Sunday, May 8, 2016

Ranking the Oscar Winning Mothers (Since 2010)

Scene from Room
With today marking Mother's Day, it only feels right to pay some sort of tribute to the women who helped to raise and make all of us the people that we are. For many, it is a joyous celebration that is met with feasts an gifts. In the case of the Oscars, it is one of the most nominated professions in the organization's existence. To say the least, there aren't too many years where an actress portraying a mother hasn't at very least been nominated somewhere - thus making a thorough listing of every performance a tad difficult. That is why I am choosing to focus on the Oscar-winning mothers since 2010. While the limitations would suggest that there wouldn't be many, there's actually seven between the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress category. The following is a ranking of these mothers, who in some way embody the complex and rich tapestry of what their jobs entail.

1. Boyhood (2014)

Category: Best Supporting Actress
Actress: Patricia Arquette

Among the many names on this list, Boyhood star Patricia Arquette is only one of two winners who are referred to as Mom. Director Richard Linklater's film that chronicled the life of a child's adolescence is a story that is deceptively named. As much as the film was about Mason (Ellar Coltrane), the story was also about his own nuclear family, which included Mom being at times a single mother and making personal sacrifices that easily makes her among the most realistic portrayals of motherhood in the 21st century so far. She even gives a heartbreaking moment in the third act as Mason is about to move away that almost all mother can relate to. There may be showier mothers to have won, but Arquette is one of the first to feel personal and honest.

2. Room (2015)

Category: Best Actress
Recipient: Brie Larson

There were few films from last year that were as unnerving and unpredictable for the Oscar conversation as that of Room. It isn't a common story that you see at the Oscars: Ma (Brie Larson) raises her child (Ethan Tremblay) in a room after being locked up by her abused husband (Sean Bridgers). There's more to the story and Tremblay may have overshadowed Larson on the red carpet, but there's plenty of conviction and power in the 26-year-old mother's insistence on keeping the child happy. It's a surreal mother/son story that manages to capture the willingness and sacrifice of a mother who wants the best for her child, but comes to learn that it also involves giving him space to become his own person. It's beautiful and tragic in all of the best ways possible.

3. Les Miserables (2012)

Category: Best Supporting Actress
Recipient: Anne Hathaway

While the other mothers on this list can at least admit to having some sort of a happy ending, the same doesn't quite go for Fantine (Anne Hathaway): a mother who doesn't even get to see her daughter as she sacrifices beauty and career after having to resort to prostitution. It's a bleak story even for one that has miserable in its title. Still, for her brief screen time, Hathaway manages to place one of the most tragic sacrificial lambs in a whirlwind of tragedy that all leads up to the most acclaimed scene in the movie. "I Dreamed a Dream" is arguably the song that got her the Oscar as she sung about her life's biggest disappointments. Beyond that, it's just a great performance that embodies the best of musical theater when adapted to film. She may not be a great mother in the sense that she was there for her child, but more that she gave her all in the face of con artists and the unsympathetic lower class.

4. The Help (2011)

Category: Best Supporting Actress
Recipient: Octavia Spencer

It isn't common for summer movies to becomes Oscar-winning caliber. However, The Help managed to earn Octavia Spencer a win for her role as Minny Jackson. The story of black maids in the 1960's was a crowd pleasing movie that showed a rich complexity to American ideals of the time. Minny was a scene stealer for her ability to crack jokes and remain loud and proud at every turn, even turning in one of the most memorable scenes involving pies. However, she was also a mother whose story had its own arc in which she escaped an abusive husband and helped to raise a child on her own. It's a feel good story, so the ending is pretty happy. Still, Spencer's performance is at very least one of the most entertaining movie mothers to have won.

5. The Iron Lady (2011)

Category: Best Actress
Recipient: Meryl Streep

It may be difficult to look at The Iron Lady and immediately think of Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) as a mother. Frankly, it's because the film chooses to focus more on her time as a politician than the strained relationship with her daughter Carol (Olivia Coleman). Beyond this, Thatcher was a divisive figure in real life - especially in the United Kingdom where her decisions involving coal miners were less than pleasing. It's a conventional biopic that it a lot of her career peaks and even managed to show her as an elderly retired woman. She did a lot, but being a good mother is arguably not too high on her list of achievements.

6. Still Alice (2014)

Category: Best Actress
Recipient: Julianne Moore

It seems aggressively unfair to put Alice (Julianne Moore) this low on the list. Her performance is possibly one of the best and most nuanced of the bunch and shows a side to early dementia that isn't often explored. She was a good mother prior to everything, but the film is more about her unfortunate struggles with the disease until she finally loses her memory entirely. It is a tragic role, and one that more reflects bravely and powerfully on her husband (Alec Baldwin) and daughter (Kristen Stewart) as characters, who do everything they can to keep their mother conscious. In terms of acting, she is probably one of the best of the decade. As for a mother, she is unfortunately not having her best days here.

7. The Fighter (2010)

Category: Best Supporting Actress
Recipient: Melissa Leo

If there's one thing that David O. Russell does well, it's turning in great mother roles. He has had several Oscar nominated mothers; including Jackie Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle and Joy), and the only one to have won: Melissa Leo for The Fighter. For what it's worth, The Fighter is the director's best film and embodies everything that he does very well as a populous auteur. There's not a dull performance in the bunch. However, to call Alice a good mother would be a stretch. Considering circumstances, it's a miracle that Micky (Mark Wahlberg) became a great boxer, and Alice's grubbiness over her son's career and choices definitely makes her an unpleasant presence. Thankfully, Leo manages to make the role her own and make her despicable without being unwatchable.

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