Home for the Holidays

Turkey and a side of cinema

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

I have begun to watch holiday movies. And I’m not talking about classic holiday movies that are generally considered to be good like It’s a Wonderful Life or Scrooged (all right, maybe the latter is only considered a classic in my house). Those are vastly superior to the swamp of seasonal cinema in which I find myself happily mired. You may assume that I’m referring to the cottage industry of Christmas movies that take over all Hallmark channels (yes, there is more than one. No, we do not need to talk about how I know that) this time of year, but the waters I have been swimming in are far murkier.

I have been watching Lifetime holiday movies.

Yes, I am talking about Lifetime Television for Women, the channel that is responsible for such highbrow film fare as Newlywed and Dead, Stalked By My Doctor, Sorority Surrogate and my personal favorite, Mother, May I Sleep with Danger.

I realize my revelation might take on the tone of a confession, but make no mistake, there is no shame in my Lifetime game.

And while Christmas movies of the more legitimate kind will no doubt figure into film suggestions I will inflict upon you in the coming weeks, it would be a shame to skip past Thanksgiving with its rich variety of cinematic options. I will save the true Turkey Day classics for next week, but if you’re looking for some more unorthodox choices to get you in the mood for our annual day of eating, you’ve come to the right place. With gatherings curtailed due to COVID (yes, this means you—all of you), we won’t have the shenanigans of extended family and friends to entertain us, so a film fest might be just the ticket.

Given that I wasn’t really raised on cartoons—we were more a Muppets kind of family—I’ve never been one for animated adventures. Unless they happen to star poultry, that is. Turns out, there’s more to that genre than just Chicken Run, like, for instance, 2013’s Free Birds.. Technically speaking, this is more an anti-Thanksgiving movie than anything else as the plot centers on a pair of turkeys who travel back in time in an attempt to change the menu of the first Thanksgiving. No only does the movie feature voice work by Amy Poehler, Owen Wilson, and Woody Harrelson, but it also boasts the following things: a telenovela-watching turkey who lives at Camp David, a poultry-fronted organization called the Turkey Freedom Front, a time-traveling A.I. named Steve, and the tagline, “Hang On to Your Nuggets.” How Free Birds is not a widely lauded holiday classic, I will never know.

For those of you who prefer your Thanksgiving movie meal to come with a side of Oscar cred, I have a pair of options for you, each featuring tour-de-force turns by iconic leading men. Al Pacino is not what anyone would call an understated actor and sometimes his shouty acting style can be a bit much. But in the right role—The Godfather’s Michael Corleone, Scarface’s Tony Montana, Glengarry Glen Ross’ Ricky Roma—the nine-time Academy Award nominee is a force of nature. The actor won his only Oscar for the 1992 film Scent of a Woman, in which he plays a blind veteran who is supposed to be looked after by a student (Chris O’Donnell), but ends up teaching him life lessons during one unforgettable Thanksgiving break. One of very few actors with more Oscar nods than Pacino was Paul Newman, whose onscreen style was certainly different, but no less electrifying. Hands down his best later-life leading-man performance came courtesy of author Rick Russo and the adaptation of his book Nobody’s Fool. As Sully, an irrepressible 60-something small-town construction worker prone to all manner of mischief, Newman’s famous blue eyes twinkle with trouble. It’s tough to imagine anyone else bringing Sully’s brand of devil-may-care charm to the big screen quite like Newman.

In terms of my personal preferences, my favorite not-classic Thanksgiving movie has to be The House of Yes. First of all, if you’re wanting family fare, look elsewhere. Sure, it focuses on a family and its dynamic over a Thanksgiving weekend, but just a few scenes in, you’ll realize this is not your standard story of returning home for the holidays. Marty (Josh Hamilton) brings his girlfriend (a surprisingly good Tori Spelling) to meet his family during the long weekend—without giving her a much-needed heads up about what’s in store. Namely, what’s in store is his twin sister, played by Parker Posey, who is fresh out of a psych ward and obsessed with Jackie O. To describe the plot further would be to give away too much, but suffice it to say that Posey—always watchable, criminally underrated—steals every single scene and it’s a joy to watch her do it.

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