This month marked 15 years since my father died. The anniversary went largely unheralded, with only a passing mention regarding the rapid passage of time. It does not mean his absence is not still sharply felt by those of us fortunate to have known him.
Instead, I believe we have all found it easier to internalize our mourning, to remember him in our own individual ways instead of hearing the same stories, both sad and glad, repeated time and time again. I know it’s true for me.
It’s funny, because when I think about my father, sorrow stems less from his absence in my life, but the things he missed in his own. He never met his grandchildren. Although he looked forward to retirement, he ended up working until the day he died. He also missed sharing things with his friends and family that he enjoyed – music and wine, baseball and travel.
He also missed a lot of movies.
Going to movies is something my father and I shared. When I was young, we would often go to early evening matinees, sharing near-empty theaters and forming mutual memories in the dark. From time to time, I’ll come across a film that either reminds me of something we saw together or that I believe would appeal to my father in a very particular way. Here are a few that, had he lived to see his 70th year this year, I believe he would have loved.
THE ROOKIE (2002): My father had a real soft spot for stories about fathers and sons who bond over baseball. He was even willing to forgive the failings of Field of Dreams, a movie I quite controversially find mediocre at best, because the thematic ideas resonated with him so strongly.
I would have loved to have watched The Rookie with him. A superior film and based on the true story of a middle-aged pitcher fulfilling big-league dreams, it has a lot of really powerful father-son moments. I can only imagine how much more powerful they would have felt had I been allowed to see this with my dad.
BOWFINGER (1999): My father was an unrepentant Steve Martin fan. I remember the stand-up albums in our house when I was young, and my first R-rated foray was a father-approved outing to see The Jerk.
I’ll be the first to admit that not every Martin film in the last 15 years has been golden. In fact, I’m afraid the bad probably outnumber the good by a substantial ratio. But Bowfinger is an exception. Not only is this film a classic Martin comedic performance, it’s also a singular piece of Steve Martin writing, incorporating sly Hollywood satire with elements of very broad comedy.
ROAD TO PERDITION (2002): Another movie about fathers and sons. Man, Dr. Freud would have a field day with this column. One of my father’s great pleasures was introducing me to movies he loved or thought were exceptional. I remember his excitement the first time I saw The Wizard of Oz as a very small child, The Sound of Music a little later and his great pleasure in staying up late one evening when The Godfather aired on HBO. For me, the wildly underrated Road to Perdition hits a lot of the same notes as The Godfather. It’s a beautifully made gangster saga that also fully functions as familial drama. He would have loved it.
GLADIATOR (2000): My father loved an epic and loved the big moments only an epic could provide. Be it Omar Sharif riding across the desert in Lawrence of Arabia or one of his final faves, Braveheart, my father loved big stories told in big ways. I know Gladiator, a movie that is never understated, would have ranked high on his list.
CASINO ROYALE (2006): My father was a James Bond fan. I know I saw more than a few of the British superspy’s adventures unspool with him. While he never, from my perspective, seemed particularly picky about his Bonds, embracing Roger Moore films as easily as the Connery classics, I know he would have had a special affection for Daniel Craig’s reinvention.
I wish he could have seen it. I really do.