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Top Memorable Movie Dads

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Here's a brief look at some of my favorite movies that all have memorable fathers as characters. All these movies have touched my heart and have made me think about the relationships between fathers and their children in different ways.

'To Kill a Mockingbird' (1962)

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Set in the Depression-era South, To Kill a Mockingbird creates a vivid portrait of a father's courage and integrity, as seen through the eyes of his daughter. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is a widower and lawyer who defends an African American man falsely accused of raping a white woman. I think that Gregory Peck is at his finest in this Oscar-winning performance.

'Life is Beautiful' (1997)

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In Life is Beautiful, Guido (Roberto Benigni), an Italian Jew, protects his son from the horrible realities of their internment in a concentration camp by spinning a web of fantasy for the boy, pretending it's all a game. To my mind, Roberto Benigni gets the role of Guido just right, giving it the perfect mix of the comic and tragic.

'The Bicycle Thief' (1948)

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In Vittorio De Sica's masterpiece of neorealism, an unemployed man finally finds a job, but it requires a bicycle, which is stolen on his first day at work. He searches the city for the bicycle, accompanied by his son. I think that The Bicycle Thief is a powerful story about the bond between a father and son and the heartbreaking effects of poverty on that relationship.

'Father of the Bride' (1950)

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Elizabeth Taylor is a lovely bride in this classic comedy, but the film belongs to Spencer Tracy, who steals every scene in the title role of the harried but loving father. The movie follows the sequence of events surrounding a traditional big wedding. I can still hear the weary tone in Tracy's voice as he says, "An experienced caterer can make you ashamed of your house in fifteen minutes."

'In the Name of the Father' (1993)

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In this tale of a miscarriage of justice, Gerry Conlon is convicted of an IRA bombing, and several of his friends and relatives, including his father, are also jailed. After years behind bars, both Conlon and his father are exonerated and released. I especially liked how the film showed the nuanced way the relationship between son and father developed during their years in prison.

'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' (2000)

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In this comedy loosely based on Homer's epic poem The Odyssey, George Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill. Ulysses escapes from a chain gang and makes a difficult journey in hopes of reuniting with his daughters and his ex-wife Penny. One of my favorite lines in the movie is when Ulysses tells Penny, "I'll tell you what I am -- I'm the damn paterfamilias! You can't marry him!"

'The Godfather' (1972)

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In The Godfather, Marlon Brando embues his character Don Corleone with a deep love for his family and children. At his daughter's wedding reception, Corleone must grant favors because "No Sicilian can refuse any request on his daughter's wedding day." Later at the reception he tells a crooner, "A man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."

'Flags of Our Fathers' (2006)

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Clint Eastwood's powerful World War II film Flags of Our Fathers was based on the best-selling nonfiction book by James Bradley with Ron Powers. Bradley was the son of one of the six American flag raisers depicted in the famous photograph. When James Bradley's father John was alive, he hardly talked about the war at all, but after his death his son found materials belonging to him and more was revealed about James' dad. Both Ryan Phillippe as the young John "Doc" Bradley and George Grizzard as the older John Bradley are memorable in their roles.

'The Road' (2009)

'The Road' DVD Cover
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This powerful father-son tale contains one of the best performances by a child actor ever captured on film. The movie is a bleak post-apocalyptic drama that takes place several years after some unspecified catastrophe befell the earth. The film is fundamentally about how the father struggles to preserve his humanity and how he works to instill a sense of morality in his young son.

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