Planes, Trains and Automobiles
John Hughes' Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) could have gone wrong in so many ways, but the superb casting, and touches of intelligence and tenderness make it a much-loved classic and a holiday favorite. Steve Martin plays an uptight businessman trying to make it home for Thanksgiving when his flight is canceled. He ends up reluctantly paired with a cheerful, loudmouth shower-ring salesman (John Candy), and together they attempt a difficult, miserable, but hilarious road trip. Some of their memorable scenes ("Those aren't pillows!") have already gone down in movie history. The sweet, heartbreaking final payoff is well-earned. In one of the more embarrassing incidents in MPAA history, this sweet, innocuous movie earned an "R" rating thanks to one scene in which Steve Martin loses it, launches into a tirade, and uses the "f" word 18 times.
The much-loved Oscar-winning, stand-up-and-cheer Rocky (1976) made a huge star out of Sylvester Stallone. But it's also known for its behind-the-scenes legend that Stallone, on the verge of being broke, wrote the screenplay in a weekend. The Thanksgiving scene is a thwarted one; Paulie (Burt Young) brings Rocky home for the holiday dinner, where his sister Adrian (Talia Shire) is unprepared for company. The brother and sister fight. Paulie pulls her turkey out of the oven and throws it away, thereby indirectly sending Rocky and Adrian on their first date together, at an ice rink. It may not include stuffing and cranberry sauce, but it's one of the loveliest, most awkward, most tender first date scenes ever filmed.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
In the category of Movies We Are Thankful For, the brand new, digitally restored transfer of this legendary classic is now available. Directed by Robert Wiene, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) is one of the unquestioned landmarks of cinema history, and still influences filmmakers today. Though realism was the prevailing method of the time, this movie introduced German Expressionism to the world, using weird, distorted perspectives and odd angles to illustrate a fluid, nightmarish quality, in which anything could happen. The style easily wins out over the murder story of a carnival performer (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) to predict people's deaths, but a movie this startlingly effective doesn't need a great plot. A prologue and epilogue were added against Wiene's wishes to lessen the movie's overall sense of unrelenting madness.
Los Angeles Plays Itself
Another Movie We Are Thankful For, Thom Andersen's Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) probably never should have seen the light of day. A three-hour essay film on the ways that the city of Los Angeles has been used in movies, it contains hundreds of copyrighted movie clips to illustrate its thesis. It was shown only in select art-house theaters, and was expected to disappear forever. Whatever happened that allowed it to resurface is most appreciated. Andersen uses films like Blade Runner,Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Killer of Sheep to uncover a kind of personality in his favorite city, one that's strikingly different from New York, Paris, or San Francisco. It's a clip junkie's dream, but also one with a pulse and a brain.
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