Although the Thanksgiving movie isn’t the same cultural behemoth as the Christmas movie, there’s something a bit more nuanced and bittersweet about the Thanksgiving-set film, more rueful and winsome. And while you can find all sorts of holiday-themed fare, especially on Hallmark and Lifetime at the moment, here are a few Thanksgiving movies to take the edge off this holiday week, or at least to remember that Thanksgiving has always been an especially fraught holiday gathering, a good reminder during this most unusual year.
“Krisha”: With his 2015 directorial debut, Trey Edward Shults made an ingenious low-budget indie, casting his family and shooting over Thanksgiving weekend at a relative’s home, centering the film around a character named Krisha, played by his real-life aunt Krisha Fairchild as a newly sober woman who arrives at the house of her formerly estranged family to cook the holiday meal. Shults’ film captures the agony and the ecstasy of Thanksgiving with a truly chaotic bent, showing off his style that would later be used in films like 2019’s “Waves.” Watch it on Showtime or Kanopy.
“The Oath”: This 2018 dark comedy starring Ike Barinholtz (who also wrote and directed) and Tiffany Haddish meant to capture the politically charged discussions of Thanksgiving that always seem to mark the holiday. In the film, the situation escalates when citizens are asked to sign a “loyalty pledge,” dividing the family. What seemed outlandishly dystopian as recently as 2018 is honestly plausible in 2020. Watch it on Hulu or Kanopy.
“Pieces of April”: This 2003 indie film directed by Peter Hedges (Lucas’ dad) was one of the first non-“Dawson’s Creek” breakout roles for Katie Holmes, outfitted here in black eyeliner and baby bangs. Holmes plays April, who uses the holiday as a way to reach out and make amends with her estranged family (Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt, Alison Pill). Watch it on Amazon Prime Video or Hulu.
“Planes, Trains and Automobiles”: This 1987 John Hughes classic starring John Candy and Steve Martin finds the comedy in just how hard it can be to travel during Thanksgiving weekend (aren’t you glad you aren’t this year?). Martin and Candy costar as an odd couple of travelers who find themselves on a three-day odyssey while trying to get home for Thanksgiving in time. Watch it from the comfort of your own home. Rent it for $2.99 on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube.
“Home for the Holidays”: Jodie Foster’s second film as a director is this 1995 family dramedy starring Holly Hunter and Robert Downey, Jr. as siblings who convene on their parents’ Baltimore home for a chaotic Thanksgiving holiday. Watch it on Starz, or rent it for $2.99.
“The Ice Storm”: Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed 1997 family drama set over Thanksgiving weekend in 1973 boasts a star-studded cast, including Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood and Sigourney Weaver. Written by James Schamus and based on the novel by Rick Moody, the film centers around two neighboring families, their psychosexual entanglements and the dark consequences of their choices. Rent it for $3.99 on Amazon Prime or YouTube.
If you’d rather just ignore the holiday altogether, now is a great time to catch up on all kinds of films you may have missed throughout 2020, or to watch the first two installments of Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” film series on Amazon Prime. Five films debuting from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18, they chronicle the lives of Black West Indians living in Britain. Watch the first two, “Mangrove,” and “Lovers Rock,” this weekend. Or use the time to explore a niche streaming service like The Criterion Channel or the genre-focused service Shudder.
There’s a lot to stream, so stay home, stay safe, and give thanks that you can.
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