Well hello there. I bet you thought this post was going to be a list. So did I. But it turns out that, cinematically speaking, Thanksgiving is about as useful as arbor day. There is just no money in it. No one else celebrates Thanksgiving (or they celebrate their own version of it which has nothing to do with us), so there is no worldwide box office to be had.
I tend to have film traditions throughout the year. Start of summer is Jaws, 4th of July is 1776, Christmas is Fanny & Alexander (always the long version) — all topical films for the given holiday. But for Thanksgiving, my tradition is The Godfather I and II, neither of which have a Thanksgiving scene. It’s just not a compelling holiday.
It’s not that I didn’t try to make a list. I just couldn’t get past number four without moving into movies that I didn’t really like, like The Scent of a Woman or Son in Law. And I admit, too, that I have a small blindspot, having not seen Alice’s Restaurant or The House of Yes, and probably a few classic studio system films, but it still proved a difficult list.
It went like this:
1) Planes, Trains and Automobiles
2) Pieces of April
3) The Ice Storm
4) Home for the Holidays
5) And… yeah… um… uh… Hoo-ha!
After that, you have to start dissecting films to get the Thanksgiving-y goodness out of them.
Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, maybe the best film ever made to feature Thanksgiving, is bookended by two holiday dinner parties that show the progress (or lack thereof) of Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her extended family (Diane Weist, Woody Allen, Michael Caine, Barbra Hershey, etc). The film’s two Thanksgiving scenes give it a regression to the mean quality and shows what a poor yardstick that calendar events are to measure your life progress by (though it’s a mighty good film yardstick).
Judd Apatow’s Funny People actually features a kind of heartwarming Thanksgiving scene, where George (Adam Sandler) shows up for an orphans’ Thanksgiving with Ira (Seth Rogan) and his roommates (Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman). The film goes very seriously off of the rails in its second half, but this scene, where George talks about sitting around the table with his friends when he was younger and has his whole life in from of him, lights up what is a very good first half.
But my favorite Thanksgiving scene ever doesn’t come from a film, it comes from the Best Show Ever to be on the Idiot Box, The West Wing. President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), worried about killing his guests with undercooked oyster stuffing, decides to consult the Butterball hotline (FYI: 1-800-BUTTERBALL) and hilarity ensues.