Idol Chatter

bill-pullman_idol.jpgIn this season of unending presidential coverage, debates, campaigning, newsmagazine teases, ad infinitum and ad nauseam, I figured it’d be a good time to reflect on some of the most inspiring presidents of our generation–on the big screen and the small screen of course, at least according to this: My list of “The Top Ten Most Inspiring On-Screen Presidents,” as well as a few honorable mentions at the bottom:
10. Bill Pullman’s Thomas Wilmore in “Independence Day.” Yeah, not a very serious start to the list, but he led the U.S. as an underdog in a war that seemed like we couldn’t win, which (here’s a sobering thought) may be a harsh reality in the all-not-too-distant future.
9. Morgan Freeman’s Tom Beck in “Deep Impact.” Mr. Freeman gave enough dignity and respect to the role–in a time of crisis–that the fact he was an African-American was almost unremarkable.
8. Robin Williams’ Tom Dobbs in “Man of the Year.” An honest guy found out his election win was a fraud–oh that our current executive branch (and legislative branch) should have such integrity.
7. Glenn Close’s Kathryn Bennett in “Air Force One.” Technically, she was only acting as the president while Harrison Ford (the real president) was in a crisis situation aboard the plane, but her resolve, fair-mindedness, and lack of self-centeredness was a redeeming model.
6. Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Smith in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Okay, yes, he was not a president, just a senator. But it’s just too dang much of a classic to leave it off this list, and I wish a citizen president could really emerge and have the selfless clarity and noble simplicity of Mr. Smith.

air-force-one_idol.jpg5. Kevin Kline’s William Mitchell in “Dave.” He made it really, really simple, pledging to find a job for every American who was willing to work. The fact that he really liked the people he met along the way is much like (I’m told) our current president.
4. Michael Douglas’ Andrew Shepherd in “The American President.” A widower, a good dad, a great dancer, and a guy willing to go door-to-door to campaign against guns! What more could you want? Well, he didn’t keep his personal life personal, which has been a challenge for presidents before!
3. Dennis Haysbert’s David Palmer in “24.” Mr. Palmer was a small-screen force in the early seasons of “24,” one who managed to bring the heroics and patriotism of Jack Bauer to the diplomatic world of his purvey.
2. Martin Sheen’s Josiah Bartlett in “The West Wing.” Granted, there is more time to develop a character over several TV seasons than in a two-hour movie, but develop it he did. Bartlett was a compassionate liberal who managed to generate a respectful vulnerability without a moral corruption.
1. Harrison Ford’s James Marshall in “Air Force One.” Who of us doesn’t wish for Camelot, where our president is wise and mature but looks young, refuses to negotiate with terrorists, beats the bad guys and rescues his family from calamity? And at the end of the day, he just wants to kiss his wife and watch a tape-recorded football game.
Honorable mention goes to Tiny Lister, Jr.’s President Lindberg, refined and restrained in “The Fifth Element,” Peter Sellers’ contemplative Merkin Muffley in “Dr. Strangelove,” and the redemptive but short terms of John Goodman’s Glenn Allen Walken and Jimmy Smits’ Matt Santos, both of whom took short turns on “The West Wing.”
In the end, we’re probably fine as long as our movie and TV presidents don’t bring the political corruption of Donald Moffat’s president Bennett in “Clear and Present Danger,” or the moral corruption of John Travolta’s Jack Stanton in “Primary Colors,” or Gene Hackman’s Alan Richmond in “Absolute Power.”
Great spoofs include Lloyd Bridges’ “Tug” Densen in “Hot Shots Part Deux” and Jack Nicholson’s James Dale in “Mars Attacks,” but that’s for another blog.

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