Sunday, June 9, 2013

Froggy's Belated Mother's Day Film Festival

     My partner The Salamander has felt the spirit of my late mother in our lives frequently in recent months, and when I dedicated my Father's Day Film Festival to my Dad, he insisted that I not wait until next year to honor my mother the same way.  I know Mother's Day was back in May, but sometimes The Social Media Salamander must simply be heeded.  So, in honor of my mother Carolyn Helton Lucas, I present thirteen films that focus on maternal relationships...

  1. Steel Magnolias (1989) - I suppose we'll start with the Mom that reminds me the most of my own.  In this ensemble study of relationships between women, it is the mother/daughter dynamic between Sally Field and Julia Roberts that gets you right in the chest no matter how many times you watch it.  This is the film that really made Ms. Field into the iconic figure of motherhood that she became.  It may be the ultimate chick flick, but with iconic performances from Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton and Darryl Hannah, its still one NOT to miss.

  2. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) - Different Moms face different challenges, but they all kick ass  in their own way when their cubs are threatened.  Few do it as dramatically, or as literally, as Sarah Conner (as embodied by Linda Hamilton) in this James Cameron sci-fi classic.  So much of why this picture works as well as it does is owed to the very human love and concern she has for her son (played by a young Edward  Furlong) played in contrast to the sterile non-personality of the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger).

  3. The Manchurian Candidate (1962) - Of course, lest we forget, the human race is capable of producing the occasional mother who could eat her own young.  I'm sure many of my viewers have seen the somewhat lackluster remake from a few years ago, but if you've never seen the original from director John Frankenheimer, you have no idea what all the fuss is about.  Difficult as it may be to believe, even the great Meryl Streep could not top Angela Lansbury's performance as Eleanor Shaw, one of the nastiest mothers (no, I mean a literal Mom) ever brought to the screen.

  4. The Kids Are All Right (2010) - Being an unconventional mother doesn't have to be a bad thing, as Annette Bening and Julianne Moore prove in writer/director Lisa Cholodenko's breakout hit and Best Picture nominee.  A lesbian couple's family and world is rocked as they and their children meet the sperm donor whose seed was used to sire their brood.  Mark Ruffalo plays the non-Dad; Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson play the kids, who (despite the CURSE of having two mommies) actually seem to be all right.

  5. Mermaids (1990) - Whether their partner is a man or a woman, a Mom with back-up certainly has it easier than one who is all on her own.  While this might not be the most critically revered picture on the list, Mermaids definitely ranks among my very favorite Cher performances as she faces the challenges of a single mother raising two daughters who are just as independent and free willed as she.  Winona Ryder (in her youthful prime) plays the elder daughter, while Christina Ricci (in her feature debut) plays the younger.  Bob Hoskins plays the love interest that might actually make them a family.

  6. Moonstruck (1987) - It is impossible to contemplate Cher's greatest performances without thinking of Moonstruck.  While most people may remember this Norman Jewison rom-com mostly for the Cher/Nicolas Cage romance, it is her interactions with her mother (Olympia Dukakis) that stick with me over time.  It is a touching and complex representation of a mature mother/daughter relationship, thorns and love in proper measure.

  7. Auntie Mame (1958) - Not everyone who provides a mother's love is actually a biological mother, and Mame is maybe the most famous maternal stand-in of all time.  It is perhaps Rosalind Russell's greatest performance, as we watch her learn to be a mother and adapt her relationship to fit the different stages of young Patrick's life.  The film is also utterly charming, and (if one can ignore the ignorant racist overtones that could be offensive to Asian-Americans) a beautiful take on the power of love.

  8. Central Station (1998) - Before Hollywood scooped Brazilian film maker Walter Salles up to create pictures such as last year's On The Road, he was creating brilliant pictures in his native tongue.  In this one, he shows how a bitter woman who takes in a young orphan boy finds that her dormant maternal instincts are powerful enough to melt the ice that has long encrusted her heart.  Fernanda Montenegro's Oscar nominated performance is powerful and heartbreaking.

  9. Beloved (1998) - Oprah produced and starred in this film and Jonathan Demme directs, and I thought it was fantastic, but somehow the Awards Season just passed it by.  Beloved is a ghost story, and a tale of slavery, but it is far more than either of those things.  It is first and foremost a tale of a mother's love, the impossible choices it propels her to make, and the guilt that paints a lifetime in the aftermath.

  10. The Lion in Winter (1968) - Sometimes Mom loves you the best way that she knows how.  Sometimes that involves manipulation, warfare and pimping you out to young kings.  Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of the most sinister ladies ever brought to screen, and also one of the most devoted (if twisted) maternal figures.  Katherine Hepburn manages to convey both sides of the famous queen in a way that we can't help but to both adore and fear.  She may attest that "Nothing in life should ever be perfect", yet I fail to find the "one strand askew" in her performance, even after a dozen viewings.

  11. Madeo (2009) - No mother has ever been more desperate or determined than Hye-Ja Kim in director  Joon-Ho Bong's brilliant Korean thriller that translates simply as "Mother".  The piece makes a nice bookend with Terminator 2, as both women learn what they are capable of doing to protect their sons against literally life or death odds.

  12. The World According To Garp (1982) - One of the most under rated films of the eighties, in my opinion, is this bizarre family dramedy from director George Roy Hill.  It was the film that first proved Robin Williams had dramatic acting chops, but more importantly for our purposes it introduced the world to Glenn Close, who played his mother Jenny Fields.  Jenny was a HIGHLY unusual mother, who gave Garp a childhood that was equally unconventional, but her devotion to her son was always beyond reproach.  Close was SO good as Jenny, in fact, that it earned the previously unknown actress her first of six (so far) Oscar nominations.  We're still waiting for her win, but...

  13. All About My Mother (1999) - In an age where most of the best international film makers are lured by the money of Hollywood into making English language features, it is easy to wonder where the cinematic voices uniquely tied to their cultures are in this modern era.  Where are the Bergmans and Fellinis of this new age?  I say look no further than to Spain's imminent auteur Pedro Almodovar who for decades has continued to make films only in the Spanish language even while launching such international acting sensations as Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.  In this tribute to his own mother, starring Cecilia Roth, Almodovar's personal style reaches its pinnacle of realization thus far.  It's a little bit campy, a little bit melodramatic, incredibly personal, and hides much more beneath the surface than can possibly be appreciated in a single viewing.  I didn't just applaud in my own home when it won Best Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars, I cheered out loud.

     And that concludes the tardiest Film Festival you'll ever see this little Movie Frog publish.  I hope Mom sees and approves, and I hope she knows we love and miss her.  I even managed to work her beloved Ms. Lansbury into the list after all those episodes of Murder She Wrote I had to sit through at Sunday dinners.


  Related articles: (Byg)On(e) the Road

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