Your couch may be calling, but some members of your family are likely to be clamoring soon for entertainment alternatives to football. Why not keep the spirit of the day alive with a stock of Thanksgiving-themed films to watch in the cozy comfort of home sweet home?
Christmas may be tops in holiday movies, but Thanksgiving isn't far behind in providing cinematic backgrounds or plot twists. Sewickley Patch brings you a list of films about other people's Thanksgivings that should satisfy your need to laugh, cry, warm your heart—and give thanks that other families appear to be ahem, quirkier, than yours.
These comedies, dramedies and adults-only dramas are available on DVD, and many are included in cable or satellite providers' On Demand video libraries as well.
And as veterans of a few lively family Thanksgivings of our own, we've tucked in a couple of films that don't revolve entirely around Thanksgiving but are likely to remind you how grateful you are for the folks gathered with you this year.
Fine for the family:
- A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973, not rated but G in nature). Not strictly a movie, but a don't-miss classic. This Emmy-winning Peanuts special is available on DVD, but it's also scheduled to air on ABC stations at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 21 and again at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Look on as Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty and the gang pull up their chairs around the ping-pong table for a popcorn and toast feast.
- Miracle on 34th Street (1947, Rated G). But this is a Christmas film, you say? Perhaps, but it opens when Doris (Maureen O'Hara) fires one Santa Claus. and hires another for Macy's Thanksgiving parade. Was O'Hara ever more luminous? Was the late Natalie Wood, as O'Hara's daughter Susan, ever more charming? The 1994 remake with Elizabeth Perkins and Dylan McDermott means well, but it cannot compare. Hold out for the original, and you, too, will believe.
Laugh a little, cry a little:
- Pieces of April (2003, Rated PG-13). Turkey, gravy, potatoes and cranberry sauce plopped out of the can. April (Katie Holmes) has everything she needs to assemble Thanksgiving dinner for her cancer-stricken mother (Patricia Clarkson), people-pleasing father (Oliver Platt) and the rest of her estranged family—except a functioning stove in her closet of a New York apartment. April assembles a surrogate family as she searches to borrow a neighbor's oven, and her brood-by-birth gets it together and joins her after a bumpy, argumentative trip from the 'burbs. Pieces of April could've been maudlin. Instead, it's both funny and poignant, and most of us can relate to April's assessment of this Thanksgiving Day: "Once, there was one day when. . . everybody seemed to know they needed each other."
- Nobody’s Fool (1994, Rated R). The late Paul Newman snagged an Oscar nomination for Best Actor as Sully, an ascerbic, slightly disreputable construction worker whose alienated son (Dylan Walsh) and young grandson turn up without warning for Thanksgiving. This final shot at turning his family life around keeps Sully in snowy upstate New York, despite the considerable temptation posed by a co-worker's wife (Melanie Griffith) and her offer of a new life together in Hawaii. Nobody's Fool also is notable for the final performance of the inestimable Jessica Tandy as Sully's landlady, and the movie is dedicated to her.
- Hannah and Her Sisters (1986, Rated PG-13). Hannah's husband (Michael Caine) falls in and out of love with maternal Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her restless sister Lee (Barbara Hershey), between two Thanksgiving dinners served up to their extended clan in their impossibly luxe Manhattan apartment. Everyone here has some problem, including actor-director Woody Allen as Hannah's death-obsessed ex-husband who finds a reason to live in sister Holly (Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Dianne Wiest.) Actor-director Allen's real-life relationship with Farrow unspooled after they shot Hannah and Her Sisters in her real-life apartment on Central Park West, but the movie—particularly its final line, with all its joy—remains a delight.
- Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987, Rated R for language). No doubt you've already been along for the ride a time or two with uptight Neal Page (Steve Martin) and garrulous shower curtain-ring salesman Del Griffith after their Thanksgiving-eve flight is cancelled and they struggle with alternative modes of transport—and each other. Watch it again anyway. It's more fun when you can recite most of the dialogue ("Those aren't pillows!"). We defy you not to choke up yet again when Neal and Del finally walk through the front door.
- Home for the Holidays (1995, Rated PG-13). Claudia (Holly Hunter) has just been fired, and her daughter (Clare Danes) chooses to spend the holiday with a boyfriend rather than join her for a Thanksgiving spent arguing with her fractious mother (Anne Bancroft), father (Charles Durning) and brother (Robert Downey Jr.) Directed by Jodie Foster, this dramedy is predictable, but it feels real in Claudia's exchanges with her brother and particularly in her confrontation with self-righteous sister (Cynthia Stevenson).
- Scent of a Woman (1992, Rated R). Al Pacino won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of a blind former Army lieutenant who hires a sheltered student (Chris O'Donnell) to get him to New York for one final hedonistic weekend before ending his life. Again, somewhat predictable but saved by memorable performances by both male leads.
- The New World (2005, Rated PG-13). What's Thanksgiving, after all, without a retelling of events that would lead to the creation of the nation and the holiday? Arguably not the best work by noted director Terrence Malick, but still worth watching for its examination of British and Native American cultures as well as the love triangle involving John Smith (Colin Farrell), John Rolfe (Christian Bale) and princess Pocahontas (Q'orianka Kilcher).
- Alice's Restaurant (1969, Rated R). Dial back the decades in this adaptation of singer Arlo Guthrie's hit song. Guthrie visits his dying father, the legendary Woody Guthrie, joins friends for Thanksgiving, makes a flawed decision at the trash dump and finally encounters first the law, then the draft in this comedic slice of the '60s.
- The Myth of Fingerprints (1997, Rated R). Actresses Julianne Moore, who would go on to marry director Bart Freundlich, and Blythe Danner shine in this depiction of yet another unhappy family as its members gather together with their grudges for the first time in years.
No smiles (or kids) here:
- House of Yes (1997, Rated R). Think spending time with your family is tough? We're betting that if Marty Pascal (Josh Hamilton) had it to do over again, he'd rethink that plan to bring girlfriend Lesly (Tori Spelling) home to meet twin sister Jackie (Parker Posey) and the rest of his immediate clan. Sister Jackie identifies way too closely with former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and her exchanges with others in this family circle are first cringe-inducing, then horrifying.
- Ice Storm (1997, Rated R). Set in the 1970s, The Ice Storm is director Ang Lee's snapshot of community populated by dissatisfied, adulterous suburbanites and their unhappy children over a Thanksgiving weekend before an ice storm hits the neighborhood. Serious fare with an all-star cast, although it does trigger a rueful laugh when daughter Wendy(Christina Ricci) offers a Thanksgiving grace that turns into a rant about the Pilgrims.
Not strictly about Thanksgiving, but ...
- Holiday Inn (1942, not rated but G in nature). Another Christmas movie, right? Yeah, yeah, we know — it's best known for Irving Berlin's classic "White Christmas." But this Holiday Inn opens for other holidays as well, among them Thanksgiving, when Bing Crosby prepares for dinner while singing "I've Got Plenty To Be Thankful For"
- Brokeback Mountain (2005, Rated R). Another Ang Lee drama, this time focused on the secretive, years-long romance between two married male cowboys Ennis Del Mar (The late Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhall.) There's little to give thanks about in this heartbreaking drama, but there is a flash of grim comedy when Jack finally puts his overbearing father-in-law in his place at the Thanksgiving table, to his wife's (Anne Hathaway) quiet satisfaction.
- The Last Waltz (1978, Rated PG). In the mood for great music? Try Martin Scorsese's documentary of the concert performance by The Band and a stellar array of guests, including Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and others. What's the holiday connection? The concert took place on Thanksgiving night, Nov. 25, 1976.