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Giving thanks in the movies

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A look at some films with Thanksgiving themes

As a rule, when we hear the term 'holiday movie,' we almost automatically equate it to 'Christmas movie.' It's understandable Christmas is by far the most cinematically celebrated holiday. But is that fair? There are other holidays after all including one right around the corner.

So in that spirit, here are a few 'holiday' favorites that revolve not around Christmas trees but rather turkey dinners. Thanksgiving, while vastly underrepresented in the world of Hollywood, has still managed to serve as the setting for a few great (and some not-so-great) film offerings.

Here are a few personal highlights:

Home for the Holidays' (1995)

This mid-'90s gem has faded from the consciousness a little bit, but a quick look back illustrates why it should be on this list. Single mom Claudia (Holly Hunter) has just been fired from her job when she makes the trip back home for Thanksgiving dinner. The dysfunction begins immediately, with family chaos and arguments abounding. Worthy of note are the performances of Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning as Claudia's parents, as well as an appearance by 'My So-Called Life'-era Claire Danes. It also features an absolutely charming Robert Downey Jr. as Claudia's gay brother Tommy. There's even a Steve Guttenberg sighting!

'Home for the Holidays' borders on the hokey in a lot of ways, but it is undeniably heartfelt; it also stands as one of Jodie Foster's few forays into the directorial realm. There's a predictability to all of it, but it's also sweet in its portrayal of that special kind of abrasive family love.

Son in Law' (1993)

That's right; I went there. This film carries the somewhat dubious honor of being Pauly Shore's first leading role on the big screen. Carla Gugino plays Rebecca Warner, a young girl fresh off the farm who goes away to college and realizes there is more to life. She befriends weirdo RA Crawl (Shore), who communicates almost entirely in that bizarre MTV gibberish language he invented. She decides that she wants to break it off with her old flame, but needs an excuse. Crawl joins her back on the farm for Thanksgiving break and poses as her new fianc. As you might imagine, there are hijinks and wacky misunderstandings. He also milks a cow.

'Son in Law' is one of those terrible movies that is so bad, it transcends itself. It's awful, but also awfully watchable. Lane Smith (forever the evil coach of the Hawks in 'Mighty Ducks' is delightfully curmudgeonly; Tiffani-Amber Thiessen also appears as the town bicycle.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles' (1987)

This is the alpha and omega of Thanksgiving movies. Not only does the entire story revolve around one man trying to get home for dinner with his family, but it features two of the greatest comic actors of their era. Steve Martin is Neal Page, an overworked ad executive facing a multitude of obstacles blocking his path from New York City to Chicago for Thanksgiving. His fate becomes entwined with Del Griffith (John Candy), an obnoxiously affable and optimistic shower curtain ring salesman. The two embark on an epic three-day journey in a race against time to get Neal home for the holiday. Their bumbling misadventures are numerous and unfailingly hilarious.

Martin and Candy are at their comedic best here; no surprise, considering the movie was written and directed by John Hughes. It's not just the funniest Thanksgiving movie ever; it's one of the best comedies of the 1980s, a decade that was replete with classics of the genre.

(Honorable mention: 'Hannah and her Sisters,' 'Scent of a Woman,' 'The Ice Storm,' 'Funny People')


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