Too often we skip from Halloween to Christmas Evil. Where’s the love for the Thanksgiving movie? As complicated a holiday as our Thanksgiving is, it’s prime for some of the most delightful, inquisitive, and downright strange films of the season. Here’s what I’m watching this week:
The Usual Story (with added honesty)
The New World (2005) – Dir. Terrence Malick
The Thanksgiving story you’re used to, complete with John Smith, Pocohantas, and a lot of corn. With additional brutal, unpleasant, relatively truthful details. My favorite Malick film, it’s both beautiful and horrific.
Thanksgiving Dinners with Difficult Families
Home for the Holidays (1995) – Dir. Jodie Foster
Agonizingly honest and sentimental (in the best way). With incredible performances from Anne Bancroft and Geraldine Chaplin, it has all the hallmarks of Foster’s greatest directorial work (have you seen The Beaver?) – difficult family members, psychological trauma, and a sense of humor about it all. Good turkey jokes.
Pieces of April (2003) – Dir. Peter Hedges
Similar in tone to Home for the Holidays, but even more intimate. Full of sadness and belly aching laughs. Patricia Clarkson is sardonic, cruel, and somehow lovable. Good turkey jokes.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987) – Dir. John Hughes
For lovers of slapstick, John Candy, and road trips with terrible company. I can’t imagine a Thanksgiving movie list without this. No turkey jokes; rental car jokes make up for it.
The Wiz (1978) – Dir. Sidney Lumet
A Thanksgiving snowstorm takes Diana Ross’s Dorothy to Oz. She finds another family waiting for her there. I’ve written about the importance of this musical before, but in the current climate, its message of empowerment and endurance is more important than ever – especially on a day we’re meant to take stock of what we’re grateful for.
On Why You’re Really Here (Graphic Images of Food)
Waitress (2007) – Dir. Adrienne Shelly
Julie and Julia (2009) – Dir. Nora Ephron
Chef (2014) – Dir. Jon Favreau
Simply Irresistible (1999) – Dir. Mark Tarlov
Magic crab. Plus pastries.
Ratatouille (2007) – Dirs. Brad Bird, Jan Pinkara
The Trip (2010) – Dir. Michael Winterbottom
The cuisine of Northern England (I know, wrong country) and Michael Caine impressions.
Films By and About Native Americans
Smoke Signals (1998) – Dir. Chris Eyre
Your favorite kind of American road trip. A necessary film, not just because it’s written by, directed by, and starring native Americans (the first film of its kind), but because it’s very funny, very sad, and very good.
Reel Injun (2009) – Dirs. Neil Diamond, Catherine Bainbridge, and Jeremiah Hayes
A documentary that can help explain why there aren’t more movies in this part of the list.
The Immigrant Experience in America
El Norte (1983) – Dir. Gregory Nava
Thanksgiving is supposed to be about coming together and making a home. Here’s an immigrant story that shows how terrifying and difficult that journey can be.
Everything is Illuminated (2005) – Dir. Liev Schrieber
A second-generation American Jew travels through Ukraine with an aspiring rapper, his anti-semitic grandfather, and a dog named Sammy Davis, Jr., Jr., to learn more about his family origins. His collection of family artifacts (like teeth) in ziplock bags is a highlight.
What will you be watching alongside you turkey/tofurkey/uncomfortable politics?
Please, leave your favorite Thanksgiving film in the comments (If it’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you know I’ll understand).