The Twenty Greatest Family Dramas

Maybe it’s because they have known us the longest, and so, therefore, can hurt us the deepest, that the family drama can be one of the most painful of genres.  But if done wrong, it could also be one of the most cliched ones as well.  So, it is with these thoughts that I give you “The Twenty Greatest Family Dramas”.

In no particular order…

1.”Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) Nicholas Ray.  Despite some awkward dramatic moments, and of course, the passing of time, this popular film retains its power for its sensitive handling of its subject matter.  This film was truly on the side of the kids.

2.”Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) Robert Benton.  Academy Award winning film about a custody battle was never one of my favorites, but there is no denying the skill of all the artists involved.

3.”Ordinary People” (1980) Robert Redford.  Redford nabbed an Oscar for this penetrating look at the effects of tragedy on a seemingly normal American family.

4.”The Brood” (1974) David Cronenberg.  Although technically a horror film, Cronenberg mines more truths than several obvious forays in the genre.  He once called “The Brood” his “Kramer vs. Kramer”.

5.”Little Murders” (1971) Alan Arkin.  Feiffer’s lacerating black comedy leaves a bitter aftertaste as violence overtakes one American family.

6.”A History Of Violence” (2005) David Cronenberg.  This film takes a look at family secrets, and how we really don’t know the people we think we’re closest to.

7.”Long Days Journey into Night” (1962) Sidney Lumet.  O’Neill would not allow this masterpiece to be produced while he was alive.  And although this may not be the definitive version, it contains one truly brilliant performance by Jason Robards as the haunted Jamie, O’Neill’s tragic brother.

8.”HUD” (1963) Martin Ritt.  Ritt received his only Oscar nomination for this family drama set in Texas and features some of the best dialogue in cinema.

9.”Shoot the Moon” (1982) Alan Parker.  Family as a war zone?  Albert Finney and Diane Keaton portray a couple going through a particularly savage separation which leaves no winners.

10.”Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris. Although it’s considered to be more of a comedy, this deceptive little film shows us the true need for family.

11.”Terms of Endearment” (1983) James L. Brooks.  This film does a fine balancing act between laughter and sorrow, avoiding cliches as it explores the complicated emotions that come from the mother and daughter dynamic.

12.”The Homecoming” (1973) Peter Hall.  Pinter looks at the family as a rather dangerous institution.

13.”A Delicate Balance” (1973) Tony Richardson.  Albee’s play takes a hard look at a retired couple trying to take the complications out of their lives, but are instead drawn into the hell that is other people.

14.”Crimes of the Heart” (1986) Bruce Beresford.   This southern-fried charmer features some winning performances, and also some surprising poignancy in dealing with a family tragedy.

15.”Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958) Richard Brooks.  Despite throwing out all of William’s homosexual themes, and most of the poetry, this Hollywood version is still quite entertaining.

16.”A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) Elia Kazan.  This powerful film contains a very disturbing family triangle.  It shows both the attraction and repulsion of desire.

17.”I Never Sang for My Father” (1970) Gilbert Gates.  Hackman plays a son attempting to make a relationship with his dying father, played powerfully by the veteran actor Melvyn Douglas.

18.”East of Eden” (1955)  Elia Kazan.  John Steinbeck’s Cain and Abel tale features the mythical James Dean and a supporting cast that cannot be faulted.

19.”In America” (2002) Jim Sheridan.  Sheridan’s autobiographical account of a family immigrating to America after dealing with the loss of a child.  Ultimately a triumph of renewal.

20.”The Ice Storm” (1997) Ang Lee.  This suburban saga shows us the confusion and anxiety that comes with the changing of times.  Subtle and haunting.