This list is an ode to the family fun and frenzy of the holiday season, which is most definitely upon us. Thanksgiving marks a time for overindulgence, snoring soundly in front of the TV football game, risking life and limb by shopping on Black Friday, and suffering general family togetherness (where many of us adults will still be sitting at the kids’ table).
The great thing about the sometimes awkward chaos of the holidays, is that it makes for great cinema (though Thanksgiving takes a backseat to Christmas as far as themed movies). It’s a crazy time of year, and in typical art-imitating-life, the silver screen has offered up some key films capturing the insanity of the Thanksgiving holiday and its sometimes dysfunctional family dynamic.
1. Planes, Trains & Automobiles
This is the best Thanksgiving movie, and a comedy classic. It stars Steve Martin and John Candy in their heyday as opposite personality types forced to travel together in a holiday comedy of errors.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles is one of the best travel/holiday comedies ever brought to the big screen. The dialogue is hilarious, the situations believably ridiculous, and Candy and Martin form the funniest fish-out-of-water duo ever. John Hughes (The Breakfast Club) took a break from writing/directing teen angst classics to helm this pic, and brought his signature mix of comedy and touching emotional dynamic to the project.
Martin plays a businessman trying to get home to his family for Thanksgiving; Candy is simply a traveling salesman with nowhere to go and a big heart. Flight cancellations, car crashes, destroyed wallets, broken-down trains, and the universe itself seem to stand in the way of holiday fun. If you’ve never seen this classic, rent it at once!
2. Home for the Holidays
A bedraggled and depressed Holly Hunter makes the long trek home for Thanksgiving in the seasonal comedy Home for the Holidays. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s dysfunctional. Coming home to the holidays isn’t always fun, but Hunter makes it look like a living nightmare with help from a great cast that includes Robert Downey Jr., Claire Danes and Anne Bancroft.
3. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Before anyone starts protesting, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving must be mentioned if just for the fact that it’s an animated classic that perfectly captures the spirit of the holidays. A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown round out a quaint and innocent collection of animated holiday films. Of course they all star Charlie Brown, and his inept attempts at social acceptance. In A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Peppermint Patty invites herself and friends over to Charlie Brown’s house for Thanksgiving (to disastrous results).
4. Miracle on 34th Street
Miracle on 34th Street, while commonly associated with Christmas, does start out at the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade, and a Thanksgiving dinner invitation plays a major part of the set up. As Santa does make an appearance in this pic, it’s on the border between holidays, but since there’s a dearth of Thanksgiving movies I’m putting it in that camp.
5. Nobody’s Fool
Paul Newman plays somewhat of a ne’er-do-well dealing with family issues around the holidays in Nobody’s Fool. The movie was nominated for a couple of Academy Awards in its time, and boasts and admirable cast of co-stars that includes Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Other Thanksgiving films of madness, horror (of the emotional kind) and fun include indie treats Pieces of April, Ice Storm, House of Yes, and Tadpole.
Whether embracing the holiday shopping hysteria and stuffing your face until you pop, or fleeing from it in terror, take some time (and a quiet moment) to rent one of these Thanksgiving classics and remember what this holiday is really all about.
Have I missed any great Thanksgiving movies?