Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mommie Dearest: Best and Worst Moms in Film

Posted By on Thu, May 8, 2014 at 12:00 PM

  • Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment

Perhaps it's unfair to label any one mother as the best or worst because filmmakers repeatedly teach us that motherhood is no walk in the park.

And while some movie moms are just downright awesome, others are, let's say -- more complex. For that reason, we'll take a more compassionate approach in celebrating some of cinema's most memorable mothers. Now sit up straight. We've got company.


The Shirley MacLaine Lifetime Achievement Award: Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment

It's only fitting that Shirley MacLaine receive the first induction into our mothers-on-film hall of fame. It's even more appropriate to name the award after her although she faced some serious competition from the likes of Sally Field, Dianne Wiest and Mary Steenburgen. However, MacLaine tops them all because her portrayals of motherhood tend to be, well, over-the-top and ultimately timeless. She's basically her own genre (Steel Magnolias, Postcards from the Edge, In Her Shoes, etc.) But none of her characters are more iconic than Aurora Greenway in Terms of Endearment. She's a feisty one but it all stems from a fierce devotion to her equally feisty daughter, Emma.

The Best Reason to Get Caller I.D. Award: Frances McDormand in Almost Famous

Frances McDormand has such incredible range that she can convincingly play be the anti-rock mom in Almost Famous to the leather-clad, rock mom in Laurel Canyon. What they all have in common is plenty of moxie.

The Best Mom-to-be Award: Frances McDormand in Fargo

Fargo is a brilliant movie about idiots who've somehow lost their common sense and decency. How else to explain a botched con job that's destined to fail from the start and a grisly murder by wood chipper? In fact, the only decent people in the movie are Margie Gunderson and her lovable husband, Norm. The characters inhabit a world gone batshit but at least their baby will be born to a home that's most likely immune to all the craziness.

The "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" Award: Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Kill Bill: Vol. 2

Don't mess with a pregnant woman on her wedding day. You've been warned.

The Best Mommy-to-All Award: Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights

So she's a porn star with an insatiable cocaine habit. Amber Waves never lost her maternal instincts and earns extra points for being so generously supportive to those in need.

The Underrated Gem Award: Lupe Ontiveros in Real Women Have Curves

Carmen Garcia is unreasonable and the epitome of a drama queen. Eat an extra slice of flan and be prepared to never live it down. But hey, she means well, right?

The Cautionary Tale Award: Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream

This is what happens when grown children fail to regularly visit their mamas. She'll grow addicted to drugs and obsess over some little red dress. Don't dilly-dally. Mom needs you. We suggest you don't watch this film on Mother's Day.

The Mommy-is-a-Martyr Award: Bjork in Dancer in the Dark

Selma is selfless. Selma is pure. Selma is screwed. All Selma wants is to save money for her son's operation and occasionally daydream that she's in a musical wonderland. Cruel fate has other plans. Yeah, go ahead and skip watching this one on Mother's Day too.

The Best Surrogate Mom Award: Ellen Page in Juno

Let's hope the baby inherits his biological mom's infallible wit and great taste in music. Although we disagree, Sonic Youth is more than just noise.

The Best Wedding Planner Award: Meryl Streep in One True Thing

Oprah is right when she says that motherhood is the most difficult job in the world and no one knows this better than Kate Gulden. What makes her job even more difficult is that it goes largely unnoticed until she's plagued with terminal illness. Here she plans a wedding she might never attend. Grab some kleenex. This one's a tearjerker.

The International Moms Award: The ladies of Volver

They sing. They laugh. They love. They fart. Director Pedro Almodovar certainly loves women and it's most evident in this lush masterpiece.

The Maybe It's Maybelline Award: Joan Allen in Pleasantville

Mothers look more beautiful in technicolor anyway.

The Express Yourself Award: Holly Hunter in The Piano

Who needs words when your passions run deep elsewhere? Moms have an artistic side that go beyond home decor.


The Worst Workaholic Mom Award: Annette Bening in American Beauty

It should be a quick fix for Carolyn Burnham. She just needs to relax and take some time to really notice all the good in her life. If that fails, then a horse tranquilizer will do 'cause homegirl needs to chill out.

The Don't Quit Your Day Job Award: Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road

Unfortunately, some people just aren't meant to be parents. Case in point: April Wheeler

The Most Resentful Mom Award: Mo'Nique in Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire

It's too easy to label Mary Jones a monster. She's completely in the wrong but let's exercise some empathy here as hard as it might be.

The Let the Sunshine In Award: Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

Violet Weston has cancer of the mouth (how fitting) and lives in perpetual darkness (literally). She's a woman who's been disappointed one to many times by those she loves most, especially her daughters, and now she just wants to revel in her mean-spirited wit. Just don't force her to eat the fish.

The Absolute Worst Film to Watch on Mother's Day: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Tilda Swinton is one brave actress and this is one brilliantly provocative film. We might even call it an unnerving masterpiece. However, it's probably best to save it for another day. Father's Day perhaps?

Who'd we miss? Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest? Sigourney Weaver in Aliens? Sound off below.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF, Jonathan at @jonramos17, and like us on Facebook.

  • Pin It

About The Author

Jonathan Ramos


Comments are closed.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"