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Thanks to Shawn Levy for pointing me to this piece from “Smart Money” about movie critics’ secrets. I enjoyed #5: “I could say a film’s ‘about a lovable misfit,’ but I’ll go with ‘it limns alterity.'” But I don’t think anyone will be surprised by #8. “Sure, I’m a bellwether of taste–my own.” Um, that’s what critic means. I warn my readers and radio audience all the time about the dregs of February and August. And I have no problem with top 10 lists filled with titles no one has seen — the critic’s most important job is bringing the audience’s attention to films they would otherwise have missed. I’m happy to give “Star Trek” a good review, but have no illusions it will affect ticket sales. But when someone tells me they saw — and loved — “Once” or “I Could Never Be Your Woman” because I suggested it, that makes my day.

Re-posting from 2008–Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and children! Here are 10 great movie mothers every family should enjoy. Many were based on real-life mothers, with stories and screenplays in some cases written by their grateful families. And don’t forget my all-time favorite, Mrs. Brown in National Velvet. Mrs._Jumbo.jpg

1. There are three lovely movie versions of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, inspired by her own family, and they have three lovely performances as one of literature’s greatest mothers, the wise and patient Marmee. Spring Byington (also one of cinema’s best movie mothers in the delightful best picture Oscar-winner You Can’t Take It With You) appears with Katharine Hepburn in the 1933 version, Mary Astor (also one of cinema’s best movie mothers in Meet Me In St. Louis) appears with June Allyson in the 1949 version, and Susan Sarandon is Marmee to Winona Ryder’s Jo in the 1994 version. (Don’t forget to read the book, too!)

2. Sounder Cecily Tyson plays a mother who keeps her sharecropper family going after her husband is sent to jail in this beautifully filmed and tender story.

3. Mask Based on a true story, Cher plays Rusty Dennis, the mother of a teenager with a facial bone deformity. Many classic movie mothers spend a lot of time wearing aprons while they make soothing and supportive comments, but Rusty is a biker chick who likes to party and makes some questionable choices about her own life. She may not bake cookies for her son, and at times it seems like he is the parent in the relationship, but she is a fierce advocate and defender who makes sure that her son gets the most out of every moment.

4. I Remember Mama Kathryn Forbes’ classic book about her Norwegian immigrant family was successfully adapted as a play, a movie, and a television show. The movie stars Irene Dunne, very warm and loving and homespun, far from her usual glamorous roles opposite Cary Grant and other leading men. As Mama, with an apron around her waist and a braid circling her head, she raises her children with love, patience, good humor, and a reassuring “bank account.”

5. Places in the Heart Another tribute to a real-life mother and an Oscar-winning role for Sally Field as a Depression-era widow whose indomitable and inspiring spirit instills resolve in her family and friends.

6. Sarah Plain & Tall Some of the best mothers come to us after the women who gave us birth are gone. Glenn Close is perfectly cast in this made-for-television adaptation of the beloved book about a woman who answers an ad from an 18th century homesteader who needs a new wife to care for his children. Followed by two sequels.

7. Cheaper By the Dozen One of America’s most remarkable real-life mothers is brought to life by Myrna Loy as Lillian Gilbreath, a pioneering engineer in the early 20th century who raised a dozen children. Be sure to see the sequel and read the books, too. (Not to be confused with the silly remakes that have nothing to do with the real story or the original movie versions.)

8. Dumbo There is no more devoted mother than Mrs. Jumbo, whose love for her big-eared elephant baby demonstrates that parental love is not just for humans.

9. What’s Cooking? is the story of four different families at Thanksgiving in this film from “Bend it Like Beckham’s” Gurinder Chadha. There are several great mothers in the movie but the one on this list is the fabulous Mercedes Ruehl as Lizzy Avila who knows that part of caring for your family is respecting and caring for yourself.

10. Terms of Endearment The mother I want to point out in this film is not the impossible (but irresistible) Aurora, played by Shirley Maclaine, but her daughter Emma, played by Debra Winger. Emma makes mistakes. She has a tendency to be headstrong (inherited from Aurora) and careless. But she is utterly devoted to her children. She says goodbye to her sons, with hastily applied make-up so that they will not see how sick she really is, and she gets right to the essentials, understanding what they most need to hear and what they will most need to remember.

I was the only white person in the elevator after the screening of Next Day Air, and as we went down to the parking lot, I asked the assembled group, none of whom I knew, whether they thought the movie was racist. None of them did. The closest I got was one guy who said not enough to interfere with his finding it funny.
When I got off the elevator there were only three of us left, all women. I asked them whether they thought the film was sexist. They were noncommittal.
I was very polite about this, I promise. I asked in a tentative and understated way, because I know what a loaded question it is and I was still making up my own mind about how I felt about it. Still, I recognize that I put them on the spot and they may have been willing to be more critical about the film to each other than they were to me.
I concluded, as you can see in my review, that it was racist and sexist. I can understand how people might differ in their reactions. Some people think that because it was made by African-Americans, the humor is self-deprecatory and comes from a position of strength. But the stereotyping and contempt for both the characters and the audience — and my sense that the exact same movie could have been made by the KKK — led to my conclusion that it promoted bigotry, no matter who was behind it. If the best we can do in Hollywood is provide funding for these kinds of films — and if they keep finding an audience and making money — then it cannot be said to come from a position of strength. If there is not one redeeming character of any race or gender, it cannot be said to be self-deprecatory. This movie was laughing at these characters, not with them. It perpetuates stereotypes so over-the-top and demeaning they make Step’n’Fetchit look like Denzel Washington.
I do not think you have to be a person of color to recognize racism or a woman to recognize sexism. The other members of the audience are entitled to their own reaction to the film; any response they had is perfectly legitimate. But so is mine. I think it is a shame that these kinds of movies are released and that talented performers like Mos Def, Debbie Allen, and Mike Epps can’t do better.

My friend Liz Perle has a wonderful piece at Common Sense Media about the latest efforts to market PG-13 movies to young children.

The first Transformers movie, which was rated PG-13 but lent its brand to Happy Meal toys aimed at kids 4-9. Too bad the adult meal didn’t come with a person to explain why the movie was a non-starter for kids that age.

Age-inappropriate targeting — arguably begun in 1992 when McDonald’s got scolded for pushing toys to kids for “Batman Returns” (rated PG-13 for violence) — has become a time-honored practice. This summer, the new PG-13 “Terminator Salvation” (whose predecessors were all rated R) ties in with Pizza Hut. Subway is shilling “Land of the Lost,” and Burger King backs “Star Trek,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” and “G.I. Joe.”

Children understandably expect that if there is a toy or game associated with a film, it is suitable for them to see. Parents need to be very clear that just because a movie is marketed to them is no reason to expect that they will be seeing it.

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