Eight Great Movies 'For' Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Sure, Canada and a couple other nations have adopted their own weird versions of it too, but the notion of a nation setting aside a day to give thanks for its blessings could only arise in a nation that has been so abundantly blessed. In its land, its people and its animating spirit, America has much to be thankful for even in a time of war, economic blight, and a government that too often seems to see its blessings as curses and its greatest strengths as flaws.

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But America’s abundance does not apply to movies about Thanksgiving. Certainly some exist, but if you review a list of movies about Thanksgiving, the sad fact is that there are very few good ones. Many are PC retellings of the original Thanksgiving story – one guess as to who the villains are (Hint: It’s the dudes with buckles on their hats). Others are tiresome melodramas about “quirky” families that reaffirm their bonds over plates of turkey, with “quirky” -- meaning "annoying."

There simply is not a worthy list of Top Movies about Thanksgiving to be made, but there is a solid list of Eight Great Movies for Thanksgiving. These are films that embody, in some way, what Thanksgiving really means. You are free to disagree with the choices – as some Marines recently did regarding another list – but the freedom to think for yourself is but one of many things to be thankful for. Maybe these movies don’t all feature turkey and trimmings – though a couple of them do – but you can’t go wrong with them this Thanksgiving Day:

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1. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: No, this is not a movie. So sue me. Anyone who grew up in the 70’s or 80’s remembers this classic cartoon version of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang’s turkey day. But this is not just for kids. One of the interesting things about Charles Schultz’s kid characters is how utterly mercenary and oblivious they can be, latching onto the crassest materialism and taking what they have completely for granted. Their behavior is really awful – much like the behavior of many adults. But leave it to good ole Charlie Brown and his quietly intelligent pal Linus to get them to focus on what’s important. There is a reason that, even today, every kid my kids have a play date with has a DVD of this treasure on the shelf between the Dora the Explorer and the Robo-transmorphatron adventures.

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2. Bolt: You know, Disney sure comes in for a lot of grief – some of it deserved – but this animated story of a little girl and her loyal dog is fantastic on every level. It’s a technical marvel – the visuals are stunning. But it’s more than that. The ending is a powerful evocation of a family learning to appreciate what is important. Throughout, it’s sad, funny, and stirring, plus it carries a powerful message about bravery and sacrifice. When Bolt refuses to leave his little girl as a building burns around them, all I could think of is how great it was to finally see a movie that honors courage without turning it into some sort of ironic joke.

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3. The Wizard of Oz: This is a Thanksgiving perennial on those non-communist Ted Turner networks. This vivid fantasy is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year and still kicks butt over just about everything that’s been released since. You can even see its cultural impact in the Avatar trailer, where the grizzled Marine commander announces to his troops: “You’re not in Kansas anymore.” There are flying monkeys, melting witches, dwarfs and/or midgets – plus a wonderful lesson about being thankful for what you have been given. What more could you want?

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4. The Shawshank Redemption: This grim prison drama is included for one reason – the scene where the clever Tim Robbins makes a deal with the guards to do a hot, dirty job for them and ends up enjoying a bucket of cold Cokes on the roof with Morgan Freeman and their pals. That scene provides some useful perspective about the meaning and value of material goods, enjoying the fruits of one’s labors, and the importance of freedom.

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5. The Sound of Music: Yeah, it’s a little on the sugary side. And yeah, I have a beef with it because it gave my mother the bright idea to inflict the first name of one of the lederhosen-clad yodelers upon me. But this is a true family film in every sense of the word – it both celebrates family and you can safely watch it with your family without having to worry that you’ll end up having to explain some manner of perversion to your five-year old. The widower Baron von Trapp falls for the beautiful governess he hires to wrangle his Teutonic task force during the first two thirds of the film. The last act focuses on their attempt to flee Austria after the Nazis decide to “invite” the Baron to take a commission in the German navy. Christopher Plummer’s righteous anger as he tears down a swastika flag will thrill anyone with a love of freedom, and his composure as he faces down the young brownshirt is awesome. The von Trapps do, of course, escape (though not necessarily to “Climb Every Mountain”) and in reality they ended up in America. We can all be thankful that we are lucky enough to live in the place where the world’s oppressed want to be.

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6. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: We can be thankful both for a government where, despite all the corruption and cronyism, our voices will eventually be heard. And we can be thankful for men like Jimmy Stewart, not only a great actor but a veteran who flew perilous bomber missions over Germany when he could have safely flown a desk.

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7. Blackhawk Down: Why list a war movie on a list of Thanksgiving films? Because we should all be damn thankful that we have men (and women) out there like the Americans who fought it out against overwhelming odds in Mogadishu in October 1993. The fierce loyalty those troops showed, braving incredible odds to rescue their comrades from the Somali militia hordes, should give us pause to reflect on the price of the great material and spiritual bounty our nation enjoys. America didn’t just happen – it was earned. Today, tens of thousands of Americans are overseas continuing to earn it this Thanksgiving. And if you are so inclined, you might want to say “Thanks” with a donation to The Wounded Warrior Project.

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8. Planes, Trains and Automobiles: The best John Hughes “adult” movie, and possibly his best movie overall. Steve Martin is the uptight businessman trapped in a hilarious odyssey of misfortunes with John Candy’s lovable slob as he desperately tries to make it home to his family for Thanksgiving. It’s funny. It’s really, really funny, as literally everything that can go wrong goes astonishingly wrong. Cars catch fire, wallets are stolen, deer are resurrected and buns are mistaken for pillows. But beneath it all is the kind of heart missing from so much of the soulless, cookie-cutter dreck that passes for comedy today. The ending truly sums up the spirit of Thanksgiving and highlights the kind of generosity of spirit that comes naturally to most Americans. And there is another thing to be thankful for – the joy that John Candy brought to all of us during his far too short life.

This year, I’m particularly thankful to be in the USA for Thanksgiving. Whether you are home with your loved ones, or serving our country overseas, Happy Thanksgiving.

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