What does a Trump movie look like?

Movies from 2016-2020.

You’re reading the latest edition of moviepudding.

The worst is over, but it’s not over yet. Two weeks ago, I’d been dosing steadily on Vietnamese shortbread and tuning out of tv shows in between the unforeseen appointment-viewing that was the Kornacki cam. The fragile bubble of anticipation finally burst Saturday morning Nov. 7 to cheers, jeers (at the prez), shouts of praise and relief across my neighborhood, our collective anxieties relieved at last.

Films are also inherently political, even when they aren’t explicitly about leaders or policy. Whether created by independent makers striking out on their own, or a director contracted by a studio (a gun for hire), movies can and do reflect the times, in spite of anyone’s intentions.

So what films define the Trump presidency? Critics have started taking inventory. Get Out is a clear answer, so is Parasite despite its Korean origins. Bacurau and The Assistant could work, and according to other critics, Paddington 2 or Boss Baby might also fit the bill. A few of my picks, below.


A FEW DEFINING FILMS OF THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY

Hell or High Water

David Mackenzie, 2016

To save the family farm from foreclosure, two brothers rob a bank, the same one that they’re indebted to. Hostile tactics and take-the-wheel aggression are the only means to an end, and hypocritical financial institutions turn a blind eye when it suits them. While the authorities fail to nail a perp, the eye of the law (Jeff Bridges) never forgets or forgives — creating a fictional instance where conservative viewers maybe don’t side with the cops.

Sorry to Bother You

Boots Riley, 2017

Capitalist critique, workers rights, corporate nightmares, racial identity, performance art. Boots Riley strikes an unusual tenor in this political satire — at first dull consideration, then goofy foreboding, but then sprints towards unforgettable full-bore lunacy and terror.

The Kindergarten Teacher 

Sara Colangelo, 2017

A woman’s skewed beliefs and a self-imposed responsibility illuminates the ill effects, both private and public, of an increasingly anti-intellectual society that devalues beauty and art.

Unfriended, Dark Web

Stephen Susco, 2018

The internet is inescapable. You, me, and everyone we know are today’s merchandise under the regime of surveillance capitalism. Companies compete for your attention and wager your next move. (“You are the product!” reiterates The Social Dilemma on Netflix.) This becomes the tail-end joke and big reveal of this teen horror movie that also proves our daily miseries are grist for the gratification of hackers and techlords.  

The Dead Don’t Die

Jim Jarmusch, 2019

A master phones it in, in this movie about the zombie apocalypse. But I guess it doesn’t matter because we’re all going to die/dead anyway (except for Tilda Swinton who is immortal) so the joke’s on me. Touche, Jim.

First Cow

Kelly Reichert, 2020

A late-Trump era film, hopeful yet fatalistic. A new American myth is forged by face-tuning the historical timeline in Oregon Territory (an unlikely friendship between a cook and a Chinese immigrant, both outsiders) and assuaging the wrinkles with picturesque images endowed by magnificent Thoreau-levels of calm. The film might also facilitate a reading, among others, that it’s the foreigner’s money-hungry audacity that jumpstarts the pair’s fall from grace (not a spoiler).

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