by David Krauss
Flowers, candy, and a sappy Hallmark card always make good Mother's Day gifts, especially in a pinch, but many sons and daughters often forget movies can also warm Mom's heart, especially those with a romantic, historical, or (ssshhh!) sexy twist. And if dear old Dad has taken the plunge and upgraded the archaic family entertainment center with a spanking new HDTV and Blu-ray player, then how 'bout shaking things up a bit this year by presenting Mom with a couple of high-definition discs that will brighten up her world just as well as a standard low-tech bouquet. (They'll last a lot longer, too!)
But what to choose? Never fear, dear reader, your friends at High-Def Digest are here to help, armed with plenty of great gift ideas that will turn your mild-mannered 480i mother into a raging 1080p fanatic.
Let's start with Oscar and the two front-runners in this year's Best Actress category – Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep. Both stars enjoy a loyal female following, and both have several noteworthy Blu-rays from their film canon hitting the shelves just in time for Mom's big day. Of course, first up would have to be Bullock's award-winning turn in 'The Blind Side' as an impassioned mother who takes in a homeless African-American teen and seamlessly weaves him into her family's fabric. Though some might call the picture sentimental, I found it to be a surprisingly forthright family drama that will touch and inspire moms everywhere…and the football angle should snag Dad's interest, too. But if a typical romantic comedy is more your mother's "speed" (sorry, couldn't resist), two of them featuring Bullock at her perky, sassy, and irresistible best are ripe for the picking. Last year's 'The Proposal,' which casts Sandra as an uptight Canadian executive who tries to engineer a quickie marriage of convenience with her browbeaten American assistant (Ryan Reynolds) to avoid deportation, possesses plenty of spunk and humor, along with a priceless supporting performance from the indomitable Betty White, while 2000's 'Miss Congeniality' finds Bullock as an undercover FBI agent infiltrating the beauty pageant world in the hope of preventing a mad bomber from wreaking havoc at a huge televised event. (The latter film comes bundled with its eminently forgettable sequel, 2005's 'Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous,' but no one says Mom has to watch that one…)
If Streep is more your mother's cup of tea, there's a plethora of Blu-ray offerings showcasing the legendary star to wet her whistle. Even if your mom doesn't like to cook, she'll certainly eat up 'Julie & Julia,' which features Streep's uncanny channeling of the iconic chef Julia Child, a joyous performance that earned the actress a well-deserved 16th Academy Award nomination. Nora Ephron's light-as-a-soufflé film serves up enough delicious dishes to make anyone hungry, as it chronicles both Child's personal and professional evolution and the challenge of a young blogger (Amy Adams) to prepare all the recipes in The French Chef's magnum opus in one frenzied 365-day period. Streep also scored last year in the fiftysomething romantic comedy, 'It's Complicated,' as a harried divorcee juggling a new romance with Steve Martin while still fanning the flames with her randy ex (Alec Baldwin). And if ever a movie was tailor-made for mothers, it's 'Mamma Mia!' If Mom doesn't already own this blockbuster (and even if she does), be sure to pick up the flashy limited edition giftset, which features a soundtrack CD, 32-page full-color booklet, and musically enhanced bejeweled packaging (quite festive!). The long-running Broadway hit may have made a clunky transition to the screen (to put it mildly), but not many women cared, as they sung along to a dozen or more ABBA hits, relished the unfettered girl power, and drooled over all the bare-chested men. Streep (in one of her worst portrayals, which means she's still twice as good as most actresses) plays the owner of a broken-down bed-and-breakfast in the idyllic Greek Islands who comes face-to-face with three ex-boyfriends on the eve of her daughter's wedding…one of whom is the girl's mystery father. The lush settings add interest to this mindless bit of jukebox fluff…just make sure to tell Mom to hit the mute button when Pierce Brosnan starts singing. (Talk about tone-deaf…)
Of course, what mom doesn't appreciate haute couture? If yours is anything like mine, she'll savor Streep's incisive, Oscar-nominated incarnation of ice-cold fashion magazine mogul Miranda Priestley in 'The Devil Wears Prada,' one of the decade's most delicious chick flicks. (All right, all right, I admit it, I love it, too!) High fashion and low blows fuel this slick tale of a harried editorial assistant (Anne Hathaway) who struggles to meet the demands of her impossible rhymes-with-rich boss. And if your mom likes to travel (and whose doesn't?), go ahead and send her to The Dark Continent along with Robert Redford. 'Out of Africa' may chronicle the unconventional life of author Isak Dinesen (another pitch-perfect, Oscar-nominated Streep portrayal), but it's also one of the great romantic epics of the '80s, bursting with beautiful scenery and all that repressed passion moms love. (I think Redford was way too old for Streep, but trust me, moms won't care…)
And who says moms can't get a little frisky now and then? With the outrageous sequel opening May 28th, why not surprise mom with the original 'Sex and the City' movie, featuring Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristen Davis), salacious Samantha (Kim Cattrall), and a host of hot hunks romping through the bedrooms, showers, and department stores of the Big Apple? And speaking of hunks, every mother's fantasy, George Clooney, shows off his sensitive side in Jason Reitman's funny, bittersweet satire of corporate America, 'Up in the Air,' while suave Pierce Brosnan savors such delicacies as fine art, fine living, and the oh-so-fine Rene Russo in 'The Thomas Crown Affair.' Thankfully, Brosnan doesn't sing a note in this slick, intoxicating remake of the Steve McQueen classic. Want more eye candy? Moms just go ape over Patrick Swayze, and what better way to honor the late actor than by purchasing the 'Dirty Dancing Limited Keepsake Edition,' which features all the bumping and grinding that made this romantic musical an instant phenomenon, as well as a newly remastered transfer, commemorative book, and a host of all-new extras.
Got a history nut for a mom, or an Anglophile, perhaps? Or someone who just enjoys a good period drama? Then propel her back in time and across the pond, where she can admire the strength, determination, and brazen behavior of such admirable women of substance as the future Queen Victoria ('The Young Victoria') and embattled Elizabeth I ('Elizabeth' and 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age'). Emily Blunt plays the former and Cate Blanchett (who received Oscar nominations for both of her stellar performances) the latter in films that also feature eye-filling sets and sumptuous costume design. 'Atonement' is another exceptional work, adapted from Ian McEwan's heartbreaking novel about the devastating ramifications of an adolescent's false perceptions of a series of events one fateful day before the dawn of World War II. James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, the amazing Saoirse Ronan, and luminous Vanessa Redgrave bring this tragic tale to brilliant life, along with stunning direction by Joe Wright. (Mom may not appreciate the jaw-dropping five-minute SteadyCam shot on the beach at Dunkirk, but by all means point it out to her…) And be sure to include a box of Kleenex with the disc; she'll thank you later (and you might find it comes in handy, too).
Finally, all moms are classics, so if you really want to honor the most important woman in your life (sorry, honey, but I had to say that; my mom might read this!), go out and buy her a movie that's as timeless and impeccably preserved as she is. Of course, the perfect choice would be (duh!) 'Gone With the Wind,' David O. Selznick's mammoth adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's saga of the Old South. Take it from me, your mom does give a damn about Scarlett (Vivien Leigh), Rhett (Clark Gable), Ashley (Leslie Howard), Melanie (Olivia de Havilland), Mammy (Hattie McDaniel), and the rest of the cast of thousands that populate this sweeping, melodramatic epic. And if you can't afford the exquisitely appointed 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition (Mom would understand…maybe), don't hesitate to go for the cut-rate Scarlett Edition, which includes the movie and all the supplements without the fancy packaging and collectibles. The same options hold true for another unforgettable masterwork, Michael Curtiz's 'Casablanca,' available in both a super-deluxe collector's box set filled with memorabilia galore and a stripped down single-disc edition. Filmed in glorious black-and-white, the unforgettable story of love, defiance, and "the problems of three little people" stuck in Nazi-occupied Morocco stars – do I really have to tell you? – Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, and a host of terrific character actors, and features more quotable dialogue per capita than almost any other film in Hollywood history. (You can even sign your accompanying greeting card, "Here's looking at you, Mom…" Just give me credit.)
Other can't miss classics include David Lean's superb adaptation of Boris Pasternak's tale of Russian romance and revolution, 'Doctor Zhivago.' Not only will Mom dab her eyes over the unrequited love between Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, she'll be humming 'Lara's Theme' for days afterward. For moms with an adventurous spirit, Alfred Hitchock's 'North by Northwest' is a no-brainer. Here we have a breakneck plot that crisscrosses the country; Cary Grant at his tanned, witty, and sophisticated best; some steamy love scenes with Eva Marie Saint; and a transfer so pristine even Mom's eagle, hyper-critical eye won't be able to spot any imperfections. But if all of Hitchcock's playful innuendos are still too suggestive (in other words, if your mom's a prude), don't despair. John Huston's 'The African Queen' has finally arrived on home video after an interminable wait, and the sweet, spiritual romance between Humphrey Bogart (in his Oscar-winning role) and Katharine Hepburn will warm the cockles of any mom's heart. Was there ever a more unlikely pair than the drunken riverboat captain and pious missionary? Probably, but this one is pretty unusual, and watching them navigate the treachery of an untamed African river to ultimately confront the Germans during the first world war is both thrilling and fun.
So, that's it! There are enough options here to tide Mom over for several Mother's Days. But if you think none of these great films will appeal to that persnickety woman who bore you, well…you can always go back to flowers and candy.