Tracy Likes This One: What to Watch at Thanksgiving

Nov 21, 2023 at 1:26 am
Eagle Huntress
Eagle Huntress

I’ve heard tell that other families watch sports at Thanksgiving, but in my family, we watch movies. Growing up, it was usually a Clint Eastwood Western we gathered around, and I have fond memories of rowdy viewings of “The Color Purple.” As an adult, my Thanksgivings have evolved into movie marathons with a multitude of drop-in Friendsgivings. This year, a number of hyped and Thanksgiving appropriate films are coming to theaters, with Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” Emerald Fennell’s “Saltburn,” and, most thematically appropriate, Eli Roth’s “Thanksgiving” hitting the big screen. But this week, I’m not talking about what is in theaters. Instead, this is an idiosyncratic guide to what to watch at home with your family, chosen or otherwise, or on your own to cleanse the palate after too much turkey (and too many people).

The Perfect Host
The Perfect Host

When it comes to watching movies with extended family, the best bet is to go with just plain fun movies. Of course, “fun” means different things to different people, but tried-and-true favorites like “Barbershop,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” and “Our Idiot Brother” are safe bets. If your family, like mine, runs a little darker, try out “The Perfect Host” (2010), featuring a deranged Niles Crane hosting the perfect dinner party. If you like to court controversy in a politically divided family, then “The Hunt” (2020) is a Rorschach test of a movie with no clear alliances. For a sentimental favorite that will get the nostalgia waterworks running, throw on Francis Ford Coppola’s “Peggy Sue Got Married.” And the best movie to watch with the Dolly Parton fan in your life is “Dumplin’,” (that is, if you’ve already had your annual watch of “9 to 5”).

The best overall films to watch with your family are the hilarious and heartrending Chinese-American family film “The Farewell,” and a 2016 documentary from Mongolia, “The Eagle Huntress,” about a 13-year old girl who becomes the first female eagle hunter to compete professionally.

The Farewell
The Farewell

Having a hard time figuring out what to watch with your dad? Martin Scorsese’s concert film about The Band, “The Last Waltz,” is also a Thanksgiving movie and a dad favorite. Watch “A Face in the Crowd” and be amazed by a pre-Mayberry Andy Griffith as a megalomanic who takes over the airwaves. And, for the more adventuresome, it’s great time revisit the cult favorite “American Movie,” about an aspiring filmmaker from Wisconsin and the cast of enablers — er, I mean, cast of characters — who surround him.

Have a tween/teen in your life? My favorite movies to introduce to the young ones are “Amadeus,” “Clue,” and “House Party.” That these were some of my own early-life favorites isn’t lost on me, but there is something celebratory and alive in all these films that has never let my young friends and me down. Also, it’s good practice to watch something that the kid wants to show you if you really want to bond over film.

Not everyone is seeing their family, and for many there are good reasons for that. These are the it’s-okay-to-take-a-break-from-your-family movies. Some feature reconciliations, but those are hard-earned reunions, including the late-in-life return of a disowned daughter in last year’s “Monica,” or the road trip misadventures in “Pieces of April.” “Pariah” (2011) features stellar performances all around, but Kim Wayans as a mom who disapproves of her lesbian daughter steals the show. Step into the black-humor absurdity of family life in “House of Yes” (1997) or with a walk through a neurotic mind haunted by a mother figure in “Beau is Afraid” (2023). And if ever you wanted a reason to not want company, it’s because you are recovering from watching Jennifer Lawerence be overrun by her husband’s guests in Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!”

Which brings us to the horror fans. If you haven’t witnessed the insanity that is “Blood Freak,” this can be your year to finally watch the only Christian-made marijuana-scare film featuring a turkey monster and a chain-smoking (and coughing) narrator. Dinner party horror films like “The Invitation” (2015) and “You’re Next” may articulate the reasons you hate communal eating. Thanksgiving has a folk-horror air to it, and the extended break is a great time to watch the three-plus-hour documentary “Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror.” It will provide a hearty list of interesting and strange films to track down, chief among them the depraved pilgrim horror film “Eyes of Fire” (1983) and 2015’s “The Witch.” Both of these films present America’s early colonial days as a time fraught with the terror that comes with being somewhere you aren’t supposed to be and don’t understand.

But the history of Thanksgiving isn’t just about pilgrims and colonists. It is a good time to seek out Native American perspectives and directors. “Smoke Signals” from 1998 is an old favorite, and 2022’s “Prey” is the fun Comanche entry in the “Predator” franchise. Have you binged “Reservation Dogs” yet? It’s the only TV show on this list, and it’s a must-see. Creator Sterling Harjo also directed three feature films and one doc, and each is a clever and heartfelt look at modern reservation life in Oklahoma. “Four Sheets to the Wind,” “Barking Water,” and “Mekko” are all Sundance favorites featuring familiar faces to “Reservation Dogs” fans and a good afternoon triple bill.

Promo photo
Promo photo

Find where all these films are streaming on ReelGood.com.