I have always maintained that Top Ten
List are short hand for thinking, and have avoided them like George Lucas should avoid writing love scenes; so you can imagine my reaction when Barry Nolan’s producer, Gary, asked me to come on Nightbeat the other night and give a Top Ten Father’s Day
Movies List. I sat right down and put finger to keyboard to come up with a list.
Number one is simple, 1983’s “Mr. Mom”. Written by the great John Hughs and directed by Stan Dragoti, the guy who gave us the American remake of “The Man with One Red Shoe” and “Love At First Bite”. Before he was a director of mildly amusing, mid-80’s cheese, Dragoti spend the 70’s married to Cheryl Tiegs. That’s when Tiegs was still hot, so he is obviously a man to whom attention should be paid.
The cast of “Mr. Mom” was perfect. Michael Keaton before he had thoughts of getting sober and becoming ‘an actor’. Teri Garr as a mom before she started looking like a mom. The lovely and talented Martin Mull and Jeffrey Tambor. It’s also the film that added the phrase “220, 221, whatever it takes” to our vernacular, and for that we will be forever in debt.
Another John Hughs script from 1983 came in at number 2. Based on a short story he wrote for National Lampoon back in 1979, “Vacation”. An ode to those nightmarish trips we all suffered when dad would pack the tribe into the Family Funster and we’d all head off for adventure. Chevy Chase was that loveable lug of a dad we all wish we had, while Beverly D’Angelo was the Madonna/Whore of a mother Dr. Freud claims we all wanted. Harold Ramis directed this one before he got sober and became ‘a director’.
Unfortunately he didn’t direct this one before test audiences started to rule Hollywood. A test audience strongly disapproved of the movie’s original ending, where Chevy take Roy Wally and his whole family hostage and forces them to dance for his entertainment, and they had to reshoot a new, lighter ending, featuring John Candy. It’s not a bad ending, but Anthony Michael Hall had a three inch growth spurt after principle photography was over, which is why Rusty starts the film the same height as his mom, but towers over her once the reach the amusement park.
“Vacation” might be dismissed as easy to churn out, light comedic piffle, but go watch “The Johnson’s Family Vacation” and you’ll see just how hard it is to make a family trip funny. Chevy Chase made it work three times before he slammed into the wall with “Vegas Vacation”. Cedric The Entertainer crashed and burned before he even got out of the driveway.
While Chevy was the father we wished we had had , Randy Quaid’s Uncle Eddie is, unfortunately, the father many of us ended up with, which leads us to Top Ten Father’s Day Movie number 3, “The Great Santini”.
Pat Conroy has long be one of my favorite novelist. My oldest daughter is named after the suicidal poet, Savannah, in Conroy’s “Prince of Tides”. But 12 years before Barbara Streisand turned that book into a star turn for her finger nails, Lewis John Carlino played way over his head and brought us “The Great Santini” (or “The Ace” depending on when you first saw it). He also brought Oscar Nominations to Robert Duvall and Michael O’Keefe. Yes, Danny Noonan was once nominated for an Oscar!
Not only is “The Great Santini” a great study on the struggle between and boy and his father, it’s the film debut of David Keith, and without David Keith we wouldn’t have… Well, David Keith actually hasn’t done much that Kiefer Sutherland or Gary Buesy couldn’t have handled in his absence, but the movie is a great reminder that Blythe Danner was actually something before she became known as just Gwenyth Paltrow’s mom.
The home used in the movie is known as the Edgar Fripp Home. I love houses that are know by names. My is just “that place with the farmer’s porch where the old crank lives”. The Edgar Fripp House is the same house in South Carolina that Lawrence Kasdan would use to film “The Big Chill”. I only mention “The Big Chill” because Kasdan also wrote the script for perhaps the ultimate Father’s Day Movie: “The Empire Strikes Back”. The only reason Empire didn’t make my Top Ten List is my pangborn hatred of George Lucas.
Number four on the list was 1973’s “Paper Moon”, a true family affair from the get go. Back when John Huston was going to direct it, he wanted Paul Newman and his real life daughter Nell Potts to star in it. Too bad Potts didn’t take the role, because the movie won Tatum O’Neal a Best Supporting Actress Oscar (beating out fellow cast member Madeline Kahn) and started years of resentment from her co-star, real life dad Ryan O’Neal.
Directed by Hollywood’s ultimate name-dropper, Peter Bogdanovich; a guy who knows a thing or two about ‘Daddy Issues’. He was young Dorothy Stratten’s boyfriend when she was murdered by her husband (a story of betrayal/murder/suicide/necrophlia entertainingly told in Bob Fosse’s “Star 80”, and the reason Mariel Hemingway got implants). Bogdanovich then married Stratten’s little sister, the 19 year-old Louise, a move that sceeved out most people, even those in Hollywood, a people that aren’t sceeved out easy. But before Bogdanovich became James Stewart in “Vertigo”, he made “Paper Moon”, a classic in the Black and White, Father/Daughter, Traveling Con Man in the Depression Era genre.
“Paper Moon’s” script was by Alvin Sargent, who also wrote “What About Bob?”, which almost made this list but didn’t, mostly because I didn’t feel like watching it again. Alvin Sargent’s brother was the great Herb Sargent, who was an original writer on Saturday Night Live along with Chevy Chase, and Chevy Chase was supposed to play Lester Burnham in “American Beauty”, the movie that came in number five on my Father’s Day Movie List.
Talk about Oscar bait. Director Sam Mendes got one. Kevin Spacey got one (for the role that rightfully should have been Chevy’s). Annette Bening got herself nominated for this movie, and Mena Suvari should have gotten one, just for being Mena Suvari. Alan Ball also got an Oscar for his screenplay. He used to write for the TV show “Cybill”, which starred another of Bogdanovich’s girlfriends, Cybill Shepard. There are those that argue Paul Snider killed the wrong girlfriend.
Add to that the fact that “American Beauty’s” Lester Burnham is an anagram for “Humbert learns”, a tip of the hat to Professor Humbert in Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita”, and “Lolita” was remade in 1997 by Adrian Lyne, and Adrian Lyne directed “Foxes” with starred Randy Quaid, who was everyone else’s dad in “Vacation”; and the symmetry becomes almost too much to bare.
Peter Bogdanovich rears his pointed head again on our list, because he was one of the many names Robert Evans approached to direct number six: The Godfather. Thankfully, Bogdanovich turned him down and the movie fell to Francis Ford Coppola by default.
Easily the bloodiest of all my Father’s Day movies, with a body count of 18, including a horse, The Godfather may be the ultimate in familial commitment. The cast list all most reads like a who’s who of Actors in the 70’s. Marlon Brando, James Cann, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall; all the big guns got Oscar nominations, and Brando even won, although he had a phoney Indian squaw accept it for him. The only guy missing from the first Godfather was Robert DeNiro, but he got even. He beat them all out on my list by starring in The Number Three Father’s Day Movie of All Time: “Cape Fear”.
Not the original “Cape Fear” but the one that Martin Scorses made in 1991 with DeNiro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis. Based on the novel “The Executioners” by the great John D. MacDonald, it’s unbelievable that this movie’s screenplay was written by the same guy that wrote “The Saint”. “Cape Fear” hammers on the fears of every father, and that thumb sucking scene between DeNiro and Juliette Lewis got them both nominated for Oscars. Nick Nolte got nothing on the other hand, except for his mistress beat up, his houseboat sunk and his dog killed. But that’s ok, because Nolte was also in Father’s Day Movie Number Three: “I’ll Do Anything”.
You might have missed this one. It snuck out under the radar in 1994, with Nick Nolte as the unsuspecting dad to an amazing Whittni Wright. Directed by James L. Brooks, the guy that helped bring The Simpsons, Mary Tyler Moore and Taxi to TV (but then again, he’s also the guy that directed “Spanglish”, so what can you do?). Organically the movie was a musical, with songs by Prince, but again, test audiences hated it and the songs were removed. Script Dr. Elaine “Ishtar” May was brought in to neuter the screenplay but still, some brilliant moments shine through and like I said, the little girl, Whittni Wright, who went on to star in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s hockey movie “Sudden Death” and then disappeared, was amazing. Not a dry eye in the house at then end, but then I am an old softy.
I thought long and hard before picking the last movie on my list. So many greats to choice from. Classics like the first “Father of The Bride” or “Father Goose”. Modern crap like “Father’s Day”. Maybe “The Shinning” or “Daddy Daycare”? Anything by Steven Spielberg has it’s share of father issues in it, but when the dust settled I went with 1995’s “Bye Bye , Love”.
Built around an actual McDonald’s in upstate New York that is famous for being the exchange point for kids between divorced couples when their weekend visits are over, “Bye Bye , Love” has Matthew Modine heading a great cast that includes Paul Reiser and Eliza Dushku (even Janeane Garofalo is stomachable in this movie), but what makes this movie so good isn’t just the examination of the effects of divorce on the relationship between fathers and their kids and the family paradigm, but the fact that it was directed by Sam Weisman, the greatest director to ever speak through a bullhorn and crack a riding crop, and he is currently in pre-production on “Knights of Manhattan” with Gerard Depardieu and I really want him to cast me. Please, please, please?
“Bye Bye , Love” also stars Randy Quaid, that’s the third time he’s shown up on the list and thus makes him the best cinematic dad ever. Sorry, can’t argue with scientific evidence.
Hey, wait a minute, you might ask. That’s only nine. That’s right, because Top Ten List are mental short hand. A Top Nine List is an exercise in discipline. Something the Great Santini would have liked. You have been warned. Happy Father’s Day