Thanksgiving is a bit of an odd holiday. There are a billion movies suited for Halloween. There’s a Christmas movie for every age and generation, dating all the way back to the silent era. Memorial Day and the Fourth of July are perfect for an orgy of American war movies. I could be wrong but I think the zombie genre was invented entirely because of Easter. Yeesh, even Valentine’s Day has a ton of incarnations of “Love is Nice” or whatever. But Thanksgiving has nothing. People don’t buy gifts like they do for Christmas; it doesn’t have a religious affiliation with rabbits and chocolate eggs like Easter; it doesn’t invoke patriotism like the Fourth of July or Memorial Day; and no matter how good your mom’s green bean casserole or candied yams are, they can’t trump getting laid on Valentine’s Day. So in Hollywood, Thanksgiving takes a back seat. Even over Thanksgiving weekend, there aren’t Thanksgiving movies showing. They run marathons of The Godfather or one John Wayne movie after another. And yet, it’s still one of my favorite holidays. Fortunately, there have been a very small handful of films crafted around the cherished tradition of eating like an 800 pound shut-in in front of your family and drawing Crayola turkeys using your hand. Not all of them are suitable for the whole family but they’ve all got some value. I present to you The Great Big List of Thanksgiving Movies:
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
The timing of this movie was perfect, in the late 80’s when John Candy had removed his “Johnny LaRue” monogrammed smoking jacket and had hit his stride as a trusted comic actor. And he was paired with Steve Martin, who also was at his comic peak (if on the downslope towards the oblivion of L.A. Story and Bowfinger). Ultimately, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles taps into two things that every Thanksgiving celebrator can appreciate- the colossal pain in the ass of holiday travel and the inadequate quantity of pillows in hotels.
Home for the Holidays
I’m not quite sure what to do with Home for the Holidays. I remember seeing it a few times, bits and pieces and once all the way through, in the first four or five years after it was released. I remember thinking “Huh, that’s neat. It’s a movie about Thanksgiving! And how much hanging out with family can be awkward!”. Truthfully, I’m always happy to see my family around Thanksgiving, but I can appreciate how odd it must be for some folks. That having been said, I haven’t seen it in so long that it’s probably not fair to say “You really should watch this movie”. I liked it well enough 12 years ago, and if that’s enough of a recommendation then knock yourself out.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
It’s annoyingly saccharine sweet, it’s dated, it has strong Christian overtones… and you’d kind of have to be an ogre if you didn’t enjoy it. I am not an ogre. The combination of the goofy teachers’ unintelligible language, brash Lucy, dopey Linus, the loser Charlie Brown, and the goofy charm of Snoopy, all set to the brunch jazz of Vince Guaraldi, really hits you right in the nostalgia.
The Ice Storm
What would Thanksgiving be without a pseudo orgy with swingers in 1970’s Connecticut? This may just be the best movie on the list. It’s Ang Lee’s Ingmar Bergman impersonation, with a mathematical equation of several couples who all hate each other, trapped together by the elements (in Bergman’s case, it was usually a secluded island; here, its’ an ice storm), mismatched and trying to solve the equation by sleeping with whoever they can. In short, it’s fun for the whole family! It’s also notable as the last time in recorded history that Sigourney Weaver was hot.
I have to confess here- I’ve never seen this. And I should. Because I’m familiar with the song, and it’s hilarious. It takes place around Thanksgiving. According to the Wikipedia page, here’s a chunk of what shakes down:
The central point of the film is the story told in the song: After Thanksgiving dinner, Arlo and his friends decide to do Alice and Ray a favor by taking several months worth of garbage from their house to the town dump. After loading up a red VW microbus with the garbage, and shovels, and rakes and implements of destruction, they head for the dump. Finding the dump closed for the holiday, they drive around and discover a pile of garbage at the bottom of a short cliff that someone else had placed there. At that point, as mentioned in the song, “…we decided that one big pile is better than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up we decided to throw ours down.”
The next morning they receive a phone call from “Officer Obie” (Police Chief William Obanhein as himself), who asks them about the garbage. After admitting to littering, they agree to pick up the garbage and to meet him at the police station. Loading up the red VW microbus, they head to the police station where they are immediately arrested.
From what I understand of it, it’s something of a counter-culture classic. And I loves me some counter-culture classics. And if you’ve never heard the song, at least do that much- check out the song.
The Mouse on the Mayflower
70’s orgies and hippies wrecking up a garbage dump really put me in the mood for childrens’ cartoons. Even Rankin Bass- the stop-motion production juggernaut that gave us every claymation Christmas movie known to man- didn’t know what the hell to do with Thanksgiving. But good on them for trying. What they gave us was The Mouse and the Mayflower. I haven’t seen it since the early to mid 80’s but it certainly stuck with me. And unlike the other stuff on this list, it pays homage to the mythos of the holiday in America.
I covered this in a very recent entry. Similarly, from 2009, there’s…
Again, I can’t say that I’ve seen this but there’s a decent chance that I will in the next few weeks. The IMDB plot description:
A homicidal turkey axes off college kids during Thanksgiving break.
In fact, after seeing the photo below, I have to see this now. Especially since they’re apparently making a sequel. I can’t miss key plot points from the first one before I watch the sequel.
Scent of a Woman
The last film on my list is about Chris O’Donnell trying to make money to get home for Thanksgiving. As such, he takes on the duty of “babysitting” Al Pacino, who plays a blind, retired Army officer. Pacino says “Hoo-AH!” a lot, waxes poetic about beautiful women, I think a tango is involved, Chris O’Donnell plays the straight man well enough that he “earns the right” to dress like a freaky German S&M guy in Batman Forever, and then is never heard from again.