“Films I Wished I’d Watched With My Dad”

Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea share a stolen moment in The More the Merrier

If there’s one thing that my father and I used to like to do together, it was watch movies. We didn’t see enough of each other to catch whatever dropped into the local cineplex–rather, we had an intense sort of competition, a desire to seek out and find great, great movies to recommend to one another. My Dad lived in North Carolina, I lived in Minnesota, and we’d call now and again and brag about seeing, say, Children of Men or Buena Vista Social Club for instance. We’d argue, cajole, laugh, complain about this movie or that, and that was wonderful. It was our way of talking, of sharing a moment. These conversations enriched our lives… and the movies.

Dad died in the summer of 2008, and since then I’ve felt his loss continually whenever I see a movie. Good or bad, I keep wanting to talk to him about the thing. When I saw Inception, and loathed it, I found myself wishing I could have called and asked him what he thought… and honestly, I was itching to have the usual argument with him if he indeed loved that overblown mess. Recently, in fact, I had a dream that he adored Avatar, and we argued about its merits while walking the streets of a ghostly town (I was happy for that dream, let me tell you.) It was my father who turned me on to Welles, Bergman, Gene Kelly, and assorted classics. I had turned him onto the aforementioned Children of Men, L’Atalante, The Band’s Visit, and, believe it… Mr. Bean’s Holiday. I’m most proud of that last one, in spite of what you might think about it, because he told me it made him happy, and took his mind off his chemotherapy.

When James River Film Society president Michael Jones wrote me earlier this spring about “films I wished I’d watched with my Dad,” (Mike being the “I” in question) it was deeply inspirational. Mike’s dad passed away shortly after my father did, and, like me, he had a long history of watching movies with his pop. It’s a lovely idea, and I hope he gets his list onto this blog, because I’ve seen it and it’s worth sharing.

So without further complicating this matter, here’s some of the movies I’ve seen this past year that I desperately wish I could have seen with Dad. But before I leave you with it, if you love movies then I urge you to catch as many as you can with that person you love more than anything–Dad, Mom, wife, brother, best pal.  That’s what makes the movies worthwhile, the way we share them.

Five movies I wish I’d seen with Dad:

Limelight, 1952, written and directed by Charlie Chaplin. I saw this one recently at the Film Forum in Manhattan, and then a week later with my wife, just to make sure I saw the right movie. See, I’ve never liked Chaplin, came near to hating him in fact, and Limelight’s supposed to be his weakest movie… I loved it. What I would give to have gotten my Dad’s insight into this complex, and very strange, movie.

The More the Merrier, 1943, directed by George Stevens. This amazing little film about love and friendship on the World War II homefront breaks my heart just as it makes me laugh. I’d watch this in terror with Dad, hoping that he’d like it, knowing I’d be crushed if he didn’t (he didn’t hold back his opinions, let me tell you.) But if he enjoyed it, man, I’d be in heaven.

Two-Lane Blacktop, 1971, directed by Monte Hellman. One of my all-time favorites, but I never got to share it with Pop. I have the very distinct feeling he would have hated it. Sometimes, that disagreement was half the fun.

Inglourious Basterds, 2009, directed by Quentin Tarantino. Here’s one I think he would have hated… but something else tells me it might have been a guilty pleasure. I just don’t know, and that’s what frustrates…

Mid-August Lunch, 2009, directed by Gianni Di Gregorio. Because, like me, he loved these little movies about next-to-nothing, that actually speak multitudes. If we’d seen this together, at the theaters, I like to think maybe instead of talking or arguing, we might have both settled into that blessed silence of appreciation that is the province of good friends and family. Sometimes that’s better than talking and just as memorable.

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