The Newsday column gets to take a few days off during the big holidays, but I couldn’t let today go by without offering our friends a handful of Turkey-day treats. If you’re looking for a holiday-appropriate movie to watch with the family while all your turkey and stuffing is digesting, feel free to pick one (or more) of these Thanksgiving-centric flicks.
Home for the Holidays — Written by "Buckaroo Banzai" scribe WD Richter and directed by the multi-talented Jodie Foster, "Home for the Holidays" is absolutely stuffed with great actors. Sort of a less slapsticky and more realistic version of "Christmas Vacation," it’s about a stressed-out woman (Holly Hunter) who returns to the roost to enjoy(?) a manic Thanksgiving dinner with her entire extended family. Even if the movie stunk (which it so absolutely does not) it would be worth seeing for a cast that includes Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Robert Downey Jr., Dylan McDermott, Steve Guttenberg, Claire Danes, Austin Pendleton, David Strathairn, Cynthia Stevenson, and Amy Yasbeck. (Tell me that wouldn’t be a fun crew to eat turkey with.)
Pieces of April — This endearing 2003 indie from Peter Hedges ("About a Boy") stars Katie Holmes as an estranged daughter who invites her skeptical family for a Thanksgiving feast at her tiny little apartment. One half of the film sees April’s family struggling to make it in time for dinner, and the other half deals with poor frazzled April as she desperately tries to build an edible turkey dinner. In addition to some of Ms. Holmes’ very best work, "April" also features fantastic performances from Oliver Platt, Patricia Clarkson, Derek Luke, and Sean Hayes.
What’s Cooking? — From director Gurinder Chadha ("Bend It Like Beckham") comes this tale of four separate families, and the various preparations they make to have a solid Thanksgiving affair. Jewish, African-American, Vietnamese, and Latino families populate this holiday charmer, and the cast is another stellar ensemble: Dennis Haysbert, Alfre Woodard, Joan Chen, Mercedes Ruehl, Lainie Kazan, Maury Chaykin, Kyra Sedgwick, and Julianna Margulies keep the guest list colorful, and there’s plenty of wit, wisdom, and warmth (and even a few surprises) in this holiday treat.
Hannah and Her Sisters — Opening and closing with a pair of Thanksgiving dinners, the heavily-ensembled Woody Allen comedy is still considered one of the director’s very best films. Winner of three Oscars (for screenplay and the performances by Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest) and a nominee for four more, "Hannah and Her Sisters" is a razor-sharp and hilariously insightful story about one extended family and the non-stop stress the relatives cause one another. Also on board are Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, Carrie Fisher, Max von Sydow, Julie Kavner, Daniel Stern, Maureen O’Sullivan, Joanna Gleason, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Even the hardcore Woody-philes consider this one of his finest screenplays.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles — If it’s me you’re asking, PT&A is the #1 finest Thanksgiving movie ever made, mainly because it’s "about" nothing more than finding a way to make it home for the holidays. Steve Martin and the late, great John Candy star as a pair of astonishingly mismatched traveling partners who’ll stop at nothing to make it home in time for some turkey. (For my money, this is John Hughes‘ finest film, just barely ahead of the teenage trifecta of "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club," and "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.") Featuring tons of laughs, lots of great sights along the way, and a sweet-natured finale that always makes my eyeballs a little moist, "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" is a comedy classic for any season … but it really does work best in November. (If you’re watching this one with the family, please be sure to cover the kiddies’ ears when Mr. Martin arrives, unhappily, at a car rental kiosk. Trust me.) Also keep eyes peeled for hilarious little cameos by Kevin Bacon, Martin Ferrero, Dylan Baker, Michael McKean, Edie McClurg, and Ben Stein.
So there’s my Turkey Day quintet. Sorry for leaving "Son in Law" off the list, but I was doing "best Thanksgiving" movies and not "least awful Pauly Shore movies." (Maybe we can do that one on Pauly’s birthday.) Anyway, on behalf of everyone here at Rotten Tomatoes, I’d like to wish all our readers, and their friends & relatives & acquaintances & pets & non-annoying co-workers, a very safe & happy holiday. And if I left out any of your favorite Thanksgiving movies (there really aren’t all that many!), feel free to leave ’em in the comments section. We’ll need five more for next year!