Sunday, June 15, 2014

Matt and Jay Pick the Best Movie Dads

Seeing how Jay and I picked our top 5 movie moms for Mother's Day, I think it's only fair we do the same for the dads out there! These dads are great in more ways than one and they make us proud with how far they'll go for their kids. A big THANK YOU to all dads out there! So here they are (in no particular order):

Matt's Picks:

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird
Played by Gregory Peck

Based on the protagonist of Harper Lee's seminal novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Finch (Gregory Peck) is a lawyer who takes on racial case defending Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man accused of raping a young white woman. Finch's kids -- Scout (Mary Badham) and Jem (Phillip Alford) -- already admire their father, but they quickly grow up in terms of understanding what their father's job entails -- defending the life of a wrongly accused negro man. The children learn of racism and social injustice as well as sticking up for what's right, even when they are inadvertently thrown into the social racism of the area when they are bullied because their father chose to defend Tom. Peck is the quintessential father here, doing well at his job but also teaching his children about life and how it can sometimes be unfair and cruel. He is a loving man but also as stern as he needs to be, and his children -- who are central to the story -- are noticeably better people for his way of life.

Frank Sullivan in Frequency
Played by Dennis Quaid
In the sci-fi drama Frequency, Dennis Quaid plays firefighter Frank Sullivan who is the father of John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel). John loves his father. The only problem is that his father died in a firefighting accident when John was a kid. John's life is in shambles as he just can't seem to get his life together and his father's death is a part of his problem. One night, John finds his father old HAM radio and he toys with it -- only to come into contact with his father 30 years in the past. John makes it his mission to save his father's life, which he does but it causes a "butterfly effect" which John has to soon make right, all while dealing with a murderer in his present time while his father deals with the same murderer in the past. Quaid's Sullivan will do anything for his son and wife. He lives his life thinking of and saving others, and that makes him the best dad he can be. There is a touching bond between John and his father, and it's that bond that makes Frank featured on this list.

Jack Butler in Mr. Mom
Played by Michael Keaton

Having spent some time as a "Mr. Mom," I can especially appreciate Michael Keaton's role as Jack Butler, a man who was once the "breadwinner" of the family, who soon is fired from his job as his wife's career takes off in marketing. So, Jack stays home with his two young sons and toddler daughter, taking care of the day-to-day ins-and-outs of raising young children as well as the upkeep of the house. Like most dads, Jack is thrown into the fire -- dealing with broken house appliances, screaming kids, a crying baby with a dirty diaper, and juggling repairmen (i.e., what underappreciated housewives have to deal with on a daily basis). Keaton shines in this story originally written by '80s teen movie genius John Hughes. Although it's not his environment, Jack does what is best for his family and supports his wife in everything she does.
Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness
Played by Will Smith

Say what you will about this film, but Smith's portrayal of real-life Chris Gardner in this film (based on Gardner's book The Pursuit of Happyness) is pretty damn emotional. When Gardner's wife Linda (Thandie Newton) leaves Chris and their son Christopher (Jaden Smith), it is up to Gardner to support his son and make a better life for the both of them as best he can. Where most would look for a "get-rich-quick" scheme, Gardner works from the bottom to get his foot in the door of the financial district -- all the while living on the street, in homeless shelters, and even in subway station public restrooms, keeping his oath to never abandon his child the way he was abandoned by his dad. The role is emotional and inspirational and Smith captures every nuance of the character and his plight with earnest devotion.

Gil Buckman in Parenthood
Played by Steve Martin

Being a father is messy, complicated, tiring and definitely not for the faint-of-heart! As the old saying goes, "Parenthood doesn't come with an instruction manual." (Although, many authors and psychologists and self-help "gurus" have tried!) A majority of fathers try to do what's best for their kids and their spouses only to consistently fail on some level -- whether it's major or minor. And that's what I love about Steve Martin's character Gil Buckman in the 1989 Ron Howard film Parenthood. Buckman gets frustrated and angry and confused and clueless as to what to do about his children's eccentricities; and, when it comes to his wife, he's even more clueless. But that is what makes him real. Even the most sensitive man is going to make mistakes throughout the upbringing of the child(ren). But Gil does his best. He loves his family -- despite all the quibbles he has with them -- and it shows the brightest when he substitutes for the missing "party cowboy" at his son's birthday party, using household items to turn into "Cowboy Gil." Sure, it's cheesy. But that's what being a dad often is. It's trying your best to do what's right for your child -- whether they think it's right or not. (NOTE: Gil's wife Karen (Mary Steenburgen) was also one of my picks for "best movie mom!")

Jay's Picks:

Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird
Played by Gregory Peck
All discussions of movie dads begin and end with Gregory Peck's iconic performance as Atticus Finch in the 1962 adaptation of Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. It was really a no-brainer to choose him. He is an honorable man trying to instil strong moral values into his two children, Scout and Jem, in a town where bigotry and ignorance are commonplace. A lawyer by trade, Atticus takes on the case of a black man wrongfully accused of raping a white women. Watching their father confront the racial prejudices of the day in a sweltering hot courtroom, his kids come to recognize the goodness in their father, a man willing to do what's right so they can grow up in a country founded on principles of equality.

Marlin the Clown Fish in Finding Nemo
Voiced by Albert Brooks

Once you make it through the tragic opening moments of Pixar's Finding Nemo, you understand pretty quickly that this is going to be a movie about fathers and sons. Knowing what he lost, it is understandable why Marlin would be overprotective of his son, Nemo. He would do anything to keep him safe. But it is that smothering love for his child that causes the young clown fish to lash out, and when Nemo is put in real danger when a scuba diver captures him, Marlin must go on the adventure of a lifetime to save his only son. Along the way, he learns valuable lessons about being a father and understanding that -- at some point -- you have to let go of your child so that they can stand, er, swim, on their own.

"Man" in The Road
Played by Viggo Mortensen
Cormac McCathry's novel, The Road, on which this film is based, is probably the most moving father/son story I have ever read. It's a post-apocalyptic poem about the relationship and story of one man's determination to survive for the hope that his boy might also live. The only information given to the viewer is that some calamity has befallen the earth, and we follow the journey of this man (Mortensen) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they walk across this gray and blasted landscape, trying to reach the coast. The mother (Charlize Theron) is long gone, leaving behind her the memories of a happier time when the land was whole. The Road is a moving story of survival and one father's unwavering devotion to his boy's survival, even in a world where living seems pointless.

Martin Brody in Jaws
Played by Roy Scheider
Chief Brody brings his family to the small New England island town of Amity to get away from the violence of New York City. He wants to raise his two sons in a more peaceful and quiet community. Then fate intervenes in the form of a 25-foot great white shark that begins eating people off the coast of his ideal summer town. Brody is not your typical hero for a blockbuster movie like this. He's afraid of the water and also unsure of what to do at times, but he knows something has to be done. When his older son, Michael, has a close brush with the killer shark, Brody determines to act and brings along marine biologist, Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and veteran fisherman, Quint (Robert Shaw), to help him catch the big fish. When both the man of science and the old shark-hunter fail to outsmart the shark, it is the "everyman," Brody who rises to the occasion and ends the monster's reign of terror.

Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi
Played by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones

OK, this pick may be met with some criticism, because obviously Darth Vader is probably the worst father in cinema history (save Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining, who though I love the performance, never redeems himself). He was one of the most powerful Jedi who betrayed the Order, helped orchestrate their destruction and the rise of the Galactic Empire, possibly killed his wife and mother of his two children and murdered the only father figure he ever knew in Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness). But, hey, he's arguably the most famous dad who's ever graced the screen, so he deserves to be mentioned. Everything Anakin/Vader does is out of the fear of losing love and it is love that ultimately saves him as he makes the ultimate sacrifice by killing his master, Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), in order to save his son, Luke (Mark Hamill). It's a rough journey back to the light, but even Vader can't bring himself to see his son killed.

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