Thanksgiving is almost here, and for many people that means spending an extended period of time with family.
But what to do after turkey dinner? When the dishes have been washed, the leftovers stored away and there’s no more small talk left to make? That’s where MM comes to the rescue. We’ve selected five of the best Thanksgiving movies (plus one midnight snack) to watch on Turkey Day. They may not all be “family-friendly,” but, heck, what’s a true Thanksgiving without some squabbling?
What’s Cooking? (2000)
directed by Gurinder Chadha
As everyone knows, food (preferably the more the better) is a key part of the Thanksgiving festivities. If you find yourself jonesing for some turkey and mashed potatoes before the big event, this film (helmed by the moviemaker behind Bend It Like Beckham) might whet your appetite. What’s Cooking? takes place in L.A. and revolves around four ethnically diverse households—Vietnamese, Latino, Jewish and African-American—as they celebrate the holiday amidst family tensions. While the method of preparing the turkey and side dishes are different for each culture, the four families’ dynamics and conflicts are quite similar. Featuring an eclectic cast (which includes Alfre Woodard, Kyra Sedgwick, Julianna Margulies, Joan Chen and Mercedes Ruehl) and some great-looking food, What’s Cooking? is a light, enjoyable film that’ll definitely prepare you for the food frenzy of the big day.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
directed by John Hughes
Anyone who’s ever been stranded at the airport or trapped on a bus while trying to make it home will surely relate to this comedy classic, one of writer-director John Hughes’ best. The story begins with uptight businessman Neal (Steve Martin), whose flight from New York to Chicago is grounded in Wichita due to a snowstorm. Eager to get home, he hooks up with a gregarious, likable lug named Del (John Candy), a shower ring salesman, and the two set off on a mishap-laden journey, all for the love of Thanksgiving. What truly makes the movie work is the relationship between Neal and Del, polar opposites who gradually become friends in a way that doesn’t feel phony or forced. Candy, in particular, gives the performance of his career as a man who masks his deep-seated loneliness with a chatty, eager-to-please demeanor. The final twist concerning his character is a surprisingly emotional reveal most comedies would probably consider too “serious.” But don’t get us wrong, Planes, Trains & Automobiles isn’t some somber character study; it’s one of the most consistently funny movies ever made. If you’re looking for a film both heartfelt and gut-busting hilarious this Thanksgiving, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Home for the Holidays (1995)
directed by Jodie Foster
Dysfunctional families (and who knows anything about that, right?) have provided the basis for many Thanksgiving movies over the years. (Some of the ones not featured on this list are The War at Home, The House of Yes and The Vicious Kind.) In the comedy-drama Home for the Holidays, single mom Claudia (Holly Hunter) flies home to spend Thanksgiving with her family—a decision she’ll soon regret. The eccentric Larson clan includes Claudia’s overbearing parents (Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning), humorless sister (Cynthia Stevenson), mischievous gay brother (Robert Downey Jr.) and crazy aunt (Geraldine Chaplin). When the hectic, argument-filled Thanksgiving dinner takes place, it’s clear the entire Larson clan could benefit from at least a few years of therapy. With its oddball characters (the cast also includes Dylan McDermott, Claire Danes, Steve Guttenberg, Austin Pendleton and David Strathairn) and quirky tone, Home for the Holidays is sure to make you appreciate your own, comparably normal family just a little bit more.
Pieces of April (2003)
directed by Peter Hedges
This sweet-natured, intimate indie from writer-director Peter Hedges (Dan in Real Life) features yet another dysfunctional family—the Burnses. The aimless, estranged oldest daughter, April (Katie Holmes), is holding Thanksgiving in her small Manhattan apartment, and the film alternates between showing April struggling to prepare dinner (with disastrous results, especially when her stove stops working) and her family making the trek from suburbia to New York City. April’s good-humored mother Joy (Patricia Clarkson) has cancer, which lends the movie a great deal of poignancy. Also included in the family is desperate dad Jim (Oliver Platt), controlling sister Beth (Alison Pill), quirky brother Timmy (John Gallagher Jr.) and perpetually confused Grandma Dottie (Alice Drummond). Will April be able to save dinner and reconcile with her family? You’ll have to see the movie to find out—though we should mention the film does conclude in a tender, heartwarming way that thankfully doesn’t turn overly sentimental and saccharine.
The Ice Storm (1997)
directed by Ang Lee
This is one to put on after the kids and grandparents have gone to bed. Adapted from Rick Moody’s acclaimed novel, The Ice Storm is a chilly, piercing look at a family on the verge of collapse. The film takes place over Thanksgiving weekend in 1973 Connecticut and revolves around the Hood family. Sixteen-year-old Paul (Tobey Maguire) comes home from private school to find his parents and sister in dangerous territory—his father Ben (Kevin Kline) is having an affair with a married neighbor (Sigourney Weaver), mom Elena (Joan Allen) is cold, evasive and has taken to shoplifting and younger sister Wendy (Christina Ricci) is sexually experimenting with her friend Mikey (Elijah Wood). The Ice Storm is a disturbing film, but also a fascinating, perceptive one, as the Hoods’ struggle to deal with the turbulent political and social changes of the early 1970s. With its pitch-perfect direction by Ang Lee, evocative script by James Schamus and brilliant ensemble cast, this tragic, unsettling film is perfect for watching late on a Thanksgiving evening with some strong after-dinner drinks.
directed by Eli Roth
Clocking in at little over two minutes in length, this faux-trailer (created for the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez B-movie extravaganza Grindhouse) should be treated more as a tasty tidbit than a full meal. The trailer was inspired by a string of second-rate slasher movies in the 1980s that sought to capitalize on various holidays, the way Halloween did so successfully (e.g., My Bloody Valentine, April Fool’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc.). Thanksgiving is a hilarious spoof of such films that also provides its own wildly bloody, over-the-top charm. Hopefully, Eli Roth will soon transform Thanksgiving into a feature (there have been rumors for years), since this giddily gory trailer leaves one wanting more. It may not be the entire family’s cup of tea, but Thanksgiving, complete with its bizarre, macabre conclusion, will provide a wickedly outrageous finale to the holiday festivities. MM
Have a Thanksgiving favorite not included on the list? Let us know in the comments!