Sunday, June 19, 2011

EDITORIAL: My top 10 movie fathers and their lessons

In honor of Father's Day and in hopes of spurring some debate and conversation, I present to you my blog's official list of the best movie fathers.  In keeping with this blog's theme of life lessons, the top dads are also presented with a key fatherly lesson conveyed in their film.  This list won't be all of the great movie dads, but these are my thoughts and choices of the best of the best.

1.  Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) in To Kill a Mockingbird-- There's a reason why the American Film Institute named this character the #1 movie hero of all-time (above any superhero, secret agent, or swashbuckler) in their "100 Years... 100 Movies" series.  Peck's performance and his character's stoic presence to fight for the right cause and raise his children the right way is the best of the best.  He's what all movie fathers are compared against.

HIS LESSON: AN EXAMPLE OF INTEGRITY-- Through all of the persecuting words and acts laid upon Atticus, he doesn't cower or lash out.  He calmly and astutely turns the other cheek and let's his actions do the talking.  Just watch his scenes talking to his son and daughter or the way he stays with them in the end.  

2.  Chris Gardner (Will Smith) in The Pursuit of Happyness-- In my opinion, this is the best movie father since Atticus Finch graced the screen in 1962.  Chris's tireless work ethic to get a good job while balancing the equal tasks of teaching and yet still shielding his son is nothing short of remarkable.  It's hard to say Will Smith was robbed of an Oscar (it's the best he's ever acted) by Forest Whitaker's performance in The Last King of Scotland, but it makes you wish they could award two statuettes. 

HIS LESSON: THE IMPORTANCE OF DETERMINATION-- Throughout the movie, Chris allows nothing to stand in his way in his quest to make the best life for he and his son.  Just watch the job interview sequence and cut to the ending for big taste of this.  You'll also see why this movie made the "Elusive Guy-Cry" list. 

3.  George Bailey (James Stewart) in It's a Wonderful Life-- Sometimes fathers are so focused and consumed with being the provider that they forget how lucky they are to be in the role they have.  Nevertheless, it's definitely as much of an instinctual stress for men then as it is now. 

HIS LESSON: KNOWING HOW GOOD YOU'VE GOT IT-- Being a father and a husband is supposed to be one of life's true joys.  Don't let your job, money, or outside stress keep you from seeing that day after day. 

4.  Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni) in Life is Beautiful-- If you haven't seen this great foreign film, pick it up.  Roberto Benigni won the Oscar playing a father protecting his son with humor when they are both sent to a Nazi concentration camp in WWII.  By turning their situation into a game and sideshow for his young son, he not only shields his him from the real atrocities going on around them, but also saves his life. 

HIS LESSON: THE IMPORTANCE OF IMAGINATION AND HUMOR-- The cliche for most movie dads is to the bad cop disciplinarian or the unapproachable, emotionless tough guy.  Guido shows us that a playful father can be just as effective of a influence. 

5.  John Quincy Archibald (Denzel Washington) in John Q-- Denzel ignites the screen as a father who takes over a hospital wing of hostages in order to get his son the heart transplant he needs to live, despite his lack of money or insurance.  Come on, it's Denzel Washington!

HIS LESSON: A FATHER'S SELF-SACRIFICING NATURE-- When unchained, a father will do anything to put his children before himself, even to his own detriment.  A good father won't just throw money at the problem or give it lip service.  The power is in action. 

6.  Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) in Taken-- When his daughter is kidnapped overseas, Bryan doesn't wait for the authorities but takes his own action to rescue her.  Oh man.  Don't mess with daddy's little girl!  Liam Nesson redefines ass-kicking. 

HIS LESSON: THE LENGTHS A FATHER WILL GO-- Much like the self-sacrifice lesson of John Q., a father can be measured sometimes by the lengths he is willing to go for his children.  When needed, a father will exhaust his resources, knock down doors, and put himself in harm's way. 

7.  Stanley Phillips (John Cusack) in Grace is Gone-- In most films featuring soldiers away at war, it's the mother at home taking care of the family with the father away.  It's refreshing to see a modern reversal in the little-seen Grace is Gone, where John Cusack (the best performance of his career) is the one on the homefront with his two daughters while his wife and their mother fights in Iraq.  That all changes when she is killed in action and John has to find a way to break that news to his daughters. 

HIS LESSON: A WIDOWER DEALING WITH THE LOSS OF A MOTHER-- In today's day and age, there are a lot of single fathers out their due to divorce, but the more emotional roller coaster comes through loss.  If it's the father that is left behind, he must find a way to help children cope with that grief and take care of both parenting roles.  It's not an easy task.  An honorable, light-hearted mention in this category goes to Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle. 

8.  Jason "Furious" Styles (Laurence Fishburne) in Boyz N the Hood-- The statistics will show you (and I've seen it personally teaching) that fathers are far to absent in inner-city and African-American communities.  In the tough environment of violence and crime in South Central Los Angeles, Furious takes it upon himself to fiercely defend his son and convey the knowledge it takes to stay out of trouble. 

HIS LESSON: LEAD BY EXAMPLE-- Many movie fathers play the tough guy role of leading by example, but not many do so with the force that Fishburne does in Boyz N the Hood.  Take a look at that embedded clip above and you'll hear what he's saying. 

9.  Professor Henry Jones (Sean Connery) in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-- The last two are the cute ones and you need some fun ones to balance this list.  Who wouldn't want Sean Connery as a father, instilling knowledge as well as getting himself in the same swashbuckling trouble as his kid? 

HIS LESSON: THE APPLE DOESN'T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE-- The film does such a great job of hinting at Sean Connery's equal task of being just as much an archaeologist, seeker of truth, and ladies man as his son.  It's fun to see Indy realize where he gets his best traits from.  Like father, like son.

10.  Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) in National Lampoon's Vacation series-- For as much as the nine fathers before this spot on the list exude greatness, leadership, toughness, integrity, determination, self-sacrifice, etc., Chevy Chase's Clark Griswold has none of those qualities.  Yet, he is probably the closest to our own actual fathers to anyone else on this list.  He's a bubbling, overambitious, and goodhearted optimist who means well, but manages to embarrass his children to no end, just as a father sometimes should. 

HIS LESSON: FATHERS ARE OVERACHIEVERS-- I'll be the one to beat the ladies to the punch and say it.  Fathers are still men and men are still idiots.  Fathers don't ask for help.  Fathers make up ridiculous quests, chores, projects, and tasks out of their means and capabilities.  They fail more than they succeed, but they do it all because they love their family.  Honorable mention in this category goes to Eugene Levy in the Amerian Pie series.

Thanks for reading and Happy Father's Day, everyone!