“Tarnation,” dir. Jonathan Caouette
This documentary about the troubled life of Jonathan Caouette will not only shock you, it will shake you to your core. The film chronicles Caouette’s upbringing at the hands of his schizophrenic mother, detailing his odd behavior and character traits and revealing scene by scene how much damage his family life has inflicted on his psyche. And though the film is a meaningful examination of the mother-son bond, the only way it’ll bring you and your own mother any closer is by showing you just how good you’ve really got it.
“Savage Grace,” dir. Tom Kalin
As far as Oedipal complexes go, this one certainly ranks up there with the most irksome. Julianne Moore, who continues to age quite gracefully, manages to use her unique beauty to make her role here as a charismatic wife and mother to pull off a mother-son relationship that is both hard to watch and hard to look away from. If discussing her sagging tits with her son isn’t bizarre enough to make your viewing experience on Mother’s Day uncomfortable, then watching Moore getting into bed with both him and another young man will certainly do the trick.
“Spanking the Monkey,” dir. David O. Russell
You probably know this by now, but we’re tipping you off just in case you don’t. Movies involving incest are never a good pick for family gatherings — especially not ones celebrating Mom. So you’d be well advised to steer clear of David O. Russell’s semi-autobiographical film (no, not the incest part) about a mother who not only loves her teenage son, but loves her son. But don’t hesitate to check out the film any other day of the year (again, without mom) because though it’s occasionally cringe-worthy (the title says it all), it’s also downright hilarious (in a twisted sort of way).
“Thirteen,” dir. Catherine Hardwicke
Stealing, oral sex, threesomes, huffing, strip-teasing, cutting, and abortion are certainly not things you want to experience with your mom when you’re thirteen (or ever, onscreen or off, for that matter). While “Thirteen” is the story of Tracy, it’s also very much the story of Tracy and her mother. Holly Hunter’s portrayal of Melanie earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. A recovering alcoholic, high school dropout, and struggling single mom, Melanie is clueless about her daughter’s rapid descent into delinquency until the pair has already arrived at the nadir of their relationship. When mom swoops in, it’s too late: Tracy’s destructive compulsions have systematically stripped away her empathy and moral compass, changing her character such that Melanie can no longer recognize her daughter but for her physical appearance. The two characters engage in an epic violent dance of teenage mother and daughter that ends in a cathartic concession: Tracy falls into her mother’s arms. “Thirteen” not only struck mortal fear into the hearts of parents with teenagers nationwide; it also gave us an unparalleled onscreen mother-daughter relationship that, while grisly, speaks to the bond of motherhood.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin,” dir. Lynne Ramsay
No matter how much your mom loves Tilda Swinton, you’d best to sit this one out. In Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” Swinton gives one of her most memorable performances as Eva, a woman who probably shouldn’t be a mother but is. Told mostly in flashback, “Kevin” traces how Eva was pushed over the edge by her son, Kevin (played by a teenage Ezra Miller). At the outset of the film, it’s clear Kevin’s done something terrible. As his horrific crime gradually reveals itself, we’re treated to scenes of Eva being a neglectful mother, and of Kevin growing into a monster — not the types of characters you want to spend two hours with this Mother’s Day.
[Editor’s Note: Paula Bernstein, Emily Buder, Eric Eidelstein, Ziyad Saadi and Nigel M Smith contributed to this article.]