It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Christmas trees are up, the smell of cider is in the air, and, if you’re a cinephile, movie theaters are overflowing with goodies. But as the proverbial people of Whoville flock to watch critically acclaimed works and enchanting commercial endeavors, the tanned Grinch in the White House continues his resistance to the arts. If only he knew how much the movies had to show him this year!
Throughout the nearly two years of his administration, the President has made sure not to engage with the arts, refusing to attend the Kennedy Center Honors, threatening to cut funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, and rarely mentioning what’s screened, if anything, in the White House Family Theater. Perhaps he’s still traumatized by the message of family, helping those who need a home, and empathy from Finding Dory, which was screened for him at the beginning of his tenure in 2017.
So if, for some reason, the President finds himself bored with golf, exhausted from putting immigrant children in cages, and tweeting, maybe he’ll be in the mood for a movie. I’d like to recommend that he take a look at these 10 movies, and as he makes his way down to that Family Theater through the red-blood Christmas trees that deck his halls this year, may his heart grow at least half a size.
Collin (Daveed Diggs, a Tony-winner for Hamilton) has only three days of probation left and is worried the police will come up with a way to send him back to prison. His anxiety spikes when he witnesses a white police officer (Ethan Embry) shoot an unarmed African-American civilian. As Collin begins having nightmares and hallucinations about the event, director Carlos López Estrada transforms the film from a haunting character study into an essay on the effects of gentrification, gun violence and prejudice. Perhaps the President would enjoy seeing Diggs’ work, as he gives one of the most accomplished performances of the year, infusing Collin with the kind of compassion and complexity the movies usually reserve for white, savior-type characters.
Through Patrick Wang’s epic two-part film, the President could learn about all the good that comes from arts education. He could see how many professionals, like Dorothea (played by Tyne Daly) dedicate their entire lives to improving their communities by involving people in artistic works (as creators and audience members) and how little they ask in return.
If there’s any type of person that the President respects, surely it’s an efficient criminal. So he would have a blast watching Lee Israel (a caustic Melissa McCarthy) work her way up through the world of literary forgery in Marielle Heller’s sensitive look at queer friendships (Richard E. Grant plays Lee’s charming frenemy Jack Hock) and economic injustice in America. Heck, the President could even show the First Lady the right way to plagiarize a document and avoid future embarrassments.
If there’s another type of person the President respects, it’s the obscenely wealthy variety. So what better company for him during the holidays than the Young family from Singapore, whose members can party on an abandoned container ship, walk on water at weddings and buy multimillion-dollar properties on the spot to make a point. In John M. Chu’s delightful throwback to classic Hollywood romantic comedies (which became a pleasantly unexpected box office hit) the President might even find ideas to improve relations within different social classes.
The President might be too “busy” to read James Baldwin’s eponymous novel, but Barry Jenkins’ gorgeous film adaptation should provide him with an insightful look at the lives of African Americans oppressed by a racist system created to imprison them unjustly and take away their rights. The film even has a sequence in Puerto Rico (a reminder to send some funds to aid with the Hurricane Maria reconstruction process) and a subplot that showcases the horrors of anti-semitism.
Amandla Stenberg is the kind of actress whose charms prove to be absolutely irresistible; perhaps the President saw her as the heartbreaking Rue in The Hunger Games. If so, he will be pleased to realize she grew into a mature, intelligent young woman, delivering the kinds of performances that make industry veterans look like amateurs. As the aptly named Starr, she undergoes a character arc that sees her go from an innocent young girl, into an anti-violence social warrior, the kind which begins national movements, million-people marches, and an invitation for all of us to reexamine the ways in which we can help improve the world.
The President has declared how much he loves war vets, and how much he does for them, so he will not be surprised to see how many of them are living with PTSD and will most likely be familiar with stories like that of Will (a heartbreaking Ben Foster), who lives in an Oregon national park with his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). In Debra Granik’s follow-up to the revelatory documentary Stray Dog, the President will not only find a sensitive portrayal of a man whose country fails to serve him after he served them, but he will also learn tips on how to reduce his own carbon footprint.
Rather than trying to build a wall on the border, the President should spend a couple of hours immersed in the Mexico City so vividly captured by Alfonso Cuarón in Roma. It’s a city captured during a time of social upheaval, as US military interventions widen the gap between rich and poor and women slowly begin to reclaim their rightful place in what was always supposed to be a matriarchal society. There is a lot for the President to take from this film, which is why he ought to feel blessed that his guide will be Yalitza Aparicio, a Mixtec woman, who, in her screen debut as Cleo, a maid working for a middle-class light-skinned family, has carved herself a place among the greatest film characters of all time.
Next time the President wants to invite an African-American musician to the White House to discuss policy, he should forget Kanye’s number and call Boots Riley instead. In his directorial debut, the rapper-activist delivered the movies’ most provocatively surreal look at bureaucracy since Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. A look at how gentrification has made Oakland unrecognizable to the people who grew up there, the film is also a reminder of how there is only so much oppressed people can take before taking action.
Steve McQueen (who directed 12 Years a Slave) is back with the year’s most pleasantly deceiving heist film, in which three women of diverse racial backgrounds (led by a sublime Viola Davis), all having recently lost their husbands, work together to steal from the super-rich and improve their communities. In this insightful portrait of how men in every branch of government and society keep oppressing women and, by default, hurt economic growth and equality, the President might find solace in the idea that when you listen to people’s needs, positive change might result. He also won’t find a better representation of how 2018 has felt to the rest of us. Rather than being a static snapshot of America today, Widows is a moving reflection so real that it often hurts to watch.