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Best & worst movie moms (mothers)


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This AMC 15 Best Movie Moms list has a few good ideas.

Some strange ones too. Annie from Field of Dreams makes the cut just for calling someone a "Nazi cow" in defense of a 1960s novel. And The Royal Tenenbaums? Really?

I almost suggested The Royal Tenebaums as a joke, but decided I'd made enough lame jokes for awhile.

But while we're on bad movie moms: Rosalind Russell in Gypsy,Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate, Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia, and Natalie Portman's mom in Black Swan.

A comment on Jeffrey Overstreet's FB post mentioned Edna Spalding (Sally Field) in Places in the Heart--she seems admirable before her husband is killed, but when she faces trials as a widowed mother, adversity truly brings out her virtues.

Yes!

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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I went ahead and revised the thread title to "Best & worst movie moms." Have at it (but be sure you identify which category you're nominating for).

Still stunned at how USA-centric the nominees are tending to be. Why aren't more great moms in foreign films coming to light?

And yes, the paucity of slam-dunk nominees is really kind of shocking too. As with good marriages in our marriage movies list, good mothers seem to be a very rare beast in the movies. It's strange and disheartening.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Seriously --isn't film an art form rather than an accurate snapshot of reality?

Isn't the function of art to speak of truth, goodness and beauty?

Isn’t it true that people who become filmmakers, artists, musicians, poets, etc do not have ideal relationships with their mothers or fathers or both?…a flawed family background seems to be an essential part of the driving force to create.

Essential? I can't imagine that this is true.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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A comment on Jeffrey Overstreet's FB post mentioned Edna Spalding (Sally Field) in Places in the Heart--she seems admirable before her husband is killed, but when she faces trials as a widowed mother, adversity truly brings out her virtues.

Yes!

This one occurred to me too. I remember loving the film and the character, although I don't clearly remember how much the mother-child relationships figure in the story. Thoughts on this? I'd rewatch the film, but it's not available instantly from either Netflix or Amazon.

How about Rachel Cooper in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER? She's a surrogate mother, rather than a biological mother, so that may disqualify her. Nevertheless, she's one of the best movie mothers I can recall.

Too minor a character, maybe?

Diane Wiest in Edward Scissorhands (I think she's the most positive mother portrayal that I can come up with)

Anyone second this? I may have to watch Edward Scissorhands tonight.

You haven't seen it before?

Not until today. It's one of those films I've always known by osmosis. Watching it for the first time, I realized how much of it I already knew without ever having seen.

Dianne Wiest's character in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS is certainly a very good-intentioned, warm-hearted movie mom. The film sometimes pokes fun at how she can be a bit clueless, but her essential goodness is never in doubt.

Indeed. Great character, great mom. I've decided to expand the list from 5 to 10, and she's a shoo-in.

Steven, a lot of suggestions are coming in on my Facebook page, where I repeated your conditions. And, well... don't get your hopes up. Some of the suggestions there are pretty awful.

My favorite new thought from your FB commenters is Osono from Kiki's Delivery Service: such a great character, and while she's an expectant mother throughout, her relationship with Kiki is also very maternal. Miyazaki's moms are almost always positive characters, but not always front and center, e.g. Kiki's own mother, the mother in My Neighbor Totoro, Gran Mamare from Ponyo. Although actually what about Lisa from Ponyo? Yikes, there's a showdown I'm not sure how to resolve.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Two of the very best: Ma Joad (Jane Darwell) in THE GRAPES OF WRATH and Mrs. Morgan (Sara Allgood) in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY.

Tell me more about Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. I've read a few reviews, and nobody has much to say about her.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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A comment on Jeffrey Overstreet's FB post mentioned Edna Spalding (Sally Field) in Places in the Heart--she seems admirable before her husband is killed, but when she faces trials as a widowed mother, adversity truly brings out her virtues.

Yes!

This one occurred to me too. I remember loving the film and the character, although I don't clearly remember how much the mother-child relationships figure in the story. Thoughts on this? I'd rewatch the film, but it's not available instantly from either Netflix or Amazon.

...

I'm probably forgetting some things, but I've watched the movie several times (used it in classes, etc.). The mother-child relationships are certainly important, while it's true that Edna is a woman with a LOT to deal with, she never forgets her children. She must explain to her son & daughter their father's death, and how they are responsible for one another and for taking care of each other. She gives them household tasks in keeping with their ages and abilities and disciplines their misdeeds (something her husband had done before his death). She takes shelter with them when a tornado hits. Her son asks her to dance at the town dance. All three are sitting together at church and take communion together in the final scene.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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Tell me more about Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. I've read a few reviews, and nobody has much to say about her.

She's tough, indomitable, compassionate, and a deep wellspring of love for her family. She's the engine and the sponge of the Joad clan, and she takes everything they suffer onto her shoulders. Her bond with eldest son Tom is the heart of the film, and their final scene together is one of the most tenderly directed and surprisingly naturalistic (acting-wise) moments I've seen from the classical Hollywood period. It's one of the great mother-son moments in cinema. She also gets an incredible moment to herself early on before leaving Oklahoma, burning whatever materials they can't take with them - including photographs and family keepsakes.

If you were considering either of the Ford mothers, I'd cast my vote with Sara Allgood, even if her role in HOW GREEN is smaller than Ma Joad's in GRAPES. Darwell is terrific but she's more of a matriarch trying to keep her adult family together in a crisis, as opposed to Allgood's "peacetime" mothering, which involves both keeping the adults close and the active raising of a child.

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I second the mothers in How Green Was My Valley and I Remember Mama.

Another American movie mom (sorry): Kate (Doris Day) in Please Don't Eat the Daisies. She mothers several children under age 10 (including a toddler who can break out of any restraint) and a large dog while managing a move to the suburbs, maintaining a relationship with her husband, and helping with a community theater production. Plus singing. Comedy doesn't get enough credit!

Frankie's mother in Dear Frankie? She really cares about her son, though her methods may be unorthodox. And it all works out in the end.

Mrs. March "Marmee" in Little Women--pick your version.

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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Mrs. March "Marmee" in Little Women--pick your version.

It would have to be the 1933 version, at least compared to the 1994 version … for all the reasons Alan Jacobs spells out in a Mars Hill Audio spot I heard a long time ago.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Mrs. March "Marmee" in Little Women--pick your version.

It would have to be the 1933 version, at least compared to the 1994 version … for all the reasons Alan Jacobs spells out in a Mars Hill Audio spot I heard a long time ago.

Alan Jacobs is the man. :)

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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Isn’t it true that people who become filmmakers, artists, musicians, poets, etc do not have ideal relationships with their mothers or fathers or both?…a flawed family background seems to be an essential part of the driving force to create.

Essential? I can't imagine that this is true.

Speaking as a composer and as an organist, no that is not true. I have a good relationship with both my parents, and my drive to create music has nothing to do with any slight or imagined family discord. (The people who are truly and deeply driven to create usually do it out of a sense of love; love for their art and love for the audience, which would include their family.) I do know some artists who have strained family relationships, but I know even more who come from happy, supportive families.

Anyways, some more nominees:

Bad mothers:

Marty McFly's mom in Back to the Future

Mrs. Jones and Other Mother in Coraline

Good mothers (from non-American cinema):

Maybe the girl in Once (that one's a bit of a stretch, although she does have a good amount of screen time with her daughter)

Middle of the World - more of a father/son drama, but the mother plays a very important role

The Miracle of Bern - I found the film somewhat cliched and the portrayal of the father was regrettable, but the mother was a very positive, influential character as she struggles to keep her family intact.

Central Station - If surrogate mother figures count, this is the best example (and best film of the three I linked)

Edited by Evan C

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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really old one - I Remember Mama

Yes. Irene Dunne's performance in this film was the first one I immediately thought of when I saw this thread.

Also, Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona is probably my favorite mother on film. Granted, there are a whole number of problems with actually calling her a mother, but still. Her sheer joy and enthusiasm for motherhood is tremendous.

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really old one - I Remember Mama

Yes. Irene Dunne's performance in this film was the first one I immediately thought of when I saw this thread.

Great suggestion both. Thanks.

Also, Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona is probably my favorite mother on film. Granted, there are a whole number of problems with actually calling her a mother, but still. Her sheer joy and enthusiasm for motherhood is tremendous.

Holly Hunter is already on my list once, as my unofficial #1 Hollywood mom of all time. That's enough. smile.png

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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So in the end, I did a top 10 list with 10 additional honorable mentions! The honorable mentions do include a number of mother figures with no children of their own, but the top 10 are all birth mothers, stepmothers or foster/adoptive mothers. (I almost fainted when I realized I was thisclose to finalizing the piece — and I'd forgotten all about The Kid with a Bike! That realization bumped Diane Wiest in Edward Scissorhands to honorable mention.)

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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10 + 10? Does that apply to both lists -- the Best and the Worst?

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I guess I should read the criteria more carefully, although, I do question what "intact families" means. The seems pretty subjective, right?

Samantha Morton in In America

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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I guess I should read the criteria more carefully, although, I do question what "intact families" means.

Note the two qualifiers: "ideally though not necessarily in intact families of some sort or other."

"Of some sort or other" was intended to accommodate not just the normative case of a married father and mother and their biological children, but also children with a biological parent and a stepparent and married couples with adoptive children. A family with a widowed, un-remarried parent isn't "intact," but it also isn't the normative case of a "broken" family, i.e., parents separated by divorce.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Worst Mom of All Time: Margo Martindale in Million Dollar Baby. Seriously.

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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