Thanksgiving movies: From idealized to horrifying, here's what to watch
Love your family? Hate your family? Don't have a family? Just want to put a movie on so you don't have to talk to anyone for a couple of hours while you recuperate from your food coma? Whatever your relationship to the folks you shovel turkey with this holiday weekend, there's a fitting Thanksgiving movie to match your mood. Here are 10 of the best.
10. 'Alice's Restaurant' (1969)
This countercultural cult classic, based on Arlo Guthrie's sprawling folk musical monologue "Alice's Restaurant Massacree," is still a tradition (as is the song), despite the Vietnam War being long over. Guthrie stars in the film as himself, a long-haired bohemian who gets into a little trouble one Thanksgiving with a VW bus full of garbage and a dump that's closed for the holiday. It's certainly one of the more inventive ways of inadvertently getting yourself out of the military draft.
9. 'Pieces of April' (2003)
April (Katie Holmes) has spent her lifetime letting down her family, especially her critical (and now critically ill) mother (Patricia Clarkson). So there's a lot on the line when the black sheep invites her estranged family over to her dumpy New York apartment for Thanksgiving — only to discover, turkey in hand, that her oven is broken. It's a heartfelt, quirky indie with as much personality as April, whom you desperately want to see succeed.
8. 'Krisha' (2015)
Got a great idea for a movie but don’t think you have the money or connections to pull it off? The miracle that first-time director Trey Edward Shults pulled off in the making of “Krisha” proves anything is possible. Made on a micro-budget (a Kickstarter campaign raised a little over $14,000) and starring his own family members (with his aunt Krisha Fairchildin the title role), Shults’ cinematic labor of love is a devastating character study of addiction. At home for Thanksgiving for the first time in a decade, Krisha insists she’s got her demons in check, and much of her family is willing to believe. But as the day progresses and the meal comes together, Krisha starts to fall apart.
7. 'Broadway Danny Rose' (1984)
Woody Allen doesn't get a lot of accolades for his acting (since he essentially seems to be playing the same neurotic riff on himself), but his performance as Danny Rose, the hapless talent manager of a menagerie of losers and loveable misfits, is among his most affecting. There's nothing he won't do for a client, and that includes masquerading as the boyfriend of a lounge singer's mob-connected mistress (in a very different sort of role for Mia Farrow) and ending up on a hit list. Even when things are at their worst, he pulls together a Thanksgiving dinner for his clients, which is all the sweeter for being a little sad.
6. 'The Ice Storm' (1997)
This one is for the more dysfunctional families. Long before he was winning Oscars for directing imaginary tigers in fantastical epics, Ang Lee made this aching drama set in 1970s suburban Connecticut. Two families, the Hoods and the Carvers, spiral toward their respective doom one Thanksgiving weekend, turning to any and everything — sex, drugs, shoplifting, self-help books, key parties — to lift the malaise that a coming storm is about to shatter.
5. 'The New World' (2005)
Grade-school depictions of early contact between British settlers and Native Americans show a world of peace, bountiful harvests and shiny hat buckles. History, though, and director Terrence Malick tell a different story. This telling of the founding of Jamestown, and of Pocahontas' rescue of Capt. John Smith, moves with dreamlike purity, luxuriating in pockets of nature and love while social customs and the demands of civilization close in on the lovers' idyll. It's an experience that is at once minimalist and epic, as with the best of Malick.
4. 'Home for the Holidays' (1995)
Flying back to your hometown to spend Thanksgiving with your family is hard enough, even under the best of circumstances. Claudia Larson is not in the best of circumstances: she's sick, she has just been fired from her job (and made out with her much older boss in the process) and her teenage daughter is spending the weekend with her boyfriend. Jodie Foster directed this refreshingly unsentimental holiday film, in which a screwy family stays screwy and not all resentments and regrets are patched with a hug and a slice of pumpkin pie. And it's got a great cast, rounded out by a manic Robert Downey Jr. (is there any other kind?) and Anne Bancroft.
3. 'A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving' (1973)
This prime-time animated TV special is to Thanksgiving what "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" is to Christmas. Which is to say, essential. When Peppermint Patty invites herself and some friends over to Charlie Brown's for Thanksgiving dinner, he has to whip up a plan, and a menu — which, when you're a kid who doesn't know how to cook, ends up being buttered toast, popcorn, pretzels and jelly beans. Good thing it isn't the meal that makes Thanksgiving, it's the company.
2. 'Hannah and Her Sisters' (1986)
A lot happens in the year between the two Thanksgivings that bookend one of Woody Allen's best films. Gathered in a New York City apartment are a trio of sisters, with Mia Farrow as family linchpin Hannah, a celebrated actress with an army of children; Dianne Wiest as directionless Holly, who wants to be an actress or writer or something; and Barbara Hershey as intellectual Lee. Allen navigates a tangle of relationships and pain with deft narrative footing and bright humor as drama roils underneath the surface dynamics, with Hannah's husband (a perfectly pathetic, unctuous Michael Caine) falling in the throes of infatuation with Lee. Caine won an Oscar for best supporting actor, Wiest for best supporting actress and Allen for best screenplay.
1. 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' (1987)
Steve Martin and John Candy were both at the height of funny when they teamed up as the odd couple in John Hughes' classic Thanksgiving comedy. Neal (Martin), a high-strung businessman on his way back to Chicago, just wants to get home to his family in time for the holiday. But a simple flight home turns into an odyssey when the weather turns bad and he gets saddled with Del (Candy), a deeply annoying chatterbox who proves Murphy's Law. You should think Neal would be glad to be rid of his parasite, but every man has hidden depths — even Candy playing a shower-curtain-ring salesman.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com. Twitter.com/BabsVan.
The USA TODAY NETWORK and Thanksgiving.com, America’s home for the holidays, are here to help you make those special times of year with family and friends even brighter. Whether you're looking for recipes, how-to food videos, seasonal decor ideas, or delicious new desserts, we've got you covered. Thanksgiving.com is produced by USA TODAY NETWORK newsrooms and Grateful Ventures, a part of the NETWORK. Grateful champions top influencer personalities and produces lifestyle content independently of newsrooms.