We’re on lucky number seven here at “Are You Entertained,” and sadly it couldn’t seem to come at an unluckier time. The world looks damn bleak right now, and as I listen to my family member cough up a COVID-filled lung downstairs and approach my fifth straight week of self-imposed social isolation measures, I know myself — and I’m sure many other Badgers out there — could use a few gentle reminders on what the word “gratitude” looks like during this time of the year.
Like the forgotten middle child in a holiday family with elder brother Halloween and beloved baby brother Christmas, Thanksgiving pop culture moments are few and far between. Not to fear, however — we’ve decided to expand our pool of weekly picks to feature our favorite “thankfulness”-themed recommendations, all of which should bring you a bit of comfort and hope in the coming days. So whether you’re traveling across the country to visit loved ones back home, or stuck in Sconnie Land among the worst of the sickness, don’t hesitate to sit down, enjoy some of these selections and remember that brighter days are somewhere ahead.
"Planes, Trains & Automobiles"
A true classic of the feel-good family movie genre, John Hughes’ 1987 comedy ages like fine wine and packs even more of an emotional punch the first time you watch it. Starring Steve Martin — yes, the dad from “Cheaper By The Dozen” for the Gen Zers — as neurotic and anxious marketing executive Neal Page, “Planes” tells the story of the family man’s crazy quest to get home to his family in Chicago for Thanksgiving, with obstacles ranging from a series of unfortunate travel mishaps to an obnoxious yet lovable sidekick named Del Griffith, played by John Candy (“Stripes”, “The Great Outdoors”) annoying him every step of the way. This is one of the late-great actor’s best comedic performances, and his monologue about what it means to spend the holiday season with those you love is a feeling we can all empathize with right now. Regardless of if you're watching by yourself or have to pick out something that fits your family’s sensibilities, you won’t get a more fun 90 minutes out of your holiday week than these ones.
Ewan McGregor’s on a hot streak over these past few weeks, and given his wonderful work as the best friend of everyone’s favorite Pooh Bear in this underseen 2018 film — doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. “Christopher Robin” is the story of an unhappy adult version of the imaginative young boy from the Hundred Acre Woods, who was forced to leave his friends behind many years ago and has seemingly forgotten the lessons he learned as the pressures of work and life have driven him away from his wife, daughter and even himself. This leads to quite a surprise when his little yellow friend makes an appearance on a London street corner one day and leads to plenty of silly hijinks and heartwarming moments throughout as Tiger, Piglet and company try to get their friend to rediscover the boy he once was. Anyone with younger siblings or in need of a nostalgia trip will be hooked from the first scene with this one.
"The Shawshank Redemption"
Digging in deep for drama lovers in the bunch, “The Shawshank Redemption” is one of the most lauded movies of the past 25 years and I would be genuinely shocked if you hadn’t seen it already. Based on a 1982 novella from Stephen King, you’ll be amazed to watch the physical, mental and emotional journey that Tim Robbins’ Andy Dufresene takes when he is sentenced to life in prison among the brutal conditions and evil demands of the warden at Shawshank Penitentiary, and you’ll gain a new appreciation for the unbreakable nature of the human spirit as he navigates his way through a life he was unfairly given alongside his friend and fellow inmate Ellis “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman. Beautifully scored and shot by director Frank Darabont and with narration that is quite literally the reason why Freeman has become a household name, “Shawshank” is a triumph of humane filmmaking and one of my favorites whenever I need a reminder that life, no matter how bleak it seems, is a precious gift to behold.
"The Theory of Everything"
My mileage for Eddie Redmayne — and everything wrong with the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise — is lackluster at best, but the awards-recognition he received for his stunning 2014 portrayal of world-renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is worthy of every piece of distinction. “Theory” begins with the meet-cute of Hawking and his first wife Jane, played by Felicity Jones (“Rogue One”), during the writing of the former’s thesis at Cambridge University, and slowly traces the development of their relationship as he receives a devastating diagnosis for motor neuron disease and goes on to revolutionize the physics world with his discoveries regardless. I know, I know, I’ve been on a real biographical kick lately, but it’s a true joy to watch Redmayne as Hawking defy the insurmountable medical and scientific odds laid before him, and once again speaks to the testament that anything in this world is possible if we have the faith to believe in it.
Bonus: “WTF with Marc Maron” starring Michael J. Fox
I don’t tune into Maron often, but when “Back to the Future” star and Parkinson’s survivor Fox gives a rare public interview upon retirement from acting — you have to consider it appointment listening. Ranging in topics from both men’s previous battles with alcohol abuse and diving into the details of Fox’s gratitude for living in spite of his nearly 30-year battle with this debilitating disease, it’s incredible to hear the approaches he brings towards navigating his daily schedule, relationship with his wife and kids and boundless optimism he holds even with everything he’s faced — especially given that his sarcastic sense of humor hasn’t lost a step in the meantime. The podcast may seem like promotional fodder for the release of his new memoir at first glance but turns out to be a revealing hour of back-and-forth dialogue that is gripping material for any travel you have in the next few days. “Great Scott”, this might be my favorite interview of 2020.
"Fantastic Mr. Fox"
Animation works best when both children and adults can connect to it. Wes Anderson’s visionary masterpiece based on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s tail blends breathtaking animation, witty humor, and a huge heart to make a one-of-a-kind film. Voiced by George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, and more, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” transports us to a fictional animal kingdom filled with fun, danger, and conflict while at the same time connecting us to ourselves in surprising ways.
Alejandro González iñárritu’s heart-stopping adventure drama is perfect for Thanksgiving, not necessarily due to being uplifting but due to how it brings you into the brutal thickets of nature and depicts the hunter-gather lifestyle in raw, unscathed detail that both Native Americans and the pilgrims had to battle to survive. Leonardo DiCaprio gives an exhaustingly real and grueling performance as fur trapper Hugh Glass, a man with dark personal demons who after a vicious bear attack is left for dead in the American wilderness and embarks on a quest to avenge his murdered son. Battling nature, other men, and himself, Glass’s journey raises deep questions on the meaning of life and survival, engaging us deeply from start to finish.
Sometimes a good stupid comedy is just what is needed on Thanksgiving. One of Adam Sandler’s best films — which isn’t saying much — “Billy Madison” is the kind of comedy that each viewing gives the audience a new line to repeat and a different scene to lose it to. Staring as a wealthy slacker who has to return all the way back to elementary school in order to take over his father’s company, Sandler has as much fun as he can on this role and gives us a pleasantly stupid bundle of fun.
Easily one of the best films of all time, Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant gift to the world is a work of pure genius. Chronicling three separate stories of crime, Tarantino somehow finds a way to make this funny, violent, odd, drug-induced explosion of a movie turn into a deep tale of betrayal and redemption, single-handedly crafting one of the most original American movies ever created.
Bonus: Disney Nature’s “Ghosts of the Mountain”
Anyone who loves a good nature documentary can turn to Netflix for a beautiful quest to capture rare footage of one of the world’s most elusive and remarkable creatures, the Snow Leopard. Depicting the dangerous, grueling process of traveling to northwest China to enter the habitat of these magnificent animals, the documentary brings us breathtaking footage and captures the remarkable adventure of bringing one of the world’s rarest animals to our screen.