Honor And Celebrate Mother’s Day With The Best Movies

For one mother of a holiday, here are seven movies with real mommy issues. Why so many are more gruesome than wholesome is a story for another day — or the therapist’s office.

‘Ma’ (2019)

Octavia Spencer gives a delightfully unhinged performance in Tate Taylor’s darkly comic thriller about a Gen X mom with a long-simmering thirst for vengeance. Spencer plays a small-town veterinarian’s assistant who wins over local youths by inviting them to party and get wasted in her basement. (She’s also got a surprise waiting upstairs.) She asks the kids to call her Ma, but her maternal overtures mask a sinister plan to right past high school traumas of her own. Issues of race and grief underscore the many gory horrors in the film, which was a big box office hit. Watch this one with a mom who loves a lurid nail-biter.

‘Mama’ (2013)

Andy Muschietti’s macabre fairy tale is about a couple, Lucas and Annabel (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Jessica Chastain) who take in Lucas’s nieces after the girls are found living like feral animals in a ramshackle cabin in the woods. Over the years, the girls were cared for, but also terrorized by, a supernatural “Mama,” as they call her. Mama’s not going anywhere, and she’s certainly not ready to hand over custody. Guillermo del Toro was an executive producer on this creepy feature-length expansion of Muschietti’s eerie short film “Mamá.”

‘Madre’ (2020)

Another short that got the feature treatment is Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s Oscar-nominated “Madre.” A heart-racing master class in tension building, the film unfolds in real time as a Madrid mother (Marta Nieto) gets a call from her 6-year-old son who says his father left him alone on a beach in France. Sorogoyen’s slow-burn extension picks up 10 years later, after the boy’s mother (also Nieto) has moved closer to the shore where he disappeared. When she becomes infatuated with a teenage boy (Jules Porier) who stops by the cafe where she works, the two strike up an unseemly but intense rapport that leads to crushing consequences. The film is a taut psychological thriller as much as it is a haunting study of mourning.

‘Mommy’ (2015)

After leaving a juvenile detention center, a troubled pretty-boy teenager (Antoine Olivier Pilon) goes to live with his mother (Anne Dorval) in this explosive dark comedy written and directed by the raconteur filmmaker Xavier Dolan. (One critic called him “French Canadian cinema’s answer to Justin Bieber.”) Dolan’s script is pure off-the-rails storytelling; mom, son and a caring neighbor (Suzanne Clément) navigate their complicated attachments with fistfights and seriously misguided flirtations but also, as it turns out, a great deal of love. Writing in The New York Times, A.O. Scott called the film “a pocket opera of grandiose self-pity, a wild and uncompromising demand for attention, a cri de coeur from the selfie generation.”

‘Mother’ (1996)

Albert Brooks directed and stars in this biting comedy about John, a 40-something divorced writer who moves in with his mother, Beatrice, played with full-tilt sass by Debbie Reynolds, a champ at showing the fangs behind the smile. (It was her first leading role in 27 years.) Much of the humor comes from how mother and son push each other’s buttons with verbal jabs and petty nagging that belie their affectionate bond. “You know I’m happy to see you,” Beatrice tells her son. “Now why didn’t you want to stay in a hotel?” That’s the kind of love only a mom could get away with.

‘Mother’ (2009)

The South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho directed this brazen crime drama about a mother (Kim Hye-ja) on a consuming mission to track down the real killer of a young girl after her son (Won Bin) is arrested in connection with the murder. Much like he does in his Oscar-winning punch to the gut “Parasite,” Bong mixes and upends genres (thriller, comedy, horror) to make a film with whiplash pivots in tone and style that would be exhausting in the hands of a less focused director. In her Times review, Manohla Dargis said Kim’s turn “as the mother of all nightmarish mothers” conveys “a dreadful manifestation of a love so consuming it all but swallows the world.” This mom’s not to be messed with.

‘Mother!’ (2017)

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem star in this head-scratcher of a fever dream directed by Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”). Lawrence plays a woman who plunges down a rabbit hole during her stay at a secluded house with her acclaimed poet husband (Bardem). When a strange couple (Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris) show up at their door one night, time and space take a far-out dive that has something to do with environmental anxiety, consumer culture or religious fervor. Or maybe all three. Or none. (One critic called the film “a ‘Twilight Zone’ version of a ‘Green Acres’ universe.”) This one’s best for adventurous film fans who know they’re likely to finish the film — if at all — on one side of the love-hate divide.