5. The Meal Scars Your Company: Better Off Dead (1985)
Take comfort in the quality of your cooking after watching (a) Lane’s (John Cusack’s) mother boil bacon just days before her holiday feast and (b) Lane accidentally passing a guest primer instead of liquor.
4. Your Guests Never Show: Dinner at 8 (1933)
Your guests will never be as distracted as those invited to Millicent’s (Billie Burke’s) pretentious dinner party. Watching their disastrous lives unfold the day of the event makes you question (a) why she’d want to see them and (b) what could make all this stress worthwhile. It’s not a holiday film, but Burke’s nervous fluttering and what-was-I-thinking speech reminded me of all the times I unwisely agreed to plan a social event.
3. The Oven/Power Goes Out: Pieces of April (2003)
I live in New England, where power is never a certainty, so watching April (Katie Holmes) improvise when her oven fails her is inspiring in this sweet, funny, and frequently heartbreaking film with Holmes as a sweet daughter who can never satisfy her mom (Patricia Clarkson).
2. Old Family Wounds Fester: Home for the Holidays (1995)
Three siblings squabble in this hilarious Thanksgiving delight. Holly Hunter is charming; Robert Downey, Jr. hilarious, moving, and annoying in equal measures; and Cynthia Stevenson both cruel and empathetic in her disconnection to her more lighthearted siblings. Add Anne Bancroft as the mother and Henry Larson as the father, and you’ll wonder how you missed this howlingly funny, yet poignant tribute to family.
1. The Mother from Hell Arrives: The Ref (1994)
In my favorite holiday movie, thief Denis Leary runs interference with a divorce-bound couple, played by Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey, in performances that rival those in War of the Roses (1989). You will think no two people can be more comically cruel to one another, until Spacey’s mother (Glynis Johns) arrives.