OK, presumably, not many of us are headed home for the holidays. Unless you’re already living with your parents (which, all things considered, is neither unlikely nor anything to be embarrassed about) you’re probably, hopefully keeping Thanksgiving a small, socially distanced affair this year as we all do our best to flatten that nerve-wracking curve until the vaccine starts rolling in.
But being socially distant doesn’t mean we’re not involved with our families at all on the big day. Teleparty, for example, is a great way to watch movies together over long distances. It synchronizes Netflix, HBO Max or Hulu movies over multiple accounts so you can all watch a movie together and even keep the conversation going with each other.
Ah, but what movie? Assuming you’ve already made it through the ranks of the Pixar classics and Disney’s better options, you might be looking for a solid option to watch with the parents. Of course, nothing with any spicy content will do — there’s nothing worse than white-knuckling it through a sex scene with your mom and dad right there. You also don’t want too much swearing or grisly violence. But you do want the movie to be good, right? Just not too good in a way that some relatives might consider “pretentious” or “artsy-fartsy.” You want it to be wholesome but not stupid.
What’s a movie-lover to do?
Never fear. We at RELEVANT have combed through the ranks of movies to find some broadly appealing options that should win over anyone on your list.
For Families With Kids
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson’s first foray into claymation is both his most family friendly and one of his better efforts, uniting his unique aesthetic with a rollicking good adventure and a fully realized world with an ace cast. Those who might normally find Anderson’s whole thing just a little too such-and-such for their tastes will probably still find Roald Dahl’s classic tale irresistible.
A lot of Hayao Miyazaki’s output would fit into this list, as the Japanese master filmmaker’s wonderful ouvre rarely missed with kid or adult alike, from My Neighbor Totoro to Ponyo. Spirited Away is a wonderful adventure, a series of folklore-inspired vignettes about a young girl who gets lost in a magical dreamworld and sets about trying to rescue her parents from an evil spell with the help of some of the most fantastical characters ever committed to animation. The moments of peril might make this unsuitable for very young children, but the spectacular visuals and cunning journey will enrapture most.
Paddington and Paddington 2
There was, on paper, no reason an adaptation of Paddington Bear had to be anything more than passably amusing for kids, so why did writer/director Paul King make both of these movies legitimate contenders for any Best Of list for their respective years? Beautifully directed with warmth, wisdom and wit, if your heart is too cold to be won over by Paddington, there is simply no space for you at our Thanksgiving table.
For Family With Older Members
Newly available on Hulu, Kelly Reichardt’s lovely ode to early America is a history lesson wrapped up in a charming lesson in confident pacing. By being unhurried, it ends up being more immersive, plunging you into a tale set in the 1800s Northwest that unfurls so organically it inspires awe.
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Woefully overlooked upon its release, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz’s film is an unlikely buddy comedy about two men on the run — one towards his dream, the other from his past. The remarkable sincerity that oozes from this movie makes it feel fresh, vital and likable to a fault.
Awkwafina churns in a performance for the ages in this beautifully bittersweet exploration of family and what saying goodbye to a loved one can look like. The dour subject matter is undercut with a thread of humor that makes the whole thing a remarkably nuanced package that will have your family laughing through the tears.
Not writer/director Taikia Waititi’s first or best work, but maybe the one that stretches his emotional palette the furthest. This World War II yarn made waves for its uncomfortable premise — a young German boy named Jojo and his imaginary friend Adolph Hitler try to decide what to do when they discover Jojo’s mom (Scarlett Johansson, never better) has been hiding a Jewish girl in the attic — but ultimately becomes more than its premise by virtue of its unflinching view of both the era and the human heart.
For Sports Fans
Fighting With My Family
Florence Pugh stars in this inspired-by-true-events tale of a woman who wanted to make it in pro wrestling and the family who helped her achieve her dream. You may or may not care for pro wrestling (this writer does not) but it’s hard to imagine anyone not getting up and cheering before the credits roll on this born crowd pleaser that features a turn from no less a pro wrestling legend than Dwayne Johnson himself.
The movie that put Chadwick Boseman on the map didn’t get enough attention upon its release but watching it now, it’s not hard to see why anyone who walked away from it didn’t know that Boseman was destined for greatness. The story of Jackie Robinson has been told before, but never with so much nuance and grace in the lead performance.
Anyone skeptical about Rocky re-entering the cultural milieu had their fears immediately put to rest by Ryan Coogler’s stunning re-working of the Rocky Balboa mythos, mining terrific performances from his central cast (Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and, of course, Sly Stallone) and shooting the boxing matches with verve and daring so intense and immediate you might forget how to breathe while watching them.
For Music Buffs
Blinded By the Light
What cold-hearted villain doesn’t love Bruce Springsteen? Gurinder Chadha spins this irresistibly likable tale of a Pakistani teenager in London who feels adrift in life until a cassette tape of the Boss’ music captures his imagination and turns his life around. It’s not just a tale of a what makes a classic rock icon so great, it’s a poignant look at immigration.
A handful of Dublin teenagers in the 80s decide to channel their adolescent angst into doing what any self-respecting teenager would do: starting a band. Sing Street is almost a musical in its own right (you’re probably familiar with director John Carney’s biggest hit Once) and the music is as terrific as the story itself, which finds real pathos in the most familiar of human feelings: wanting to get away from it all.
20 Feet From Stardom
Morgan Neville’s exquisite documentary features a lot of familiar faces like Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crowe and David Bowier, but for once, the spotlight is on their backup singers — those who take the stage “20 feet from stardom.” You’ve heard most of these women’s voices, but their stories — inspiring, heartbreaking, challenging and uplifting — add a new layer of love to countless classics.
Movies With a Message
Bryan Stevenson’s well-known book about the criminal justice system doesn’t immediately scream “movie material,” but thanks to terrific direction and an a-plus cast, Just Mercy is a winner. While the book focuses on broad systemic issues in mass incarceration, the movie wisely focuses on just one story of one man who was condemned to die and the team that refused to take “no” for an answer.
How does director Rian Johnson follow his love-or-hate-it foray into the Star Wars universe? With one of the juiciest capers in years, a gobsmackingly fun Agatha Christie-style throwback featuring cast of delicious characters starring a wide-eyed Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig’s just ridiculously good Detective Benoit Blanc. There is not a scene in this movie that doesn’t deliver but beneath the twists and turns is a profound class parable about how we treat the least of these.
Hey, on the off chance you’re one of the six people in the world who didn’t catch Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Disney Plus bonanza, now’s as good a time as any to get caught up. Skepticism may abound but the American history spectacular absolutely lives up to the hype with rip-roaring numbers that’ll make citizens of all stripes proud to be an American, whatever their quibbles about the historical accuracy.
Many thanks to Judson Collier for assisting with this article.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's executive editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.