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Ask Americans for their favorite holiday and you’ll hear quite a few say Thanksgiving. It’s a relaxing, low pressure day in a way that Christmas never could be, and it brings with it far more clear and definable traditions than July 4th. It’s one of the few holidays that almost everyone can get on board with, regardless of ethnicity, belief system or country of birth, which is why it’s shocking that Hollywood hasn’t offered up more films about Turkey Day.
Luckily, those that have hit theaters, on the whole, are actually pretty good. In fact, when we sent around a memo asking some of Cinema Blend’s writers what they watch every year on the holiday, everyone came back with a different answer. So, as a great way to pass a slow day and as a public service to our fine readers, we decided to give everyone a few paragraphs to convince others that their favorite Thanksgiving flick is better than the rest.
Thumb through these choices. Weigh the pros and cons and pop in your favorite Thanksgiving choice later tonight. After all, I can pretty much guarantee you it will be more satisfying than listening to your family debate about Obamacare.
Kelly’s Pick: DutchJohn Hughes made a career out of writing great screenplays that keep the story’s format simple, emphasizing characters while blending humor and heart in a relatable way, and Dutch is truly no exception there. Stuck-up prep school kid Doyle (Ethan Embry) hero-worships his father Reed (played by the great Christopher McDonald) and thinks very little of his mother (JoBeth Williams), but a road trip with Mom’s new boyfriend, Dutch Dooley (Ed O’Neill), opens his eyes and heart to a bit of necessary reality and humor, leading Doyle to rethink how he views his parents and himself. Dutch has everything a great Thanksgiving comedy needs, from whacky road trip shenanigans — some involving fireworks or prostitutes — to a genuinely heartfelt conclusion, which is capped off with a few more laughs that'll leave you smiling while the credits roll.
It’s a wonder Dutch hasn’t gone down in history as one of the all-time classic Thanksgiving comedies for the ages. Maybe it misses the mark on a technicality, as the Thanksgiving aspect of the plot is really just a device to bring Dutch and Doyle together, and a way to put the family around the table at the end of the film. Regardless, it’s set during Thanksgiving, so it certainly fits the bill as a movie well worth watching during the holiday… or any other time of year, for that matter.
Kristy’s Pick: Home For The HolidaysThis dramedy directed by Jodie Foster is as engrained in Puchko Thanksgiving traditions as my dad's special brown paper bag basting method. Over the years, its just become a crucial part of how we prepare for having a house full of friends and family members, who we love deeply even though they might occasionally drive us to drink.
There's just no calamity that can arise on Thanksgiving that Home For the Holidays can't help prepare you for. Have you gotten bad news you'd rather keep from your parents while visiting your hometown? Take a cue from recently jobless Claudia. Perhaps you've got good news that you don't think they'll know how to handle? Look to newlywed Tommy! Are their tensions between siblings who chose to stay in the hometown versus those who didn't? Joanne will show you the way. How about a wacky aunt with no concept of what appropriate dinner conversation is? Well, we all need to stomach that, while trying our best not to giggle.
There's just no movie that quite captures the full bittersweet experience of this American institution the way this funny and poignant picture does. With a cast that boasts Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Geraldine Chaplin, Dylan McDermott, Claire Danes, Steve Guttenberg, and Cynthia Stevenson, the story of the Larsons is made vivid and relatable. And if your family dinner doesn't involve a turkey catastrophe, touch football feuds, or embarrassing run-ins with old classmates, then just kick back with some pumpkin pie and feel truly grateful as you watch this wild holiday film unfold.
Eric’s Pick: Planes, Trains And AutomobilesAs you can tell from this list, there are a lot of different Thanksgiving movies to choose from depending on your mood, but if you feel like laughing your ass off around Turkey Day, there is no other option than the incredible Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Written and directed by John Hughes in 1987 – making it one of the filmmaker’s latest works – the story follows two men (played by Steven Martin and John Candy) with extremely opposite dispositions who are forced to travel miles together by any means necessary so that they can be home in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families. It’s not just a must-watch movie in late November – it’s one of the funniest films to come out of the last 30 years.
Though the movie isn’t so much about Thanksgiving, the story uses the warm family gathering as a destination – but don’t think that should eliminate the film for consideration. As stern businessman Neal (Martin) and the affable, annoying shower ring salesman Del (Candy) hop from transportation method to transportation method trying to get home, they wind up experiencing many of the most important themes of the holiday, including patience, gratefulness, forgiveness and family. Plus on top of that you get to watch two of the most legendary big screen comedy stars of all time go head-to-head and create moments that will live forever in cinema history. If Planes, Trains and Automobiles isn’t already a tradition in your household then it needs to be.
Sean’s Pick: Pieces Of AprilSomeone with more power than me needs to pass a law mandating that Peter Hedges’ underrated Pieces of April becomes required viewing every Thanksgiving. It literally has all of the ingredients that make up our own holiday celebrations (at least, it mirrors my family’s annual traditions to a tee). We start with the disgruntled family members (led perfectly by Oliver Platt and Patricia Clarkson) bracing themselves for a road trip to attend a dinner party … bitching all the way and trying to think up excuses to get out of it. April also is structured around a misfit rebel of a daughter (Katie Holmes) who desperately needs the meal to go off without a hitch so that her family will stop thinking she’s such a fuck up.
But Hedges avoids the suffocating schmaltz that would doom a normal "holiday gathering" comedy. There’s a necessary edge to April that sets it apart from Hallmark or Lifetime fare. Clarkson’s bitter mom, for example, has cancer, and is sick of wasting what few days she has left on the daughter (Holmes) who has shut her family out. Platt’s all heart and compassion as the father who’d like to mend fences while there is time. And Holmes – once thought of as a fantastic actress before Tom Cruise bled her career dry – commands such sympathy as this wet-behind-the-ears "adult" trying to grow up before her family shows up. The ending, comprised of snapshots, puts a beautiful bow on this fully functional "dysfunctional family" feature. Watch it with your misfit relatives today.
Nick’s Pick: House Of YesFor some, Thanksgiving is always in excess of festive moods and familial camaraderie, while others only experience a calorie-heavy trip through Hell. Mark Waters’ black comedy drama The House of Yes, adapted from Wendy MacLeod’s stage play of the same name, tells the story of the theatrically tragic 1983 gathering of the Pascal family, with a new guest who disrupts the commonplace emotional turmoil with her ordinariness. Jackie O. (Parker Posey) is a borderline psychotic recently released from a psychiatric hospital who is almost too overjoyed that her twin brother Marty (Josh Hamilton) is coming to visit. She is crushed when Marty shows up with his fiancé Lesly (Tori Spelling), a simple girl who attracts the affection of the even simpler Pascal sibling Anthony (Freddie Prinze, Jr. in a career best performance), all while the matriarch (Geneviève Bujold) stands idly by, judging everyone.
With performances that border on neurotically overstated, The House of Yes and its precise rhythm of dialogue and direction have far more in common with stage productions than films, but that’s part of its quirky charm. Jackie O., as her name implies, has a particularly poignant obsession with the former First Lady, so the film gets double points for coming so close to the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. With nothing airy or cheery about it, The House of Yes is the Thanksgiving movie for the filmgoers who only eat the darkest meat of the turkey.