Home for the Holidays
Jodie Foster’s finest directorial effort remains this 1995 comedy about the Thanksgiving get-together of Holly Hunter’s thoroughly dysfunctional clan, which includes her mother (Anne Bancroft) and father (Charles Durning), and her brother (Robert Downey Jr.), and his friend (Dylan McDermott). What ensues is the gold-standard for family-gathering holiday films, full of absurdity, pathos, and, ultimately, a rousing sense of the ups and downs of dealing with relatives. Rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Maybe it’s not as iconic as A Charlie Brown Christmas or It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but this Peanuts holiday special is a good holdover between Halloween and Christmas. This Emmy-winning classic sees Peppermint Patty infiltrating Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving holiday, which he naturally scrambles to put together with his trademark anxiety. (Where the hell are these kids’ parents, btw?) Rent/buy on Amazon.
The House of Yes
On Thanksgiving 1983, Marty brings his fiancée Lesly home to meet his family—his dimwitted and horny brother, Anthony; his cold and nosey mother, Mrs. Pascal; and his mentally unhinged and Kennedy-obsessed sister, Jackie-O. All hell breaks loose, naturally, as kitchen knives are hidden, sexual boundaries are tested, and Parker Posey delivers one of the most hilariously intense performances of her career. Rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes.
Broadway Danny Rose
Woody Allen’s 1984 comedy concerns an untalented talent agent (Allen) who winds up involved with a second-rate lounge singer and his mistress (Mia Farrow), who has ties to the mob. The ensuing love-triangle craziness–all of it shot in gorgeous black-and-white, and told in flashback by a group of Carnegie Deli comedians–culminates at a Thanksgiving dinner, where forgiveness and togetherness are served, and legacies are forged. Rent/buy on Amazon.
Judd Apatow’s dramatic comedy stars Adam Sandler as George Simmons, a wealthy movie star who seeks to get back to his stand-up comedy roots after being diagnosed with leukemia. He meets a young aspiring comic (Seth Rogen) in search of a mentor, and the two tour the country as George performs his new material and reconnects with his ex-fiancée. It’s a film about the comedy world and how friendships evolve into familial relationships, highlighted by a Thanksgiving toast George delivers in honor of his chosen family. Rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes.
Folk-rocker Arlo Guthrie (son of Woody) plays himself in this offbeat comedy film inspired by his song of the same name. Guthrie, a long-haired draft-dodger visiting some friends in an uptight Massachusetts town for Thanksgiving, thinks he’s doing a his hosts a favor by filling his Volkswagen minibus with their garbage and taking it to the dump. A mix-up ensues, Guthrie’s busted for littering, and seeks to prove himself unfit for combat when the draft comes calling.
Nobody’s Fool is one of the last great headlining vehicles for Paul Newman, who here stars as an upstate New York construction-worker hustler in constant conflict with a contractor (Bruce Willis) whose wife (Melanie Griffith) he fancies. His routine is upended by the arrival of his estranged son (Dylan Walsh) around Thanksgiving, leading to an amusing (and disarming) holiday-set character study about loneliness, reconciliation, and the unexpected ways people achieve contentment. Rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes.
Ed O’Neill’s great unsung big-screen performance is in this 1991 comedy, which (like Planes, Trains and Automobiles) involves a road-trip home for Thanksgiving by two combative men. In this case, they’re O’Neill’s boorish slob and Ethan Embry’s snobby prep-school kid–the son of O’Neill’s girlfriend (JoBeth Williams)–who, through a series of misadventures, forge a lasting friendship.
Hannah and Her Sisters
Opening and closing with scenes of its characters at Thanksgiving dinner, Woody Allen’s 1986 comedic drama–which won him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor and Actress statuettes for Michael Caine and Diane Wiest, respectively–tells a raft of interconnected stories, all in some way related to Mia Farrow’s Hannah and her two siblings. Equal parts hilarious and touching, it remains one of the writer-director’s crowning achievements. Rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes.
Scent of a Woman
Over the course of a Thanksgiving weekend, Chris O’Donnell’s prep school student comes of age while caring for a blind retired army lieutenant (Al Pacino) in Martin Brest’s acclaimed Scent of a Woman, which finally earned Pacino his first-ever Academy Award (for Best Actor). Amidst all of its star’s blustery hoo-ahing, it’s a surprisingly tender tale of an unlikely friendship between two strangers. Rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes.
Grumpy Old Men
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are two bitter lifelong rivals who engage in ludicrous warfare over the affections of their new Wabasha, Minnesota neighborhood resident (Ann-Margret). That conflict includes an amusing Thanksgiving dinner, in which the two do their best to act like feuding immature children. Rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes.
The New World
No, it doesn’t feature a storybook pilgrims-and-Native Americans feast. Nonetheless, Terrence Malick’s 2005 drama–about the founding of Virginia’s Jamestown settlement, and the mythical romance that blossoms between British Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Native American Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher)–is the lyrical, haunting story of America’s birth, and thus the ideal masterpiece to experience on Thanksgiving. Rent/buy on iTunes.