Antonio Ricci, “The Bicycle Thief”
Vittorio De Sica’s heartbreaking neorealist work won Sight & Sound’s top films poll just two years after its release for one very prominent reason: It’s the best movie about paternal instincts ever made. The continuing efforts of Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani), struggling with unemployment in post-WWII Italy, to find the stolen bicycle that could theoretically help him find a new job, derives much of its power from the relationship between Antonio and his young boy (Enzo Staiola). As Antonio’s efforts to recover the bicycle grow increasingly desperate, culminating in a series of humiliations, his son never grows disappointed in his father’s efforts. It’s the ultimate testament to the way parental care goes both ways — the final scene shows the son comforting the father, having learned from his elder that perseverance is the best antidote when things don’t go the way they should.
Darth Vader, “The Empire Strikes Back”
Can any list of movie dads be complete without mentioning dear old Darth? Ok, so he might not be the best father there ever was, but Darth Vader is certainly one of the most memorable. While in the first “Star Wars” film he just seemed to be a big, scary villain with severe respiratory problems, the climactic ending of “The Empire Strikes Back” reveals Vader’s true motivation: he really just wants to be reunited with his kids. He spends the entirety of the film hunting down Rebels so he can find and convince his son Luke to join him on his power-hungry quest to rule the galaxy. Maybe Vader has anger issues, a warped idea of quality family time and a predilection for chopping off limbs, but don’t all dads have their flaws?
Jason “Furious” Styles, “Boyz In The Hood”
“Any fool with a dick can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children.” That’s one the philosophies of Jason “Furious” Styles (Laurence Fishburne), a voice of responsibilty and reason in the crime-fueled world of John Singleton’s “Boyz N The Hood.” He takes in his troubled 10 year old son Tré (Desi Arnez Hines II) when he soon-to-be-ex-wife (Angela Bassett) becomes concerned he’s not getting the discipline he needs from her. And discipline Furious gives. But he does so while retaining the core values he believes can transform people, showing just how rare a father figure he is in a community where most of Tré’s peers have no such figure to speak of. When Tré grows up in the latter part of the movie (and is then played by Cuba Gooding Jr.), it’s clear Furious’s styles were effective. Though he ends up dabbling in gangs after a horrifying incident with an LAPD officer makes him reasonably question what side of the law is the right one, his is one of the few happy endings in “Boyz” and that’s in large part due to his father.
Mac MacGuff, “Juno”
On top of boasting the best name on this list (no question), Mac MacGuff (as played by the wry and wonderful J.K. Simmons) is one hell of a dad to Juno (Ellen Page) — or Junebug, as he affectionately calls her. That fact’s evident from the outset of “Juno” — Jason Reitman’s Academy Award-winning comedy, penned by the enviably talented Diablo Cody — where we’re introduced to Juno, a whip-smart, idiosyncratic and altogether charming high-school kid with a good head on her shoulders. There’s no question about it: this girl was raised right. So it’s no doubt alarming for Mac when his daughter informs him that she’s pregnant. But Mac, being Mac, doesn’t fly into a fit of rage like most dad’s no doubt would; he handles it matter-of-factly by supporting Juno’s decision to give the kid away. He helps her every step of the way, up until Juno’s final trip to the maternity ward where he tells his daughter, “”Someday, you’ll be back here, honey…on your terms.” Now that’s a good dad.
Man, “The Road”
When Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy opted to tell this post-apocalyptic horror story without giving the protagonist a name, it was pretty clear that he meant the Man to represent all fathers – or, at least, the greatest potential of fatherhood. Driven as much by limitless love as by primitive survival instincts, the man played by Viggo Mortensen in this John Hillcoat-directed film adaptation travels to the end of the Earth – literally – to keep his vulnerable, starving son alive. He weeps for him, he runs, scrounges and kills for him, he fears for him, he dies for him. Though no dad in his right mind would ever wish for that kind of test, every one hopes that, should he find himself faced with those brutal choices, he too would find the inner strength and divine will to do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.
How to describe Alejandro González Iñárritu’d “Biutiful”? Some call the 2010 film unwatchable, heartbreaking, devastating, depressing, stodgy and self-important. Others found it beautiful, and it earned Javier Bardem the Cannes Best Actor award and an Oscar nomination. We follow Bardem as Uxbal, the dying father of two — estranged from their bipolar mother, as he weaves his way through Barcelona as a low-level criminal attempting to do something good before his body fails him. As the consequences of his life and choices fuel the storm building around him, his devotion to and love for his children becomes very painful to watch. It’s certainly not an easy film, perhaps not even enjoyable. Few other actors could do what Bardem does in “Biutiful,” and if for nothing else, the film should be appreciated as a testament to the connection between father and child and the depths of sadness when they part. Uxbal whispers to his daughter, Ana; “Look in my eyes. Look at my face. Remember me, please. Don’t forget me, Ana. Don’t forget me, my love, please.”