9 Great Movies to Stream This Holiday Weekend

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As the long holiday weekend looms, the to-do checklist stretches out in front of us: buy food, buy booze, attempt insanely complicated recipe that sounded so delicious in the Times, drink, toss recipe away half-finished and just make a goddamn ham, drink more, order a pizza because the ham couldn’t possibly take that long, drink more, fill up with pizza and go buy a Christmas tree, drink more, leave the Christmas tree half-decorated to deal with the ham we totally forgot about, spend the rest of the night in a drunken stupor trying to decide what the hell to watch on Netflix. Well, we can help with the very last item on that list; watch or queue our suggestions now by clicking the title link.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if you didn’t queue up John Hughes’ 1987 road comedy, which has pretty much become the definitive movie for the holiday. The now-classic bits are numerous (I’ve always been partial to Steve Martin’s calm and reasonable conversation with a chirpy rental-car desk clerk), but it’s the more serious moments that have given the movie its staying power, from the early scene of John Candy deflecting Martin’s cruelty to the moving closing passages, where Martin realizes exactly what kind of man his traveling companion is. (via Netflix)

The House of Yes

If you like your Thanksgiving comedies a little darker, click your cursor over to Mark Waters’ adaptation of Wendy MacLeod’s pitch-black play. The set-up seems innocuous enough (a young son brings his fiancée home for the holiday to meet his rather dysfunctional family; hilarity ensues), but House of Yes doesn’t pull any punches, and Parker Posey is at her absurdly twisted best. Bonus: Both Tori Spelling and Freddie Prinze Jr. not only co-star, but are actually good. It’s a Thanksgiving miracle! (via Netflix)

Happy Christmas

Well, once the turkey and stuffing are in Tupperware, it’s officially the Christmas season — but Joe Swanberg’s low-key comedy drama is not your typical holiday movie. The setting is almost incidental; it’s really the story of a prickly relationship between a young woman (Anna Kendrick, playing nicely against type) and her brother (Swanberg) and sister-in-law (the great Melanie Lynskey) who need her to hurry up about it. That said, Happy Christmas is less about plot and more about creating a lived-in, familial vibe, via the warm performances and improvised dialogue. Oh, and if you’re the kind of viewer who can appreciate a great movie baby, well, you’re all set. (via Netflix)

Nebraska

Bruce Dern and June Squibb landed well-deserved Oscar nominations earlier this year for their marvelous work in Alexander Payne’s gorgeous black-and-white Midwestern road movie. It’s a picture as bemused as it is quietly tragic, initially amusing, deftly played, and lovingly photographed. It’s only in the miraculous third act that you realize what Payne’s up to, and that he’s pulling it off. Ultimately, this is a film about family, and the strangely empowering act of deciding to let the people in your life be exactly who they’re going to be — and considering how Thanksgiving dinners seem to go, it might be just the movie you need by the end of the weekend. (via Netflix)

Life Partners

Susanna Fogel’s story of two best friends, one straight and one a lesbian, is a sunny, likable snapshot of growing up and letting go. Fogel and co-writer Joni Lefkowitz have a good ear for conversational dialogue, and they manage to deftly avoid many of the annoying sitcom traps that the logline may imply. And the cast is uniformly strong, particularly the always-wonderful Gillian Jacobs (and Abby Elliot, a sly scene-stealer as the kind of girl who at first seems cool and creative but gradually reveals herself as utterly insufferable). (via Amazon Instant Video)

The Retrieval

The time is 1864, and a ruthless black man named Marcus (Keston John) and his young nephew Will (Ashton Sanders) make a living selling out runaway slaves. They’re sent to retrieve Nate (Tishuan Scott) for their employer, armed with a fake story about a sick brother, but during their journey, the young man’s loyalty is challenged by the father figure role Nate effortlessly assumes. Chris Eska’s modestly lyrical drama has a simple narrative and an unassuming style, to its benefit — this is a movie that whispers, and that approach renders its powerful conclusion all the more devastating. (via Netflix)

Los Angeles Plays Itself

Netflix has gone heavy on cinephile-friendly documentaries this month, and Thom Anderson’s “City of Angels” meta-text stands at the front of the pack, a lengthy, pre-supercut consideration of how the movie industry portrays the city it calls home. For over a decade, it was legendarily difficult to see (aside from chopped-up YouTube versions); now, with clearances (hopefully) in the clear, it’s available in crisp Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming versions. The kick of its location-based juxtaposition is considerable, but it’s no fluke-y gimmick doc — writer/director Anderson’s sometimes cranky, sometimes funny, endlessly insightful script becomes a definitive commentary on not just how the city is seen in the movies, but on the movies (and the city) itself. (via Netflix)

Altman

Robert Altman gave us one of the most diverse and fascinating filmographies in all of cinema — he flipped genre on its head, rewrote the rules for cinematography and dialogue recording, and crafted a distinctively shambling and shaggy storytelling style, all the while refracting his narratives through a timely and often cynical prism of the contemporary American experience. Ron Mann’s documentary portrait Altman is, as such career profiles often are, frustratingly brief and occasionally shallow — McCabe and Mrs. Miller gets particularly short shrift — but Mann displays a firm understanding of what made Altman such a special filmmaker, as well as seizing on the proper dramatic elements of his own story. And the archival materials are astonishing: home movies, behind-the-scene footage from most of his films, unreleased shorts, and even location scouting shots from Hands on a Hard Body, the film he was working on when he died. Produced by the cable channel Epix, which is carving out a nice little niche for itself with these filmmaker-based documentaries (last year’s Milius was also very good), Altman achieves the tricky feat of explaining to novices what made the great man so special, while presenting copious surprises and treats for his super-fans. (via Netflix)

Mel Brooks: Make a Noise

And to conclude our Thanksgiving movies-about-movies trilogy, we offer the story of a far less serious filmmaker. Scratch that; Mel Brooks is a serious filmmaker who made deeply, wonderfully unserious films. Though getting up there in years, Brooks is a thrilling, energetic storyteller, and his interviews provide not only the expected biography and jokes, but a remarkable candor about his sadness and occasional darkness. This is the story of a true comic genius, a man who helped change both television and film comedy, but it’s also a love story; his late wife Anne Bancroft’s recollection of their meeting is winningly warm and funny, and when he recalls her death, you’re sad for him — that’s how thoroughly viewers are made to feel that we know this brilliant man, and how well we’ve grasped what makes him tick. (via Netflix)

Gilmore Girls: “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Pangs”

The West Wing: “The Indians in the Lobby”

WKRP in Cincinnati: “Turkeys Away”

Yes, this is our streaming movie guide, but I’m cheating to provide links to four of the best Thanksgiving episodes in all of television. Start out with Lorelei and Rory’s entertainingly ambitious third-season Thanksgiving, in which the famously voracious eaters must fit in four separate dinners (Lorelei: “This is what we’ve been training for our whole lives. This is our destiny, this is our finest hour”). Next, for your TV salad, enjoy Buffy and the Scooby gang’s attempt at a surrogate family Thanksgiving dinner, including — as such events so often do — a participant tied to a chair. As the main course, enjoy The West Wing’s third-season Thanksgiving, featuring a reminder of the other participants in that first holiday, along with one of the show’s finest moments, a sitting president’s call to the Butterball hotline. And finally, as a very funny desert, a first-season WKRP featuring a radio promotion that goes horribly, hilariously awry. (via Netflix and Hulu)