Friday, October 16, 2015

Top Ten Most Underrated Movie Dads

I have now been a dad for half of my adult life (gulp) so I think that qualifies me to judge the difference between a good dad and a lousy dad, especially considering my experience as both. (I'm convinced that if you're a good dad 100% of the time, then you're actually a bad dad. At least that's what I keep telling myself).* 

But this list isn't necessarily about good v. bad dads. It's about dad's who brought something significant to the table despite limited lines, screen time or both. So we've avoided the obvious choices like Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills in Taken. Also failing to make the cut were other dads we'd really like to include like George Clooney as Matt King in The Descendants (leading role), John Mahoney as Mr. Court in Say Anything (just missed the top ten) and Robert Duvall as The Great Santini (you don't make the list if the movie is named after your character).

So here we go with a somewhat random list of characters who helped drive the story in their roles as either the dad you wish you had, the dad you're glad you didn't or the dad who, upon reflection, really wasn't all that bad.

10. Vince Vaughn as Beanie: Old School

Beanie's inclusion was a close call because he is clearly one of the three main characters but his dad scenes are way down on the list of storylines and serves more of a supporting role for other characters to work off of than it's own driving force. Without Beanie as a dad, however, we never get the birthday party scene with Frank getting shot in the neck with the tranquilizer dart. (How else would you set-up an encounter between Frank and an animal trainer?) It also gave us the "earmuffs" bit which doesn't actually work in real life because no dad stops to tell his kid "earmuffs" before littering the landscape with F-Bombs. At least no dad in my house.  

Dad Grade: B- (Beanie clearly loves his kids but still seems a bit conflicted about committing to a life of monogamous fatherhood).

Best quote: "You think I like avoiding my wife and kids to hang-out with nineteen year old girls everyday?"

Runner-up: "Don't say sorry to me Frank, say it to the baby."

9. Val Bisoglio as Frank Manero, Sr.: Saturday Night Fever

The first of our three bad dads, Frank Manero is an out of work construction worker who likes to moderate dinner conversations by smacking everyone within arms reach anytime they get out of line (note that in this scene, everyone at the table takes a hit except grandma who actually gives the poor table itself a shot). If you asked him to sum-up his parenting philosophy, it would go something like "tell your kids they suck at least once a day or life will tell them for you."

"Four dollars? Shit."
Dad Grade: D- (Only because he deserves a slightly better grade than the guy below who gets the "F").

Best quote: Commenting on his son Tony's announcement that his boss just gave him a four dollar per week raise at the paint store . . . "Four dollars? . . . You know what four dollars buys today? . . . It don't even buy three dollars!"

Runner-up: "ONE PORK CHOP . . . ONE!!!" (It's in the table hitting scene).

8. Alan Arkin as Edwin Hoover: Little Miss Sunshine

Edwin Hoover edges-out his son Richard Hoover because Edwin was far more entertaining and, in his own profane way, probably a better dad. He takes Little Miss Sunshine from a B+ movie to an "A" and for that he makes the list.  

Dad Grade: B+ (Hoover gets an extra bump for also being such an inspirational grandfather).

Best quote: "Every night it's the fucking chicken! Holy God Almighty! Is it possible just once we could get something to eat for dinner around here that's not the goddamned fucking chicken?"

Runner-up: "Fuck a lotta women kid. I have no reason to lie to you. Not just one . . . a lotta women."

7. Kurtwood Smith as Mr. Perry: Dead Poet's Society

We need at least one true villain and you'd be hard-pressed to top Mr. Perry unless you wanted to go with a pedophile, (Bill Maplewood, Happiness), a psychopath (Jack Torrance, The Shining) or a Jedi who lost his way (Darth Vader, The Empire Strikes Back).*

"I know you're going find this hard to believe but I'm
going to star in a very successful sitcom one day."
Dad Grade: F (When your son kills himself with your gun to escape the life that you have dictated for him, um, I'm afraid that's an "F"). 

Best quote: "Oh stop it. Don't be so dramatic. You make it sound like a prison term. You don't understand Neil. You have opportunities that I never dreamt of and I am not going to let you waste them." Neil killed himself that night. Eat it dad.

Runner-up: None. He had some other lines but frankly they're all too depressing. 

6. Robert Swain as Rollin: Hoosiers

Rollin had "honorable mention" written all over him until we realized how critical these two moves were: (1) At the first practice he brings his son back, has him apologize to coach Dale and then bounces the other dads and assorted small town business people when coach tells them that practice is closed; and (2) He's
 instrumental in keeping Coach Dale from getting fired. Throw-in the fact that by the end of the movie, he's working as the only assistant coach in the championship game. That kind of impact from a bit part is just what this list is all about

Dad Grade: A (He gets it).

Best quote: He tears-up the ballots after the original vote count and firmly declares, "Coach Stays!" BOOM!!!

Runner-up: "Coach Stays!" (Sorry but you're not topping that).

5. J.K. Simmons as Mac MacGuff: Juno

I started writing this thing long before Whiplash was released, otherwise Simmons would probably be three spots higher based purely on his participation in one of the five best movie endings I've ever seen. As it is, Mac MacGuff is probably the closest thing we have to a real life dad on this list (remember who's writing this thing). A straight talking, sarcastic, loving dad who gets caught in a bit of a trick bag because he let his daughter be her own person. He gets bonus points for being the dad on this list you'd most like to have a couple of beers with. He's also part of the best father-daughter combo on the list and I've got one of those so even more bonus points. 

Dad Grade: A- (A little detached but definitely has his heart in the right place).

Best quote: "Look, in my opinion, the best thing you can do is find a person who loves you for exactly what your are. Good mood, bad mood, ugly, pretty, handsome, what have you, the right person is still going to think the sun shines out your ass."

Runner-up: "Who's the father Juno? . . . Paulie Bleeker? . . . I didn't think he had it in him."

Second runner-up: "Thanks for having me and my irresponsible child over to your house."

4. Derrick McGavin as Old Man Parker: A Christmas Story

Let's face it, Old Man Parker was the star of the movie but he wasn't the main subject and he didn't narrate so he makes this list under the wire and, once he satisfied the qualifying criteria, you couldn't keep him out. He's probably a more accurate depiction of a day-to-day grind it out dad than most of us would want to admit.

"He never looked at his boys
with this kind of adoration."
Dad Grade: C (We're taking the position that buying the BB gun was really just a make-up call for years of subordinating his parenting obligations to things like the pursuit of random prizes).

Best quote: Explaining why Santa brought the BB gun, "I had one when I was eight years old."

Runner-up: "SONS OF BITCHES . . . BUMPUSES!!!"

  3. Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum: The Royal Tenenbaums

Royal is another somewhat borderline candidate because he's essentially the title character but this was a classic ensemble cast and if you think I'm leaving a degenerate former lawyer off this list, then you don't know me so good. 

Dad Grade: D (Again, it's all relative compared to the guy who drove his son to suicide). 

Best quote: This one is fairly self-explanatory. "I've always been considered an asshole for about as long as I can remember. That's just my style." (I feel you Royal).

Runner-up: Royal confronts Danny Glover's character, Henry Sherman, and accuses him of trying to steal his ex-wife. Royal begins the exchange by telling Sherman, "you heard me Coltrane" and concludes it with "you wanna talk some jive? I'll talk some jive. I'll talk some jive like you never heard."

2. Richard Jenkins as Dr. Dale Doback: Step Brothers

It was a close battle for the top spot thanks to Jenkins pulling-off one of the greatest straight-man performances in movie history. Without him, and perennially sneaky hot Mary Steenburgen, Step Brothers could have been a watch once and move on comedy but Dr. Huff and Dr. Doback (along with Derrick) are key reasons why you're not surfing past this movie on a random Tuesday night.  

Dad Grade: D+ (Not quite Frank Manero but when your 40 year old son is still living at home . . .).

Best quote: "I'm gonna go down to the Cheesecake Factory, have a drink." (Also winner for best overall quote).

Runner-up: "You know what I got for Christmas? A crushed soul."

1. Paul Dooley as Mr. Stohler: Breaking Away***

"I'm not 'papa,' I'm your
goddamn father!"
In the end it had to be Mr. Stohler right? He's the consummate working-class dad trying to decode the riddle that is his teenage son. He owns the movie from the moment he walks onto the screen and does not have a single word of wasted dialogue (it doesn't hurt that it's one of the best movies ever made).

Dad Grade: A (The quarry speech, showing-up for the end of the race and riding the bike at the end. We knew he had it in him).

Best quote: "No I don't feel lucky to be alive! I feel lucky I'm not dead. There's a difference."

Runner-up: Every other line he has.


* Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Case in point: A few weeks ago I stumbled onto what I thought was a free hour of daylight on a perfect September evening after shuttling all three kids to their destinations so I bolted for the first tee and squeezed in six holes of speed golf. As I was coming-off the course, I stumbled onto a group of about ten merry fellows who were getting ready to sit down to dinner and asked me to join. Alas I could not as I had promised myself that I would be home at a reasonable hour that evening to spend some time with the family but I did, however, have time for "a beer." About halfway through my second beer I glanced at my phone and noticed multiple messages from the FGW so I discreetly checked them only to be reminded that I had previously agreed to pick-up my eight year old daughter from soccer practice which had ended ten minutes prior. Oh yeah, it was now dark outside. As I bolted from the table, I only had time to say "gotta go" and as I sprinted to the car I called my wife back hoping that somehow this situation had resolved itself. Fortunately it had because she magically foresaw my screw-up and made it to the field on time. And to make the ending an even happier one, my second beer was still on the table when I returned. So you tell me . . . good dad or bad dad?    

** I never saw Natural Born Killers so Rodney Dangerfield's character does not get the mention he apparently deserves. Also, Darth Vader warrants consideration after coming full circle by saving his son's life in Return of the Jedi after previously cutting his hand off with a light saber. That's a nice comeback but he's frankly a little too mainstream.

*** If I did have an honorable mention category, Paul Dooley would've gotten a piece of that too for playing a softened version of Mr. Stohler as the dad in Sixteen Candles

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