Home > Film & stuff > Films to Fight Off the Post-Thanksgiving Dinner Fatigue

Films to Fight Off the Post-Thanksgiving Dinner Fatigue

Thanksgiving is a pretty great holiday. You don’t have to buy gifts or send cards and there are no awkward Thanksgiving office parties. The food is always good– even if you don’t like turkey there’s probably ham or pie or something– and there’s typically a hearty supply of alcohol for those who choose to imbibe.

Christmas brings the hassle of dead trees, crowded airports, mall Santas, and annoying do-gooders (there are Thanksgiving do-gooders as well, but they get far more aggressive at Christmas time). There are, however, quintessential Christmas films that are so ingrained in our popular culture that we don’t even have to think about watching them because they’re always on TV: It’s a Wonderful LifeA Christmas StoryNational Lampoon’s Christmas VacationA Miracle on 34th Street, etc. Thanksgiving-set films are bountiful (sorry), but there aren’t really any movies that are required viewing in the same way as Christmas films.

I’ve decided on a short list of my favorite films that prominently feature Thanksgiving as either a backdrop or a plot point. I don’t think many of these have the same buoyant, crowd-pleasing, family friendly qualities that It’s a Wonderful Life possesses, but they’re still damn good films. As a matter of fact, these films are so good that they can’t be pinned down as strictly “holiday” movies. I mean really, have you ever watched A Christmas Story in April?

Anyway, in no particular order…

      • Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Two guys are just trying to get home for Thanksgiving. Luckily, those two guys are John Candy and Steve Martin. If there is such thing as a standard Thanksgiving film, this is it. It’s as heartbreaking as it is hilarious and as poignant as it is painful, something that John Hughes accomplished as well as anyone who ever directed a film. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is not only Hughes’ best film, but it’s Candy’s finest performance and flat-out one of the funniest movies ever made. If for some reason you’ve never seen it before, start watching it as often as possible so you can catch up with the rest of us.
      • Nobody’s Fool: Paul Newman’s career is full of memorable performances and he managed to stay as interesting and relevant toward the end of his career as he was at the beginning. In Nobody’s Fool he plays Sully, a charming old guy who has managed his entire life to just scrape by without ever getting too close to anyone. Never dipping too far into the melodramatic, the film follows him as he reconnects with his son and forms a bond with his grandchild. Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith give great supporting performances, but this is Newman’s show– along with the screenplay, he was nominated for an Oscar, though he lost to Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump.
      • Hannah and Her Sisters: Woody Allen starred in, wrote, and directed this sublime comedy/drama that begins and ends with Thanksgiving parties, though they’re a couple years apart and a LOT happens in between. The superb ensemble cast (including Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, Dianne Wiest, Michael Caine, and Max Von Sydow) orbits around each other in a series of romantic entanglements, some of which are more successful than others. Allen won his second Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay with Hannah and Her Sisters and it was well-deserved. It’s a true masterpiece that sits among the absolute best films of his career.
      • The Ice Storm: Easily the most depressing film on the list, The Ice Storm is a somber look at suburban living during the 1970s. Directed by the multi-talented Ang Lee, the film follows the adults and children from two families who each experience their own sort of awakening in the midst of dealing with parenthood, adolescence, alcoholism, key parties, sexual curiosity, and one helluva Thanksgiving storm. With a remarkable cast including Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Tobey Maguire, and Allison Janney, this ranks up there as one of the more underrated dramas of the ’90s, but it’s not exactly a heartwarming tale to bond with the family over after turkey and football. Don’t let the uplifting music and talk of redemption in the trailer fool you…
    • Scent of a Woman: Everyone now knows how good Al Pacino is at yelling, but Scent of a Woman really started the trend of his trademark boisterous performances. That being said, it’s a great one that has permanently weaved itself into the fabric of pop culture. Pacino dominates nearly every minute of screen time as Lt. Col. Frank Slade, a bitter blind man who wants to take a farewell tour around New York City before he kills himself. However, he needs an escort, which he finds in a prep school student named Charlie, a naive but noble kid who just needs some money in order to make it home for Christmas. The movie is filled with one memorable scene after another, many of which are as well-known as anything ever put on film, but this uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner scene that pits Pacino against Bradley Whitford might be my favorite:

So now you have some Thanksgiving movie choices. Nothing too obscure, but each is distinct enough that there’s something on this list for the whole family to enjoy (no guarantees– I don’t know your family). You’d have to skip dinner in order to watch them all in one day, so feel free to space these out– you won’t feel bad about watching any of these films at a different time of year. In fact, I have a good rule to live by: when in doubt about what to watch, turn on Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

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