Happy Thanksgiving! Who wants to watch a movie?
These movies don’t have anything to do with Thanksgiving. They’re just suitable for a wide range of audiences to sit and just enjoy while they digest. No hard truths, no profound moments, no searing tragedy, just movies that you will like because they are good. I’m skipping obvious favorites like Indiana Jones and The Mummy and recent hits like Into the Spiderverse, but of course I endorse those wholeheartedly.
Pictured: Benny laughing her head off at UHF, which I can’t quite bring myself to include on the list.
- THE ODYSSEY (1997) I’ve written about this two-part miniseries before:
It’s long, so you could watch it over the course of the long weekend. Everyone I know who loves The Odyssey loves this production. Don’t get me wrong. Much of the movie — sets, effects, and acting — is hokey to the max. But it’s charmingly, enthusiastically hokey, and every minute of it is made with great love.
Above all, this production understands the Odyssey not as some kind of effete literary relic but as a really exciting adventure story full of fighting and monsters, with sexy ladies here and there, and a huge, endless love propelling the whole thing. And that is what the Odyssey is. I wouldn’t change a thing.
2 hours, 56 minutes. For age 14 and up (sex and gore, because duh, The Odyssey)
2. THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1952)
Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in their finest roles. I said what I said! Oh, and look, I wrote about this one, too. Thrilling, funny, thoroughly engaging from start to finish.
Here are two people who have so far only half-lived their lives. If they fall together quickly, it’s because they’ve been waiting so long. At the opening scenes, we see that Miss Rose has taken herself out of the stream of life, and Mr. Allnut travels up and down the river, but only to deliver other people’s mail. It’s time for both of them to go somewhere, and the river is waiting. What an artful and deceptively simple portrait of a marriage the movie is, from start to finish — and it’s all done in gestures. Every time Katharine Hepburn touches her hair, it means something; and every time Humphrey Bogart scratches his chin, you know what he’s thinking, and whether or not he’s relishing that thought.
Just an absolute treat.
1 hour, 46 minutes; ages 7 and up
3. MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000
The new series didn’t get renewed by Netflix, but they will be doing their Turkey Day Marathon again this year, and you can watch it on YouTube or Twitch or other places.
The set-up of the MST3K series is that a guy is being held captive on a spaceship and forced by evil scientists to watch terrible movies, and to keep himself company, he’s made some robot friends. You see their silhouettes in front of various absurdly awful movies, as if they’re in the theater with you, and you hear them making wisecracks all throughout. Really funny stuff.
If you don’t know MST3K, a good place to start is EEGAH. A truly hideous 60’s movie about some teenagers who discover a caveman; culture clashes ensue.
1 hour, 32 minutes. All ages, I guess, depending on which movie they’re riffing on. Little kids may not understand the premise, but that’s okay. A very kid-friendly series, although later episodes that featured Mike instead of Joel lost a bit of the charm and included a few more dirty jokes.
4. HIGH ANXIETY (1977)
Probably the most family-friendly (read: Fewest dick jokes) of all Mel Brooks’ movies. It’s a loving homage to Alfred Hitchcock, but you will still enjoy it even if you’re not a Hitchcock fan. Come to think of it, it does have some dick jokes. And some uh flagellation jokes. Okay, so it’s for an older audience! But it somehow comes out, like so many Mel Brooks movies, smelling sweet and cute and, most of all, snappy peppy. Includes the incomparable Madeline Kahn, Harvey Korman, and Cloris Leachman. Fully 40% of the things we say to each other in my family are quotes from this movie.
1 hour, 35 minutes. Age 14 and up for dick jokes, etc.
5. THE ADVENTURES OF MILO AND OTIS (1989)
This is the greatest animal adventure movie of all time, sweet and moving and exciting and very funny. Great if you have a bunch of kids in the house, but still entirely entertaining and engaging for adults. It’s brilliantly narrated by Dudley Moore, and it’s shot in such a way that you really believe he’s giving the animals voice. It does show a dog giving birth and has a few creepy and alarming and sad scenes, but the ending is almost paradisally happy. Absolutely gorgeous scenery, shot in Japan over the course of many seasons.
1 hour, 35 minutes. All ages, possibly scary for very sensitive kids.
6. DUCK SOUP (1933)
Well, of course. This is the one where Rufus T. Firefly becomes the president of Fredonia. HAIL, HAIL FREDONIA! Chico and Harpo are spies and Margaret Dumont is Margaret Dumont, and they’re going to war. If you know Bugs Bunny saying “Of course you realize, this means war!” then this is where he got it. Duck Soup has the famous mirror scene (which is where Lucille Ball got it). This is one of the few Marx Brothers movies with no painful harp part with Harpo. It does have a sort of minstrel show interlude, so be aware, in case you’re watching it with people who freak out about minstrel show interludes in old movies.
1 hour, 8 minutes. All ages.
7. HELP! (1965)
It’s been too long since you’ve seen this movie! So ridiculous and full of high spirits, and of course it has the wonderful Beatles soundtrack all through it. I’ll tell you the plot, but it doesn’t really matter. The Beatles are being chased by a gang of fanatics from some Eastern religion, and they need Ringo’s ring? or something? so they can do a sacrifice? It doesn’t matter. Paul gets shrunk. They all go skiing. A million sight gags and inexplicably hilarious bits. You can’t even call it culturally insensitive because it’s so dang weird.
1 hour, 35 minutes. All ages.
8. NATIONAL TREASURE (2004)
This isn’t actually a good movie. I’m including it out of respect for how hard my kids tried and will continue to try to persuade me that it’s a traditional movie that we have always watched and must always watch on Thanksgiving.
2 hours, 11 minutes. Are you kidding me, 2 hours and 11 minutes. No ages. No ages should watch this.
8a. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009)
I’m putting this here to balance out the Nic Cage ratios in the universe, which I put out of true by including National Treasure. This movie is what we call in professional terms “whack.” I don’t even know what to say. It’s sleazy in a way that will make you laugh and funny in a way that will make you want to go lie down for a while. It’s just whack, man, especially with that iguana. It’s the Werner Herzogiest. If you decided to try out some kind of new punch for Thanksgiving this year and it had kind of a lot of alcohol in it and it was a really big hit, then I believe you are ready for this movie.
You can increase everyone’s enjoyment of this movie by murmuring medium-loudly to yourself as you watch, “My goodness, he really is a very bad lieutenant!”
Sidenote: Apparently Werner Herzog found out they were thinking of using CGI for the baby Yoda in The Mandalorian, and he got really mad and called them cowards. Say what you like, Werner Herzog is not a coward.
2 hours, 2 minutes, Pretty dang R rated
9. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN
Satisfyin’. This movie, which was supposed to be the first in a series, somehow really does justice to the odd, beloved characters from the comic albums (you cannot make me say “graphic novels”). It’s done in 3D computer animation with some live action capture or something, but . . . it doesn’t make your skin crawl, but retains a cartoony style that’s just fun. Tintin is an intrepid reporter who stumbles into one adventure after another with his dog, Snowy, his profane sea captain friend, Captain Haddock, the vague professor Calculus, and the unrelated but identical incompetent police detectives, Thomson and Thompson. Great adventure story, lots of jokes, some absolutely gorgeous scenes.
10.¡THREE AMIGOS (1986)
Ay yi yi yi yiiiiiii! This movie is pure happiness. If you’ve seen Galaxy Quest, this is the same plot, except it came first, and instead aliens and TV actors, it’s Mexicans and a bunch of washed-up silent movie stars who think they’re getting a great gig. But the people who hire them think they’re real heroes who will save their town of Santa Poco from the nefarious El Guapo.
Gosh, I love this movie. This is what the 80’s did really well: the unbridled nuttiness and sweetness and total dedication to a ridiculous premise.
1 hour, 45 minutes. All ages. Some suggestion of sex, but it will go over kids’ heads.
Honorable Mention: THE MANDALORIAN
I know, it’s not a movie. But if you got Disney Plus and haven’t gotten started on The Mandalorian yet, go for it! It’s way so much better than I was expecting. It knows exactly what people like about Star Wars and it keeps it all, including the wipe cuts and the puppets and the ridiculous names, but it’s tight and suspenseful and entertaining. Fun fun fun. Lots of very explicit references to old Westerns, which is, of course, what Star Wars always was
Even more honorable mention: SHAOLIN SOCCER (2001), which isn’t on the list because I forgot to put it on, but I have to get that stuffing started now. So silly and cute and tender.
Happy Thanksgiving! I love you all very much, but I love movies more.