Thanksgiving break is an interesting time to want to watch something. There’s not always easy access to a movie theater, the TV may be occupied by Uncle Gerald — who absolutely must watch the Detroit Lions lose to the Chicago Bears — and that’s without even getting into the endless rigmarole of political “debate” fueled by red wine. So when all is said and done, if you want to watch something over Thanksgiving break, you might have to take matters into your own hands.
Whether you’re celebrating the holiday or not, here are some of the top options, one film and one television program in each category, for streaming on Netflix over the break.
1. Cranberry sauces (tart, a bit tongue-in-cheek):
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” (2018)
The Coen Brothers (“The Big Lebowski,” “Fargo”) make the mostly seamless move to Netflix with this six-part anthology Western series. If you were worried that the shrinking screen could come with diminishing returns for the duo and its prickly brand of comedy and crime, you can rest easy. “Ballad” won the Venice Film Festival’s award for Best Screenplay and is, save for a few lulls typical of anthologies, an entertaining use of two hours.
“Big Mouth” (2017–present)
This Nick Kroll and John Mulaney-produced animated vehicle about “the hard truths” of puberty just aired its second season to great critical and audience acclaim. Though not for the squeamish, “Big Mouth” surpasses its competitors by telling truly thoughtful stories about adolescence, supported by a pitch-perfect mix of high- and lowbrow humor.
2. Sweet potatoes (sweet but still down-to-earth):
“The Spectacular Now” (2013)
A teen romance drama of uncommon tenderness, “The Spectacular Now” features two star-making turns from Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley (and also Brie Larson in a supporting role). Director James Ponsoldt (“The End of the Tour”) affords his subjects sparkling, infectious sympathy, treating them with the same seriousness that young lovers prescribe to their love.
“The Good Place” (2016–present)
Starring Kristen Bell, this comedy from the creator of “Parks & Recreation” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is a surprisingly daring effort for network television. Also featuring a never-better Ted Danson (you heard me, “Cheers” fans), “The Good Place” explores human morality with riotous insight and a deep love of its brilliantly sketched but ethically lacking characters.
3. Aunt Sheila’s fruit loaf (true horror):
“The Wailing” (2016)
One of the finest horror films from a country with no shortage of contenders, this masterfully told mystery tracks a policeman investigating a fatal illness in rural South Korea. Perhaps the movie’s greatest achievement is its ability to tell a human story without losing sight of its enormous scope — all while keeping its viewers’ pulses dangerously high.
“The Twilight Zone” (1958–64)
More unnerving than scary, the classic anthology series — endlessly parodied and imitated but never replicated — still gleams with a serious yet rewarding intelligence that makes it worth returning to. If you’re worn out by or uninterested in (the overrated) “The Haunting of Hill House,” why not watch the show that “Black Mirror” owes nearly its entire artistic vision to?
4. Macaroni and cheeses (crowd pleaser, fun for all ages):
Pixar’s best non-sequel since “WALL-E” is an enchanting and moving story that won Oscars for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song (“Remember Me”). Depicting a young boy’s poignant quest for music on Día de los Muertos and featuring a nearly all-Latinx voice ensemble, the film smashed box-office records in Mexico.
“72 Cutest Animals” (2016–present)
This Australian television special is a competition show seeking to answer the question that has plagued the philosophers for centuries: Which of these 72 cute animals is the cutest? Less profound than “Planet Earth” (which is also streaming on Netflix, mind you) and more straightforward, “72 Cutest Animals” scrubs away any food-chain nastiness for the sake of those looking for an extended cut of those cute YouTube animal videos.
5. Vegetarian stuffings (conscientious, counter-culture):
What makes this Singaporean documentary special is not its immensely powerful portrayal of how a love of film can unite friends across time but rather its surprising urgency. I don’t want to give away too much of the story here, but this is a remarkable piece of international cinema that you won’t soon forget — and probably shouldn’t watch alone late at night.
“Chewing Gum” (2015–present)
Easily one of the best U.K. comedies in recent memory, “Chewing Gum” tells the story of a young Black woman in London who seeks to make up for lost time after her strict religious upbringing. Its creator/writer/star Michaela Coel won BAFTAs in 2015 for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme and for Breakthrough Talent — and justly so.
6. Turduckens (over-the-top spectacle):
“Thor: Ragnarok” (2017)
The Marvel Universe and the stifling Thor saga get a much-needed breath of fresh air from New Zealand’s own Taika Waititi (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “What We Do in the Shadows”), who directs with charm, levity, and heart. The result is the best — and possibly my favorite — Marvel film in years, which is just as successful an action movie as it is a fantasy comedy.
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” (2015–present)
I don’t like musicals. I really, really don’t. And yet I love this musical comedy from Rachel Bloom about a young woman who flees her life as a high-powered lawyer in New York City to chase a childhood ex across the country to a small town in California. What begins as almost pure comedy blossoms into one of American television’s all-time great explorations of mental illness and romance in the 21st century.
7. Classic turkeys (traditional-leaning fare):
“Revolutionary Road” (2008)
Kate Winslet reunites with her “Titanic” co-star Leonardo DiCaprio in one of the best films of the 2000s based on one of the best novels of the 1960s. The story of a marriage on the rocks, this period piece may prove a bit slow for some. But those who endure will find a film that overcomes well-trod narrative turns with powerful performances from an excellent cast that includes Michael Shannon in an Oscar-nominated supporting role.
“The Crown” (2016–present)
The natural heir to the “Downton Abbey” throne is possibly even better than its forerunners. Before Claire Foy is replaced by (the unrivaled) Olivia Colman as the show pivots to Queen Elizabeth’s middle age, revisit the first two seasons of the rare costume drama that speaks to the present day while being mired in a difficult historical situation — this time, the thorny politics of post-World War II England.
8. Those random jams and preserves that guests always seem to bring (unclassifiable)
Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”) created this dazzling little gem with a little over $100K and a few iPhone 5s. The narrative tracks a transgender sex worker out for revenge over one day in Los Angeles, but Baker’s sympathetic direction and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez’s excellent lead performance make this movie so much larger than its indie scale.
“Children of Men” (2006)
Two years after he directed the series-best “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” Alfonso Cuarón released what is surely his best English-language film (yeah, I know “Gravity” exists). A post-apocalyptic tale of an infertile world from a genius at the height of his craft, “Children of Men” is a haunting and disturbingly violent drama that is among the best films, period, the 2000s has to offer.
Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette” (2018)
You may have heard about this comedy special from Hannah Gadsby, who claimed that it would be her last until the hour-long set garnered her international attention. All the hype is well-deserved. Gadsby brilliantly deconstructs the nettles of identity politics, giving words and shape to the previously indescribable tensions of contemporary comedy.