Film Bro Wishes Obama Were POTUS From The Movie In His Own Mind
When Barack Obama released his year-end movie list from behind his 10-foot wall, it was only a matter of time before some ragamuffin dudes just had to share their opinions about it. Owen Gleiberman, the film reviewer from Entertainment Weekly and now Variety, criticized Obama's personal tastes in a column called "What Barack Obama's Year End Movie List Reveals About Him." This is already stupid because I don't need Gleiberman to tell me what Obama's movie list "reveals" about him. That's fairly obvious. The list informs us which movies from 2018 he really likes. It's not secretly a treasure map with clues directing us to some hidden artifact. Yet Gleiberman was able to somehow able to read far more into it than was sensible.
On December 28, when Barack Obama posted a list of his favorite movies of 2018 (there are 15 films on it, listed alphabetically), you could see, hear, feel, and just about touch the paroxysm of rapture it set off within the film-critic community. To an extraordinary degree, he had validated their tastes. Obama, in that list, revealed himself to be a movie buff of the highest order, of the most exquisite and forward-thinking sensibility
This is why I stopped reviewing movies a while back. The "paroxysms of rapture" were terror on my knees. Let's check out our last mentally competent president's selections.
The Death of Stalin
If Beale Street Could Talk
Leave No Trace
Minding the Gap
Support the Girls
Won't You Be My Neighbor
So far, I've only seen Black Panther. I will probably eventually see BlacKkKlansman and Won't You Be My Neighbor. I'm sure the others are fine. What possible problem could anyone have with this list?
The truth is, I found it dispiriting — an example of caution masquerading as daring. The critically approved good taste that Obama displays in his list of favorite films is so impeccable that I kept combing through the list in search of a flaw in the diamond, a micro glimmer of vulgarity or surprise, or just something a little offbeat, a dollop of idiosyncrasy that might tell us a bit more about who Barack Obama is, apart from someone with a platonically perfect record of movie fanship. His taste in movies is so good that it's too good for its own good.
Really? Obama's taste is too good? That's your complaint? You wanted a Robin Hood or Tomb Raider in there? Maybe some hardcore porn? Would that provide a suitable "micro glimmer of vulgarity"? This is why Obama shouldn't mess with you fools anymore. You're never satisfied.
It's a bit strange to peruse Obama's list for a glimpse of what's inside his heart and mind, only to be confronted by the hive mind of the cinephile-industrial complex. Maybe that's just who he is, but if you accept the list as Obama's own, what it reveals about him is that he's a man who instinctively focus groups his own taste to within an inch of its life.
Yes, it is a bit strange. Sometimes a list is just a list. These are just movies Obama likes. It won't provide you much insight into his relationship with his mother. Also: "Hive mind of the cinephile-industrial complex"? Does Gleiberman have friends who accept his calls?
It's annoying that Gleiberman struggles to accept that Obama -- a Columbia and Harvard-educated constitutional scholar -- could assemble a highfalutin "year's best" film list with the same ease as any number of pretentious critics. Does Gleiberman believe his own peers "focus group" their tastes to death?
Gleiberman then has the audacity to claim Obama "follows more than he leads" with his list. He argues that this is emblematic of his presidency. Obama was too "cautious" and "go with the flow." He wasn't a bold maverick like Han Solo, whose titular film also failed to make Obama's list.
The side of him that — I'm sorry, but stray outside of the box with me here for a moment — could and should have done more to try and lock in the confirmation of Merrick Garland as Supreme Court Justice.
I know, I know: That was all Mitch McConnell's fault! Obama's hands were tied. It was all about the Republicans' procedural corruption. Yet just imagine if Obama — who, at the time, was the most powerful man in the world — had actually decided to break the rules. What if he had tried to shut down the government and take the issue directly to the American people? Imagine if he'd made a speech that said, "This can and will not stand."
Is Gleiberman pitching his own movie now? If so, it won't make anyone's year-end list. People keep wanting Obama to have been some rip-roaring liberal cowboy, shouting, "Yippee-Ki-Yay!" and dropping Mitch McConnell to his slow-motion death from a skyscraper. That was never my brother. Stop projecting your unrealistic "magic negro" fantasies onto him.
Obama campaigned hard for Hillary Clinton, whose election he saw as the best means of seating Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court. He wasn't going to turn into Wesley Snipes at the eleventh hour. Besides, liberals say they want cowboys but then freak out when Sarah Sanders is denied a fancy meal or Maxine Waters opens her mouth.
Gleiberman ends his treatise with this silliness.
Imagine if we had a president from the liberal side who was willing, on occasion, to break the rules and make up new ones, the way that Donald Trump does (or, as "Vice" would have it, Dick Cheney before him). We used to have those people. They were called Abraham Lincoln and FDR.
I know Lincoln was not a modern-day Republican but I wouldn't necessarily classify him a bearded Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He also shared a lot of the same traits of "moderation" that Gleiberman abhors in Obama. Lincoln stated that he'd free "none of the slaves," after all, if that meant preserving the union. Gleiberman derides Obama for not adequately punishing the perpetrators of the 2008 financial crisis, but Lincoln was willing to let the leaders of the former Confederacy walk with a Civil War participation trophy. Liberal icon FDR's most memorable act of "rule breaking" was to lock up innocent Americans who shared the same heritage as the country's enemies at the time. (Okay, and the courtpacking. And yes, we would like some courtpacking too.)
Obama entitled his list "My favorite movies of 2018," but did he choose the movies he loved or did he get with the program? The most telling thing about his list is that there may be no difference.
So, is Gleiberman's essay the dumbest thing I read in 2018 or the dumbest thing anyone's written in 2018? There may be no difference.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."