The Netflix algorithim is a cruel mistress. Sometimes, when I’ve visited my parents, we just scroll and scroll past the same 75 choices based on their tastes in BBC dramas, having real difficulty finding anything new and exciting beyond the collected works of Felicity Jones. But considering that it’s Mother’s Day this Sunday, and hopefully you’re lucky enough to be spending time with your mother, I wanted to make a list of 25 mom-friendly films and TV shows about life, love, and relationships that are both entertaining and maybe a little bit enlightening. This list will lean towards stuff from the BBC, Meryl Streep and Judi Dench, French films, movies with women on bikes, and Harvey Weinstein’s Oscar bait from the last 20 years. Your mom will love it. Add these to her queue!
In 1980s East Germany, a young doctor, Barbara, has been banished to the boonies. In this smart thriller, we wonder: can she escape the prying eyes of the Stasi?
Sweetly corny but not cloying, The Intouchables is a crowd-pleaser livened up with wonderful performances about the friendship that blooms between a wealthy quadriplegic and the ex-con who he hires as a caretaker. One of the biggest box office hits in France of all time.
Based on the memoirs of a real-life midwife, this BBC series is about a young nurse staying with nuns in a desperately poor section of London, where they help people and babies out. It is moving, and you will cry.
Audrey Hepburn won an Oscar for her film debut in this pleasure, about a princess who goes on the lam for one magical day in Rome, an expat American reporter played by Gregory Peck at her side.
The 2013 Oscar winner for Best Documentary is the perfect film to watch with your mom. It’s the inspiring story of (mostly) women with formidable, chills-down-your-spine talent, and underneath it all, it has a lot to say about women’s work in the context of an unforgiving industry.
It is a film that features the elegant Juliette Binoche talking to a man who may be her lover for a day or her long-term married partner, and the structure of the film leaves the story up in the air. It’ll stimulate discussion.
The most delightful French film of perhaps all time, about a lonely young waitress who brings some magic into other people’s lives while looking for love. It’s perfect.
Lots of Holly Hunter movies are good to watch with your mom, since she’s always playing a firecracker (and, notably, never just a girlfriend). This fantastic screwball comedy about ambitious news reporters may just be the best.
This Merchant Ivory adaptation of the E.M. Forster classic is swooningly romantic, smart, and funny. From Maggie Smith complaining about Italy to Helena Bonham Carter and Julian Sands kissing in a field, it’s all wonderfully sublime. Book that trip to Italy!
John Irving’s wonderful books, which span the course of someone’s life, are notoriously tricky to get on screen: for every The Hotel New Hampshire, there’s a Simon Birch (adapted from A Prayer for Owen Meany). This one has Irving himself writing the screenplay, ostensibly the story of a doctor growing up in a Maine orphanage, but it’s really about ethics, honor, and how to be a man and a human in a cruel world. So good.
A movie for the inner self: partake in a little fantasy where you are an uptight housewife who could probably stand to have a summer of love (in 1969, of course), with the smoking hot Viggo Mortensen.
The Best Picture Oscar winner for 1983, this classic tearjerker follows the lives and loves of a mother-and-daughter pair played by Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger.
The movie Anne Hathaway should’ve won the Oscar for. She’s absolute movie-star perfection as the wild-child sister in a broken family coming together for the titular wedding (Debra Winger plays the mother here). The film is shaggy, with a loose feel and swirling camera, but it’s really tightly put together.
Moms love Richard Gere, and in this Terrence Malick classic filmed at the magic hour, Gere is at, perhaps, his maximum smoldering beauty. It’s an American tragedy of sorts — a man and woman make their way to a farm, where the owner falls in love with the girl, sending the couple into an ethical dilemma and a doomed scheme.
A small indie about an Orthodox Jewish woman and a Muslim woman who find common ground together when they meet while teaching at a school in Brooklyn. Starring the normally acerbic, lately of sitcoms Zoe Lister-Jones in a very different role.
Featuring Sad Kevin Spacey in an adaption of E. Annie Proulx’s wonderful novel, The Shipping News is about a man named Quoyle who moves up to Newfoundland to start a new life (and newspaper) for himself. Judi Dench is wonderfully salty in her role, of course.
OK, another adaptation of a really good book by Michael Cunningham. The Hours is about Virginia Woolf, a 1950s housewife, and a book editor in today’s world doing her best Mrs. Dalloway impression. Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman act circles around everybody, giving these women vivid life.
Nicole Holofcener nails it, the way that women talk to each other and what their friendships mean in their lives. This one, about Catherine Keener and Anne Heche as BFFs dealing with someone’s wedding, is sweet and warm, witty and wise.
In which Patricia Clarkson, playing a married woman, spends a day walking around Cairo with a dreadfully handsome man who is not her husband.
One of my favorite Steven Soderbergh films, this adaptation of A.E. Hotchner’s memoirs is the story of life during the depression, and how one wily kid (played by Jesse Bradford) survived under horrible circumstances. Also notable for being the film debut of Adrian Brody, magnetic and sexy as the kid’s (older, obviously) friend.
A sumptuous adaptation of the Henry James novel, this Helena Bonham Carter-starrer is about a scheme to get money from a dying rich girl by using someone’s sexuality — in this case, the man in the relationship, so that he can get the inheritance. Plans like this never go off without a hitch, and the result is beautiful heartbreak.
Australians are very good at taking the ye-olde-days stories and making them into feminist classics. In this one, a young woman is torn between the promise of love and security or writing, and, well, young Sam Neill is certainly a temptation…
Hugh Grant is like mom-catnip, and he’s very charming in this film about an Englishman who comes to a small Welsh town and accidentally makes everyone mad by doing his job. Culture clash!
Maybe the ne plus ultra of the sweeping Miramax literary adaptation, this epic film is a gorgeous take on the Michael Ondaatje novel. Plus, Colin Firth has a small role in it, and you know how moms (and women in general) feel about Colin Firth.