After months of jousting in approximately 213 televised debates, the Republican presidential-primary season begins in earnest tonight in Iowa. More than 100,000 are expected to participate in the unique caucus process to award the first tangible political victory to one of the seven leading presidential candidates. But the winner of the Iowa caucuses is hardly a bellwether for the rest of the campaign. Though our last two presidents rode early victories in the the Hawkeye State to the White House, the caucuses are just as well known for celebrating wild cards: Mike Huckabee claimed victory four years ago, and televangelist Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan peaked politically with strong showings in their respective caucuses in the 1990s. So in Hollywood speak, the Iowa caucuses are sort of like the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards: worth noting but occasionally a little squirrelly.
But in the spirit of Oscar season, perhaps it’s useful to compare the Republican candidates — and their prospects — with this year’s crop of Oscar contenders. We’ve already dispatched Tim Pawlenty (Cedar Rapids), Sarah Palin (Crazy, Stupid, Love), Donald Trump (Horrible Bosses), and Herman Cain (Shame). Here are the other leading candidates and their comparative Oscar films:
Mitt Romney — War Horse
Romney looks and sounds like a presidential candidate is supposed to, just as Steven Spielberg’s World War I epic has all the makings of a traditional Oscar winner. But neither is necessarily “cool.” While voters flirt with other flavors-of-the-week, however, Romney and War Horse might be the ones left standing.
Ron Paul — Take Shelter
Like Michael Shannon’s addled character, the longtime Texas congressman sees the world from a very contrarian perspective. Listen long enough, and he makes perfect sense, as long as you don’t have to deal with reality. But maybe we’re the ones who are crazy, and he’s the lone sane man in the room?
Rick Santorum — J. Edgar
The former Pennsylvania senator is surging in recent Iowa polls, raising his prospects much more than those of Clint Eastwood’s biopic of the controversial FBI boss. But like Hoover, Santorum wears his values on his sleeve and follows his strict moral compass no matter where it might lead. Bonus points for aligning the antigay marriage candidate with the sexually conflicted Hoover?
Rick Perry — Drive
When Perry and Romney squared off during a few sharp exchanges during the debates, one got the impression Perry was contemplating stomping his more polished rival’s head in. Lest we forget, this is a governor who picks off coyotes with a laser-sighted pistol on his morning jogs! Plus, Perry’s presidential hopes might actually go up if he spoke as infrequently as Ryan Gosling’s Driver.
Michele Bachmann — The Tree of Life
Bachmann has compared herself to Margaret Thatcher, but she’s more The Tree of Life than The Iron Lady. There’s just a certain WTF factor to her many dubious public pronouncements, leading skeptics to respond not unlike the perplexed reactions to Terrence Malick’s surreal opus. Plus, any time you can equate Bachmann to a film that incorporates dinosaurs and evolution, you gotta do it.
Newt Gingrich — Young Adult
A former prom queen tries to recapture the good old days by making her now-married high school boyfriend remember what he’s missing. Once back in the spotlight, though, she realizes just how much people used to hate her. Similarly, for Gingrich, it’s not 1994 anymore.
Jon Huntsman — We Bought a Zoo
Jon, we know we should like you more. You’re charming, intelligent, and impressively qualified. But we’re just not taking you seriously. You’re not dull, but all your sharp edges seem to have been sanded to a smooth finish. Even your musical background would make Cameron Crowe yawn. No one’s rushing to support you, yet we’re bound to have fond recollections of you once you’re gone.