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Monday, November 25, 2013

Favorite Thanksgiving movies, and a scene from yet another

It’s a short list:

5. Pieces of April (2003) with Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, and Oliver Platt. Also an unforgettable snotty appearance by a repressed anti-Jack version of Sean Hayes. Getting Thanksgiving dinner cooked provides the narrative framework as April, newly independent and living in a New York tenement building, invites her family to dinner with her boyfriend. He disappears on a mission unknown to her for the day, and, her stove not working, she begins appealing to her neighbors for oven time to cook her bird. Meanwhile, the drama in the car carrying her kvetching and sickly mother, her perfect sister, her senile grandmother, and her long-suffering father adds another layer of tension to the narrative as it gets closer to April’s house and the uncooked dinner, upon the success of which hangs April’s hope for redemption in her parents’ eyes and her self-confidence and self-esteem in her newly adult world. The best scenes are with her neighbors as she begs and bargains with them for cooking time.

4. Home for the Holidays (1995) directed by Jodie Foster, this film features an amazing cast of
Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Charles Durning, Anne Bancroft, Clare Danes, and Geraldine Chaplin. Families who gather on Thanksgiving to catch up and reconnect will appreciate the breadth of the diversity of this family’s dysfunction, which includes a gay son (Downey) and his new friend (Dylan McDermott), a tippling spinster aunt who carries a torch for her sister’s husband, and a barely tolerated brother-in-law. Somehow it all works, and you just can’t help liking everybody because they’re so human, and because you happen to know most of them, and some of them are you. (The word has been that Robert Downey Jr. was having trouble filming this movie because of his drug addiction, and that may be true, but in spite of that he really shines. This is a great cast, though, and from top to bottom they are pulling together a really good movie.)

3. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) One of two great Woody Allen flicks on this list, this one features the radiant Mia Farrow as Hannah, with sisters Dianne Wiest and Barbara Hershey, Hershey’s hubby Max von Sydow and cummings-quoting secret lover Michael Caine, along with the Woodman himself. In a way, Thanksgiving, and the sense of family values that the day is about, is the star of the show. As with Passover in the gospel of St. John, the passage of time is marked between celebrations of this feast. In the first Thankgiving, lives are spinning out of control. By the one at the end of the movie, the three sisters are snugly settled into cozy marriages, with minimal collateral damage.

2. Broadway Danny Rose (1984) also directed by Allen, in this one he plays the title character, a
big-hearted, lovable loser of a talent agent who tries to place acts like a one-legged tap dancer and piano-playing canaries. Mia Farrow is in this one, too, chewing up scenery as Tina Vitale, a New Jersey blonde a little too close to the mob, who is having an affair with Lou Canova, a has-been Italian Dean Martin rip-off singer played by Nick Apollo Forte. This ingenious movie is played as a story within a story, as a group of stand-up comedians finishes a meal at a New York deli, and as they recount war stories, one of them tells “the best Danny Rose story of them all.” Best scene: getting lost in the meadowlands, maybe, or the scene where Woody and Mia are being shot at by a mob guy in the warehouse where the Macy’s balloons are stored, resulting in a shouting match with helium-enhanced voices. No, the best scene is the second-to-last one, in Danny’s apartment, with his motley crew of clients, on Thanksgiving, with him passing out the turkey TV dinners (“The cranberries are dry.”)

1. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987) is probably everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving movie, with Steve Martin and John Candy in great form, trying to get home for Thanksgiving from New York to Chicago with a blizzard settling over the Midwest. My favorite scene (OK, there are too many really, but to pick one) is between Steve Martin, who has just walked across the tarmac at the airport and snow covered embankments back to the car rental counter, and rental car agent Edie McClurg. No matter how many times I watch it, I need oxygen after she tells him, following his long list of expletives about her company’s service, “You’re f*cked.” Cameo by Kevin Bacon as a cab-stealing commuter, Ben Stein, and Michael McKean. But this movie is really all Martin and Candy, and how sweet it is.

But the greatest scene of all? From Addams Family Values, of course. Enjoy.