A critical piece of holiday planning is what you put on the TV. Once you’ve stuffed yourself and you’re sick of fielding nosy questions from relatives (Yes, Uncle Bob, I did intentionally dye my hair Blue Ruin), the best distraction is to just let the television talk. (It’s holiday tradition, not an avoidance tactic, I’ll emphatically say.) Whether you’re looking for something lighthearted (Home Alone) or you’re looking to get all your aggression out (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), these movies and TV shows are guaranteed to help you unwind after a busy day—and maybe make you a little hungry again.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Though Fantastic Mr. Fox is not explicitly a Thanksgiving movie, I think it’s the perfect movie to kickstart the holiday season. Wes Anderson’s 2009 stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel has it all: fall vibes, foie gras-stuffed donuts, hard cider, animals dressed in the finest suits, and a soundtrack that’s ideal for any post-holiday dinner stroll around the neighborhood (you gotta make room for pie and coffee). — Esra Erol, senior social media manager
“A Benihana Christmas” from The Office
The Office has had its fair share of memorable moments, but its third season’s holiday special, “A Benihana Christmas,” truly shines. From the cold open of Dwight offering to prepare roadkill for everyone (“It’s a Christmas miracle!”) to Angela’s iron-fisted policing of holiday party snacks (“No one has seconds until everyone’s had some”), it walks a beautiful line between absurdity and relatable realism. I think we’ve all wished the company party was a little more margarita-karaoke and a little less Nutcracker. But maybe take it easy on the naga-sakes. —Ryan Harrington, research director
“The Gang Squashes Their Beefs” from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
If there’s one thing I love about It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, it’s that not one person is good. Everyone is awful. So what happens when you put them all in a room together? Disaster. When some bad blood with old enemies compromises their ideal Thanksgiving—renting Thundergun Express: Unrated Director’s Cut on DVD and eating Wawa hoagies—the gang decides to squash their beefs with them. The goal: Ply the guests with liquor and then have them sign a peace treaty over (literally) squash and beef. Of course, as is holiday tradition, everything goes wrong and they create more beefs. There’s a food fight, an accident with a hatchet, and a fire. In the end they decide that the best thing to do with a beef is to “jam it deep down inside and then press forward.” If that isn’t a twisted metaphor for spending the holidays with your family, I don’t know what is. — EE
The Last Holiday
If I disappear from social media, turn off my phone’s location tracker, and go fully MIA at the first sight of snow in New York City, you’ll know where to find me: watching The Last Holiday for the 24th time. Terribly overlooked and underappreciated, this is one of the great holiday movies—and Queen Latifah one of our great actors. If you haven’t seen this masterpiece, I’m not going to spoil it for you, but here’s the gist: When Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) discovers she has a terminal illness, she pulls out her limited life savings and jets off to an extremely over-the-top European destination resort to spend her last holiday. Byrd, a lifelong fan of great cooking and visionary chefs, meets the star chef of the hotel, and they become the closest of friends. What follows is a lot of cooking, a lot of après-ski, and plenty of Queen Latifah. There’s drama, there’s heartbreak, there’s so many tears (mine, mostly), and an unimaginable amount of butter. Even as I write this, I can feel it in the air. It’s almost Last Holiday season. —Elazar Sontag, restaurant editor
Christmas doesn’t start for me until I’ve watched Elf. It’s been that way since my first semester of college, during the last day of finals. I’d just stumbled through the door of my childhood home—bleary eyed from a week of studying, drinking three cups of coffee a day, and then driving home for two hours. There were remnants of snow on the ground outside, a rarity in Georgia, and the house was empty, another rarity. So I curled myself into a blanket ball in the crevice of the couch, turned on Elf, and let the familiar opening notes of the film’s whimsical soundtrack carry me away to a land devoid of mind-numbing scantrons and full of candy canes, gum drops, generous amounts of maple syrup, and optimism.
You see, I’m a bit like Buddy the Elf in the sense that I, too, need a copious amount of sugar to survive. I wouldn’t go so far as to drizzle my spaghetti in maple syrup, but I sort of understand the urge to inject a sweetness into everything. Buddy’s shenanigans—like his eating gum from the bottom of subway railings, his fixation with syrup, and his desire to sweeten just about anything up—and his can-do attitude never fail to put a smile on my face and bring a bit of much-needed Christmas cheer. —Megan Wahn, associate commerce editor
The opening scene of this holiday classic truly captures the absolute chaos of the holidays. It all begins with pizza night at the McCallister’s, with a house full of family—everyone yelling over each other, grouchy Uncle Frank scolding the kids, soda spilling on the all-important passports and tickets, Cousin Fuller getting his face smooshed by the back of a chair, and, of course, a lot of sibling bickering. A maddening dance of hungry and flustered family all around.
When older brother Buzz taunts Kevin about not having any more cheese pizza, it’s always guaranteed to ignite rage in younger siblings everywhere and really sets the scene for how joyful Kevin feels when he’s left home alone. He eventually comes around to realize the holidays are best shared with family but, before that, he gets to enjoy a lovely pizza from Little Nero’s all to himself. My absolute favorite movie to kick off the holiday season. —Mallary Santucci, culinary producer
I have one holiday ritual that I take very seriously: When I have the apartment to myself, I like to put on my best dress, make a cocktail, and watch Carol. I come for the Blue-Christmas-in-New-York vibes and stay for the dry martinis, red lipstick and cigarettes, and—best of all—the love story at the center of it all. These elements are always present in my favorite scenes, particularly the lunch scene between Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) and Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara). There’s nothing quite like an exquisite lunch with a side of sexual tension. —EE
Julie & Julia
Okay, this movie isn’t about the holidays, but it’s feel-good and funny enough to make any day feel festive. In Paris in the 1950s, Julia Child (Meryl Streep, who does it again) works on her book about French cooking for American housewives. In New York in 2002, Julie Powell (Amy Adams, who’s also wonderful) decides to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s a movie to play in the background while you’re prepping a family dinner—every once in a while you can look up and see Streep meticulously peeling a potato or Adams lifting a dutch oven lid to reveal a tower of steam. It’s also a fitting movie to remember Powell herself, who sadly passed away this year at the age of 49. —Karen Yuan, lifestyle editor
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Let’s be real, everyone who has ever hosted a holiday shares the same fear of overcooking the main dish. Poor Aunt Catherine is shouldered with the weighty responsibility of the Turkey and unfortunately buckles under the pressure. Diners are forced to dip dry turkey wings into glasses of wine for moisture—the horrifying chewing sounds alone are worth the watch. And there is a questionable cat-friendly jello courtesy of Aunt Bethany to go alongside it. If anything, this movie provides comfort that things truly could always be worse—and you could have a squirrel in your Christmas tree. —MS
From the moment you press play on Phantom Thread, you begin a movie-watching experience equivalent to opening a beautifully wrapped gift. Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2017 historical drama is not only an evocation of the world of haute couture (and an ode to mushroom omelets everywhere), but it’s also the perfect film to fill in those hours leading up to the New Year. Just be sure to have a cocktail ready to go for the New Year’s Ball scene. It’s the ideal pairing. —EE