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Dad Daze: Films to experience with your children

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 1, 2021

I would rather watch an old film that’s good than a new film that’s bad is what I often say to my children when we discuss what movie we would like to stream. Unlike my childhood when the options were extremely limited – seven channels – parents and children have a treasure trove of flicks at their fingertips today.

When the mercury dips below freezing, as it will during November nights, we tend to curl up and enjoy cinema together, which leads to discussions. After years of dissecting films, my children Jillian, 22, Eddie, 19, Milo, 16, and Jane, 12, have compiled a list of favorites flicks folks should check out.

The feel good film: Nothing puts us in a better mood than “Some Like It Hot.” The Billy Wilder classic is simply magical. I’ll never forget the impact “Some Like It Hot” had on my 10-year old self. The film was way ahead of its time when it came to gender bending.

Marilyn Monroe was never so charming. Jack Lemmon was hilarious and Tony Curtis so underrated. When I interviewed the latter, we chatted about who Curtis was initially going to work with, which was Frank Sinatra and Mitzi Gaynor. It wouldn’t have worked nearly as well.

“It wasn’t easy dealing with (writer-director) Billy (Wilder),” Curtis said. “I don’t think he appreciated my work but, ‘Some Like It Hot’ is a great film.” Indeed.

The darkest and arguably greatest teen film: “Rivers Edge” is the antithesis of “Some Like It Hot.” It’s a grim movie inspired by a real-life tragedy. “Rivers Edge” is one to watch with your kids when they reach adulthood. It’s a fascinating film for a number of reasons. I’ve never witnessed teen boredom captured like it is during “Rivers Edge.”

Those scenes with teens staring into space aren’t dull, which is difficult to pull off. The pivotal moments of the film with Crispin Glover and Dennis Hopper are incendiary. Former New York Times film critic Janet Maslin nailed it when she described Glover’s range from “Brando to weirdo.”

The dialogue is gripping and realistic. “The script wasn’t that good to start with,” actor Taylor Negron told me. “What was said changed every day.” “Rivers Edge” is a compelling masterpiece that’s buried so deep that the website the Ringer failed to list it in its Top 64 March Madness-esque contest.

The time waits for no one film: It’s not just a great Rolling Stones deep cut, it describes “Back to the Future.” The clock is always ticking throughout what is arguably the greatest blockbuster script of all time. Will Marty McFly, the protagonist perfectly played by Michael J. Fox, be able to return to 1985? Will Marty cease to exist since he interfered with a critical moment in his parent’s life?

There has never been a better time travel film. The script is filled with memorable lines, and the performances are top-notch. Fox was at his peak. Glover is amusingly bizarre as George McFly. The only flaw is when Marty McFly goes back in time to Nov. 5, 1955. The Honeymooner episode, which he is watching live, debuted Nov. 29, 1955. I had a difficult time with that initially, but I learned to let it go and enjoy one of the greatest films of all time.

A charmer that stands the test of time: My daughters love “Clueless,” and they should. It holds up well. Writer-director Amy Heckerling studied Los Angeles high school students to nail the Valley Girl vernacular. Realism helps, and so does a great script. The updated version of Jane Austen’s “Emma” is terrific thanks to performances by a number of future stars such as Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd and especially the late Brittany Murphy.

Heckerling’s first teen movie is her finest: As wonderful as “Clueless” is, it’s just a level below Heckerling’s directorial debut, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Much like “Clueless,” there was considerable attention to dialogue detail. Cameron Crowe spent time undercover in a Los Angeles high school before he penned the greatest script of his acclaimed career.

It helps that the cast is loaded with incredibly talented young actors who launched into the Hollywood stratosphere. It doesn’t get any better than Sean Penn’s iconic stoner, Jeff Spicoli. Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, Forrest Whitaker and Jennifer Jason Leigh made the most of their first big roles.

“It was the most fun I ever had on a set,” Negron said. “There’s no one I respect more than Amy Heckerling.”

For those who hate bullying: It doesn’t get much darker than “Heathers.” A brilliant and funny script about a mysterious newcomer (Christian Bale) to Westerberg High and his girlfriend (Winona Ryder) attempts to take down a trio of girls named Heather who rule the school and make life miserable for most. A must watch for fans of Ryder in her first big role.

Teen sleeper alert: “Lucas” is a warm, realistic movie about a kid who doesn’t quite fit in as he pines for the new girl in town and acceptance. It makes you wonder what the late Corey Haim would have accomplished if his life didn’t come to a tragic early ending. This is Ryder’s first film, and it’s odd seeing her play a geeky girl. It’s also one of Charlie Sheen’s first parts, and he is so likable as a popular jock.

John Hughes’ crowning achievement: We love “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” It took paternity to realize how fun and charming Hughes’ greatest work happens to be. It helps that Milo is regarded by his siblings as Ferris Bueller since he is the master of scamming and getting away with murder.

Bueller is played to perfection by Matthew Broderick, who takes a day to escape mundane high school life for the benefit of his depressed friend Cameron. Jennifer Grey is terrific as his sister. Grey has a memorable scene with the aforementioned Sheen, who has a cameo.

The funniest teen film of all time: There is no teen movie as hilarious as “Superbad.” It’s a bawdy film best viewed with your adult children. It’s outrageous, but the core of the film is about teen friendship, which is precious.

There has to be a Stephen King film, right? “Stand By Me” edges “Carrie.” The former, adapted from King’s novella “The Body,” nails the bond of teen friendship more than any other film. Four friends (River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell) in Maine venture on a journey for a boy’s body, and their lives change in dramatic fashion in a touching coming-of-age film.

We have a number of honorable mentions: “Scream,” “The Karate Kid,” “Rushmore,” “Lady Bird,” “Juno,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Boyhood,” “Election” and “The Virgin Suicides.” There are so many amazing films to immerse yourself in with your children. There is plenty to watch on family night. Enjoy!

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