Thanksgiving 2021: 10 best movies to stream
Turkey. Family. Traveling. Squabbling. Taboo romance. The farewell concert by an era-defining band. Any or all of these are the ingredients of a great Thanksgiving movie—a section of the cinematic holiday canon that’s a little thinner than others, if only because its celebration is mostly confined to North America. But if Turkey Day doesn’t have an It’s A Wonderful Life or a Halloween to call its own, there are still a handful of recommendable films that are either built around the holiday or use it as a backdrop for a memorable scene. So put the pumpkin pie in the oven, fire up your preferred device, and let’s carve up some streaming picks for your Thanksgiving season—accompanied by some excerpts from the A.V. Club archives.
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Planes, Trains And Automobiles
Planes, Trains And Automobiles
Planes, Trains And Automobiles
From our Primer on the work of Steve Martin:
While ostensibly a road comedy, with Martin’s uptight executive going home for Thanksgiving with the annoyingly gregarious John Candy as a traveling partner, the 1987 film packs so much pathos between the pillows—er, laughs—that at times it plays like a drama, and a fairly dark one at that. Low-key films like this one rarely get the acknowledgment they deserve, but Planes is damn-near perfect. [Ryan Vlastelica]
Streaming on Hulu (leaving October 31)
The Ice Storm
The Ice Storm
The opening shot of Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm is of a train, stopped on the tracks—literally stuck between stations—in the gray-skied moments between night and dawn. It’s just one of many images to come of a world that’s frozen in motion, where the wind rustles leaf-less trees that jangle with dripping blue icicles like enormous chandeliers, and the streets that have become slick and forbidding—life stiffened and silenced, the familiar comforts of home turned coldly dangerous. Lee compounds this with myriad other images of flatly reflective surfaces, his characters peering forlornly out of gleaming glass houses or catching their somber faces in shop windows, while giving us repeated close-ups of sharply angled decorative bowls and ice trays cracking cubes into cocktail tumblers. By the time the film finally gets to its titular ice storm, it’s almost sagging, like those trees, under its own metaphorical weight. These people are trapped beneath the surface of their lives, it tells us, separated from each other by a chill that’s slowly seeped in and finally hardened. And only after the ice has been scraped away will they be able to move forward again.
Lee’s film, like the Rick Moody novel it’s based on, takes place in 1973, an era when America itself was stuck between waypoints, when the libertine, all-you-need-is-love idealism of the 1960s had yielded to the realities of suburban drudgery and Richard Nixon—a bracing cold front sweeping in on the Summer Of Love. The residents of New Canaan, Connecticut are leading lives of tastefully appointed desperation, epitomized by two neighboring, intertwined families. The Hoods are captained by the boozing, visibly sapped Ben (Kevin Kline, starring in another ’60s hangover movie with a wintry title). His wife, Elena (Joan Allen), hides her existential dissatisfaction behind a mask of poised detachment and self-help babble. Their son, Paul (Tobey Maguire, in wide-eyed, creaky-voiced bloom), is off at boarding school, a proto-nice guy pining for the wealthy, weirdly named Libbets (Katie Holmes). His younger sister, Wendy (Christina Ricci), is home blossoming into a deadpan shit-stirrer, her teenage cynicism dovetailing nicely with the daily outrages of Watergate. Wendy’s also realizing the power of her sexuality, using it to torment Mikey (Elijah Wood) and his little brother Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd), of the neighboring Carver family. Meanwhile, Janey Carver, played by Sigourney Weaver with an acerbic peevishness, is having an affair with Ben. [Sean O’Neal]
Available for rental or purchase from Microsoft, Amazon, Google, YouTube, Vudu, and DirecTV
The House Of Yes
The House Of Yes
As a chipper woman nicknamed Jackie O, Parker Posey rampages through The House Of Yes like a screwball heroine, merrily bent on upending the status quo in the name of her personal devotions and desires. But the object of her devotion (apart from dressing up as Jackie Onassis) isn’t especially available: It’s her twin brother Marty (Josh Hamilton), who has just arrived home for Thanksgiving with an unexpected fiancée, Lesly (Tori Spelling). Posey bites into the staged but snappy dialogue and spits it out in her low but chipper lilt, bantering and insinuating. She makes a disturbed, childish, obsessive character almost glorious in her determination. The rest of her family, including her mother (Geneviève Bujold) and younger brother (Freddie Prinze Jr.), can barely hope to control her, opting instead to hide the kitchen knives and retreat to other parts of their gigantic house.
In reuniting Posey with Hamilton, the film places two alums of Noah Baumbach’s Kicking And Screaming opposite two oft-derided performers who do surprisingly strong work here—for whatever it’s worth, Prinze and Spelling have never been better. Hamilton and Spelling don’t really make a convincing couple, but of course when Bujold says that two characters in the movie “belong to each other,” she’s not talking about Marty and Lesly. The film hinges on a revelation that isn’t really a shock; rather, the suspense comes from wondering how, exactly, it will come out, and how the characters—even those who already know about it—will react. [Jesse Hassenger]
Streaming on Paramount+
Named for its central agent of chaos, herself named for the terrific unknown actress who plays her, Krisha may be the most explosive family-reunion drama since Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married—another film, incidentally, about a difficult, destructive relative seeking forgiveness, even as she teeters on the precipice of a relapse. But in this even smaller project, expanded from a short into a first feature by writer-director Trey Edward Shults, tensions don’t just rise with tempers; they’re woven into the very fabric of the film’s style. Take, for example, the film’s second shot, which depicts the arrival of our heroine (Krisha Fairchild): In a single, winding take, she crosses the driveways and manicured lawns of a suburban neighborhood, muttering nervously to herself until she finds the right house. Shults doesn’t even cut when Krisha is finally ushered inside and greeted one at a time by the family. He just sits on the moment, basking in the discomfort.
Unfolding across an especially long and awkward Thanksgiving Day, Krisha creates an audio-visual language of social anxiety; it’s practically a horror movie about the horror of being the unwanted guest at the party. Almost every stylistic choice—most of them quite dynamic, especially for a first-time director—has been made to serve Krisha’s subjective perspective, her “jumpiness.” Rhythmic montages of activity, scored to the atonal plucks of Brian McOmber’s sinister score, somehow turn the mundane activities of a holiday get-together—preparing the meal; watching the big game; horsing around in the yard—into sources of unease. These are private family rituals, not for interlopers. Likewise, several conversations are shot from eavesdropping distance, the camera creeping down hallways or lingering in doorways. Krisha keeps Krisha always on the outside, unable to participate. [A.A. Dowd]
Streaming on Showtime, Hoopla, and Kanopy
Home For The Holidays
Jodie Foster’s Home For The Holidays begins on a soothing note: an opening-credits sequence (set to Rusted Root’s “Evil Ways”) that details, in delicate close-up, the restoration work of Claudia “Clyde” Larson (Holly Hunter). The movie continues in this register for about five minutes before erupting in a flurry of activity: Claudia is laid off from her job at a Chicago museum, and reacts to the news by locking lips with her older boss; on the way to the airport, Claudia’s teenage daughter (Claire Danes) reveals her plans to lose her virginity over the holiday break; and, on top of this, Claudia is battling a cold, which leaves her a sneezing mess on the plane, clutching Kleenex in her hand and squeezing nasal spray into her nostrils. Before the flight takes off, Claudia calls her closest sibling and breaks down into tears while speaking to the answering machine.
The roller-coaster tempo of these 10 minutes—working, laughing, kissing, arguing, crying—sums up the draining emotional experience of Home For The Holidays. Set in Baltimore during Thanksgiving and structured around a series of pithy title cards (“Flying,” “Mom and Dad,” “Company”), Foster’s movie takes a hard, deep look at the construction of the family: what keeps its members together, what drives them apart. Don’t let Hunter’s chipper demeanor and the sitcom-ish setup fool you. By the time Foster reaches the centerpiece dinner sequence (an amazing feat of editing by Lynzee Klingman), her vision of the familial reunion has intensified to life-or-death, do-or-die proportions, with each exhumed secret and pointed insult sending shudders across the table. And yet, underneath this inescapable gravity, Foster presses for a fundamental erraticism: The highest emotional stakes—a conservative sister’s writhing resentment for her gay brother and unattached, city-living sister—are only fully exposed after Robert Downey Jr. dumps a turkey on Cynthia Stevenson’s dress. [Danny King]
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Paramount+, and Kanopy
The Last Waltz
By the time of its Last Waltz concert on Thanksgiving Day 1976 (rock ‘n’ roll’s first retirement party), its larger-than-life, all-encompassing nature had begun to overwhelm it. Could one band really contain so much? The short answer was no, and as the quality of the group’s output slipped and the relationships at its center disintegrated, The Band’s name took on a slight air of pretense. Oddly enough, the same qualities that made it an unwieldy enterprise after its years of easy brilliance helped make the Last Waltz, documented in Martin Scorsese’s 1978 film of the same name, a major event. Scorsese’s guest-star-packed celebration of The Band—as well as its major collaborators (former employers Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan), favorite contemporaries (Neil Young, Joni Mitchell), key influences (Muddy Waters, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, The Staples Singers), and, ultimately, popular music as a whole—doesn’t always capture The Band at its best. But the affair’s gravity compensates for any lapses in the nearly impossible task of doing right by so many legends. Though it does contain great music, The Last Waltz is also the rare concert movie that could work without the sound. Thanks to Scorsese’s command of imagery, much of it pre-planned to a greater degree than the event would seem to allow, The Band could have played the greatest hits of Freddie And The Dreamers and still looked like rock gods. [Keith Phipps]
Streaming on Roku
From “Newman’s Own Inventory: 10 unmissable Paul Newman films,” our 2008 tribute to the late Oscar winner:
Late in his career, Newman slowed down considerably, working mainly in supporting roles where he barely had to speak. (Which isn’t that big a deal, since a grunt and a squint from Newman could say more than a monologue.) Though the 1996 neo-noir Twilight is a fine film, and the TV movie Empire Falls quite good as well, Newman’s last great leading-man role (and his last Best Actor Oscar nomination) came in Nobody’s Fool, Robert Benton’s low-key adaptation of Richard Russo’s novel about an aging small-town ne’er-do-well trying to reconcile with the son he abandoned. Tender, funny, and uplifting, Nobody’s Fool gets an added boost from the memory of Newman in movies like The Hustler, Hud, and Cool Hand Luke, where he made choices solely for his own benefit. In Nobody’s Fool, Newman’s character pays the price for a life of selfishness, yet because he’s Paul Newman, he’s ultimately granted sweet mercy.
Available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, and YouTube
Scent Of A Woman
From the Inventory “How can you tell them on Thanksgiving?”: 12 awkward family revelations at holiday gatherings:
Al Pacino’s turn as retired army ranger Frank Slade won him an Academy Award for his performance—and a place in the unofficial canon of the greatest movie speeches of all time. The film follows Charlie (Chris O’Donnell), a scholarship kid at a prep school, who takes a job squiring the blind veteran around over Thanksgiving break to earn some extra money. Charlie accompanies the blind, acrimonious old man to a Thanksgiving dinner at his brother’s house (a dinner he wasn’t exactly invited to), and Slade proceeds to be an asshole, telling his nephew Randy (Bradley Whitford) that he needs to go down on his wife more often. Randy retaliates by telling Charlie how Frank really went blind—an accident with grenades, fueled by alcohol and resentment—in an effort to crush Charlie’s illusions and to rub Frank’s misdeeds in his face. Frank interjects with helpful asides and “hoo-ah”s whenever appropriate. Yet when Randy casually insults Charlie during his speech, Frank explodes into action, making it clear that even if he has the lowest possible opinion of himself, he has the highest possible opinion of Charlie and that this relationship is, to some degree, Frank’s salvation.
Streaming on Showtime
Addams Family Values
Addams Family Values doesn’t take place during November, but its excursion to Camp Chippewa does culminate in one of cinema’s fieriest critiques of Thanksgiving’s colonialist roots, courtesy of Wednesday Addams (Christina Ricci). [Erik Adams]
Streaming on Pluto TV
You’ve Got Mail
On their way to realizing that a) they’re perfect for each other, despite their warring positions in the book-retail game, and b) that they’ve been pseudonymously corresponding with one another via email all along, Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) have a checkout-line run-in that functions as both a distillation of pre-Thanksgiving shopping madness and a heart-wrenching time capsule of a time when it was safe to pack into Zabar’s with hundreds of other New Yorkers. [Erik Adams]
Streaming on HBO Max