Critic's Picks: 5 Notable Nixons and One Excellent Elvis

7:00 AM 4/22/2016

by John DeFore

With the release of Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey's 'Elvis & Nixon,' THR film critic John DeFore ranks the top Tricky Dicks, from Frank Langella in 'Frost/Nixon' to Philip Baker Hall in 'Secret Honor.'

Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey in 'Elvis & Nixon,'
Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey in 'Elvis & Nixon,'
Steve Dietl/Bleecker Street
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    Philip Baker Hall

    'Secret Honor' (1984)

    Vestron Video/Photofest

    In Robert Altman's adaptation of the play, the character actor avoided imitation, delivering a bravura performance of pathos, rage and humor.

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    Dan Hedaya

    'Dick' (1999)

    Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

    With more than a slight resemblance to Nixon, and a voice made for embittered paranoia, Hedaya gives a juicy supporting turn in the Michelle Williams/Kirsten Dunst romp.

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    Anthony Hopkins

    'Nixon' (1995)

    Buena Vista Pictures/Photofest

    A better performance than the mixed-bag Oliver Stone movie containing it, Sir Anthony's spin on the shamed president is big and haunted, worthy of a Shakespearean king.

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    Dan Aykroyd

    'Saturday Night Live' (late 1970s)

    NBC/Photofest

    Aykroyd's happily mocking, jowl-waggling take had a tremendous impact, setting the bar for the show's subsequent — and usually inferior — political impersonations.

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    Frank Langella

    'Frost/Nixon' (2008)

    Universal Pictures/Photofest

    Langella's Nixon is the best to date, and not only because Ron Howard's film is so strong. Cordial but cagey, proud but fearful, the actor fits our understanding of history while stretching the limits of our sympathy.

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    Kurt Russell

    'Elvis' (1979)

    ABC/Photofest

    John Carpenter's made-for-TV biopic, sandwiched in between Halloween and the fan favorite Russell vehicle Escape From New York, came out of left field. Despite not looking an awful lot like the King, Russell nails both his performing physicality and offstage manner through various stages of his career.

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