In his review for the excellent Thanksgiving comedy Home for the Holidays, Roger Ebert wrote, “Have we not all, on our ways to family gatherings, parked the car a block away, taken several deep breaths, rubbed our eyes and massaged our temples, and driven on, gritting our teeth? That is not because we do not love our families, but because we know them so very, very well.” I always think of that line when it’s time to go back to my parent’s house, where their blind dog acts like a shithead, my mom dominates the kitchen, and my dad tells bad jokes. Sometimes it seems like we tolerate our families more than we love them, but sometimes even tolerance is too much. And with that in mind, here is a handy guide to your Thanksgiving movie marathon. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get lucky and everyone will shut up and watch one of these with you.
For the family that disapproves of your lifestyle: Pieces of April
Released in 2003, this dramedy came out before Katie Holmes went into hiding from Scientology-related insanity. She plays April, a punkish looking girl who is hosting her family for Thanksgiving. Her mom (Patricia Clarkson) doesn’t think she can pull it off, while her dad (Oliver Platt) just hopes to make it through in one piece. This one hits all the predictable notes, from the meltdown to the not-so-fond memories, but somehow it all works because of the strength of the cast.
Bonus: check out young Allison Pill and John Gallagher, Jr. play brother and sister before their lame-as-fuck relationship in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.
For the family that gets a little too honest when the booze starts flowing: The Ice Storm
Before everyone got way too excited about American Beauty, this was The Ice Storm, Ang Lee’s multi-family tale of suburban ennui. Set in the 1970s, this one has more than bad hair and worse clothes (although it does have that). It focuses on unhappy people who medicate themselves literally, or with sex parties. Like Pieces of April, this one features a killer cast, including Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Cristina Ricci, and Elijah Wood. This one does not have a feel-good ending – there’s even a body count – so I’d consider The Ice Storm your basic nuclear option.
Bonus: Since the weather is going to be shitty all week, maybe you can use this movie as an excuse to stay home. “Look, Mom, I’m not going to the house this year! I don’t want to end up like [NAME REDACTED] from The Ice Storm!”
For the family with that one oddly specific type of crazy: The House of Yes
Given the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s death, this one might be in poor taste. The House of Yes is about Jackie-O (Parker Posey), a crazy young woman who thinks she’s the dead president’s late husband. She’s excited about her brother Marty (Josh Hamilton) since he’s about to return home from college. Jackie and Marty have an unusually, um, touching relationship, and director Mark Waters circles around the proverbial Elephant just long enough so that we’re ready to leave these weirdos. The House of Yes is based on a play so it feels a little stagey, yet it has enough one-liners for you and that one cool cousin who loves Parker Posey as much as you do.
Bonus: Who knew Tori Spelling could act, sorta?
For the family dominated by that one loud asshole who won’t shut up about the war or whatever: Scent of a Woman
Look, we all know Al Pacino has become a parody of himself, but this is one performance that started it all. Pacino plays Frank Slade, a blind Lieutenant Colonel whose one happiness is to piss off everyone around him. Slade spends a weekend in New York with Charlie (Christopher O’Donnell), and there’s plenty of verbal abuse, as well as a scene with Bradley Whitford in full-on jackass mode. It turns out that – shocker – Slade is actually a romantic and his bluster hides deeper unhappiness. He gets better, obviously. Remember the big speech at this movie? The one where Pacino wishes he could burn down a school with a flamethrower? Christ, this one does not hold up well. At least that tango scene is really something.
Bonus: Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a prep school turd in this movie, and it’s hilarious.
For the family with that one Negative Nancy who upstages everyone by using liberal guilt to assert her superiority when it’s time to go around the table and say what everyone’s thankful for: Addams Family Values
This one is technically not a Thanksgiving movie, but it totally deserves to be on the list. There’s a terrific subplot where Wednesday (Christina Ricci) plays a Native American in a stage version of the Thanksgiving story. She decides to rewrite history: instead of small pox blankets and bullshit treaties, these Native Americans take the Pilgrims hostage. It’s a heart-warming scene precisely because Ricci plays it completely straight. There’s also the story of Fester and his gold-digging new wife, which is alright I guess, but this sequel deserves mention because it internalizes the true meaning of the most American holiday.
Bonus: Fuck, this movie came out 20 years ago? I didn’t need to know that.
So what are you watching this year? Nevermind, I don’t care, where’s the leftover stuffing?