The holiday season is officially scratching at our door: this column will hit the streets just as Thanksgiving begins, and from there the last five weeks of the year will go by in an eggnog-soaked whirlwind of last-minute shopping, holiday parties and family gatherings, and, if you’re lucky, a moment or two of that genuine magic—under mistletoe, maybe, or during a walk in the snow—in which holiday movies try so hard to make us believe.
But pity the machine. It’s getting harder all the time for Hollywood to break through our defenses. These days, so many of us are so hooked into the entertainment world that with all the promotional “leaks,” merchandising tie-ins, and a constant barrage of news and updates from every media outlet, we’re often tired of a movie before it hits. It’s bad enough that by the time a movie does make it to the theater, going to see it feels like meeting up for coffee with a crazy ex—it’ll probably be fine, but you pick seats near the exits.
So enjoy this week. But if, by some chance, you want to get a jump on the season, here are a few titles to get you in the Thanksgiving mood. Note, however, that only the first really has anything to do with the holiday as it’s meant to be enjoyed; the rest are about that more modern Thanksgiving tradition, football. I mean, let’s be honest here.
For an actual Thanksgiving movie, try John Hughes’ 1987 comedy Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Starring Steve Martin and John Candy, it’s an update to the classic road movies of Hope and Crosby: Martin is a tightly wound advertising man whose flight home is grounded; to get back in time for the holiday he has to team up with shower curtain ring salesman Del (Candy). What should be a quick trip becomes an epic slog across the nation’s midsection as the odd couple claw and feud their way to success. Hilarious, yes, but Hughes also is smart enough to probe at the loneliness many of us feel, for whatever reasons, during the season of joy.
If you prefer your turkey with pigskin, there are no shortage of football movies out there. Sadly, most of them (like most sport/dance/Nicholas Sparks movies) are overdone melodramas that take Turkey Day all too literally. Here are a few that fare a little better.
Paper Lion (1968) tells a remarkable true story. In the early 1960s, writer George Plimpton (played here by Alan Alda of M*A*S*H fame) snared an invitation from the Detroit Lions to come aboard as a third-string rookie quarterback. Plimpton had a bit of natural athletic ability but no real football skills per se; the experiment was designed to see how the average football fan might do in the NFL.
The answer is fairly predictable (“not so hot” about sums it up) but the joy of the story is in Plimpton’s audaciousness—what fan doesn’t dream of spending the season on the field? Plimpton’s genius was all in the asking. He repeated the idea in other sports, but nothing else quite captured the American moment like football.
For a couple of classic underdog pictures—both based on true stories—check out The Blind Side (Sandra Bullock as a bulldog Memphis mom who takes in an underprivileged but wildly talented player who would go all the way to the NFL) or Rudy (blue-collar kid fights for a walk-on spot on the Notre Dame squad). And the best part? No beer commercials.
Also this week: A Fierce Green Fire is screening at Amherst Cinema. A compelling look at the environmental movement, it looks at a wider history of activism through five chapters, each telling a specific story from a different decade. Director Mark Kitchell (Berkeley in the Sixties) turns his lens on the battles to halt dam work in the Grand Canyon and to clean up chemical damage to the Love Canal; Greenpeace campaigns to save whale and harp seal populations; and the drive to save the Amazon rainforest that finally seemed to spark a wider public interest.•
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.