Thanksgiving has many traditions in not only food dishes, but also entertainment. And in a time where we are in the middle of a pandemic, we can use some entertainment.
Some people enjoy watching endless hours of football, while others take the time to listen to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” in its entirety. I, on the other hand, appreciate taking in a movie, or two, or in this case, fifteen. Here are my top 15 “Thanksgiving movie” picks for 2020 in no particular order.
1. Pieces of April 2003 (PG-13) I love this film. Dawson’s Creek’s very own Katie Holmes shines in her role as April, the estranged daughter from an uptight NJ family who’s matriarch is slowly dying from breast cancer. It is a painful example of how challenging the holiday can be for those who don’t always get along with their blood relatives.
April invites her parents, grandmother, and siblings to her tiny NYC apartment as her way of extending an olive branch. Of course, in true thanksgiving fashion, everything that can possibly go wrong for her, does and at one point her family decides to leave without even saying “hello” to her, but the kindness of her unbelievably supportive boyfriend and her neighbors lift her spirits when she is feeling her lowest.
If I could pick one Thanksgiving movie to watch, this would be my pick.
2. The Big Chill 1983 (R) This is another phenomenal film with an all star cast and incredible soundtrack. The Big Chill is about a group of old college friends who come together for a funeral for one of the members of their clique who died by suicide.
Meg Tilly plays the deceased’s much younger girlfriend Chloe, who is surrounded by Tom Berrenger, Kevin Kline, Jo Beth Williams, Glenn Close, Mary Kay Place, Jeff Goldblum, and William Hurt.
While this isn’t a “thanksgiving movie” per se, the entire feeling of the movie is old friends coming together in one huge house who share meals together and one fantastic last supper together near the end of the film and there is a beautiful flashback scene as described by Geff Goldblum of the entire cast sitting at a Thanksgiving meal, as the deceased, Alex (played by Kevin Costner) holds the very knife he uses to end his life, that was cut and is now part of the movie’s lore.
3. The Doors 1991 (R) On the subject of soundtracks, this Oliver Stone film has a great one. This semi-biographical film centers around the band The Doors, and more specifically Jim Morrison, played by Val Kilmer. Jim Morrison and his bandmates explore the benefits of LSD and any other drug they can get their hands on.
Jim Morrison struggles with balancing his love for his Pamela (Meg Ryan), his band, and other women with whom he shares his bed. This film made the list because of my favorite scene in the movie where Pamela and Jim take their LSD at different times and she “peaks” during a huge Thanksgiving get together with the entire band, their significant others, and Jim’s other lover, Patricia (Kathleen Quinlan).
Pam is overcome with jealousy, throws her roasted duck on the floor, screams “YOU KILLED MY DUCK! YOU KILLED MY DUCK!”, and attacks Jim with a knife. If you’ve ever wanted to throw a Thanksgiving tantrum, you can take notes from Meg Ryan’s performance.
4. Sweet November 2001 (PG-13) I absolutely adore this movie and I was shocked to discover this sleepy little gem starring Charlize Theron and Keanu Reeves was a remake of a 1968 film with the same name. Cherlize Theron plays Sarah, an eccentric woman attempting to live out her last days creating memories with a different man each month as she withers away from cancer.
Keanu Reeves plays Nelson who is a very tightly wound advertising exec who pretty much loses everything he has over the course of a day and agrees to spend the month of November with Sarah as she attempts to open his eyes to the world around him. Before Thanksgiving, Nelson witnesses the extent of Sarah’s illness and she kicks him out because she doesn’t wish him to see her in that light. Much like myself, Nelson falls in love with Sarah and can’t stay away.
He crashes her Thanksgiving dinner with her neighbors and insists on giving her 12 Christmas gifts. I will admit that the film can get a little slow at times but Charlize Theron is captivating and endearing in this role and I dare you to not fall in love with her too.
5. Scent of a Woman 1992 (R) I can’t believe I forgot what an amazing film this is! Al Pacino earned a well deserved Academy Award for his portrayal of a blind veteran in this coming of age drama that takes place over Thanksgiving weekend.
A young Chris O’Donnell plays Charlie, a teen student at a prestigious and expensive boarding school who is tasked with “babysitting” an aging and abrasive Frank (Al Pacino) while his family leaves for Thanksgiving without him. Charlie takes the job because he is also alone on Thanksgiving weekend and he needs the money because he is a scholarship and financial aid student at his school.
Frank manipulates Charlie to travel to the city and crash his relatives Thanksgiving dinner to make an insanely awkward scene. He also shares that he intends to take his own life when they are finished with their adventures.
If you’re a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman, you will be pleasantly surprised to see him in his youth as another student in Charlie’s school.
6. Son-in-Law 1993 (PG-13) You might be shocked to read that I enjoy Pauley Shore movies from the 90’s and Son-in-Law takes place over Thanksgiving break, so I was able to include it on this list.
A young woman, Rebecca (Carla Gugino) moves from her rural home to Los Angeles for college and just when she’s ready to give up and go back home to the cow pastures, her RA “Crawl” (Pauley Shore) swoops in to befriend her and encourages her to embrace everything Los Angeles has to offer. He takes her to a tattoo studio in Venice beach, where the artist is none other than Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
When Rebecca (Carla Gugino) learns her best bud Crawl isnt going home for Thanksgiving, she invites him to come home to her family. Upon her arrival her douchey, cheating, high school sweetheart, Travis (Dan Gauthier) proposes marriage. Knowing that “Becca” doesn’t want to get engaged to Travis, Crawl interjects and claims they are already engaged.
For the rest of the Thanksgiving visit, the two pretend they are very much in love while Travis schemes to break them up, using Saved by the Bell’s Tiffany Amber Thiessen, who plays Travis’s side piece.
Of course the truth prevails and the family enjoys a nice Thanksgiving meal together before Becca and Crawl return to school with their fake engagement intact.
7. She’s Gotta Have It 1986 (R) Long before Spike Lee was winning Academy awards, he released this micro-budget, mostly black & white film as his first full length feature. The film follows a young poly-amorous woman named Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns) as she navigates open relationships with 3 male suitors Mars (Spike Lee), Greer (John Canada Terrell), and Jamie (Tommy Redmond Hicks).
She enjoys each of them for different reasons even though they judge her harshly for her choices. There is a ton of nudity, sex, and an almost rape scene. You’re probably asking, “why is this on a list for Thanksgiving movies?” This girl has the nerve to invite all three of her lovers to a sit-down Thanksgiving dinner and they are all forced to deal with each other.
While the movie is super old, very low budget, shaky at times, with a lot of nudity, That one scene and the rest of the Thanksgiving evening are well worth the watch. The film is raw and gritty and it’s really awesome to see how far Spike Lee has come.
8. The Last Waltz 1978 (PG) Martin Scorsese directs what is hailed as one of the greatest documentary concert films ever made. If you’re into music, this film is for you! The Band puts on a farewell concert on Thanksgiving day on November 25, 1976, at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom and includes an unbelievable collection of special guests including Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and more.
If you were unable to find the movie version of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” and you already took the time to listen to the song, and you’re still jonesing for some classic rock, this (almost) 2 hour long movie will scratch that itch and might become part of your Thanksgiving tradition for years to come.
9. Planes Trains and Automobiles 1987 (R) “THOSE AREN’T PILLOWS!!!” There is no way I could write a list of Thanksgiving movies and leave out this one. John Candy and Steve Martin star in this John Hughs film about a couple of traveling strangers who are desperate to get home for Thanksgiving.
This slapstick comedy follows Del (John Candy) and Neil (Steve Martin) as they maneuver their ways to their respective homes after being stuck in Kansas City due to a freak snowstorm. It is a beloved favorite of many and one of the first movies you think of when asked to recommend a Thanksgiving movie.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you must. I have to mention, for anyone who enjoys playing the “6 degrees of separation” game regarding Kevin Bacon, this is a good one because he has a small role chasing down a taxi.
And more trivia… our publisher, Barbara Roche traveled all over the countryside with these two guys casting the minor roles and extras.
10. The House of Yes 1997 (R) I LOVE a good dark comedy and this one takes the cake! Parker Posey plays “Jackie O”, a mentally ill and incestuous twin to Marty (Josh Hamilton), sister to Anthony (Freddie Prinze Jr), and daughter to Mother (Genevieve Buiold).
In this delightfully dark, low budget film Marty returns home, after living in New York City, to introduce his exceptionally dysfunctional family to his dimwitted and slightly licentious fiance Lesly (Tori Spelling) over Thanksgiving weekend.
It was honestly hard to discern where Tori Spelling ended and Lesly began which is why her comically bad performance earned her a Razzie nomination for “worst new star” while Parker Posey earned herself a Sundance Film Festival award for her performance as a mentally unstable woman in love with her twin brother who is also obsessed with Jackie O and the Kennedy assassination.
Even though this one takes place on Thanksgiving, there is no turkey, side dishes, or pie because a hurricane knocks out power and they have an electric stove in their opulent mansion. The writing is so dry and glib, I enjoyed every sick and twisted minute of it.
11. Addams Family Values 1993 (PG-13) In this sequel to the 1991 film titled The Addams Family, Morticia (Anjelica Houston) and Gomez (Raul Julia) bring a new baby into the family and Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsly (Jimmy Workman) have some issues accepting their new brother.
After the siblings attempt homicide repeatedly against their baby brother, Morticia and Gomez decide to hire a nanny named Debbie (Joan Cusack). Debbie is also known as “The Black Widow” who stalks, marries, and murders wealthy men and she sets her sights on Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd).
Debbie manipulates the Addams into sending Pugsly and Wednesday to Camp Chippewa where they take over the Thanksgiving performance and endeavor to expose the historical inaccuracies in the camp’s version of the first Thanksgiving, ultimately burning the camp to the ground.
Christina Ricci gives a fantastic performance as the homicidal and deadpan Wednesday Addams.
12. For Your Consideration 2006 (PG-13) You have to already enjoy Director Christopher Guest’s films such as A Mighty Wind Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show just to name a few in order to really enjoy this movie.
Catherine O’hara, Parker Posey, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge Michael McKean, John Michael Higgins, Christopher Guest, Bob Balaban, Ricky Gervais, and Jane Lynch make up the ensemble cast for this Mockumentary about a very low budget, independent film which gets some Oscar buzz due to the film’s star, Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara) spreading the rumor after hearing it from a member of the crew who claims his girlfriend read about it on a tabloid website.
The abysmal movie, entitled Home for Purim gains attention from a major distribution company who wants to change the title to Home for Thanksgiving. This film is consistent with Christopher Guest’s other mockumentaries with the characters delivering the most preposterous dry lines with impeccable timing.
13. Home for the Holidays 1995 (PG-13) Holly Hunter plays Claudia, who was fired from her job shortly before her teen daughter, Kitt (Claire Danes), who has refused to attend the family Thanksgiving gathering, drops her off at the airport and claims she intends to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time while her mom is back home with the rest her family for Thanksgiving.
This dramady perfectly exhibits a “normal” example of American family drama triggered by the holidays. Claudia arrives at her childhood home to be greeted by her parents Adele (Anne Bancroft) and Henry (Charles Durning). Soon she is joined by her gay, secretly married brother Tommy (Roberty Downey Jr) and his “new friend” Leo (Dylan McDermott), who only came because he saw Claudia’s photo and wanted to meet her.
The family is then joined by Claudia’s sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson) and her husband Walter (Steve Guttenberg). Tommy doesn’t get along well with his sister Joanne or her husband and somehow the turkey carcass ends up on her lap.
To be fair, Joanne is kind of a jerk and her siblings tend to gang up on her. This film is not quite as dysfunctional as Pieces of April, but it’s still pretty messy and toxic.
14. Thankskilling 2009 (R) Trailer NSFW (drops an F-Bomb) Not everyone is into watching anything particularly cerebral on Turkey Day. Sometimes you just want to watch the absolute most ridiculous thing you can possibly find and Thankskilling fits the bill.
The film starts off “the day after the first Thanksgiving” where a busty topless lady, in puritan pilgrim garb, is frantically running around in the woods away from a murderous turkey before he catches and murders her. Then we are introduced to a cast of dudes who are supposed to be in college, but well past college age as they plan a trip for Thanksgiving out of town together.
This whole film is ridiculous even by slasher standards and somehow miraculously became a film series with a sequel in 2012 that is equally hilarious.
Please don’t go into watching this movie (or the sequel) with any kind of expectations other than laughing at every aspect of it. For the horror/slasher lover, this film is an absolute Thanksgiving classic.
15. Spider-Man 2002 (PG-13) Before Disney acquired Marvel and engaged in a bitter custody battle over Spider-Man, a film over 25 years in the making, was released. In this first modern day adaptation Toby Maguire begins his three film run as Peter Parker and the webhead.
Even though this film was released in the spring of 2002, there was a particularly poignant Thanksgiving scene where Peter Parker, his roommate Harry (James Franco), and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) host a Thanksgiving dinner where Harry intends to introduce his girlfriend MJ (Kirsten Dunst) to his dad Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), who is secretly The Green Goblin, who was literally JUST fighting Spider-Man!
At this point in the film Norman is barely able to control his emotions because he’s been juicing with Green Goblin steroids. When Parker arrives late, Aunt May notices he is bleeding. In that moment Norman realizes that Peter’s injury is the very same injury The Green Goblin inflicted on Spiderman. He quickly makes his exit only after calling MJ a gold digger (I’m paraphrasing) to his son well within MJ’s earshot.
This is the pivotal scene in the movie that lays the groundwork for the rest of the film. While this is a superhero movie, this thanksgiving scene is something many of us can identify with: bringing your significant other home to meet your obnoxious parents for a Thanksgiving disaster of a meal.
Honorable Mention: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving 1973 (G) I know it’s not a movie, but what Thanksgiving list would be complete without mentioning Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving special that originally aired on CBS in 1973?
The special starts off with Lucy iconically taunting Charlie with the football, promising him that she won’t pull it away at the last minute. Charlie has a gathering at his home, knowing that he was supposed to go to his grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving at a certain time.
He calls his Grandmother and informs her that he will be late because of all of his guests, but she invites them all to come over to enjoy the feast at her house. The background music triggers feelings of nostalgia for anyone who grew up watching this special. Snoopy and Woodstock enjoy their own Thanksgiving dinner in the backyard, complete with pie.
I actually took the time to watch each and every one of these movies (and a handful of others that didn’t make the cut) on this list. Some made me laugh and some made me cry. Thanksgiving can be a little stressful for some people and not everyone gets along with their relatives.
Hopefully this list has something for anyone looking for an escape from the kitchen, the extra calories, or your estranged relatives you only see once a year.
Whether it’s a Thanksgiving with your family or a Friendsgiving, Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Reel 360.
Joia DaVida reports on the entertainment industry in both Chicago and Los Angeles.