In typical timely fashion, my list on the best Fall-themed movies comes out the day after we get our first snowfall in the GTA. But that just comes part and parcel with what has increasingly become my favourite season of the year in the twelve years or so that I’ve been able to experience living in a place with four seasons.
It is the season where the exhaustion of “carpe diem” Summer days gets replaced by throw blankets, sweaters, sweat pants, hot chocolate, soup, and all things warm and cosy. It is also the season when it is finally socially acceptable again to stay in at night (which coincidentally is a boon for chronic binge-watching cinephiles like me). It has two of the three best holidays of the year in Halloween and Thanksgiving (and if you, like me, are an American living in Canada, you get to celebrate that twice!). So all in all, Fall has a lot going for it.
So what better way to celebrate Fall than with a list of the best Fall-themed movies out there? (Editor’s note: I’m pretty sure the are many better ways to celebrate Fall, but go with me here.) And as is also typical with my lists, there have to be some made-up, slightly arbitrary, and probably unnecessary rules for this list (which I will probably break at some point):
- Fall – This should be obvious, but the movie has to take place in Fall. That means falling leaves, seasonally appropriate food, and of course a host of sweaters.
- Hygge – This Danish word is untranslatable in English and is traditionally associated with winter but it roughly translates to a cross between togetherness and coziness. While hygge is something that happens naturally in winter due to a largely more healthy outlook on the changing seasons in Scandinavia (as opposed to North America’s more austere outlook toward Winter), a hygge attitude does seem to occur during North America’s fall months. So to be a proper fall movie, the movie has to evoke a sense of warmth and comfort, causing us to settle in and enjoy the proceedings as opposed to getting our hearts racing. Basically this is my overly elaborate way of saying that an action filled movie that just happens to be set in fall (like Enemy of the State) is not in fact eligible for this list.
- NOT HALLOWEEN – Though many Halloween-themed movies do in fact have many scenes that depict fall, they do not in fact evoke fall and are instead much more tied to the holiday they celebrate (a problem that does not affect Thanksgiving themed movies). So if you are looking for Halloween-appropriate fare may I instead suggests these two lists with one for the family and one more adult-appropriate/legitimately scare-filled.
Well that’s about it. On with the list:
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles – While this movie is arguably the most appropriate movie for Thanksgiving, the entire premise of the movie is that a snow-storm ruins Steve Martin and John Candy’s travel plans. So not entirely evoking the wonder of Fall there.
Friday Night Lights/Remember the Titans/Rudy/The Blind Side – I realize that for a certain demographic American football is synonymous with Fall but unfortunately in this list the football movies ran into the twin buzzsaws of (a) my general lack of association of Fall with football and (b) the quality of football movies being generally not that great with the best being merely good. Of the movies listed above, Friday Night Lights might be the best but is overshadowed by the fact that the TV show is seen as much better than the movie.
Autumn Sonata – While at surface level one might think that a movie by Swedish master Ingmar Bergman set during Fall would be a shoo-in for a list that explicitly mentions the Scandanavian concept of hygge. But then recalls the words of A.V. Club reviewer Keith Phipps describing the movie as “an austerely beautiful meditation on death and the not-always-realized possibility of reconciliation across generations.” And one realizes why this movie is not on the list.
Rushmore – Wes Anderson’s prep-school comedy would seem to be a shoo-in for the list but unfortunately one of my unspoken rules (to go along with the “official ones”) is a one movie per director rule, and as you shall see, there is just a much more appropriate Wes Anderson movie to place on this list.
You’ve Got Mail – I’ll explain this in just a second.
10. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY… (1989) dir. Rob Reiner
With all respects to the Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks movies, When Harry Met Sally is the quintessential Meg Ryan movie. And it may seem like a cheat to include the movie in a “Fall movies” list as it spans several years and the climax (no, not that one) happens during New Year’s Eve. But there are just so many classic scenes that showcase New York in the fall (perhaps the best movie city to set a fall movie in) that it just had to make the list. It also helps that its still one of the funniest and smartest movies ever written while being anchored by a stellar cast led by Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, Carrie Fisher, and Bruno Kirby among others. Plus, Meg Ryan’s blazers and hats are more than enough to earn this movie’s place on the list.
9. HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) dir. Woody Allen
While the relationship I have with Woody Allen movies is forever going to be complicated to say the least (even if my feelings towards Allen himself are not), there are unquestionably some great films in his filmography and Hannah and Her Sisters is arguably one of his best. The movie is a sprawling tale told in many parts over several years and follows, as the title suggests, the journeys of Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her two sisters Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Dianne Wiest). But the central anchor of this film are the three Thanksgiving dinners over successive years that bring all the family members together in both pleasant and acerbic ways.
8. ELECTION (1999) dir. Alexander Payne
The reason this film is on this list can be summed up is two words: sweater vests. Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) sports several iconic sweater vests on her warpath to becoming class president as her high school teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) stands in her way. Besides being an excellent allegory of the American electoral system, the movie is also a quiet showcase of a high school in the throes of a fall semester. But lets be honest, we’re mostly here for the late 90’s fall fashion that’s on display here and on this front, Flick delivers.
7. DEAD POET’S SOCIETY (1989) dir. Peter Weir
Every time this movie comes up on a list I get slightly embarrassed because it is such a cliche for a nerd my age to be in love with this movie. But you don’t necessarily get to choose what you love so here it is. Growing up, I longed for a Mr. Keating-esque teacher to show up in my life. Even though that never happened (darn you Hollywood for unrealistic expectations!) it didn’t stop me from loving to learn. But more pertinently to this list, the grandiose Welton Academy with its stodgy traditions and ornate halls while being framed by the magnificent colours of fall was exactly the kind of education I imagined I might get in America. I will admit that the movie had a completely disproportionate influence of what country I would eventually go to college in.
6. NEVER LET ME GO (2010) dir. Mark Romanek
Theoretically it’s never quite clear as to what season this bleak apocalyptic dystopia is set in. But because this movie is set in England, where fall seems to be default season no matter what time of year you visit, I’m going to let it slide. Besides, I feel it is my duty to plug this criminally underrated film about a group of clones that are alike in every way to their human counterparts but are raised strictly to be organ transplant donors for their human creators. As these clones struggle to find meaning in their bleak existence, they are frequently surrounded by buffeting winds, austere landscapes, and overcast vistas. Perhaps the despairing nature of the plot meant that it was never going to find a large audience, but you’re missing a tragically beautiful film if you pass this one up.
5. GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997) dir. Gus Van Sant
Robin Williams has apparently had a inordinate amount of influence on my educational goals, and here he trades his sports jacket in Dead Poets Society for sweaters and cardigans as he plays yet another educator tasked with inspiring another talented but unmotivated protege (Matt Damon). But what sets this movie above Dead Poet’s Society on this list has everything to do with the setting as we now find ourselves in the Boston area (another excellent city for fall depictions) and trade a fictional prep school for the beautiful grounds of MIT. But seriously someday someone needs to do a study on the effect Robin Williams movies had on college enrolment for 80’s kids. Because I can’t be the only one right?
4. FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009) dir. Wes Anderson
So here is the Wes Anderson movie that confined Rushmore to the “honourable mentions” section of this list. And just before you want to argue with me, take a look at the screenshot at the top of this article and then come back to me. Do you see what Mr. Fox is wearing? That’s a tweed suit. As he’s leaning on a tree with falling leaves. All this while being framed by bulrushes under a golden fall sunset. Now try and tell me again why Rushmore is a better fall movie than this intricately crafted gem of a movie? But just in case I haven’t convinced you let me remind you that the movie is populated by similarly ornately dressed woodland creatures who together conspire to rob Misters Boggis, Bunce, and Bean of their respective farm produce to throw an almighty feast. So yeah, this is an awesome fall movie.
3. AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON (1962) dir. Yasujiro Ozu
As with all Ozu films, An Autumn Afternoon has a gentle spirit that is powerfully moving nonetheless. The fact that this was Ozu’s last film helps to lend the film its melancholy tone as it follows the twilight of the patriarch of the family and widower Shuhei Hirayama as he approaches the twilight of his life. Hirayama finds himself on an introspective detour in which he recalls he bumps up into memories of his past, whether it is his old school teacher, school mates who have seemingly attained marital bliss in their old age, the spectre of his past career as a member of the military, or reminders of the wife he loved and lost. But as is the strength with Ozu’s movies, he doesn’t tinge these encounters with regret or use them as an impetus for some forced revelation. Instead he lovingly portrays Hirayama who despite his loneliness and doubts about his future finds contentment and carries on with the Autumn of his life. Now arguably this is the least “Fall”-themed movie on this list, but the movie is such a masterpiece that even the cursory hints to Fall is enough to land it this high on the list.
2. FAR FROM HEAVEN (2002) dir. Todd Haynes
Todd Haynes is easily one of the most underrated directors working today. Something that has characterized his later career is his uncanny ability to evoke nostalgic ages of the past while bringing to the front the subtle and oppressive ugliness lurking beneath the surface. In this case, Haynes evokes the lush melodramas of Douglas Sirk as he tells the story of a 1950s housewife living in suburban Connecticut who slowly finds her life unravelling as secrets in her family life are brought out into the open and she finds herself skirting close to offending the prejudiced viewpoints of her friends and peers. The movie storytelling, editing, cinematography, and score is such a faithful throwback to the style of the 1950s that you might be fooled into thinking that you are watching a classic melodrama from the era. But in typical Haynes fashion, all the melodrama artifice manages to do is lull you enough so that when the artifice is broken, the shock we feel has some bite to it.
1. ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955) dir. Douglas Sirk
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top movie on this list is the one that directly influenced the second, as Douglas Sirk’s masterpiece of forbidden love manages to accomplish the seemingly impossible by being a love story that still feels contemporary today. Much of that probably has to do with the fact that this story of forbidden love between a younger man of lower social standing and an older woman from a rich family stars Rock Hudson, a famously closeted actor who did not need to imagine the impact of bigoted and close-minded people to his romantic desires. But you would be forgiven if you completely ignored any of that subtext because you were too busy being distracted by the fantastic visuals on display (in Technicolor!). Here brilliant hues of amber and gold leaves sweep through the air as they frame the glamorous Jane Wyman and the flannel-clad Hudson while interior shots are appropriately ornate and vibrant. It is without a doubt the perfect movie to watch in sweat pants under some fleece throw blankets, preferably with hot cocoa in hand as the leaves swirl in front of your window. In short, the perfect fall movie.