Autumn Movies

By Chris Breitenbach

George Eliot once wrote, “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” How about successive films set in or around autumn? What follows is a small harvest of some of cinema's most colorful offerings.

  • The Trouble with Harry


    The ad campaign around this underappreciated Hitchcock gem sold it as "a delightful little romantic comedy that just happens to revolve around a corpse." But a corpse lying on a picturesque New England hillside surrounded by beautiful Technicolor fall foliage. And Shirley MacLaine in her screen debut!

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  • Far from Heaven


    The setting for this early 2000's masterpiece by Todd Haynes is autumn 1957 in Hartford, Connecticut. And you better believe the production design makes every single one of those leaves pop! What could have been a questionable homage to the "women's drama" films of the '50s is instead a profoundly moving picture exploring sexuality and race. And did I mention how great Julianne Moore is in this? So, so good.

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  • The Straight Story


    David Lynch making a film for Disney? I was there on opening day! Add one of Angelo Badalamenti's most inspired soundtracks and a lovely story about an old timer riding a John Deere mower 300 miles to see his dying brother (based on a true story!) and you have a surprising lyrical film suitable for the whole family.

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  • Donnie Darko


    There's a great opening scene where the film's troubled protagonist arrives home to his father happily leaf-blowing their sprawling suburban lawn. This is before the viewer is introduced to the post-apocalyptic rabbit. A stunning debut taking place in and around Halloween and mixing genres with glorious abandon.

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  • Meet Me in St. Louis


    A film neatly divided by all four seasons, though perhaps best remembered for Judy Garland’s gorgeously melancholy version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” But hold on! It also includes a legendary Halloween sequence with a gloriously morbid Margaret O’Brien running wild through the haunted, burning streets of St. Louis and stealing every scene she’s in. Watch it again and marvel!

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  • E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial


    I mean, the Halloween sequence where E.T. trembles with excitement when he recognizes Yoda, as the kids wander about, trick-or-treating in the golden hour in some new early 1980's suburb? It's perfect. Is this not Spielberg's greatest film?

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  • Dead Poets Society


    Leave it to Australian director Peter Weir to perfectly capture autumn in Vermont circa 1959. The film itself is full of poetry, hope, and the idea of making the most of a fleeting moment. What I love the most is its strong sense of place, its Norman Rockwell-indebted creation of some idyllic autumn that never was and never will be. Carpe diem!

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  • Sanma No Aji


    This final film from the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu is imbued with the familial warmth and elegiac quality that ran through so many of his later films. If you’ve seen enough of his work, you learn how beautifully he establishes scenes with exterior shots of trains (so many trains!), empty rooms, and fall landscapes. Equal parts autumnal melancholy and grace.

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  • Rushmore


    We can argue over this one, but I'm pretty sure this is Wes Anderson’s best film. The patented quirky artifice is all unabashedly there, though this one feels the most hinged to the real world. The autumn found in this picture cuts both ways too--not just with its beautiful exterior shots but the interior melancholy the films characters reside in. Plus, the best film ending ever!

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