Thanksgiving often gets short shrift in our mad rush to get to Christmas, but a handful of exceptional films can help make your Turkey Day special. Here are a few of the best:
Everyone thinks of Miracle on 34th Street (1947) as a Christmas film, but it’s even better when viewed at Thanksgiving. It begins during the Macy’s parade, and takes place in the space between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve – making it a perfect film to kick off the holiday movie season. Plug it in after this year’s parade has ended, and while the turkey is still cooking. (Besides, there are already too many movies to watch at Christmas, am I right?)
For something more traditionally holiday-oriented, consider Home for the Holidays (1995), Jodie Foster’s second film as a director, and a bracingly honest look at family dynamics. There’s very little plot – Holly Hunter visits her mom and dad (Anne Bancroft, Chartles Durning) for Thanksgiving; mayhem ensues – but a superior ensemble cast (also including Robert Downey, Jr., and Dylan McDermott) provides plenty to watch.
If Foster’s film is mostly comic, the under-seen The Myth of Fingerprints (1997) offers a darker spin on a similar premise. (Like the holiday itself, most Thanksgiving movies focus on families reuniting for dinner.) The film focuses on a grown son (Noah Wyle) meeting up with his brother and sisters at the family’s New England homestead, but autumn’s chill has nothing on the frosty reception that awaits them from their quietly dysfunctional parents (Roy Scheider, Blythe Danner). Fun fact: co-star Julianne Moore went on to marry the film’s writer/director, Bart Freundlich.
Katie Holmes is now best known for her role as the former Mrs. Tom Cruise, but in the smart indie comedy Pieces of April (2003) she plays against her squeaky-clean type as the black sheep of a suburban family who offers to host Thanksgiving dinner in her inner-city tenement apartment – only to find out her oven is broken. Great performances are plentiful here, from a cast including Oliver Platt and Patricia Clarkson as Holmes’ parents.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), my perennial pick for Woody Allen’s best film, is bookended by Thanksgiving celebrations: extended families, too much to drink, the wrong things said, the recriminations. Much happens in between those two Thanksgivings, of course, but both of those holidays sit there like touchstones for Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her relations to count on in the middle months. If you haven’t seen Hannah lately, it’s worth revisiting.
Finally, there’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), a genuine modern holiday classic. Steve Martin, playing a Chicago executive stuck in New York on business the day before Thanksgiving, is desperate to get home – so desperate, in fact, that he’s willing to follow the traveling advice of an oafish salesman (John Candy) to get there. Great moments of high-energy, slow-burn comedy are leavened with the kind of sentimentality that’s only tolerable during the holiday season. It’s a movie I’m thankful for.