The Five Best Thanksgiving Films
5. Son-in-Law: Most folks would probably put Hannah and her Sisters on this list; it's a brilliant, Oscar-nominated film with a superb cast, incredible writing, and it's probably Woody Allens' second best film. It's an elegant masterpiece, a literate, serious, and seriously witty look at a neurotic, dysfunctional family, featuring one of Michael Caine's absolute best performances. But, Son in Law is a guilty pleasure on one of the guiltiest pleasure days of the year. As I wrote in our Secret Shames Guides a couple of years ago: "It's formulaic as hell, it's overpoweringly syrupy, and it stars fucking Pauly Shore. And how can you really compare Woody Allen to Pauly Shore doing "Thank God I'm a Country Boy." It's not a contest, people!
You can now ignore everything I ever write again for the rest of my life.
4. The Ice Storm: The Ice Storm is the perfect movie for those of you miserable in the belief that you have the most dysfunctional family in the country. Try these truly messed up individuals out for size: Alcoholic couples bored with their lives, miserable in their marriages, who sleep with their neighbors (key parties!), and who have drug-abusing, sexually predatory teenage children. It's unrelentingly bleak, with small doses of humor, and the cinematography is beautiful. And nothing brings the family together better than a child who is electrocuted while you're fucking your neighbor.
3. Home for the Holidays: Home for the Holidays is the rare film that manages to be both underrated and overrated. If you pick it up based on a recommendation, or because you see it on a list like this, you'll wonder for the better part of it why people think so highly of it. It's Jodie Foster's directorial debut, and it does have a few nice performances, specifically from Anne Bancroft and Holly Hunter (and Robert Downey, Jr., as the gay brother). But it meanders, it's kind of slow, and it doesn't seem to have much of a point. However, there are a few scenes in Home for the Holidays that manage to convey what Thanksgiving is all about: You dread going home to see your family; no matter how old you are, you still feel helplessly trapped in their world when you're home; you quibble; you bicker; you have nothing in common with one another; you hear the same stories over and over, and have the same arguments; and you can't wait to get the hell out of there. But, for some reason, a pang of sadness always follows you out the door -- a little affection, a little nostalgia, and the knowledge that you're inexplicably going to miss them.
2. Pieces of April: I won't apologize for my fondness of Pieces of April, a movie that's slowly developed a following over the years. It's got terrific performances from Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt, and yes -- even Katie Holmes (who was also in The Ice Storm). It's a road-trip movie, a portrait of a dysfunctional family and their estranged daughter. But, like real life, the daughter isn't estranged because of lack of affection, but because of a lack of cultural understanding. It's a sweet, heartfelt movie, and one that succeeds by eschewing sentimentality for a touch of realism. It's a charming graceful reminder that, no matter how much you hate your family, you still love them, goddamnit.
1. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (from our Holiday Movie Guide): John Hughes' buddy road-trip comedy would go on to be one of the greatest Steve Martin comedies of all time (second to only The Jerk) and the best movie John Candy ever did. And while most holiday films rely too heavily on the holiday aspect of the film to the detriment of plot, characters, and, the holiday is incidental to P, T, and A, though Hughes manages to pack in enough holiday poignancy into the last five minutes to make Capra blush. And the last shot, of a close-up on John Candy's face, feels almost like a tribute to his life.
It is hands down the best Thanksgiving movie of all time. Watch and weep, kiddos.
(This post was originally published around Thanksgiving 2008)