The Bicycle Thief(1948); Vittoria De Sica, director.

One of the most important movies ever made The Bicycle Thief (sometimes called Bicycle Thieves) is a great big beautiful bummer.

Post-war Italy is a rough place to find work, but Antonio will be able to feed his family because he has access to a bicycle. His first day on the job, however, it is stolen. He and his son take to the streets to try and find it, but its here that they are faced with a cold, cruel world. Does Antonio shelter his son from the harshness of his fellow man? Does he commit a crime of his own to keep his family stable? Will you be able to watch The Bicycle Thief without crying? You’ll have to see for yourself.

Happiness (1998); Todd Solondz, director.

Happiness is a giant, swirling film about a host of (unhappy) topics, but it’s the storyline about the pedophilic father that stands out.

In a still controversial move, Solondz had Dylan Baker play his child-rapist as, well, not exactly sympathetic. . .but human. This was understandably too much for some people, but what the film does so well is show a monster who is powerless (or perhaps too cowardly) to conquer his predatory instincts. The film’s emotional climax comes in a tearful conversation between father and son before he heads off to jail. It’s so sad and raw that it counters any charges of being exploitative.

Bonus: do you believe that trailer?!? Trust me, that is really not the movie I’m talking about.

The Celebration (1998); Thomas Vinterberg director.

Wow, 1998 was sure a hell of a year for sexually depraved fathers!

A stylistically groundbreaking film (this was the first “official” Dogme 95 film to get a wide release) this wild, boisterous movie used inexpensive video and minimal sound effects to create a naturalistic setting for this emotionally explosive story. Today it may have the look and feel of a shouting match on “reality TV,” but this really slapped us all in the face back at its debut.

It’s the perfect way to show the catastrophe of a large family gathering turned upside-down when a son accuses his father of molesting him and his sister in their youth. Like Happiness it also, shockingly, dares to be funny at times.

Radio Days (1987), Woody Allen, director.

Here’s another one that’s about a larger canvas of topics, but, for me, it was always the father-son relationship that had the most resonance for me. Michael Tucker plays a working class Brooklyn schnook who doesn’t make much of an impact in the real world (you never quite know what he does for a living – he might drive a cab) but is a benevolent voice of authority at home. Young Seth Green (!) plays the Woody Allen proxy in his most autobiographical film, loaded with amazing small roles from fantastic actors. It’s one of the best things Woody’s ever done, and that’s saying something, and while you never quite get inside the father’s head, his impact is felt throughout the entire film.

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