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Dec 21 2017

Father Figures,the best and worst of 2017

Each day a new "year in review"piece.Here's Ben Miller...

I've been a father since 2012.  It's one of the great joys in my life.  If you classified me as a person,father would be near the top of how I would want to be described.  I want to be a good father and I strive to be.

But,generally,I don't look to film for guidance.

Terrible fathers are a touchtone of cinema.  From Jack Torrance to Daniel Plainview,movie dads rarely get the chance to show how great they can be for their children.  2017 surprisingly provided us with a bevy of complex relationships between parents and their progeny,and the dads actually got a chance to shine.  Check out the top ten great dads in 2017 films.  (I also included five terrible fathers,because 2017 gotta 2017.)

Spoilers for all of these films are included

01Larry McPherson,Lady Bird(Played by Tracy Letts)
Lady Bird and her mother,the central figures in the film,aren't the only ones to benefit from Larry's warmth (we previously discussed this characterization here).Even when faced with a fruitless job interview,he smiles in the face of adversity,opting for a big bag of Doritos.  When his son comes in for the next interview,there is no animosity.  Larry straightens his tie,pats him on the shoulder and tells him to go get ‘em.  He does this while losing his job,providing for an extra person in his house,losing his daughter to college and suffering from years of depression.  God bless Larry McPherson.

02Mr.Perlman,Call Me by Your Name(Played by Michael Stuhlbarg)
Understanding is the divide between parents and their children.  'If only my parents understood me,' OR 'if only my kids knew how I felt'...

Elio Perlman's whirlwind summer romance with Oliver in the Italian countryside has been his release.  He thought he'd been enjoying this romance covertly while his parents were none the wiser.  As the summer draws to a close,Mr.Perlman admits to Elio he is not only perfectly aware of his romance with Oliver,he encourages it.  For the elder Perlman had a romance with a friend of his at a similar age as Elio.  The warmth and empathy evident in Mr.Perlman is a rare quality,especially for the parents of a man discovering his sexuality.  Whatever happens to Elio for the rest of his life,he will always have the memories of his summer with Oliver and he will always have the understanding of his father,which is the best thing his father could give.

03Hap Jackson,Mudbound(Played by Rob Morgan)
All Hap Jackson wants from life is better.  He works on the land where his ancestors worked as slaves.  Currently working as a tenant,he longs to own the land to better provide for his family.  After breaking his leg while working on his church,Hap is not content letting his family do all the work while he heals and ends up reinjuring his leg.  Hap has spent his life in some measure of servitude and does not say no to a white man's request for help.  The notable exception is when the McAllan boys ask his assistance to lower their father's coffin in the ground.  He will bring himself down to that level,but he'll be damned if his boys have any role to play in burying a virulent racist.  The environment allows Hap only a measure of protection he can provide his family,but he will take every inch he is allowed.

04Terry Gardner,The Big Sick(Played by Ray Romano)
When I would meet the parents of someone I was dating,the dads never scared me (I was petrified of the moms,and especially the sisters).  Girls and their dads are best friends.  These dads want nothing more than to be the good guy and that includes putting forth the effort to be nice to the boyfriends.  Terry is the greatest example of this as he continually tries to get on the good side of Kumail while his daughter lies in a medically-induced coma.  He might not be the best of husbands,but he keeps trying and he sticks around.  His presence is key.  And Lord knows he's honest.

05Larry "Doc"Shepard,Last Flag Flying(Played by Steve Carell)
Despite his best efforts,Doc couldn't protect his son from his untimely death.  Just as Doc served his country in Vietnam,his son wanted to serve his country in Iraq.  Following his son's demise,he turns his gaze to honor.  Not content to have his son be one of the multitudes buried at Arlington National Cemetery,Doc recruits two Vietnam buddies to usher his son's remains to the family plot in New Hampshire.  Doc's entire efforts revolve around the honor of his child.  As soon as he discovers potential dishonor in his son's death,he wants to show his son the honor he believes the military did not deserve to give him.  Top marks to Doc for caring about his son despite his obvious grief.

06(tie)Jacob "Money"Harlon,Shot Caller&Bradley Thomas,Brawl in Cell Block 99
This list is not about good people,it's about good fathers.  Both Jacob and Bradley become terrible people and kill with impunity.  In both cases,any brutality is in service to the safety of their family.  Jacob is a victim of circumstance while Bradley takes control of his surroundings.  Both men face their consequences knowing their family is safe and secure without their loved ones knowing what they have done to protect them.  Love is about sacrifice and these two men prove it.

08Logan,Logan(Played by Hugh Jackman)
This is the most controversial version of a "father"on this list,but Logan learns to accept Laura as his daughter as the film progresses.  The only thing he has been doing for the past decades is surviving,but Laura gives him a purpose,allowing him to finish his fight for a noble cause.  Absent fathers are a familiar trope in film,but when the absent becomes present,fatherly instincts kick in.  And if we know anything about Logan,it's that he relies on his instincts.

09Martin Hanson,Wind River(Played by Gil Birmingham)
Grief is a funny thing.  Martin wants to avenge the death of his daughter,but he is too lost in sorrow.  Luckily for him,tracker Cory Lambert knows all too well about grieving a daughter and provides him an unintentional vessel for revenge.  Not knowing what to do with his grief,he invents death paint and covers his face.  Cory joins him,providing some depth for how to deal with grief,his love for his daughter abundantly apparent.  Why forget the pain and forget your daughter when you can "sit here and miss her for a minute."

10Father,Raw(Played by Laurent Lucas)
Much like Mr.Perlman,the father from French horror dramaRawunderstands an alternative lifestyle and shares a common experience.  In his case,his daughter Justine is worried about her desire for flesh.  Good old dad is there to show a bevy of scars and missing chunks of flesh from untold number of encounters with their mother.  It's always good to know that little things like cannibalism run in the family.


01Pappy McAllan,Mudbound(Played by Jonathan Banks)
When I started this list,I looked at the terrible things the other bad fathers did and still never questioned who would be number one.  Pappy McAllan is condescending to his war hero son,calls his other son (whom he lives with) and idiot,and leers at his daughter-in-law.On top of all that he's a racist piece of shit.  The entire barn lynching scene was horrific for a number of reasons,but Pappy forcing Jamie to choose Ronsel's punishment was the singular moment of evil put to film.

02Ego,Guardians of the Galaxy,Vol.2(Played by Kurt Russell)
Ego had such a good start.  He saved his son from a group of Sovereign,ushered them to his planet for some hospitality and wanted to share with awesome power with his son.  Boy,do the wheels come off from there.  Ego reveals he had thousands of kids whom he promptly killed,wants to become all-powerful by destroying all other life on planets,and he planted the brain tumor in Peter Quill's mom that eventually killed her.  It might have been better to keep believing your dad was David Hasselhoff

03Him,mother!(Played by Javier Bardem)
He gave his newborn baby to a mob of followers who promptly broke his son's neck,tore him to pieces and ate him.  Not great

04Mr.Marsh,It(Played by Stephen Bogaert)
This bottom five list is crazy enough that a man who sexually abuses his daughter lands fourth,but it has more to do with the one-note character.  He's evil.He does terrible things to his daughter.The end.

05Steven Murphy,The Killing of a Sacred Deer(Played by Colin Farrell)
The fifth spot was a neck-and-neck battle between a pair of doctors.  Dr.Dean Armitage fromGet Outalmost squeaked in,but he didn't shoot any of his kids in the face after spinning around with a rifle.  So,Dr.Murphy gets the nod.

Who wereyourfavorite and least favorite screen dads this year?Did any of them remind you of your own?

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Reader Comments (18)

Owen Wilson as Nate Pullman in Wonder

December 21,2017 | Unregistered CommenterIan

Yondu?Or was biological fatherhood a rule?As in,would the rules of these lists allow Jor-El but exclude Pa Kent?

December 21,2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Good one @Ian.Missed it

December 21,2017 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Ray Romano is so effective.He added a shit ton to that film

December 21,2017 | Unregistered CommenterHuh

Spoiler alert for mother!Lol

December 21,2017 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Additionally to the fathers mentoned thus far - some more to think about (that I saw this year on silver screen) -

- Stalin in Death of Stalin (although the film didn't feature much of his fathering,it had his son and daughter popping up after his death :))
- Ian Hart played the father to the protagonist in God's own country.I liked him.
- The patriarch in Haneke's Happy end.
- The Meyerowitz stories' dad...
- The dad in Get out - he seemed to love his family,but in what a weird way...
- The father is Loveless - hated him.
- The father in The Gifted was a good dad...that film was sweet...
- The awful stepdad in the form of Jim Belushi in Woody's Wonder wheel...although the kid himself...almost made me think like he deserved his stepdad...
We all deserve our kids...I love my 3 puppies,although one of them is already a grownup and next year the middle one will also step into the adulthood.But I'm proud of them and think I taught them to give and receive love.After all "Love"is what it's all about...

December 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterKris

Saw CMBYN-Found the entire 'romance' to be somewhat hollow and didn't emphasize with Elio's life compared with the main 'Moonlight/Lil' Man character.Seems like Elio's father was the only one that had any feeling inside of him.I didn't feel any concern for the narrative until the conversation from his dad.

December 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

Mark Rylance,Dunkirk.For the bests.

December 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterJon

Adam Sandler in The Meyerowitz stories was a sweet dad!

December 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterTheBoyFromBrazil

Great list.One of the reasons I love your website.
I too have been a father since 2012 :)

I would mention Percy Fawcett from "The Lost City of Z",for his beautiful relationship with his elder son (played by Tom Holland).

December 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Loved Ray Romano in The Big Sick!He was wonderful.

December 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Isn't it "Dr.Perlman?"I'd flunk a student who called me Mr.,after all the years I spent working on that Ph.D.

December 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

How awesome it would be if Morgan,Romano and Stuhlbarg heard their names called on Oscar nomination morning.They are the true MVPs of their respective films.

December 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterNewMoonSon

Dan O: "I didn't spend six years in evil medical school to be referred to as Mr,thank you very much."That's not the most useful or quotable Austin Powers line,but it seemed appropriate.

December 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Volvagia: Ha!

December 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterDan H

SPOILER for "Call Me by Your Name":

I'm sort of confused now.Dr.Perlman is gay,also,right?Did I completely misread this?Am I going crazy?

December 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Spoilers for Killing of a Sacred Deer: Ok,I must object to the inclusion of Dr.Steven Murphy.He's not a bad father,he's a desperate man caught in a tragic situation and ultimately getting out of it the only way he knows how,and yet he's so torn up over what he has to do that he has to it at random.And don't forget that if he hadn't shot one of his kids through the head,that kid would have died anyway,along with his wife and his daughter,so if he hadn't killed his son,he also would've killed his wife and daughter by not doing anything.He did what he had to do.It was a tragic situation that would have lead to a tragic outcome no matter what,but that's a Greek tragedy.A story where a protagonist realizes he can't escape the inevitable.So,yeah,I would definitely swap him out with Dr.Dean Armitage from Get Out (that guy could have at least chosen not to follow in the tradition brought down by his family,Steven Murphy in the end had no choice).

December 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

The Martin character in wind River is powerful.Made me almost cry as well

December 25,2017 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

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