nine Kings of England.) The list contains one other Lincoln, one Woodrow Wilson, and two Richard Nixons. That’s a bit bleak, isn’t it?


One Small Step

From the second half of the twentieth century onward, our view of NASA and its associated lore in movies have been inseparable. The astronaut, a uniquely American frontier hero whose myth and iconography made them the cowboy of the second half of the 20th century, has a position in our cultural memory that is inseparable from cinematic imagination. From pre-moon landing science fiction that dreamed of potential encounters with distant worlds through an organized space program (Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey) to reenactments of history celebrating the space program and the individuals involved (The Right Stuff, Apollo 13) to NASA/moon landing documentaries (For All Mankind, In the Shadow of the Moon) to later, more divergent science-fiction films that have emerged since the prominence of NASA has lessened (Armageddon and so on), NASA, space exploration, the moon landing, and its imagined associations have retained a prominent place in cinematic mythmaking prompted by continued fascination with the frontier of space and humanity’s place in it. Hell, we’ve wondered about the moon since the beginning of cinema. That our collective experience of space in both fiction (i.e., narrative cinema) and non-fiction has been via the moving image (i.e., watching the moon landing on TV) is perhaps what most thoroughly cements this porous association between NASA and its cinematic myth.



The only people who will be vaguely interested in this movie are the media vultures (like me) who just want to see a good, old fashioned train wreck come October.

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published: 02.01.2015
published: 01.31.2015
published: 01.30.2015
published: 01.30.2015

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