"The American President" (1995)
This reunion between director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin a few years after their “A Few Good Men” collaboration was nominated for best picture at the Oscars gave audiences their first glimpse of Sorkin’s particular idealized view of American politics. Michael Douglas is a widowed Left-leaning president who charms an environmental lobbyist played by Annette Bening while fighting off the election bid of a right-leaning senator played by Richard Dreyfuss. It’s very cute, and essentially provided Martin Sheen, as the president’s closest advisor, with an extended audition for his later presidential role on Sorkin’s popular political series “The West Wing.” But Sorkin’s script also made some hard-hitting points couched in his typically quippy dialogue, such as “Mr. President, you've got bigger problems than losing me. You just lost my vote.” And, “How do you have patience for people who claim they love America, but clearly can't stand Americans?” Reiner and Sorkin’s movie — essentially a romantic comedy set in the White House — was made during the Clinton years, but when Big Bill was still rakish and charming rather than post-Monica Lewinsky-scandal manipulative and pathetic. Its wistful take on the bloodsport of politics may seem even more tragically naïve now, with its big issues being energy and crime bills and not wars and global recession. But it’s not hard to imagine President Obama enjoying a screening of “The American President,” wishing he could unload publicly on Romney the way Douglas’ Andrew Shepard finally does in the end. [Jay A. Fernandez]
Mora Stephens' wry "Medium Cool" update was shot during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City and follows the illicit affair between a Republican delegate (Matthew Mabe) and a liberal activist (Woodwyn Koons) that takes place over the course of the convention. The two former college friends find each other in radically different mindsets but still oddly attracted to each other. Inevitably, their pillow talk turns the prospects of a bipartisanship future. Needless to say, that wasn't in the cards for the presidential race in 2004, and the would-be couple follows a similar trajectory. The finale is both romantically tragic and crushing in a larger sense to anyone with lingering aches from the second victory of George W. Bush. [Eric Kohn]
"Election Day" and "11/4/08" (2004, 2008)
Get hyped up for this year's election by recapping the last two in a pair of documentaries that survey the national energy of the day: Katy Chevigny's sprawling portrait of the 2004 election day follows 11 different voting day experiences at polling stations around the country. Stretching from early in the morning until late at night, the movie follows a diverse set of blue collar citizens committed to keeping the practice fair and structured, but the director amazingly avoids taking a partisan stance.
An ode to the process of elections, "Election Day" theoretically could take place any year, although compared to the historic election that would follow four years down the line, it looks decidedly quaint. Jeff Deutchman's crowd-sourced overview of the 2008 election pulls together footage from around the country shot by filmmakers as they eagerly anticipate Obama's triumph. While the spirit of hope and change may look somewhat quaint now, the movie still nicely captures a giddy energy that may or may not resurface on Tuesday night. (One can only, er, hope.) [Eric Kohn]