"Little Miss Sunshine" dir. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Farris (2006)
Abigail Breslin stars as Olive Hoover, an average looking little girl with oversized glasses and mediocre dance ability. Though she’s the a-typical pageant girl, that doesn’t stop Olive from pursuing her dreams of competing in the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant. Olive’s family, headed up by her mom played by the fabulous Toni Collette, sets out on a mission to get Olive to the event despite broken down cars, dead relatives or any other obstacles along the way. "Little Miss Sunshine" features an ensemble cast at its finest with Steve Carell as Olive’s Uncle Frank, a dry scholar of Marcel Proust; Paul Dano as Olive’s older brother who has taken a vow of silence; Greg Kinnear as Olive’s Dad whose self-help seminar business is on a downward spiral; and Alan Arkin as her groovy grandpa. The lengths this family will go to to make their youngest member happy is truly heartwarming.
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding," dir. Nia Vardalos (2002)
Does every mother dream of her little girl’s wedding day? For Toula (Nia Vardalos) the daughter of Greek immigrants whose family lives and breathes by their Mediterranean culture, finding love isn’t so easy, nor is carving out her own identity. Toula’s wedding becomes a farcical journey through giant dresses, zillions of cousins and insane amounts of food to which anyone with a large -- and loud -- family can relate. When Toula complains about how stubborn her father can be as the head of the household, her mom adds some good advice: "The man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants!"
"Real Women Have Curves," dir. Patricia Cardoso (2002)
In Patricia Cardoso’s award-winning crowd pleaser "Real Women Have Curves," America Ferrera (in her breakout role pre-"Nurse Betty") plays Ana, a Mexican teenager with dreams of attending Columbia, despite the reservations of her conservative mother (the late and great Lupe Ontiveros). Juggling school with a job in her sister’s dress factory alongside her mother, Ana struggles to balance her mother’s traditional view of women with her own contemporary ideas. Ferrera and Ontiveros’ bond as mother-daughter is the heart and soul of the film. The two were awarded with a Special Jury Prize at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.
"Secrets and Lies," dir. Mike Leigh (1996)
Based on the synopsis alone, you might think this film about a working class British woman who is "found" by her 20-year-old biological daughter is the stuff of a Lifetime movie. But you'd be wrong. As directed by Mike Leigh and featuring two outstanding performances from the leads (Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste), "Secrets and Lies" explores our cultural and racial biases (we're not giving that "secret" away!) in the context of a discovery of the true meaning of family. In other words, it's perfect for a session of mother-daughter bonding in honor of Mother's Day.
"Volver," dir. Pedro Almodovar (2006)
Although probably not the first two films you think of in terms of Mother’s Day, both of the Pedro Almodovar movies on this list are quirky, bizarre, but warm stories about familial relationships that you should watch this May 11th. In the 2006 film "Volver," an acclaimed comedy-drama starring Penelope Cruz in an Oscar-nominated turn, Cruz stars as Raimunda, a young mother still reeling from the death of her parents, who died in a fire three years prior. She's in a relationship with an abusive man and at a dead end in her career. Her sister, the much softer Soledad, returns to the small Spanish village in which they grew up for the funeral of an aunt and encounters the ghost of their mother. Is there mother back to haunt them? Did she actually die in a fire? "Volver" is a odd tale about revenge, lust and retribution, but mostly it’s about the strange bond that will always exist between loved ones. It’s a movie that finds a way to make you smile.
[Editor's Note: Paula Bernstein, Emily Buder, Casey Cipriani, Eric H. Eidelstein and Nigel M. Smith contributed to this article]