Thankful for Thanksgiving movies
Broadway Danny Rose
Compared with the vast numbers of scary Halloween movies and cheerful Christmas movies, there really aren’t that many Thanksgiving movies, and then most of those are currently not streaming on Netflix. Two, Alice’s Restaurant (1969) and The House of Yes (1997), are available, and What’s Cooking? (2000) is coming soon, but my pick is Woody Allen’s great, black-and-white Broadway Danny Rose (1984). Allen plays the title character, a third-rate talent agent who represents a troublesome singer (Nick Apollo Forte) with an even more troublesome girlfriend (Mia Farrow, in one of her best performances). Eventually Woody and Mia (above) are chased all over by gangsters. How is it a Thanksgiving movie? In one scene, they duck into a warehouse filled with dormant floats from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In this context, these huge, lifeless characters have a strange otherworldly quality.
The Thanksgiving scene in the much-loved Oscar-winning Rocky (1976) is a thwarted one; Paulie (Burt Young) brings Rocky home for the holiday dinner, where his sister Adrian (Talia Shire) is unprepared for company. Brother and sister fight. Paulie pulls her turkey out of the oven and throws it away, thereby indirectly sending Rocky and Adrian on their first date together, at an ice rink. It may not include stuffing and cranberry sauce, but it’s one of the loveliest, most awkward, most tender first date scenes ever filmed.
Hugo (new 11/24)
Another Thanksgiving tradition is to go out to theaters to catch some of the year’s biggest movies, which traditionally open on Wednesday of that week. Rather than bothering with the hustle-bustle of this year’s blockbusters, why not check out some earlier ones? Martin Scorsese’s Hugo was a Thanksgiving treat last year, and one of 2011’s very best films. An orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) lives in a Paris train station and maintains the giant clocks there. He meets a mysterious old man (Ben Kingsley) who runs a magic shop and eventually discovers, breathtakingly, that he’s actually a forgotten filmmaker, Georges Méliès. Unlike The Artist—which beat out Hugo for a Best Picture Oscar—this one genuinely considers the power and passion of silent cinema.
The King’s Speech (new 11/25)
Another Thanksgiving release was the unchallenging but ultimately very pleasing The King’s Speech (2010), a biopic of King George VI (Colin Firth), and his attempts to overcome his speech impediment. Geoffrey Rush steals the film as his eccentric and theatrical speech teacher. The nicely directed climax contains perhaps the most nail-biting recitation of a speech in movie history. The movie won a bunch of Oscars, including Best Picture.
Kings of Pastry
Of course, one of our great Thanksgiving traditions is eating, so perhaps some good food movies might be in order. Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s light-as-air Kings of Pastry (2009) centers on a harrowing pastry competition in France. Chefs have three days to create a series of chocolates and cookies, and—most nail-bitingly—towering, fragile sugar sculptures. Veteran husband-and-wife team Hegedus and Pennebaker focus on the chefs and their families, and even occasionally take a peek at more ordinary treats that people can actually eat.
Woman on Top
Honestly, Fina Torres’ Woman on Top (2000) isn’t very good, but if you’re sitting on the couch in a food coma, it’s just lovely and lightweight enough to pass the time pleasantly. Penelope Cruz is one good reason to see it; she plays a master chef with motion sickness, working in a restaurant in Brazil. When her husband cheats on her, she moves to California, where, with the help of a drag queen (Harold Perrineau Jr.), she becomes the star of a cooking show. Along with the enchanting Ms. Cruz, the luscious food, Brazilian music, and San Francisco locations make this one a sigh-worthy affair, and one that almost overcomes its silly plot.
The Cotton Club
Another Thanksgiving tradition is the turkey, which in this case means a film that’s either astoundingly terrible or lost a ton of money, or both. Some major money losers, however, were simply the victims of bad timing, or a changing of public mood. The troubled production of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club (1984) was widely reported, and by the time it opened, it was already dead in the water. But in reality it’s a terrific movie, with a great look, great music, and that kind of masterly risk and intelligence that define Coppola’s best movies. Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, and Diane Lane star.
The Warrior’s Way
The Warrior’s Way (2010) is a kind of martial arts Western (maybe the only martial arts Western), with a Korean director (Sngmoo Lee) and leading actor (Jang Dong-gun), but shot in English and with a supporting cast of recognizable Hollywood actors: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Bosworth, Danny Huston, and Tony Cox. Despite its slick action, picturesque cinematography, and lighthearted mood, audiences did not care. The movie cost about $42 million and lost about $31 million. For another “turkey” Western, see also Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980), but see it at your own risk.
The Longest Yard
One more Thanksgiving tradition is, of course, football. Several football documentaries, like Go Tigers! (2001) and Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (2008) are available streaming, but we prefer Robert Aldrich’s dark, brutal football comedy The Longest Yard (1974). Burt Reynolds stars as a former NFL player, now in prison. He is tapped to recruit a team of prisoners—dubbed the “Mean Machine”—to play a game against the guards. Aldrich balances a kind of ferocious worldview with a rambunctious audience appeal, helped immeasurably by Reynolds’ devil-may-care performance. Eddie Albert is superb as the Nixon-like warden. Future James Bond villain Richard Kiel (aka Jaws) plays one of the prisoners.
Take This Waltz (new 11/23)
Finally, if you’re tired of Thanksgiving altogether and simply want to see one of the year’s best movies, you could do worse than Sarah Polley’s outstanding, heart-rending Take This Waltz (2012). Michelle Williams gives another in a series of exemplary performances as Margot, a writer who is happily married to chef Lou (Seth Rogen). On a business trip, she meets a neighbor, Daniel (Luke Kirby), and they become inexorably attracted to one another. Polley’s film explores this attraction in all its wonders, passions, and cold realities. Sarah Silverman co-stars in a potent supporting role.
- The Hole (11/25)
- The Invisible War (11/21)
- Like Crazy (11/17)
- Silent House (11/21)
- What’s Cooking? (12/1)
- Nenette (11/24)
- Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow (11/17)
[Streaming movies and TV shows—on services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Instant Videos—are ephemeral: Here one day, gone the next. The purpose of the Now Streaming series is to alert you to what movies and shows are new to streaming, what you might want to watch before it disappears, and other treasures that are worth checking out.]