American presidents

The last movie watched in 2008 was The American President, which I first saw about 10 years ago and wanted to see again because it was a kind of dry run for The West Wing and now that I’m familiar with the latter I wanted to see how it held up. Same warm heart, same creator, a lot of the same cast, same attitude, a lot of the same lines and unashamedly Democrat.

And it does hold up, because like TWW its two greatest strengths are: (1) it actually uses real-world issues to drive its drama, and the result isn’t always a happy one, and good people are forced to do bad things because not doing them would be even worse; and (2) it loves the presidency. Not for what it’s become but for what it should be. It should attract people of the highest calibre. It should be such a power for good. To be addressed as “Mr President” should be the greatest honour a country can bestow, and it should only be bestowed on people who are utterly worthy of it. Presidents Shepherd in The American President and Bartlet in The West Wing – and indeed the future President Santos in the same – are such people. You can’t help respecting and liking them. Why can’t we get them in real life?

Also over the holiday period we reached the end of series 6 of The West Wing – one more to go, even if I do know roughly how it ends. Series 6 ended with the battle lines being drawn up – the end of the presidency in sight, the two new presidential candidates confirmed. And true to form and its own internal guidelines, it doesn’t make the Republican guy a cipher who will easily be beaten. He’s just as good and honest a man as Bartlet, who is well aware his own party can only produce slimeballs and second-raters and is actively worried that they can’t find someone to stand against him. Until the underdog Congressman Santos enters the fray, of course, but some conventions of drama have to stand.

It got me wondering: when was the last time a Democrat president handed over to another Democrat? (Not counting Clinton who should have handed over to Gore, but that’s history …) A quick check isn’t encouraging for the future. The last two Democrat successions both came about by the incumbent dying – Kennedy and Johnson, and before that Roosevelt and Truman. In both cases the former VP then won a single term in his own right but was followed by a Republican. The last time a living, breathing and compos mentis Democrat president was followed by another Democrat was Franklin Pierce in 1857, who was pro-slavery and had been disowned by his own party after a single term. The last two-term Democrat to hand over to another Democrat (though Clinton had two terms …) was Andrew Jackson in 1837.

So, fingers crossed for Mr Obama in 2016, eh? He’s already broken a couple of records; another one or two shouldn’t be a problem.

The Bens 2011

Your admirable patience since this time last year is rewarded. The Bens are in for the best movies watched by me in 2010. That is the sole criterion for consideration, so even quite old movies can be up for awards. Remember, it’s now what it’s about, it’s how it’s about it.

So …

Best movie shortlist

Winner: Toy Story 3

Judge’s Comments: a very strong choice of movies that were well made, well produced, well acted and (crucially) in which I had no idea where they might be going. For instance: movies where it is not a given that the hero(es) will survive. But in the end it had to be Toy Story 3. How many of these would I get on DVD and re-watch? Exactly.

Best actor shortlist:

Winner: Lotso Hugs

Judge’s comments: Lotso wins because, despite the handicap of being a CGI animation with no actual physical form, from the moment he appears he manages to come across as genial and friendly and slightly creepy and threatening, all of which he in fact is. Chiwetel Ejiofor gets an honorable mention for so spectacularly notbeing the Operative from Serenity in his portrayal of a transvestite club singer. And his songs are pretty darn toe-tapping.

Best SF short list

Winner: Moon

Judge’s Comments: Not such a strong list of contenders, frankly. Moon would have stood out in any year but neither of the other two really deserve an urgent repeat viewing. Very cleverly done, yes, but … but. Moon however has a standout performance by one actor playing two men, and an old-school approach to practical, model-based special effects that is a huge relief after endless vistas of CGI.

Best thriller shortlist

Winner: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Judge’s Comments: Another clutch of well-made movies where you really didn’t know what was going to happen or who would live and die. The Girl has to waltz off with the prize, however. What else could you do with a movie where the lead character has her probation officer tied up naked, is forcing objects inside him via the bodily orifice that isn’t the mouth, forcing him to watch a video of him raping her so she can blackmail him into releasing her from probation … and that’s just character background?

Best paranoid conspiracy theory

Winner: Defence of the Realm

Judge’s Comments: The judges surprise themselves on this one, expecting The Ghost to be the shoe-in due to its topicality and dislike of Tony Blair. Defence of the Realm came up from behind. It was made in the eighties, which only occasionally shows, but is still just as taut and unexpected as, say, State of Play. In fact, withoutDefence of the Realm there might have been no State of Play. Or indeed The Ghost.

Best Swedish Film

Winner: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Judge’s Comments: Okay, so the field was limited to two choices anyway – but even so. See comments above about the winner. Arn suffered a little from trying to compress a quite long trilogy into one 2 hour movie and from a certain Swedishness along the lines of: “oh look, something exciting is happening over there / has just happened here.” Mind you, I was at school with one of the villains which gives it a notch up.

Best comedy

Winner: The Big Lebowski

Judge’s Comments: Ooh, this was a hard one. The Big Lebowski scrapes it, just, but a very honorable mention to Tamara Drewe, not least for all the writer jokes.

And finally, some one-offs – categories of one which still deserve a mention because that single category was so noticeable.

Best facial hair

This movies features players like LongstreetLeeChamberlainArmistead andPickett, so the facial hair was always going to be key. As it turns out, their beards and whiskers were present at one of the most important battles of modern history and prove well up to the challenge.

Worst waste of Bill Nighy

Bill Nighy as a hitman. So much promise …

Best use of a screen legend

Michael Caine continues to prove that his one-style-fits-all acting method really does fit all. The man is a marvel.

Until next year, then!

Read and watched in 2010

For personal record only. Further analysis may or may not happen.