Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: All in the Family Edition - Father-Son Relationships

Written for the weekly blogathon hosted by the magnanimous Wandering Through the Shelves. Visit her blog, look at the weekly topic, and post three picks of your own!

The topic for February's "All in the Family Edition" of Thursday Movie Picks is Father & Son Relationships. Apparently, this is not something of huge interest to me, because thinking about films I've seen, I noticed a lot of Mother-Son films, a lot of Father-Daughter films, some Mother-Daughter films, but not a whole lot of Father-Son films. However, all three of my picks this week are films that I truly, madly, deeply love.
Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010) Christopher Plummer finally won his Oscar for his performance in this lovely film, the most emotional one on this list (and thus the most difficult for me to write about). If only Ewan McGregor, Mélanie Laurent, and writer-director Mike Mills's screenplay had been able to ride his coattails. As an older man coming to terms with his homosexuality - and his terminal cancer - Plummer is wonderful. The film is a delicate balancing act, ably anchored by McGregor's deeply felt performance as Plummer's son. Their relationship is complicated, but you can always see the love between them, even as McGregor's Oliver has difficulty reconciling the out and proud gay man his father has become with the man he knew.
Frequency (Gregory Hoblit, 2000) I will admit that my love for this movie mostly has something to do with how unbelievably hot Dennis Quaid looks in a leather jacket (HELLO, DADDY!), but it's just a pretty great movie overall. Jim Caviezel is great too, as a policeman who is able, via a HAM radio used during an atmospheric disturbance, to communicate with his (now-dead) firefighter dad (Quaid) 30 years in the past. After giving his father a piece of information that saves his life in the burning building that was supposed to kill him, Jim learns that messing around with time like that can lead to unexpected consequences - in this case, the murder of his mother. Then father and son work together to try and stop her killer. This is one of those films, like Field of Dreams and Brian's Song before it, that will usually reduce grown men to tears, and it earns them.
Billy Elliot (Stephen Daldry, 2000) I can't imagine what it must have been like to be a family in Britain's mining areas during the Thatcher era, but Stephen Daldry's film offers a pretty good glimpse. Gary Lewis gives a great performance as Billy's Dad, slowly realizing that his kid may actually have the chance to escape his own fate and achieve greatness, even if he doesn't understand why it had to be as a bloody ballerina as opposed to a boxer. (The relationship between Billy and his Dad is almost the exact opposite of Oliver and Hal in Beginners, except no one's actually gay.) The final scene, where he finally watches Billy perform, takes my breath away each time.


While these two films do shine a light on father-son relationships, they are really more focused on the father's relationship with the family as a whole, so I didn't feel comfortable making them my picks this week. But with this year's Oscars so fresh in my mind, so are major contributors to these two films. Plus, it's my blog, so I'll do what I want.
The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001) I'm shocked that Wes Anderson is still Oscar-less after creating some of the most aesthetically rich films and characters of the past twenty years. Of those great characters, Royal Tenenbaum stands tall. A truly awful, deeply selfish man who realizes too late in life that he won't be remembered fondly when he dies, Royal is a mess of contradictions, and Gene Hackman plays him brilliantly, and brings the best out of his screen sons, Ben Stiller and Luke Wilson. This set the template for every Wes Anderson film that's followed, and I will admit that when I first saw this in theaters, it did absolutely nothing for me. But something about it stuck with me, and revisiting it in a film studies class in college caused it to become an all-time favorite. The ensemble is brilliant, and the music, cinematography, editing, and production design all work in concert to create a clear authorial voice, which is tricky given something this tonally complex. It's bravura filmmaking at its most understated.
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011) I get that people don't like this one. I get that Malick can get a little bit too caught up in navel-gazing, especially here. And frankly, I did check my watch a couple of times when watching this. But... goddamn is this fucker gorgeous. Emmanuel Lubezki is a fucking genius, and it was extra sweet hearing Jessica Chastain call out "Chivoooooooooo!" when she presented the Best Cinematography Oscar this past weekend, since he really should have won his first Oscar for the flat-out miraculous work he produced here. The Tree of Life also contains what is probably Brad Pitt's best-ever performance, as a strict Texan Dad. His scenes with sons Hunter McCraken and Tye Sheridan crackle with an authenticity rarely felt in his previous work, which speaks to Malick's unique process.


  1. Billy Elliot is a great choice! That film has characters with a lot of layers. It's one of the first films I've seen with a gay theme. It felt pretty damn scandalous when I was younger, ahha.

    The Royal Tenenbaums would have been a great main choice! Such a great film. I love that most of the characters are skeezy as fuck. That set design is everything.

    I remember when The Tree of Life first came out. I just can't imagine myself sitting down and watching it all the way through. It's looks beautiful based on the trailers, but no.

  2. These are incredibly great picks!

    Beginners is one of the best movies about fathers and sons ever...period! I was so blown away by that movie.

    Likewise, Frequency, while a total gimmick (much like Field of Dreams, as you compare it), is so powerful. I loved that movie when I saw it in the theater. Haven't seen it since. I guess it holds up?

    Billy Elliot I've never seen but always heard great things about.

    As for the Royal Tenenbaums, I think it works maybe better than you think. The relationship between Royal and Chas and Royal and Richie are the true driving forces of the film. Such a magnificent piece of genius, that movie!

    Tree of Life is just beautiful. Having said that, it really pissed me off in the end, and I've been unable to bring myself to revisit it. The 50s-era father/son stuff is probably the most accurate portrayal of time period I've seen.

    1. Thanks, man! Love Beginners so much. My heart just bursts. Frequency absolutely holds up, but again, I may just be looking at Dennis Quaid lol. Billy Elliot the movie is great. Billy Elliot the musical twists it in a way I did not like AT. ALL.

      It's funny you say that about Tenenbaums, because the meat of that story to me is Royal's relationships with Ethel and Margot - although maybe I'm just biased because I LOVE Gwyneth Paltrow and Anjelica Huston in that movie.

      What pissed you off about Tree of Life in the end? I don't think any of my issues with it were related to the end, but I have to admit I haven't seen it since my first theatrical viewing.

  3. Everybody is so good in Beginners, Christopher Plummer was overdue to win an Oscar but it's great that he won for a truly worthy piece of work. The relationship between Ewan McGregor and he was perfectly played.

    This is the second time I've seen Frequency pop up! I haven't seen it in years though I like it and it is so apt for the theme. I got a chuckle about your comment about Quaid and the leather jacket!

    It's been a while since I've seen Billy Elliott, when I think about it I remember his interactions with Julie Walters but there's so much to the film I should give it another look. I haven't seen your two bonuses.

    I had the opposite problem picking my films this week. I had to winnow down from about 20 choices and could only get it down to the four I liked the best. I'll include them as suggestions I think you might enjoy.

    East of Eden (1955)-Extraordinarily good version of the second half of the Steinbeck classic novel which was a reworking of the Cain and Abel biblical story. James Dean plays oldest son Caleb in this film of sibling rivalry for a father's love turned toxic by the father's obtuseness. Dean is riveting (in his best performance) as the conflicted Cal hungry for love yet pushing everyone away. Raymond Massey is strong as the misguided and righteous father. Richard Davalos is fine as Aron but he doesn't stand a chance against Dean's force of personality. The real standout in support is Oscar winner Jo Van Fleet as the cruel madam/mother Kate. Tautly directed by Kazan even in the quieter moments this pulls you right along. If you have the chance catch the Jane Seymour miniseries of the entire book, it has its faults but her performance in it is sublime.

    A Hole in the Head (1959)-Frank Sinatra stars as the widowed dad of a young son, a feckless dreamer running a hotel with many colorful inhabitants in Miami Beach. While Frank chases one pipe dream after another his young son keeps everything on a even keel but their bond never wavers. As one character says Frank is a little boy in a 41 year old body while his son Ally is already a grown up at 11. Cute comedy directed by Frank Capra with a great cast, Edward G. Robinson plays Sinatra's brother (okay that one's a stretch), Thelma Ritter Edward G.'s wife, Carolyn Jones a mad free spirit and Eleanor Parker the lonely widow he meets. Sinatra sings one of his most famous songs, the Oscar winning High Hopes, which was written specifically for this film.

    The Courtship of Eddie's Father-Gentle story of the sometime rocky love between a boy and his recently widowed father. Some of the standards are different since the film is over 50 years old but the simple story of a son and a father learning to accept each other is timeless. Shirley Jones is lovely as the sensible neighbor Eddie thinks is the perfect match for his dad and Stella Stevens wonderful in her small role, a vastly underrated actress. This was adapted in the late sixties into a very good TV series with Bill Bixby in the lead and Oscar winner Miyoshi Umeki as housekeeper Mrs. Livingston.

    Honorable Mention-I Never Sang for My Father-Scenes of warm camaraderie intermingle with those of lacerating hatred in this story of a son's struggle for his hard and unyielding father's approval. Harsh, realistic view of a fractured relationship is highlighted by powerful performances by Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas, both Oscar nominated. A sad film but one worth watching.

    1. Yeah, after Frequency and Beginners I really had to think to find a third. Of course when I realized Billy Elliot was perfect I slapped myself for not thinking of it sooner. I saw it for the first time in a long time a few months ago and was surprised by how much of it I'd forgotten - mostly all of the family dynamics, which I now think is where the film becomes truly special.

      Of your picks, I like East of Eden. Not my favorite James Dean, but Jo van Fleet is great. I did NOT know there was a miniseries with Jane Seymour. MUST WATCH. Haven't see your other two but Courtship sounds REALLY familiar. I Never Sang for My Father has been on my watchlist for a while because of the Oscar noms.

    2. The East of Eden mini has some spotty acting, mainly Timothy Bottoms as Adam, but Jane is so mesmerizing she makes up for any deficiencies. She nails the many, many nuances of Cathy/Kate. It also has a great supporting cast, as many of the 70's & 80's minis did-a mix of up and comers and established stars. Lloyd Bridges is especially strong.

    3. I can't believe that your choice of Beginners didn't jog my memory of The Sum of Us-and that I didn't think of it before! It's so perfect for the theme. It's an Aussie comedy/drama with a prefame Russell Crowe and Jack Thompson, who is brilliant, as a gay son and his VERY accepting father and their strong bond. Have you ever seen it?

    4. I have not! It is one of the many, many LGBT films in my Netflix queue that I am slowly making my way through. It comes very highly recommended, so I'm looking forward to it!

  4. Great post! I love Billy Elliott, and I really liked Beginner's -- I actually considered including it on my list. I really need to see Frequency!

    1. Thanks! Frequency is really really good. It's got a little bit of everything.

  5. Yay for Billy Elliot! That movie just has a lot of emotional scenes.
    I really want to watch looks really good.
    I considered Frequency (so this is your time travel pick...I guessed wrong with Back to the Future) for my picks this week as well it's just that I have not watch it in a really long time.
    And I just adore The Royal Tenenbaums.

    1. Yeah, I realized I probably should have said it SORT OF involves time travel. Back to the Future completely slipped my mind, which is ridiculous. It fits perfectly into the themes. Beginners is so, so good. Very understated, but the melancholy undertones combine with a very refined sense of whimsy in refreshing ways. And great performances from everyone.

  6. I wish I would've thought of Beginners. I loved that movie. Excellent choices here!

  7. Beginners!!!!! Why didn't I think of that one? That's one of my favorite films from this decade! Love that you mention it here.

    1. WORD on it being one of your favorite films from this decade. Mine too.