Whether we like it or not the holiday season is, in fact, upon us. Which inevitably means for better or worse, it is a time to spend with family. Being from a large family myself, some of my favorite films naturally trend toward subjects of family, both in the traditional and nontraditional sense. So, in the spirit of the season I’ve compiled a list of the 14 best films center around family. Feel free to discuss.
Spirit of The Beehive (Erice, 1973)
The push-pull relationship between the rivaling sisters juxtaposed with the delicate, and distant love of their father fills this film with a subtle sweetness and curiosity that is projected through the filtered lens of a child.
Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957)
Sweet distorted reminiscing or youth, beauty, and the forgotten love of family. Ingmar Bergman writes a sentimental poem through the past of a rigid old man on his way to redemption
Ordet (Dreyer, 1955)
Many families find a rock-steady resolve through god. Some might say through god, families learn to love and accept each other, but Dreyer suggests the opposite in Ordet. Through the acceptance of each other’s shortcomings and hardships, the family discovers their faith.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper, 1974)
…and some families find a rock-steady resolve through morbid, grotesque curiosities handed down from one generation to the next. One of the most disturbing moments of the film is seeing how righteous and together the family is during the dinner scene.
Paris, Texas (Wenders, 1984)
Travis, the main character, finds himself wandering aimlessly without the anchor that is his broken family. Through the slow recollections of his ugly habits and mistakes, he discovers the love of his wife and child is greater than his own selfish being.
A Wedding (Altman, 1978)
Anyone that comes from an abnormally large family can appreciate this film. It may not be Altman’s best, but his free-wheeling nature lends itself to the strange occurrences of bumbled family events.
Dead Ringers (Cronenberg, 1988)
Watching this film, one waits for the inevitable Cronenberg revel, when he pulls back the curtain to show us the two main characters are, in fact monsters, just as we suspected. We are to believe they are twisted geniuses sharpened by the outside world and its lack of understanding. But, instead we are shown the simple and deep everlasting love of two brothers, weakened and grounded.
Cries and Whispers (Bergman, 1972)
A portrait of a withered relationship between sisters held together by the dieing dreams of one who finds a warm paradise in the belief that her sisters could some day rediscover their willingness to love one another.
Christmas Vacation (Chechik, 1989)
What holiday themed list would be complete without this little gem of a comedy? Love it or hate it, there is a goofball charm among the slapstick of this film that brings to mind so much of what makes family gatherings great, and not so great.
Days of Heaven (Malick, 1978)
Terrence Malick’s eye for detail makes for a coldly romantic film about the pains and sorrows that fester within the lengths the characters take to ensure each other’s well being.
A Woman Under The Influence (Cassavetes, 1974)
There are few films as beautiful and intimate as this one. There is an astonishing love found within the numbing flaws and cavernous emotional scars of Mabel and Nick, and through two hours we watch them claw and scratch at this love until we are exhausted. And they merely shrug off the bruises and get ready for bed.
The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)
Maybe it is cliché to include this film, but few films demonstrate one’s blind loyalty to family as The Godfather. The strong characters would walk through fire burning themselves alive for their “family” while the weak would turn away and live for themselves.
The Royal Tenenbaums (Anderson, 2001)
Hidden in plain sight among Wes Anderson’s charming quirkiness and deadpan humor is the idea that all redemption is found within the love of family. Royal Tenenbaum is one of the most morally bankrupt characters in recent film history, yet, even he is granted a reprieve.
Fanny and Alexander (Bergman, 1982)
In my opinion no film ever captured the highs and lows, and overall breadth of the bond of family than Fanny and Alexander. Where this is found is in Bergman’s willingness to let many scenes stay open and free. There are points, particularly in the Christmas party scenes, where one gets the sense that he is following the direction of the characters as they jubilantly display the joy of being together, and just for a moment they can ignore the inherent doubts and complacencies of life.