25 November 2008

These Are Not Turkeys -- Five Films For Your Thanksgiving

There are months worth of Halloween appropriate films and almost as many for the Christmas season. In between we've got Thanksgiving and the pickings are as slim as Friday's turkey. But don't despair there are five quite good movies for your Turkey day.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) The ultimate Thanksgiving film and a rollicking road trip comedy to boot. A pair of comic geniuses feature, Steve Martin and the late great John Candy. The two star as a pair of fellow travelers trying to get back to their Chicago homes from New York in time for Thanksgiving. A series of mishaps and travel complications throw the strangers together. Indeed, try as they might they can't seem to go their separate ways. The result is one of modern screen's great comedies. But there's more. This is also a very touching story that ultimately captures the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) This sprawling New York-based story from Woody Allen covers several years in the lives of three sisters. The film is bookended by two Thanksgiving with one more mid story for good measure. It's another great Allen cast featuring Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, Dianne Weist, Michael Caine, Max Van Sydow and Allen himself, to name a few. Allen's characteristic wit highlights the story as does romance, family and a sentimentality that's never sappy.

Home for the Holidays (1995) Holly Hunter stars as a single woman who loses her job on the eve of returning home for Thanksgiving. Charles During and Anne Bancroft are wonderful as her eccentric parents and even better is Robert Downey Jr. as her gay and madcap brother. Jodie Foster directed this tribute to the endurance of love and family. The film is a testimony to the many kinds of family experiences and family members we can at once suffer and love.

Pieces of April (2003) A pre Tom Cruise Katie Holmes stars as April, a free spirited if not entirely happy young woman who invites her estranged family to her most humble New York apartment for Thanksgiving. Oliver Platt is wonderful as her father but it is Patricia Clarkson who steals the movie as the mother slowly dying of cancer. The film follows April's struggles to put together a Thanksgiving feast (particularly when her oven goes on the blink) and her parent's journey from suburbia to the big city where April lives. There are laughs mixed in with a powerful look at the struggles families often have in healing old wounds.

Scent of a Woman (1992) Al Pacino won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance here. It was one of those deals were the academy said: "We've overlooked some brilliant performances from you in the past so please accept a statuette for this role." Paul Newman received a similar Oscar for Color of Money. Anyhoo it was in fact a typically outstanding Pacino performance. Pacino plays a retired Army officer and he's blind, he's suicidal and he needs a "babysitter" for a Thanksgiving weekend in New York. Enter Chris O'Donnell as a prep school student in need of cash to accept the position of babysitter. It's something of a coming of age story for the young man and reawakening for the bitter Pacino character. The story works on many levels driven as it is by the force of Pacino's performance and the subtlety of O'Donnell's.

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