Father’s Day is approaching in just over a week and so today I am posting the first of two posts in which I have selected 15 of my favorite movies with regards to fathers. It is by no means an all inclusive list and there are several other films I had considered. But as this is just for fun and perhaps to shed light on films that my readers had not considered previously.
And so, in no particular order…
Walter, a 13-year old boy, is dropped off by his mother at the house of his great uncles Hub and Garth, played by Robert Duvall and Michael Caine. By technicality Duvall And Caine are not his father but since they’re father figures I’m including this movie. Virtually abandoned by his mother, Walter is left with men who had disappeared for a time in their youth and are rumored to have acquired a great fortune, something Walter’s mom hopes to get her hands on through her son. Though they do not accept Walter’s presence at first eventually the uncles accept him and tell him fantastic stories of what they were up to when they went missing. While this scene is one of my favorite in all of film, books could be written about Hub McCann’s “What every boy needs to know to be a man” speech!
One of my favorite lines: Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.
What would you do if you were able to reach across time and save your father’s life? That’s the question this 2000 film starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel explores when a rare atmospheric phenomenon allows a New York City firefighter living in 1969 to communicate with his son 30 years in the future via a short-wave radio. The son (Caviezel) uses the opportunity to warn his father (Quaid) of his impending death in a warehouse fire and manages to save his life. But changing history triggers a new set of tragic events, including the murder of his mother. Father and son must now work together, separated by 30 years, to find the murderer before he strikes.
One of my favorite lines: I’m still here, Chief.
I almost chose 1972’s The Cowboys as my John Wayne flick for this list. Instead I’ve decided to go with 1950’s Rio Grande, starring Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. The film takes place after the Civil War as Union officer Kirby York (Wayne) is in charge of an army outpost on the Rio Grande where he trains new recruits. Enter Jeff, his son whom he hasn’t seen in 15 years. Jeff makes it clear he doesn’t want special treatment as the son of the Lt. Colonel and York obliges by making sure Jeff is worked as hard as any other raw recruit. But York’s wife Kathleen (O’Hara) journeys west to bring her young son home and ask her husband from whom she’s been separated for years to allow her to do so.
In this film we see many facets of fatherhood. The desire to protect a son, offset by the realization that we have to step back at some point and allow life to teach its hard lessons. There is a pride we feel when our children overcome those odds and succeed with honor. In the film young Jeff is challenged to a fight by a grizzled trooper who “talked derogatory about the boy’s pappy”. A fight is arranged in the secret of night but the older York learns of it and appears. When given a chance to turn in the trooper who challenged him (and beat the tar out of him) to the commanding officer, Jeff refuses to do so to his father’s face, calling it simply a “soldier’s fight.” The father allows the fight to continue, and young Jeff has won the respect of the men with whom he serves (along with a big black eye).
My favorite scene is when the Lt. Colonel is reunited with his son after 15 years. Talking face-to-face with Jeff about the life he has chosen as a recruit, the older York pulls no punches. After the son leaves his demeanor softens and with a pencil he makes note of the top of his son’s head and where it touched his tent’s ceiling, standing where the son stood to compare their height, and obviously a proud father.
One of my favorite lines: But he must learn that a man’s word to anything, even his own destruction, is his honor.
To Kill a Mockingbird
One of the rare instances where the movie (released in 1962) was as good as the book from whence it came. Atticus Finch. A tower of integrity, fighter of racial injustice, humble sharpshooter, and, of course, world’s greatest dad. As a widower he could have shipped his kids off to a relative, but he was absolutely devoted to them. He was kind, protective, and incredibly patient with his two kids, Jem and Scout. And most importantly, he taught his children by example. I find the relationship between Atticus and his daughter to be particularly endearing and I hope my relationship with my own daughter can be like the one Atticus had with his little girl. So far I’d say we’re on the right track.
One of my favorite lines: There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.
Father of the Bride
I have never watched the original version of the film with Spencer Tracy. I’ve heard it’s a classic, but I do love the 1991 remake with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton. They play George and Nina Banks, parents of a young soon-to-be-wed daughter Annie. Watching George grow ever more nervous and manic as he faces the fact that his little girl is now a woman was funny when I saw it as a single man of 23. Now that I’m 45 and have kids, plus a daughter, of my own, it’s just as funny, but tinged with a hint of the nostalgia to come.
This scene is probably my favorite.
I’m currently living this out with my oldest son. He is capable of firing a fastball at 85 mph followed by a buckle-your-knees slider at 72 mph. I wouldn’t want to try to catch him today, but as he approaches his final season of high school ball (and perhaps his final season ever) I find myself glimpsing back at those days when I taught him how to put on a baseball glove the right way and played catch those first times in our little backyard on West Rio Road.
One of my favorite lines: Who presents this woman? This woman? But she’s not a woman. She’s just a kid. And she’s leaving us. I realized at that moment that I was never going to come home again and see Annie at the top of the stairs. Never going to see her again at our breakfast table in her nightgown and socks. I suddenly realized what was happening. Annie was all grown up and was leaving us, and something inside began to hurt.
What happens when a man faces losing it all: his family, his luck, and his pride? During the Great Depression James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe) became one of the most surprising sports legends in history. In this 2005 film we meet Braddock in the early 1930s as an impoverished ex-prizefighter who is at rock bottom. His careers appears to be finished, he is unable to pay the bills, and the only thing that matters to him—his family—is in danger. At one point he is even forced to go on public relief. In a final bid to help his family Braddock puts his life on the line to get back into the boxing ring where nobody thinks he has a shot.
How far will a father go for his family? In a movie that didn’t make my list (because I still haven’t seen it) Viggo Mortensen plays a father who will go to fantastic lengths to protect his son in “The Road”. In Cinderella Man we see Braddock do something that can be even harder for a man than fight off post-apocalyptic killers: swallow his pride to beg for assistance from other men.
One of my favorite lines: Maybe I understand, some, about having to fight. So you just remember who you are… you’re the Bulldog of Bergen, and the Pride of New Jersey, you’re everybody’s hope, and the kids’ hero, and you are the champion of my heart, James J. Braddock. – Mae Braddock, played by Renee Zellweger
While Jean Valjean is not Cosette’s father by birth, but his selflessness and the sacrifices he makes on her behalf make him as much a father as anyone. Having served nineteen years of hard labor for the crime of stealing bread for his starving sister’s child, Valjean breaks his parole but is granted a new lease on life by a kindly bishop and takes on a new identity as a respected businessman and mayor. One of his worker’s, Fantine, is wrongfully fired by his foreman. The mother of a young child who is being cared for by an unseemly pair of innkeepers, the Thenardiers, Fantine finds herself destitute and out on the streets where she becomes a prostitute to earn money to pay for Cosette’s time with the Thenardiers. For the purposes of this post on fatherhood I’ll make a long story short: Valjean encounters Fantine near death on the streets and realizing his responsibility for her state takes her in to care for her before she dies. As he Fantine dies Javert, an officer of the law who has dedicated himself to bringing the man once known as Valjean to justice, finds Valjean and begins his relentless pursuit. Valjean had promised the dying Fantine that he would find and take care of her young daughter Cosette and see to it that she is raised properly. Valjean buys Cosette from the abusive Thenardiers and with his new “daughter” goes into hiding behind the walls of a convent.
On second thought there is no way this synopsis will be short. Watch the blockbuster 2012 film, see it performed on stage, or read the book by Victor Hugo.
Again we see the traits of selflessness, sacrifice and the redemptive love of a father. The musical is full of memorable songs and scenes of great beauty, but the final scene in which Valjean has confessed everything to his beloved daughter and her new husband is one that hits me right between the eyes each and every time.
One of my favorite lines: To love another person is to see the face of God.
Life is Beautiful
This 1997 movie is really two-movies-in-one. The first half is light and comedic, chronicling Roberto Benigni’s wooing and winning the heart of his beloved and having a child whom he adores. The second half chronicles the events that happen to the family after the Nazi’s come to power and they are separated into concentration camps. Benigni demonstrates the lengths we go through to protect those we love to the point of sacrificing all we have. I’ve only watched it once and laughed, and bawled, as hard as I ever have watching a movie.
One of my favorite lines: This is my story. This is the sacrifice my father made. This was his gift to me.
So that’s the first half of my list. I’ll be posting the final seven films on my list next week.