5 “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” / “Mayflower Voyagers”
You have to watch “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” Period. It sums up the quintessential American holiday experience right down to buzzkill ingrate Peppermint Patty inviting herself and a bunch of friends over to Charlie Brown’s house only to complain about the meal he and Snoopy had slaved over all morning long. But wait. Check out the next selection on your DVD. It is likely Charlie Brown’s “Mayflower Voyagers.” To take the edge off Thanksgiving, there’s nothing like watching beloved Peanuts characters puking all over a ship and then engaging in a little campy racism as they introduce Armageddon to the Native Americans of Massachussetts. It all ends in the first Thanksgiving meal, with Squanto waxing nostalgic about his days enslaved by English fishermen and the Peanuts gang dancing in a way that would get them hanged in Salem a few decades later.
Barry Levinson was coming off his run of powerful late-1980s films, including his iconic “Diner” and Best Picture winner “Rain Man” when he released “Avalon,” a sentimental love letter to his hometown of Baltimore, in 1990. The movie is a multigenerational story that follows an immigrant family making their ways in America. Along the way, the family celebrates and embraces the traditions of their new country, including Thanksgiving, which is used as a climactic family gathering in the film.
3 “Miracle on 34th Street”
You’re thinking, “What!? That’s a Christmas movie!” Yes, it is. But the classic Natalie Wood film, “Miracle on 34th Street” is also—very importantly—a Thanksgiving movie. Some of the film’s most important plot lines are directly connected to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, an American tradition almost as beloved as the holiday itself. It turns into a court case to prove that a dottering old Macy’s Santa Claus is, indeed, the real Kris Kringle, which must happen before Christmas. “Miracle on 34th Street” may be a near perfect holiday film because it manages to straddle the season beginning to end.
2 “Hannah and Her Sisters”
Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and bookended by two Thanksgivings, it’s hard to go wrong with the heartwarming family sentiment of Woody Allen‘s 1986 masterpiece, “Hannah and Her Sisters.” Diane Wiest and Michael Caine actually came away with Academy Awards for supporting actress and actor for their meaty parts in this beautifully filmed movie than spans classic Woody Allen themes like infidelity, religious angst and the architecture of Manhattan.
1 “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”
Far and away the best Thanksgiving movie ever made is John Hughes’ 1987 classic, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” This is empirical truth. John Candy, Steve Martin and, according to critic Leonard Maltin, one of moviedom’s worst soundtracks combine into cinematic synergy. This tale about a man doing all he can to get home for Thanksgiving is as unforgettable as the indomitable Edie McClurg’s response to Steve Martin’s infamous rental car diatribe. Best enjoyed the night before Thanksgiving with several airline-size bottles of holiday cheer.