- - Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What do Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich have in common with Barack Obama? Not much, one might say, but if either wins the GOP nomination, they might have one subject about which to have a friendly chat: movies.

During the campaign process, voters may come to know candidates’ views on political issues inside and out. Ask an informed citizen about President Obama’s Libya strategy or about Mr. Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan, and you might get an earful, but ask about their favorite movies, and you’ll likely get a shrug.

But as any cinema junkie will tell you, favorite movies can tell you things about people: their tastes, their dispositions and, more important, how they perceive themselves. In the case of a candidate whose every word is subject to intense scrutiny, such a choice could be used even to bargain for a vote or two.

When asked about his favorite films, Mr. Cain said, “‘The Godfather,’” with a wink and a grin, referencing not only Francis Ford Coppola’s revered 1971 mob drama, but also his own tenure as the CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. His own meteoric rise likely will be bloodless in comparison with that of Michael Corleone’s.

“Probably ‘Casablanca,’” says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, naming the 1942 classic about love and sacrifice during World War II. Considering Mr. Gingrich’s interest in history, in which he holds a doctorate, his pick is hardly surprising. But does he see more of himself in heroic resistance leader Victor Laszlo or outwardly disillusioned expat Rick Blaine, who is really a romantic at heart.

“‘Braveheart,’” Rep. Michele Bachmann declared, adding after a thoughtful pause, “or maybe ‘Saving Private Ryan.’” Both are respectable choices, two lengthy, incredibly gory historical war epics. Seeing as both films feature heroes who fall in defense of freedom, she might hope that her own campaign has better results.

“There’s a lot,” said former Sen. Rick Santorum, who, in deference to his campaign location, diplomatically settled on “Field of Dreams,” the 1989 baseball-themed ghost story that depicted a homemade baseball diamond cleared from an Iowa cornfield as a piece of heaven. The film revolves around one man’s faith that he is doing the right thing despite the skepticism of others, eventually seeing his faith rewarded by thousands of people flocking to his home. Mr. Santorum might take heart at the thought that by persevering in his uphill campaign he will build some momentum — and the voters finally will come.

No word yet on what Mr. Santorum’s favorite film will be in New Hampshire.

“I don’t watch many movies,” said Rep. Ron Paul, characteristically short on small talk and defiantly himself, declining to name a title. But he does note, “My wife likes a lot of musicals, like ‘The Sound of Music.’” The libertarian gadfly did attend the premiere of the lame Vince Vaughn vehicle “Couples Retreat” at the actor’s invitation. You think Mr. Paul didn’t watch many movies before?

Mr. Paul’s libertarian rival Gary Johnson is pulling out all the stops in his bid for the Republican cinephile vote. “I love movies and see myself as a bit of a movie critic,” the former New Mexico governor told reporters and editors at The Washington Times. The ardent champion of laissez-faire capitalism could hardly have a more fitting all-time favorite: David Lean’s anti-Bolshevik epic “Dr. Zhivago.”

The most unusual choice belongs to Rick Perry, who immediately singled out “Immortal Beloved” as his favorite, adding, “Bet you’ll have to look that one up.” (He was right.) “Immortal Beloved” is a 1994 drama starring Gary Oldman as Ludwig van Beethoven.

It’s an unusual choice, not so much for its content, but because most candidates choose titles that are instantly recognizable and often pictures that could be interpreted as symbolic of their political brands and complementary to their political interests. Mr. Perry, who has lost his early lead in the pre-season polls, certainly hopes that other mentions of his presidential ambitions won’t need to be looked up on Google.

Mitt Romney recently told the New York Times that his favorite film is the Coen Brothers’ comic take on Homer’s “The Odyssey,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” It’s both the most recent and most colorful choice of the candidates. But in these lean times, is a comedy set during the Great Depression really the smartest choice for a financier whose personal fortune is valued at north of $200 million?

As for Mr. Obama, he has four safe picks, each of which has claimed an Oscar as best picture: “Casablanca,” “The Godfather,” “Lawrence of Arabia” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” So much for Change, right?