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Obama’s Controversial Favorite Movies List Sparks Debate

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Dec 30, 2023

Former President Barack Obama released his annual list of favorite movies on December 27th, highlighting 15 films that captured his attention in 2023. While the list contained acclaimed titles like “The Fabelmans” and “Tár,” it sparked controversy for favorably highlighting three films produced by his own production company, Higher Ground.

Higher Ground Films Draw Critiques of Bias

Of the 15 movies on Obama’s favorites list, three came from Higher Ground Productions – “A Love Song,” “Firekeeper’s Daughter,” and “The Young Wife.” While critics praised these indie dramas, many pointed out Obama’s obvious bias in selecting films he helped produce and profit from.

“It’s clearly preferential treatment,” said New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis. “Just because he executive produced a movie, doesn’t automatically make it year-end list worthy.” She also noted the irony that Obama criticized former president Donald Trump for touting books only because his son Donald Trump Jr. published them.

Others defended Obama’s selections as genuine. “I think these were among the best indie films of the year regardless of Obama’s connection,” said Indiewire’s Eric Kohn. “But the picks still feel uncomfortably nepotistic.”

Movie Domestic Box Office
A Love Song $237,047
Firekeeper’s Daughter $140,085
The Young Wife $18,608

As shown above, none of the three Higher Ground films were major box office hits, making their inclusion on a best movies list seem questionable to some. However, most of Obama’s selections never had wide theatrical releases and were niche independent films.

What Obama’s List Left Out Draws Fire

While Obama caught flak for including his own company’s small films, he sparked greater outrage over exceptional 2023 films he failed to highlight.

Many were stunned to see Obama leave off two record-breaking, cultural juggernauts – “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water.” The long-awaited sequels dominated the box office with a combined gross over $3 billion globally.

“I was utterly flabbergasted he could overlook those movies,” said ESPN’s Jalen Rose on his podcast. “Obama is out of touch with what everyday Americans watched.”

Others noted the absence of female-led films widely considered Oscar frontrunners, including Best Picture hopefuls “Women Talking” and “The Woman King.”

“With such bold feminist films in the mix this year, you’d think Obama would shine a light,” wrote USA Today columnist Barbara VanDenburgh . “Yet he failed to recognize them while self-promoting his own male-directed pet projects.”

The list also entirely lacked major Black-led films such as “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Till,” sparking critiques on social media that Obama wasn’t supportive enough of projects deeply resonant with the African-American community.

But some argued Obama was always likely to favor lesser-seen cerebral films over mainstream blockbusters.

“He’s elevating indies people normally overlook on these lists,” noted Variety Awards Editor Clayton Davis. “Obama has eclectic arthouse tastes – that’s nothing new.”

How Obama’s List Shapes the Oscar Race

As a cinephile and tastemaker, Obama’s annual favorites list carries extra weight in the entertainment world. And with Oscar nomination voting opening the day his picks published, the former president’s selections could have an outsized influence.

According to Gold Derby Awards Expert Joyce Eng, “Obama gives crucial late-breaking validation to under-the-radar contenders.” She notes that since Obama listed the Japanese drama “Drive My Car” last year, it went on to score major Oscar nominations and wins.

This year, Obama’s spotlight on “Aftersun,” “RRR” and “Nope” could give them a needed boost with the Academy. The small British drama “Aftersun” wasn’t seen as a major awards player before Obama included it.

“Seeing ‘Aftersun’ on there surprised people,” notes Eng. “It probably wasn’t even on some Oscar voters’ radars – now they’ll pay attention.”

Meanwhile, Indian genre-mixer “RRR” and Jordan Peele’s alien thriller “Nope” face uphill battles getting non-genre films nominated.

“Obama gives them legitimacy,” argues Eng. “And it encourages older, snobbier voters to take them seriously.”

Final Word on the Former President’s Picks

While debate continues about biases and omissions in Obama’s latest favorites list, most concede his annual movie recap offers valuable guidance.

“Do we need to take Obama’s recommendations with a grain of salt? Sure.” admits VanDenburgh. “But even if he promotes Higher Ground’s own marginal films, he still spotlights plenty of fresh talent and diverse voices.”

As Dargis notes, nobody has to automatically adopt Obama’s perspectives: “Everyone has their own taste. His elite sensibilities don’t negate movies you may have loved that he missed.”

Yet Eng believes Obama’s thought-provoking list holds a clear upside: “If it pushes people to seek out acclaimed indies they normally wouldn’t discover on their own, that expanding of horizons is invaluable.”

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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