The "Thanksgivukkah" long-weekend kicked off on Thursday with the rare convergence of Thanksgiving and the first night of Hanukkah. Most people will be spending a considerable amount of time with friends and family over the next few days and will, inevitably, struggle to come up with things to do that will keep everyone amused. Eventually, they will conclude that the one thing that everyone likes is a good movie, and this will lead to a trip to the local cineplex. But what to see?! Fear not, my fellow Americans, I have prepared for you a helpful list of five movies that you need to see before Monday if you want to be conversant about this year's Oscar race.
The kids want to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire or Thor: The Dark World? Let them -- with a babysitter. You've got more important movies to see. In order of priority...
If you haven't yet seen Alfonso Cuaron's space-set drama, then you need to reevaluate your priorities in life. No movie has demanded to be seen on the big screen -- absolutely in 3D, ideally at an IMAX theater -- more than this one since Avatar. Sure, its screenplay features a bit of clunky dialogue (and monologue), but Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are so pretty and the movie's visual effects are so impressive that you won't even notice. Besides, it runs only 90 minutes, so you're not exactly committing your whole day to it. Prepare to have your mind blown, like the millions of other people who have driven its domestic box-office gross to $250 million.
2) 12 Years a Slave
All right, I will grant you that "fun" is not the first -- or sixtieth -- adjective that I would ascribe to Steve McQueen's film version of Solomon Northup's 1853 autobiography about his experience as a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery for 12 years. But you're a grown-up and should appreciate an artfully made and beautifully acted look at the darkest chapter in America's history, especially as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, with a black president in the White House but racial tensions amongst the general population still high. Plus Brad Pitt makes a cameo (ladies...) and it is the movie to beat in the best picture Oscar race, so you've gotta see it at some point!
3) Captain Phillips
Yes, I know that Paul Greengrass' latest thriller recounts a story that you saw on the news and you already know how it ends -- but so did Argo and Zero Dark Thirty and you didn't ask for your money back after those. And if any actor has earned the benefit of the doubt from you over the years, it's Tom Hanks, who happens to do some of the best acting of his career in this pic, particularly towards the end. If you aren't on the edge of your seat throughout most of the film and/or hiding your tears toward the end of it, check your pulse.
If you have young kids or just like a good guilty pleasure, treat yourself to this animated flick, which is the best non-Pixar Disney movie since The Lion King came out almost 20 years ago. It's a Disney pic like the Disney pics you grew up on: beautifully animated (albeit with CGI technology that didn't exist when you were a kid), in 2D, filled with wonderful songs (you'll be singing "Let It Go" in the shower) and centered around a story -- complete with a princess, an iconic sidekick (wait 'til you meet Josh Gad's Olaf!), a few deaths and near-deaths and a true-love's kiss -- that will melt even the most iced-over of hearts.
5) Dallas Buyers Club
"Alright, alright, alright" (to quote the film's star in an earlier performance), I'll grant you that a movie about the early days of AIDS and an unlikely friendship between a dying heterosexual cowboy (a never-better Matthew McConaughey, who shed 50 pounds for the part) and a dying transgender junkie (the always great Jared Leto, who dropped 40 pounds) sounds like it might give you indigestion after a big Thanksgiving dinner. But the reality is that it will make you appreciate your family, true friends and good health all the more.