Some Thanksgiving classics are as good as Thanksgiving. A time for warm affections, deep appreciation, abundant food ... and recrimination.
At least that's the way Hollywood, in cynical or comedic mood, has regarded the holiday in recent years. Which has meant some golden moments at the bijou, minus most of the cloying sentimentality that seems to afflict so many Christmas films. Here's our choices for some of the most entertaining and occasionally thought provoking Thanksgiving-themed pictures of the last 20 years.
Begin with 'Hannah and Her Sisters' (1986), a somewhat atypical comic outing from Woody Allen about three siblings (Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, and Oscar-winner Dianne Wiest) who meet each week to commiserate over their lives and loves. Michael Caine, who also walked away with an Academy Award, is joined by Allen, Max Von Sydow, Carrie Fisher, Lloyd Nolan and Maureen O'Sullivan in an impeccable cast. Allen's Oscar-winning screenplay mixes equal parts angst, humor, neurosis and poignancy.
A more offbeat variant on how fraught Thanksgiving reunions can be is 'Home for the Holidays' (1995), wherein a beleaguered single mom (Holly Hunter) who's just lost her job has to go home to her dysfunctional family while her teenage daughter (Claire Danes) remains home with amorous intent. With a dad (Charles Durning) approaching the shores of senility, her mother (Anne Bancroft) embittered and her yuppie sis (Cynthia Stevenson) and brother-in-law (David Strathairn) as obnoxious as ever, she can only take solace that her gay brother (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his guest (Dylan McDermott) will be there.
A much more caustic entry comes from Ang Lee, 'The Ice Storm' (1997). Set in 1973 in tiny New Canaan, Conn., the film deals with a host of social and relationship issues embodied in the problems of a richly drawn cast of characters. Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen and Tobey Maguire top a wonderful ensemble. Suburban malaise personified.
One of Paul Newman's most endearing performances, and a fine one by Bruce Willis, too, highlight 'Nobody's Fool' (1994), a moody but winning film peopled with memorable characters and situations. Jessica Tandy, in her next-to-last role, and Melanie Griffith also shine in this unexpected pleasure of a movie.
Others worthy of a visit on video are 'Scent of a Woman' (1992), notable mainly for Al Pacino's dynamic Oscar-winning role; 'The Daytrippers' (1996) with Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci, Parker Posey and Liev Schreiber; 'The House of Yes' (1997), again starring Ms. Posey (and Geneviève Bujold); and 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' (1987) sporting good chemistry between Steve Martin and John Candy.
One to avoid: 'The Myth of Fingerprints' (1997), a WASPy waste of talent in Roy Scheider and Julianne Moore. All cliche, no bite.
The Jordan Rules
Usually when an entire genre becomes a motion picture franchise, as it did with 'Star Wars,' the Indiana Jones movies and the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, legions of imitators jump on board to cash in while the register is still making music.
Charleston novelist Robert Jordan's massive, imaginative 'Wheel of Time' fantasy series, among the most heralded ever penned, is so richly conceived and detailed it might have seemed an impossibility to film ? before Peter Jackson proved making well-realized fantasies on a large scale could be achieved.
With this month's release of 'Knife of Dreams,' the 11th and final installment in Jordan's epic saga (a 12th book, 'New Spring,' served as a prequel), one wonders again: What are the chances? Could another prodigious fantasy succeed on screen so soon after one swept the Oscars?
Jordan's realm, wherein 'the war between Light and Shadow is fought every day,' has been a publishing phenomenon. Would fans like to see it be a cinematic one as well?
The Charleston IMAX enjoys a South Carolina exclusive on 'The Polar Express 3D,' a reprise of last year's 'experimental' Christmas film starring Tom Hanks. The inaugural feature film to be converted into IMAX 3D, the film is based on the classic Caldecott award-winning children's book written by Chris Van Allsburg.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it employed a superimposition technique combining computer graphics and stop-motion photography to meld realism and fantasy.
Bits and pieces
Director and star Tommy Lee Jones already has earned a bunch of festival-circuit awards for the much-praised but little-seen 'Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,' which reunites Jones with his 'Coal Miner's Daughter' co-star Levon Helm (late of The Band). The great cinematographer Chris Menges is a major contributor. ... Robert De Niro will star in director Barry Levinson's 'What Just Happened?' ... Bad box office news: males ages 13-25, ever more focused on video games and other gizmos, are declining as Hollywood's bread and butter. They saw 24 percent fewer films in the theater this past summer. ... Writer-director Neil Jordan's 'Breakfast on Pluto,' which harbors a taste for the absurd, also celebrates the power of the imagination. Cillian Murphy (the chilling bad boy of 'Batman Begins') stars in the lead, with Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea.