Thanksgiving doesn’t get the Hollywood treatment the way Christmas and Halloween (and Valentine’s Day, god help us) do. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is certainly a classic, but where do you go after that? Even if we take the holiday as a stand-in for fall more broadly, the pickings are slim—and troubled. The Big Chill is whiter than the white that sits upon the rice; Hannah and Her Sisters is an urgent reminder of the fact that only Woody Allen should play Woody Allen, and that even then it’s often a mistake; and I love a quirky indie, but when Pieces of April becomes a go-to option, you know you’ve got problems. But all is not lost, because if we reduce the holiday to its essentials, it’s about families, food, cold weather, and fights. And with those as our ingredients, the menu opens up considerably. So with that, do your part and eat your fill (but save The Ice Storm for Christmas, where it really belongs.)
Silver Linings Playbook (available to rent on multiple streaming services)
This is my kind of dysfunction: Hollywood dysfunction, with damaged people who manage to come together in a perfectly satisfying, if overwhelmingly whimsical conclusion. (It’s also got tons of football, a lot of heart, and just enough gray skies to convince you that the actors might actually be cold.) This is what I’ll be turning on when the knives and forks start clattering and the volume of the arguments begins to rise.
Eat Drink Man Woman (available to rent on multiple streaming services)
Ang Lee movies are Thanksgiving. That’s just a fact, and the exception of Hulk only proves the rule. Eat Drink isn’t cold except in its emotional tenor, but my word it has a lot of food, and way too much family for everyone except the film’s central character and the film’s audience. Because this family, for all its flaws, has the warmth of a body, of a beating heart. I love it, and I don’t care if I’m repeating myself.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (available to rent on multiple streaming services)
I feel like this is the movie that people like if they don’t really like Wes Anderson—and that’s fine. It’s an excellent movie, and it has that moment that makes you think, hey, maybe it’s not just all about style and tiny little dioramas and pastel coats, maybe I am actually sobbing. Plus the Thanksgiving feast scene and the supermarket dance party offer two very different but also very inspiring visions of what a great meal can be.
The New World (available to rent on multiple streaming services)
The New World is a Thanksgiving Movie in much the same way that The Tree of Life is a summer movie. That is to say, not at all. BUT! Both are overwhelmingly beautiful things, and if you’re in the mood to think seriously about what Wagner, America, and running water have in common, then this is the film for you. There’s also more than enough gourds and strife around to ensure that hard-core Thanksgiving-heads won’t lose their grip on the holiday spirit.
The Trip (available to stream with a subscription on Hulu)
Any excuse to watch Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in a Michael Winterbottom film is, by definition, holy. And this Thursday, November 24th, is therefore a holy da… but maybe that’s too much work for something that we already know. Suffice it to say that The Trip luxuriates in food, drink, laughter, and recriminations—and yet doesn’t end in tears. Plus it has the added benefit of being safe for almost every demographic (something that will certainly come in handy this year).
Rope (available to rent on multiple streaming services)
Maybe it’s just me, but I take comfort in old movies around the fall and winter holidays. Rope tackles a pretty dark subject—the murder of Robert Franks by Ubermench-aspirants Leopold and Loeb, which you may remember from high school history classes and/or CSI: Time Travelers—but Hitchcock always lives to please. Leaving aside its clever camerawork, the film really does make you feel like you’re sharing a very tense meal with some very clever people. And although one man is dead and two more are doomed by film’s end, it still feels distinctly invigorating. I would attend this dinner party, and you should too.
The Squid and the Whale (available to rent on multiple streaming services)
This is some good Brooklyn right here. On-location filming in Park Slope, literary pretensions aplenty, and a preening dick of a dad (built in the Royal Tennenbaum mold), who you can’t bear to see destroyed, even though you know he has it coming, in spades. The story, in broad strokes, is the story of a family in a fairly typical kind of crisis. The parents are divorcing and the kids are acting out, but Baumbach’s attention to detail gives fresh life to even the most familiar aspects of his story. It’s like a good short story in that way, but better, because Lou Reed’s on the soundtrack. It’s a cold landscape, but it’s a fun place to return to. It feels like family. And it hurts like family, too.
Bonus Track: Beautiful Girls (available to stream with a subscription on Hulu)
There’s a time in most people’s lives—after they’re done with school, but before they’ve begun addressing their parents’ by their first names—when Thanksgiving is as much about reconnecting with old friends as it is about celebrating family. That’s an aspect of the holiday that’s sorely underrepresented at the movies. Beautiful Girls is centered around a high school reunion, as it happens, but the cold weather and the drunkenness and the super weird (and sometimes borderline criminal) sexual energy makes it, for me, the ultimate Friendsgiving feature.