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10 Film Families

Families. We all have ‘em. We all love ‘em, we all hate ‘em. And, as it turns out, you’re fairly likely to make a film about them if your surname is Anderson.

And so here are 10 for cinematic families. Hopefully the list will prove that ‘films about family’ are not necessarily ‘family films’. Important distinction that. Learn the difference or you could be in for some mighty awkward family front room viewing. We learnt the hard way.

(And we’ll never speak of it again).

Top 10 Families

The Sweet Hereafter (1997)


Community as family. To the great credit of director Atom Egoyan he instills, within a community in British Columbia grieving from the loss of most their children in a bus accident, as much nuance, intricacy and shading as a film twice its length with half the characters. Much of the reasoning behind action and emotion is never truly revealed (why does Dolores accuse the bus driver? Is it to punish her father?), relating to us what we already know but rarely think about, let alone verbalise – the fact that we can live so close to people and never really know them.

The Ice Storm (1997)


Along with The Sweet Hereafter this could be a blueprint for how to adapt a novel (remember, the ‘it’s not as good as the book’ brigade, the trick is to adapt, not to copy… the clue’s in the word). In fact, The Ice Storm could be seen to occupy the middle ground between the film above and the film below, a film about regret and deceit, laced with dark humour.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)


Family as seen through Woody Allen’s black specs. Arguably then, more than any living director, you really know what to expect, and if you love Allen you’ll know why this is here. If you don’t, well just move on there, partner… nothing to see here. Family as seen by Allen is literary, tense, romantic and self-doubting; it bumbles its way through displays of emotion and affection, but for all it’s nervous energy, it’s heart is in the right place. Hannah and Her Sisters is perfect in it’s shading, perfect in it’s combination of comedy and drama, male and female, light and dark.

Drugstore Cowboy (1989)


Besides the obvious nods to sitcom families of the 1950’s and 60’s (Matt Dillon’s ‘Honey I’m home!’ being the most blatant), Drugstore Cowboy divulges an existential trip as to what it means to be a struggling American family. Within the first five minutes we are introduced to the characters by means of a home movie and references to the gang as a ‘new born son’ resolutely seal the notions of family. The cool ‘beat’ narration, alienation caused by addiction and the perilous situations their lifestyle lands them in, are all by products of a demented sense of responsibility and a very real isolation from ‘normal’ society that drives Matt Dillon’s central character of Bob. The character is a provider for his crew and a lover to his wife, all for which go to create an archetypal father figure. Even his name communicates cultural expectations and in a scene where we find him betrayed by his own dog, a troubling statement as to the American way of life is raised in our minds. Rather than the traditional tale of woe and spiralling depression, we are shown their day to day problems and how a family can come together to overcome them. Given the nature of addiction and how destructive it can be, here we find there is a sense of structure and continuity to their lives and their mordant pathos binds a kind of normality that the ‘movie junkie’ rarely sees.

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)


A dark and deeply humorous take on the modern ‘nuclear’ family. Though often hamstrung by it’s budget, there is a crazy glee to Wes Craven’s family vs family shocker, guilt by association vs guilt by action. Harking back to the radiation monsters of the post-war era and looking forward to the video nasties emerging from their crypts over the following years, The Hills Have Eyes‘ families stand at a horror cross roads.

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)


The antithesis of most of the families on this list and a sign that we’re not all cynical, misanthropes at FilmLib. Family as support, security and evidence that home is wherever they are. But most importantly, in The Swiss Family Robinson it also means tiger pits and ostrich races. Sure it’s saccharin and racist in that way only a 60s Disney film can be, but it’s also the epitome of a Sunday afternoon movie… just sit back and enjoy the adventure, the technicolour, John Mills’ macho-but-not-too-macho performance and the bit where the pirate gets hit on the head by the coconut bomb… yeah, you’ll enjoy that bit the most.

Boogie Nights (1997)


Back in 2012 we saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest evolution of the family dynamic in his excellent and deeply unsettling study of manipulation and love, The Master. Marginalisation and lost people seem to be a reoccurring theme of his work and Boogie Nights was perhaps the first true exploration of this. While drifting through the extravagances of broken lives in a pre AIDS world, a bunch of societies misfits, hopelessly navigate a superficial landscape of exhausting excess and nail the coffin firmly shut on the free love and civilised expectations celebrated throughout the 60s. The most heartbreaking example of this is in Julianna Moore’s desperate mother figure, who, burnt out and longing for meaning in her life, fuels her emotional roller-coaster with booze and cocaine . Burt Reynolds can be found proving himself in a fine performance as the domineering and misogynistic father to the group and we also see an early example of one of cinemas finest actor/director collaboration in a beautiful and tragic turn from Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is possibly one of the greatest horror films ever made. If not the greatest, definitely the most terrifying. The main reason for this is the pure sickness and twisted nature of the family at the centre of it all. It escapes me as to why the dynamic of a cannibal family is so much more frightening than a lone Hannibal or Gacey. Other than the fact that there are simply more of them, something about a consensus between many people okaying this nightmare, makes it all the worse. America was a changing place in the wake of the Vietnam war and Chainsaw reflected this, none more so, than in the deconstruction of the nuclear family. As society and the all-American family unit crumbled, Tobe Hooper held a mirror up and reflected the most spoiled and bad brood of human beings cinema had ever seen.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)


Much like another featured Anderson, Wes has made a career of mining the strangeness of the family unit. Unlike PT, however, he’s played it mostly for laughs, using awkward, understated comedy as an effective primer for indie soundtracked gut punches (we’re looking at you, Richie). Co-scripted by Owen Wilson, and starring his brother Luke, family runs through Tenenbaums like a logo through a stick of disappointing holiday rock. It is perhaps Anderson’s most emotionally engaging film, despite a cast of characters who don’t talk a great deal, and who barely talk when they talk. It’s not just a musing on family but also on childhood – what we lose and what we refuse to lose, and how early sibling dynamics run deep. Speaking of which, you don’t think Wes and PT are related, do you? I feel a meta-masterpiece coming on…

The Squid and the Whale (2005)


‘They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad’. For a non-genre film about a suburban American family, The Squid and the Whale is not very family friendly at all. Trust me. But what it lacks in politeness it makes up for in sheer horrifying spectacle. A deeply pessimistic study of cause and effect, it may as well be straight adaptation of Larkin’s poem, comprehensively outlining the sad disintegration of a family headed up by a couple who really, probably should never have been parents. Jeff Daniels is deliciously disgusting – a selfish, thoughtless, point scoring academic preener – setting unreal expectation for his increasingly damaged sons and using them as pawns in his psychological games with their mother. This doesn’t make any of the kids’ action more palatable (or condonable), just a little more understandable. If it’s a hard film to like, that’s because it’s hard to like anyone in it, but it never quite tips over into being outlandishly immoral – it’s just brutally honest. In fact, according to writer director Noah Baumbach, it’s semi-autobiographical. Good god, I don’t want to know which parts were real. Also produced by Wes Anderson. Figures.

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