Entertainment Movies

The 15 greatest movie moms of all time

By Liz Braun, Postmedia Network

Jodie Foster plays Dede in "Little Man Tate." (Handout)

Jodie Foster plays Dede in "Little Man Tate." (Handout)

It’s Mother’s Day!

You know how it is for moms: all that drudgery — the cooking, the cleaning, the jail time — because they’re always on call for their children.

Ever since the world saw Joan Crawford try to take the rap for that murder her daughter committed in Mildred Pierce, it’s been obvious that moms are all about self-sacrifice. And perhaps shoulder pads. Moms are the ones always going out of their way to make things right for their children.

And heaven help any child who resists those efforts.

In honour of Mother’s Day, let’s see how Hollywood celebrates the most important character in all of our lives.

Here’s a list of 15 great Movie Moms, chosen at least in part because of (spoiler alert!) the actresses involved:

Mom in BOYHOOD (2014)

Patricia Arquette is Mom in this extraordinary film from Richard Linklater that covers a boy’s (Ellar Coltrane) life from childhood to college. Shot over 12 years, Boyhood captures much of the unvarnished truth about parenting — but also much that is miraculous about being someone’s mother. The story is told from the boy’s point of view, so we see his parents (Ethan Hawke is Dad) from his perspective. Arquette won an Oscar for this performance.

Dede Tate in LITTLE MAN TATE (1991)

Jodie Foster plays Dede, a working class single mom whose only child (Adam Hann-Byrd) is the focus of her existence. But the boy is a genius, so mom has to stifle all her fears and insecurities and hand him over to the educators who will help him make the most of his gifts. It’s heartbreaking, because she knows he will outgrow her, her knowledge and her values almost immediately. Foster made her directorial debut with this film.

Christine Collins in CHANGELING (2008)

She wants her son back! HER son! Angelina Jolie breaks hearts in this drama, based on the real-life Wineville child murders of the 1920s. The Los Angeles Police Department returns the wrong child to a woman whose son has vanished. Christine Collins (Jolie) fights the law, insisting they find her child, and gets put in a psych ward for her efforts. She finally prevails, but alas, maternal devotion does not always yield a happy ending.

Cynthia in SECRETS & LIES (1996)

After her adoptive parents die, eye doctor Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) decides to find her birth mother — and does so. That Hortense is black and her birth mother, Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn), is white, proves to be only a minor hurdle in this investigation into family; what it means for Cynthia to finally put down the burden of all the pretence and dissembling that has characterized her life is astonishing to watch. Mike Leigh won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and a couple of BAFTAs for this film.

Edna Spalding in PLACES IN THE HEART (1984)

Sally Field is the widowed Edna, raising three kids alone and running a small cotton farm during the Depression. With the help of a homeless wanderer (Danny Glover) and a blind boarder (John Malkovich) she’ll make it work, by golly. Field turns up as a terrific mom in several other movies, too, including Not Without My Daughter (1991); as mom, she’s also the best thing in the idiotic and cloying Forrest Gump (1994).

Bren MacGuff in JUNO (2007)

Okay, so Bren (Allison Janney) is the stepmother — not the mother —but when Juno (Ellen Page) announces that she’s pregnant and intends to have the baby, Bren is the loving, sensible guide any teenager in that circumstance would like to have around. Bren doesn’t even freak out when Juno barfs into the flower pot.

Elaine Miller in ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)

Rock stars have kidnapped my son! Count on Frances McDormand in the mom role to be unimpressed by sex, drugs or rock ’n’ roll — protecting her teenaged journalist son (Patrick Fugit) while he's on the road with a band is her first priority. Don’t forget her advice to the ultra-glib rocker played by Billy Crudup: “It’s not too late for you to become a person of substance.” Let that sink in.

Mrs. O’Brien in THE TREE OF LIFE (2011)

Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life concerned a 1950s childhood, complete with a stern, unreadable father (Brad Pitt) and a loving, giving, ethereal mother (Jessica Chastain). Whatever you took from Malick’s meditation on the journey from innocence to experience, Chastain made an indelible impression as a nurturing Mom in a state of grace.

Aibileen Clark in THE HELP (2011)

Aibileen (Viola Davis) is a maid, but over the years she’s also been surrogate mother to the children of her employees, and that includes Mae Mobley (played by twins Eleanor and Emma Henry). The little girl is the daughter of the damaged Elizabeth Leefolt, and she needs all the love and assurance Aibi can give her.

Remember: You is kind, you is smart, you is important.

As Mae Mobley says, “You my real Mama, Aibi.”

Out of the mouths of babes …

Sarah Connor in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)

We like a mom willing to do anything to protect her child, including bashing her way out of a psych ward, hanging with cyborgs from the future and blowing stuff up. Linda Hamilton waxes maternal in this role, opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger as a lean, mean, fighting machine and young Edward Furlong as a future saviour of humanity.

Mom in SERIAL MOM (1994)

Some moms would kill for their family. Kathleen Turner is the suburban housewife who does exactly that in this pitch-black comedy from subversive filmmaker John Waters. Mom’s reasons for offing you are just what you’d expect: criticizing her children, wrecking a family outing, wearing white shoes after Labour Day. Woman’s work is never done!

Peg Boggs in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990)

Peg (Dianne Wiest) is an Avon saleswoman and so kindhearted that after a sales visit to the local gothic mansion, she finds the orphaned Edward (Johnny Depp) and takes him in. Because who wouldn’t want a man-made outcast with scissors for hands? Maybe regular society is not right for Edward, but there’s little that unconditional maternal love can’t fix.

Dorothea in 20TH CENTURY WOMEN (2016)

It’s the ’70s, and Dorothea (Annette Bening) is a single mother determined to raise her son to be a good and worthy man. To ensure more female influence, she gets teenaged neighbour Julie (Elle Fanning) and one of her boarders, Abbie (Greta Gerwig) to help raise him. What a great mom.

What a superb performance from Annette Bening.

Chantale in I KILLED MY MOTHER (2009)

Chantale Lemming (Anne Dorval) is always fighting with her teenaged son, Hubert (Xavier Dolan, the director); he thinks she doesn’t understand anything, and she thinks he is super difficult. Dolan’s film memoir of growing up (and coming out) shows the endless maternal love under all that bickering.

Ma in ROOM (2015)

Brie Larson won an Oscar for her portrayal of Ma, a kidnap victim whose maternal instinct takes over as she raises the child of her captor in a tiny shed. Jacob Tremblay is Jack, a boy whose entire knowledge of the world comes from his devoted, energetic, imaginative mother. Lenny Abrahamson’s thriller is based on the novel by Emma Donoghue; at its heart, this is actually a story about being a parent.