Today, somewhat shockingly, is Mother’s Day. I say shockingly because it somehow always feels like February 29th. Every day of quarantine feels like Groundhog Dog, just without Andie MacDowell to make it cute. But I digress! We can’t let a little pandemic stop us from celebrating the women who brought us into this world (Happy Mother’s Day Fox Roxie, the only person I am 100% sure will read this!).
That was, admittedly, a long walk to get us to a Mother’s Day post about, sadly, snubs. From Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce to Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice to Olympia Dukakis in Moonstruck to Shirley Maclaine in Terms of Endearment, the Oscars have a rich history celebrating complicated, caring and sometimes evil (I’m looking at you Mo’Nique in Precious) moms.
But what about the moms who are overlooked by the Academy. The ones who cried at the cemetery or sang Sondheim or ran the rapids or fought the boogie man? They were left off the Academy shortlist altogether! So today, as we celebrate moms around the globe, I thought we’d finally give these fine moms their due. Here is my list of Biggest Oscar Snubs – Mother’s Day Edition:
Sally Field – Steel Magnolias
Possibly one of the most iconic film scenes of all time is the scene that should’ve had Sally Field picking up her third Oscar nomination in 1989. Sally Field plays M’Lynn, mother of diabetic, baby crazy Shelby (Academy Award nominated Julia Roberts), In this big screen adaptation of Robert Harling’s play. Despite the kidney transplant M’Lynn gives her daughter, Shelby, after living her dream of becoming a mother to little Jackson Jr., dies of complications. And the raw emotional breakdown the normally reserved M’Lynn has at her daughter’s grave is the thing of legend. Just like M’Lynn “WANTS TO KNOW WHY” her daughter is dead, we want to know why Sally Field didn’t snag an Oscar nod.
Toni Collette – Hereditary
Toni Collette’s Annie Graham isn’t a bad mom. She’s just up against some, uhh, tough odds. Dread is lurking around every corner in the Graham household, making this movie an instant horror classic. Collette’s performance as Annie, however, is anything but dreadful. She is a woman who, from frame one, is battling a constant current of grief, a tide which only gets stronger as the film opens up and the twists keep coming. And as insanity or possession or both, begin to grip her tighter, the struggle between being a caring, loving mom and, you know, a potential vessel for a wicked entity, starts to get the better of her. It’s an all-timer performance, by an actress who rarely gets her due (her sole nomination was one of my absolute favorite Oscar nomination morning surprises: Best Supporting Actress in 1999 for The Sixth Sense). Her scene at the dinner table, alone, should have earned her all of the Oscars. Like she should’ve gotten Best Sound Mixing and Best Animated Short for this.
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Look, at this point Annette Bening not having an Oscar yet is an actual crime. I’ve reported it to the authorities several times, and despite my best efforts all I’ve gotten is a cease and desist order. But much like Dorothea, the mother at the center of group of wayward souls in Mike Mills’ delightful 20th Century Women, I am tenacious. I will not give up. Bening’s innate warmth makes Dorothea’s struggle between holding on tight to her only son, as he starts to move away from her, and understanding she must let him go, heartbreaking, powerful, and at times, very funny. No one inhabits a mother who “had a life of my own once, ya know” quite like Annette Bening.
Julia Roberts – Wonder
Julia Roberts ascension pivoting her rom-com powers to playing mothers who mean business has been one of the best second acts in film history (see: Erin Brockovich, August: Osage County and Ben is Back). But there’s something about her in Wonder, a film where she plays the mom to Auggie (Jacob Tremblay, natch), a son with a rare facial deformity, who is going to school for the first time. She also is the mother to Olivia, her older daughter, constantly sidelined and living in the shadow of having a brother with a long-term illness. And this film, directed and co-written by Stephen Chbosky (Perks of Being a Wallflower), nails what that dichotomy is actually like. But none of that works without Roberts being able to perfectly playing a mom who is consumed and defined by her son’s condition. It makes her, yes, neglect of Olivia, palatable, her masked worry of her son real and the pity we feel for her having to be married to Owen Wilson, truly powerful. The Academy should’ve been paying more attention.
Jennifer Garner – Love, Simon
If being a good mom for the Academy came down to “one big scene” (“Give my daughter the shot!”), then Jennifer Garner’s gorgeous, perfectly calibrated “You get exhale now, Simon” speech to her newly out-of-the-closet high school son should’ve earned the former Sydney Bristow her first Oscar nomination. But it’s not just that scene, which makes me cry every time I see it. Throughout the movie, Garner so fully inhabits the role of a mom who knows something is going on with her son. There isn’t much there, in terms of scripting, or even dialogue, but everything leading up to that moment, when she tells her son, “You are still you”, is a mom who just, simply, knows her kid. Honorable mention here, for Garner’s other near-miss as mom-to-be in Juno. A thousand Oscars for her talking to Juno’s baby bump in the mall.
Shirley Maclaine – Postcards from the Edge
After Hollywood legend won her first Academy Award on her fifth nomination (sixth if you count Best Documentary for The Other Half of the Sky: A China Memoir in 1975) for Terms of Endearment, the Academy stopped paying attention to her, which is a true shame. She should’ve been in serious contention for her scene-stealing work inf Steel Magnolias, as well as, Bernie and In Her Shoes. But the real shame? Not nominating her alongside her oft-nominated co-star Meryl Streep for the sublime adaptation of the Carrie Fisher novel, Postcards from the Edge. Shirley Maclaine plays Doris, basically a stand-in for Debbie Reynolds, an overbearing, much-beloved Hollywood legend trying to reconnect with her fresh out of rehab daughter (Streep, nominated here). Maclaine nails it every possible sense, from both the ego that she can’t put aside and the spotlight she can’t quite cede to her deep, genuine love for her daughter. The culmination of all of this is in a showstopping set-piece where Doris tears down the house with a performance of “I’m Still Here” from Follies, conveying everything you need to know about this absolute force of a woman. If this hadn’t come so closely on the heels of her Terms of Endearment win in 1983, and if category fraud was more prevalent, Maclaine would’ve cruise through a Best Supporting Actress race.
Michelle Pfeiffer – White Oleander
This should’ve been the one. After three nominations in the late 80s and early 90s, and an unforgivable snub for Batman Returns, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Oscar should’ve come from playing the murderous, manipulative and one of the all-time terrifying mothers, in White Oleander. And maybe that would’ve happened, if the film hadn’t been such a bomb. Regardless, Pfeiffer’s Ingrid, incarcerated for murdering her boyfriend in a fit of jealous, is complicated, bone-chilling and, yet, deeply maternal in her “protection” of her daughter, Astrid. Despite Ingrid being separated from her daughter for most of the film, the push and pull between a mother and daughter, is what gives this movie any pulse. When Pfeiffer isn’t onscreen, convincing Renee Zellweger to kill herself, for example, the movie completely flattens. An absolutely underrated performance which should be in the pantheon of terrifying Moms on Film.
Emily Blunt – A Quiet Place
Arguably, the closest Emily Blunt has come so far to her much-deserved, when will it happen? Oscar Nomination, was for this surprisingly affecting horror film directed by her husband John Krasinski. Blunt, as a pregnant woman of three (whoops, make that two) in world where monsters/aliens/huge bugs (?) have overtaken society by hunting through sound, gives a nearly silent performance. Yet in that silence, there is so much. She uses her expressive face and those big, beautiful eyes to capture the love, fear, agony, grief and, in many cases, physical pain she is dealing with day-to-day. Yeah, sure, giving birth in a pandemic is tough, but how about silently giving birth in a bathtub while monsters are trying to eat your family? Of course, the Academy’s disparagement of horror films rears its ugly head again, and Blunt was snubbed. But one day, we will live in a world where COVID-19 is cured and Emily Blunt has an Oscar. I believe!
Cameron Diaz – My Sister’s Keeper
Perennial sixth on imaginary ballots for Oscar nominations, this one would’ve been a long-shot to get her short-lited, but that doesn’t it make ti any less deserving. The counterpoint to Julia Roberts maternal warmth in Wonder would be Cameron Diaz’s prickly, at times cold, but always deeply affecting work as Sara, a mother who is so lost in her fight to save one daughter (terminally ill Kate) even if that’s putting her other daughter’s life at-risk (Anna, designed in vitro to be a genetic match for Kate). The movie has problems, including somewhat fumbling the parental rights issues at stake, minimizing some of the actual medical ethics here, as well as, really leaning into the melodramatic weepie of it all in a way that can feel overly unnecessarily manipulative (A change from the source subject, Jodi Picoult’s source material, which was met with disdain by audiences). None of these issues hamper Diaz’s stunning turn, by my account her best work to date. Going “unlikable” for an actress is a loaded phrase, but Sara’s ability to be laser-focused on saving her daughter, bull-dozing everything else in her path, is hard to watch, but Diaz grounds it in such maternal love that the ultimate conclusion of the story is truly gut-wrenching. Give Cameron Diaz an Oscar already!!!
Kathy Bates – Dolores Claiborne
“Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hang on to” is a line spoken by all three of the femal leads of this fim, and one that should’ve gone down in camp infamy. Yet, despute that fact that Bates won her only Oscar for a different, slightly ore iconic, Stephen King character, this film didn’t gain the same traction with audiences or Oscar voters. And it’s a real shame. Now Dolores Claiborne is nothing like Annie Wilkes. She’s a hard-working, constantly put-upon, Mainer with no obvious predilection for romance novels, pigs or hobbling men who come into her care. Yes, there was that one time she murdered her husband during a solar eclipse, but he was a physically abusive drunk who was molesting their daughter, so fair is fair. What’s not fair was how much this movie gets passed over. Bates is possibly even better in this film than she is in Misery (and Misery is one of my Top 10 movies ever), with every minute of her life expressed with just a glance from her world-weary, but still incredibly sharp eyes. In Bates’ hands, chapped, ragged from years of service work, Dolores Claiborne is a mother first, murderer second, and that feels like, you know, an important distinction.
Meryl Streep – The River Wild
It’s crazy to think of now, in this post-Devil Wears Prada and Mamma Mia! world, but there was a time in the last ‘80s and early ‘90s where people just wanted Meryl Streep to be the queen of accents in weepies and dramas. Audiences could barely wrap their minds around Meryl Streep is funny (She-Devil, Death Becomes Her, Defending Your Life), so Meryl Streep Action Star, was simply too much for them. And it’s a shame. Gail, a former white water rafting guide, is one of Streep’s more quietly formidable creations. She’s just a regular wife and mother, put into extraordinary circumstances by a pair of thieves (Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly) and must put her expertise to good use for the safety of her family. But the, sorry for this, current of her performance is all mama bear, as she’s on this raft, fighting these rapids with her young son (Joseph Mazzello) and a newborn baby waiting for her at home. It informs her entire performance, every risk Gail takes and every move she makes is palpably steeped in protecting her son and getting back to her daughter. Oh, and she gets to drag Bacon’s Wade (perhaps worse than my pun above, eye-roll) to hell and back with a ferocious monologue I can’t find on youtube. Please put in the comments if you find it!
Susan Sarandon – Safe Passage
Susan Sarandon performances as strong, fierce mom snubbed by Oscar could be it’s own sub-category (The Meddler Hive, where you at???). So while I could’ve easily picked an obvious choice (Stepmom) or small choice (Little Women) or broad choice (Anywhere but Here), I went with a forgotten choice: Safe Passage. Safe Passage is a movie literally no one has seen but me, but was in the Oscar campaign for a minute, before Sarandon snuck into the 1994 Oscar Race with The Client. Safe Passage is a quietly dated movie about Sarandon’s Maggie waiting at home with her about-to-be-divorced husband and six sons, as they await the news of Percival, who is stationed overseas at a military base that has been attacked. That’s it, that’s the movie. And yet. Sarandon so fully gets in the skin of Maggie, a woman whose whole life has been her boys, is finally ready to spread her wings and fly a little bit, but is living the nightmare of every parent in the time we get to know her. Sarandon is great at letting us in on the ways Maggie has to navigate a household with seven sons, the logistics that would mean, and ultimately, the toll it would take on a person who loses their identity to the service of their family. The movie dips heavily into cliché and now feels adorably quaint (this wouldn’t even be a TV movie now), but that doesn’t diminish the work Sarandon is doing here.
Jamie Lee Curtis – Halloween (2018)
The reality is, no one else in the world could play Laurie Strode in 2018. And while I will die on Halloween: H20 hill for Jamie Lee Curtis, this performance was literally 40 years in the making. Just watching the effects of the trauma of “The Babysitter Murders” on Laurie would be powerful enough, but what makes this an Academy Award-level performance is that now, Laurie is a mom. And a grandmother. It would’ve been easy to make Laurie an alcoholic recluse whose life has been ruined by the attack of Michael Myers in 1978 with no connections to the outside world, this new run-in with Michael making her realize that the world isn’t so scary and that having people in your life matter. Yeah, that would’ve been easy. And boring. Making Laurie a mom, a mom who has struggled to be a mom, is what makes this movie tick. It’s also what makes Curtis’s performance so extraordinary. The sacrifices of relationships with her daughter and granddaughter she’s willing to make grounds the film in something more devastating than it has any right to be. Because in the end, this movie isn’t just about survivoral of the Boogie Man. It’s about a woman stopping at nothing, to protect her daughters. And Curtis nails this, as only she, someone who has lived with this character for four decades can.
Kathryn Hahn – Bad Moms
After Melissa McCarthy’s nomination for a broad, yet layered performance in a comedy, it felt like the academy was finally going to steer itself in the direction of awarding hysterical, powerfully comedic female performances. LOL. Turns out despite Tiffany Haddish’s turn in Girls Trip, Rose Byrne (and McCarthy herself) in Spy, that nomination was more a blip than a pivot to a broader appreciation of comedy. Another performance that started to get rumblings, and should’ve landed on a short-list was Kathryn Hahn’s star-solidifying, balls-to-walls as the “baddest” of the Bad Moms. In every scene, Hahn absolutely goes for it, whether it’s destroying a convenience store or walking a nervous Mila Kunis through the logistics of an uncircumcised penis. I just got chills thinking of the phrase “Oscar Nominee Kathryn Hahn” and now my whole day is potentially ruined.
Jennifer Lopez – Hustlers
Look she was a mom and she was like a mom to the other strippers. I’ll never get over this snub.