Thanksgiving marks the official beginning of the holiday season for many of us, and for movie bloggers, that means an opportunity to wax poetic about our favorite holiday movies.
Christmas has a monopoly on holiday films, but don’t weep for Thanksgiving – a holiday that can rightfully claim most family movies, especially those involving big families with lots of “issues.” OK, so that’s essentially every family.
So here are some of my favorite films about families in all their dysfunctional glory along with one “outlier” that actually happens to be about Thanksgiving – or at least the extremes it could take to get home for it if you’re Steve Martin.
1. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
Steve Martin at his exasperated best enduring a series of traveling fiascos while also enduring the clingy, talkative, adorably annoying John Candy. And John Hughes is the director. What’s not to love?
2. The Godfather (1972)
Because nothing says Thanksgiving like a megalomaniacal mob boss and the many pawns in his game. OK, so it’s really about family – empire building for family.
3. The Birdcage (1996)
One of the funniest movies about family ever made (based on the stage play “Le Cage aux Folles”). Robin Williams and Nathan Lane are perfect as a gay couple trying to play it straight for a conservative politician and his wife, played by Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest. It’s sad to think that we lost Williams and director Mike Nichols this year, but this film is one of the joys of their legacy.
4. Pieces of April (2003)
Patricia Clarkson, one of my favorite actresses, was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as an ill matriarch traveling with her family to her estranged daughter’s apartment for Thanksgiving. And Katie Holmes does well playing the desperate-to-make-amends daughter. Tissues are indicated.
5. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
My favorite Wes Anderson film and easily one of my favorite movie families. Their fearless and mostly despised leader is Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), who showed little interest in his three brilliant but disturbed kids after he and their mother (Anjelica Huston) divorced. But after many years, just as his ex-wife is about to remarry, he wants to work his way back into their hearts. Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow and Luke Wilson are wonderfully hostile, detached and sweet, respectively, as the kids.
6. Summer Hours (2008)
An engrossing French film about three adult siblings who come to their childhood home to put their mother’s estate in order after her death and discover what their memories of the place and their family’s legacy really mean to them. The movie was directed by Olivier Assayas and stars Juliette Binoche as one of the siblings.
7. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
One of Alfred Hitchcock's best and reportedly his favorite of all his films, "Shadow of a Doubt" is a remarkably unsettling thriller about an idyllic family in an idyllic California town. But things begin to look a lot less rosy when Uncle Charlie comes to town to visit, and his niece who used to idolize him begins to suspect him of being a murderer. Joseph Cotten is appropriately intimidating as Uncle Charlie, and Theresa Wright hits all the right notes as his suspicious niece.
8. The Color Purple (1985)
This deeply moving drama about a woman's struggle to find her self-worth while enduring abusive relationships and an abusive society draws out a range of emotions from disgust to wonder, anger to joy, despair to hope. The harsh scenes are really harsh, and the funny scenes are really funny. As usual, director Steven Spielberg delivers the total package. Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover are stunning, and Oprah Winfrey earned her first Oscar nomination for her performance as the no-nonsense Sophia.
9. Sixteen Candles (1984)
Nothing brings about chaotic family gatherings like a wedding. Unfortunately for Samantha, her sister’s wedding falls right around her 16th birthday, and no one in the family seems to notice. Bummer, but classic John Hughes entertainment.
10. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Another comedy and another wedding, but this movie is all about the bride. It’s the second time down the aisle for the “rich and mighty” Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) of the well-to-do Lord family of Philadelphia. The gossip magazines are dying to get the inside story, and Tracy’s ex-husband (Cary Grant), is dying to bust it up. Jimmy Stewart won an Oscar for his portrayal of a frustrated writer in this George Cukor-directed classic.
11. The Ice Storm (1997)
It’s the ‘70s, baby, and the relationships between two neighborhood families seem cordial and, in some cases, steamy, but ultimately they are colder than the winter weather the film is named after. A little seen and underappreciated drama directed by the great Ang Lee with an all-star cast including Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Elijah Wood, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci and Katie Holmes.
Other faves that would make great Thanksgiving viewing –
"The Leopard" (1963)
Starring Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale | Directed by Luchino Visconti
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Julie Christie and Kate Winslet | Directed by Kenneth Branagh
"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958)
Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Burl Ives | Directed by Richard Brooks
Starring Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Joan Allen, William H. Macy and Jeff Daniels | Directed by Gary Ross
Starring Cher, Nicholas Cage, Danny Aiello, Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia | Directed by Norman Jewison
"Hannah and Her Sisters" (1986)
Starring Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Barbara Hershey, Michael Caine and Woody Allen | Directed by Woody Allen
"Rachel Getting Married" (2008)
Starring Anne Hathaway and Debra Winger | Directed by Jonathan Demme