There are countless well-loved Christmas movies, but Thanksgiving movies are a rarity. I’m not a much of a fan of 1995’s Home for the Holidays, but I often steer people toward What’s Cooking?, Gurinder Chadha’s delightful, too-little-known 2000 multi-cultural Turkey Day comedy. In case you’ve already seen it, though, here are a few more Thanksgiving DVD titles:
Hannah and Her Sisters: Possibly Woody Allen’s best film, this 1986 tale of the inter-marital affairs and career and religious crises of a Manhattan show-business family begins with a Thanksgiving dinner and ends at another one. Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Dianne Wiest, Barbara Hershey, Julie Kavner, Max Von Sydow and Allen himself, among many others, are at their best here.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles: For many people in the mobile American society, part of the lore of Thanksgiving is simply the struggle of traveling home in time to celebrate it. This challenging odyssey seems to have especially captivated the imagination of the late John Hughes, who had a hand in two films about it. He wrote and directed this episodic 1987 comedy, in which upper-middle-class executive Steve Martin, trying frantically to get from New York to Chicago in time for dinner with his family, finds himself forced to travel with buffoonish salesman John Candy. The gags are uneven, but the great Candy is lovable as ever, and Martin makes a fine straight man for him.
Dutch: Hughes also wrote the script for this 1991 comedy, directed by Peter Faiman. It’s also about a road trip home; Ed O’Neill plays the working-class title character, who’s pressed into service driving the snotty private-school son (Ethan Embry) of his new girlfriend (Jobeth Williams) from Georgia home to Chicago for the holiday. Wacky adventures ensue.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: Kids will enjoy this half-hour Peanuts special from 1973, and you probably will too. I especially like Vince Guaraldi’s funky song “Little Birdie,” which accompanies Snoopy and Woodstock setting up for dinner. It’s a little disturbing, though, to see Woodstock eating turkey at the end of the show…
The Exiles: OK, this one’s a stretch, but it just came out Nov. 17, and it’s such a fascinating movie that I wanted to mention it. This 1961 indie is about Native Americans, who are sometimes less enthusiastic about Thanksgiving than other Americans, so perhaps the timing of the release was slightly ironic. The film chronicles one Friday night in the lives of a group of Indians, played by non-professional actors, living off the reservation in the old Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles. While we watch them party, drink, dance, gamble and brawl, we listen to them talk, in quiet, ruminative voice-overs, about their sense of alienation and sadness.
Directed by Kent MacKenzie with breathtaking cinematography by Erik Daarstad, Robert Kaufman and John Arthur Morrill, it’s a heartbreaking portrait of a people, and a visually ravishing portrait of a departed L.A.