Top 10 Autumn Films

Mists and mellow fruitfulness are all very well. But, as the nights draw in and you ponder when's a justifiable time to turn on the heating, what you really need is a good autumnal movie. So, let Cinema Paradiso guide you through the feel-good comedies, nail-biting thrillers and three-hanky weepies set against the falling leaves, as well as those classics staged on such seasonal holidays as Halloween and Thanksgiving.

The temptation when making an autumn film is to luxuriate in the colours of the foliage. Perhaps that's why so few monochrome pictures made much of their Fall setting, as the camera simply couldn't do justice to the ravishing reds, browns and yellows that reinforce the tone of the action. Technicolor helped give autumnal movies a certain cachet. But the themes of plenty and decay associated with the season proved tricky to accommodate in stories with an urban setting, as there was often little reason to allude to harvest time or falling leaves. Consequently, it was more common for film-makers to include the odd Fall sequence rather than use the season as the backdrop for an entire narrative.

Arthouse Autumn

Of course, autumn films were made in black and white. Among them are a pair of harvest gems, FW Murnau's City Girl (1929) and Alexander Dovzhenko's Earth (1930). While not as visually innovative as Sunrise (1927), Murnau's third American feature is still a pastoral treat that follows Minnesota country boy Charles Farrell to Chicago to sell the family crops. However, his kinfolk heartily disapprove when he returns to the old farmstead with waitress Mary Duncan as his new bride. Tensions also run high in the Ukrainian village that provides the setting for Dovzhenko's lyrical masterpiece, as the peasant kulaks resist collectivisation and the technological advances promoted by the forward-thinking Semen Svashenko.

Murnau's rustic sequences supposedly inspired Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978), which sees another Chicagoan upset the apple cart, as fugitive Richard Gere heads into the Texas Panhandle in 1916 and quickly realises that he can exploit sweetheart Brooke Adams's crush on bashful farmer Sam Shepard. In addition to bringing Malick the Best Director prize at Cannes, this compelling saga also earned the Oscar for Best Cinematography, which Nestor Almendros shared with Haskell Wexler after he was forced to leave the shoot early in order to honour a promise to film François Truffaut's The Man Who Loved Women (1977). Their use of magic hour lighting and the landscape's intense hues had a profound influence on the depiction of bucolic scenes, such as the harvest sequence in Roman Polanski's Tess (1979), which also required two cinematographers, as the death of Geoffrey Unsworth necessitated the hiring of Ghislain Cloquet.

In the latter stages of his long and distinguished career, Japanese maestro Yasujiro Ozu used autumn to reflect his twilight view of the world. We shall discuss An Autumn Afternoon (1962) in more detail below, but Late Autumn (1960) and The End of Summer (1961) are equally memorable. The former sees college buddies Shin Saburi, Nobuo Nakamura and Ryuji Kita overstep the mark in trying to help widow Setsuko Hara by matchmaking her twentysomething daughter, Yoko Tsukasa. Ganjiro Nakamura also gets into trouble when he tries to find suitable husbands for youngest daughter, Yoko Tsukasa, and his son's widow, Setsuko Hara. Moreover, as he struggles to keep his sake brewery going in the face of progressive competition, Nakamura also gets a ticking off from oldest daughter, Michiyo Aratama, who disapproves of his dalliance with an old flame, Chieko Naniwa.

Ozu famously kept his camera front-on to the action, but Béla Tarr had Sándor Kardos move around the claustrophobic mise-en-scène in Autumn Almanac (1984), which saw the Hungarian director edge towards his signature style in charting the shifting relationships between the elderly Hédi Temessy, her wastrel son János Dezsi, teacher Pál Hetényi, nurse Erika Bodnár and the latter's morose lover, Miklós B. Székely. Tarr made his feature bow in 1977, as the Red Army Faction launched a wave of terrorist attacks that shook West Germany. Supervised by Alexander Kluge and including contributions by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Edgar Reitz and Volker Schlöndorff, Germany in Autumn (1978) is an anthology picture that looks back at such incidents as the kidnapping of industrialist Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the hijacking of a Lufthansa jet and the deaths in Stammheim Prison of RAF leaders Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe.

Fall in All Its Finery

As both the school term and the American football season start in September, numerous campus and gridiron movies contain autumnal scenes. Among the classroom classics are Arthur Hiller's Love Story (1970), Peter Weir's Dead Poets Society (1989), Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting (1997), Wes Anderson's Rushmore (1998), Alexander Payne's Election (1999), Mike Newell's Mona Lisa Smile (2003), Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Josh Radnor's Liberal Arts (both 2012), while the pigskin pictures include David Anspaugh's Rudy (1993), Boaz Yakin's Remember the Titans (2000), John Lee Hancock's The Blind Side (2009) and David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook (2012). The latter pair respectively resulted in Best Actress Oscars for Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Lawrence, while Russell's take on Matthew Quick's novel also had the distinction of being the first film since Warren Beatty's Reds (1981) to be nominated in all four acting categories.

Hints of autumn also permeate Joel Schumacher's St Elmo's Fire (1985), Chris Columbus's Stepmom (1998), Peter Hedges's Dan in Real Life (2007) and Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2012). Woody Allen has also cast a Fall pall over a number of features, including September (1987) and Another Woman (1988), while Thanksgiving meals play key roles in Broadway Danny Rose (1984) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986),  which earned Dianne Wiest and Michael Caine Best Supporting Oscars. Indeed, the season has proved to be a lucky one for Caine, as he won the same award for his performance in Lasse Hallström's adaptation of John Irving's The Cider House Rules (1999), which contained some stunning views of the Maine countryside.

Michael Cimino and Vilmos Zsigmond captured the rugged beauty of the autumnal Pennsylvania landscape, as old pals Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale, George Dzundza and Chuck Aspegren go stalking for the last time before shipping out to Vietnam in The Deer Hunter (1978). In addition to winning Best Picture and Best Director, this epochal saga saw Meryl Streep receive the first of her record haul of 21 Oscar nominations. The most nominated actor is Jack Nicholson, although he missed out for his superb performance as Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining (1980), which opens in October, as the Overlook Hotel closes down for the season and Nicholson's blocked writer arrives to take up his caretaking duties with wife Sissy Spacek and son Danny Lloyd.

Speaking of chills, cinematographer Roger Deakins brought a moody autumnal feel to the 19th-century Pennsylvania found in M. Night Shyamalan's The Village (2004), while Radek Ladczuk achieved a similar feat with the South Australian setting of Jennifer Kent's The Babadook (2014). But neither can quite top Emmanuel Lubezki's wondrously atmospheric views of Westchester County in Sleepy Hollow (1999), Tim Burton's retelling of the Washington Irving that also crops up in the first vignette contained in Disney's The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad (1949), as Basil Rathbone describes the efforts of the lanky Ichabod Crane to confound the hulking Brom Bones and win the heart of Katrina Van Tassel.

Nowhere is more celebrated for its autumn foliage than New England. But Orson Welles eschewed the rich tones in The Stranger (1946), in order to focus on the bare branches and creeping darkness that portend no good to the Nazi war criminal who has been traced to the quiet Connecticut town of Harper by special investigator Edward G. Robinson. An autumnal chill also blows through Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) and M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense (1999), although Joel and Ethan Coen made particularly atmospheric use of a Louisiana wood in their gripping neo-noir, Miller's Crossing (1990).

It's back to Connecticut for Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1955), which really ought to have earned Russell Metty an Oscar nomination for his Technicolor views of the autumnal town of Stonington, where Gloria Talbott and William Reynolds leave widowed mother Jane Wyman in no doubt about their disapproval of her dalliance with gardener Rock Hudson. But, while we associate the season with russets, ochres and golds, it can convey varying tones and moods, as Donald Petrie's Mystic Pizza (1988), Roger Michell's Persuasion (1995) and Lenny Abrahamson's Room (2015) ably demonstrate. However, few have captured autumn's air of oppressive silence and incipient decay better than Joe Lawlor and Christine Malloy in Helen (2008), which sees Annie Townsend assist the police with their inquiries by donning a yellow leather jacket and walking repeatedly through the fallen leaves in the woods where a missing classmate was last seen.

The sense of the macabre is more calculating in Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude (1971), although John Alonzo's autumnal colours bring a cosy feel to the friendship that develops between death-fixated teenager Bud Cort and 79-year-old free spirit, Ruth Gordon. Winona Ryder's obsession is with Roman Catholicism in Mermaids (1990), Richard Benjamin's adaptation of Patty Dann's novel about what befalls an unconventional mother (Cher) and her two daughters (Ryder and Christina Ricci) when they move to Eastport, Massachusetts in what turned out to be the tragic autumn of 1963. The time frame moves forward 14 years for the first meeting of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in Carl Reiner's When Harry Met Sally... (1987), which contains some glorious views of the autumn leaves in New York.

Month By Month

Businessman Rock Hudson pays the price for switching the date of his annual rendezvous with Roman mistress Gina Lollobrigida in Robert Mulligan's romantic comedy, Come September (1961), and more guilty secrets emerge in Colin Bucksey's September (1996) when Jacqueline Bisset and brother Edward Fox return to the family home of Strathcroy in the Scottish Highlands to attend a family function. 

Commercials producer Estella Warren wonders how she is going to cope with her fear of commitment when psychiatrist Whoopi Goldberg goes on vacation in Tamara Tunie's romcom, See You in September (2010). But the mood is more sombre in Jon Sanders's Late September (2012), as Anna Mottram and Ken Vanstone suspect that their 40-year marriage is drifting to a close during a birthday party in the Kent countryside, while Salma Hayek becomes dependent on housekeeper Shohreh Aghdashloo after her Jewish jewellers husband, Adrien Brody, is arrested in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in Wayne Blair's adaptation of Dalia Sofer's novel, Septembers of Shiraz (2015).

A couple of fine films to look out for see John Mills attempt to clear his name of murder while suffering from amnesia in Roy Ward Baker The October Man (1947) and liberal Walter Matthau and conservative Jill Clayburgh trade verbal blows in Ronald Neame's US Supreme Court comedy, First Monday in October (1981). Richard Schenckman flashes back from a gun battle to show how various people came to be in a Los Angeles diner in October 22 (1998), while Joe Johnston heads back to 1957 for October Sky (1999), to show how science teacher Frieda J. Riley (Laura Dern) helped Homer Hickam, Jr. (Jake Gyllenhaal) find a way out of Coalwood, West Virginia by backing his bid to build his own rocket following the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite.

Photographer Courteney Cox has problems coming to terms with the murder of boyfriend James LeGros during a robbery on a Los Angeles convenience store in Greg Harrison's November (2004). But, as she becomes plagued by disconcerting flashbacks, she notices something startling in a photograph taken at the time of the incident.

Halloween Movies

A scary movie has become as much a part of Halloween as jack-o-lanterns and trick or treating. But only films set on 31 October make it into this selection. Titles ranging from Mark Sandrich's Holiday Inn (1942) and Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St Louis (1944) to Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and Nicolas Gessner's The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976) and Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko (2001) and Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) contain scenes set on this date. As does Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). However, our focus will be on stories set predominantly within these specific 24 hours. Mention must be made of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and its numerous spin-offs, but we'll be considering them in more detail with horror franchises

Beginning on a light note, Frank Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) sees Cary Grant marry Priscilla Lane on Halloween, only to discover that dotty aunts Josephine Hull and Jean Adair bump off lonely old bachelors with poisoned elderberry wine and hide the bodies in the window seat before their brother, John Alexander, buries them in the cellar. The scene shifts to 1965 for Floyd Mutrux's The Hollywood Knights (1980), as Ken Wuhl and his gang wreak their revenge on the members of the Beverly Hills Residents' Association responsible for the closure of their favourite hangout, Tubby's Drive-In. Another curse proves crucial to Kenny Ortega's Hocus Pocus (1993), as the virginal Omri Katz lights the Black Flame Candle under a full moon on All Hallows Eve and accidentally summons the spirits of witches Bette Midler, Kathy Najimi and Sarah Jessica Parker, who were hanged on the very same day in 1693 for killing girls in Salem, Massachusetts in a bid to reclaim their lost youth.

The yuks are somewhat schlockier in Rodman Flender's Idle Hands (1999), which follows slacker Devon Sawa's bid to enlist the help of walking dead buddies Seth Green and Eldon Henson to confound the murderous right hand he has cut off with a cleaver in order to romance neighbour Jessica Alba. But this feels like the model of comic restraint beside Bo Zenga's Stan Helsing (2009), which pitches video store drone Steve Howey (who just happens to be descended from legendary vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing) into a parodic nightmare haunted by such classic slasher monsters as Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Leatherface, Jason Voorhees, Pinhead and Chucky.

Younger viewers can also get into the Halloween spirit with Henry Selick's The Nightmare Before Christmas, Barry Sonnenfeld's Addams Family Values (both 1993) and Brad Silberling's Casper (1995), which all feature scenes set on 31 October. They can also meet the Gobloons that can turn the residents of 100 Acre Wood into Jaggedy Lanterns in Travis Oates's Pooh's Heffalump Halloween (2005) or look on as Susan (Reese Witherspoon) and her monster friends Missing Link (Will Arnett). B.O.B. (Seth Rogen) and Dr Cockroach (Hugh Laurie) see off an invading threat in Adam F. Goldberg's Monsters vs Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins From Outer Space (2009). Or, if they prefer some live-action spooking, they can join high school senior Victoria Justice, as she tries to find a way of ditching her eight-year-old brother in time to make it to the cool Halloween party all her classmates are going to in Josh Schwartz's Fun Size (2012). 

Those seeking full-on scares won't be disappointed by the Halloween sequences in John Fawcett's Ginger Snaps (2000), Lucky McKee's May (2002), Bobby Roe's The Houses October Built (2014) and Uli Edel's Pay the Ghost (2015), with the ever-watchable Nicolas Cage. But the plot centres on the witching hour in a particularly ghoulish trilogy. In Jeff Lieberman's Satan's Little Helper (2005), nine-year-old Alexander Brickel decides to go trick or treating around the quiet community of Bell Island as his favourite computer game character. However, while sister Katheryn Winnick thinks boyfriend Stephen Graham has donned a diabolical disguise to accompany her pesky sibling, the truth is more sinister.

More things aren't quite what they seem in the four tales interwoven in Michael Dougherty's Trick 'R Treat (2007), as high school principal Dylan Barker picks on a nasty student, innocent Anna Paquin vows to lose her virginity, four friends recall a school bus massacre and the cantankerous Brian Cox takes on a sprite intent on reinforcing the rules of Halloween. And there are more grim goings-on to savour in Tales of Halloween (2015), an anthology of 10 stories that includes contributions by Lucky McKee ('Ding Dong'), Adam Gierasch ('Trick'), Darren Lynn Bousman ('The Night Billy Raised Hell') and Neil Marshall ('Bad Seed').

Thanksgiving Films

While Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October, Americans reserve the fourth Thursday in November for reflecting on the year's blessings. Numerous Hollywood films have included scenes depicting family and friends reuniting for a lavish feast, with some of the more notable examples being Arthur Penn's Arlo Guthrie vehicle, Alice's Restaurant (1969); John G. Avildsen's Oscar-winning boxing saga, Rocky (1976); Lawrence Kasdan's cult friendship study, The Big Chill (1983); Donald Petrie's Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau reunion, Grumpy Old Men (1993); and Pat O'Connor's tearjerker, Sweet November (2001). Then there's Dennis Dugan's Jack and Jill (2011), in which Adam Sandler stars as both a successful advertising executive and his blowsy twin sister, and Josh Boone's Stuck in Love (2012), which has novelist Greg Kinnear wishfully setting a place at a table for ex-wife Jennifer Connelly. 

The Thanksgiving weekend has provided the setting for a number of much-loved movies, including John Hughes's Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), which feels advertising executive Steve Martin's pain, as a blizzard leads to the diversion of his flight from New York to Chicago and he has to endure a nightmare journey home with gauche shower curtain ring salesman John Candy. Another unsuited twosome come to appreciate each other in Martin Brest's Scent of a Woman (1992), which earned Al Pacino the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance as a blind and irascible army veteran, who plans to go out with a bang when prep school student Chris O'Donnell agrees to take care of him in order to earn his airfare home for Christmas.

There's another Method masterclass to admire in Robert Benton's Nobody's Fool (1994), as the Oscar-nominated Paul Newman excels as the New York construction worker at odds with contractor Bruce Willis and the prodigal son, Dylan Walsh. Model daughter Carla Gugino springs a surprise in Steve Rash's Son in Law (1993) when she returns to her farm town in South Dakota much changed after half a term at college in Los Angeles and with co-ed dorm adviser Pauly Shore in tow. But it's Tori Spelling whose eyes will be opened when she heads to 1980s Virginia with beau Josh Hamilton to meet his mother, Geneviève Bujold, brother Freddie Prinze, Jr. and unstable twin sister Parker Posey in Mark Waters's The House of Yes (1997), which really should be available on disc in the UK.

Having just lost her job and discovered that daughter Claire Danes is intent on sleeping with her boyfriend, Holly Hunter hopes to relax with her family in Jodie Foster's directorial debut, Home For the Holidays (1995). But parents Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning and siblings Robert Downey, Jr. and Cynthia Stevenson have no intention of letting Hunter put her feet up. There's little time for anyone to unwind over the Thanksgiving weekend of 1973, either, as suburban Connecticut neighbours Joan Allen and Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver and Henry Czerny (as well as children Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, and Elijah Wood) get caught up in the sexual revolution in Ang Lee's The Ice Storm (1997). 

Nothing quite goes according to plan as Vietnamese, Jewish, Hispanic and African-American families gather for the holiday and set about making their own distinctive preparations for their feast in Gurinder Chadha's underrated ensemble dramedy, What's Cooking? (2000). Pompous preppie Aaron Stanford also gets more than he bargained for in Gary Winick's Tadpole (2002), when he comes home to spend the weekend with history professor father John Ritter and stepmother Sigourney Weaver introduces him to her chiropractor friend, Bebe Neuwirth.

Emotions also run high in Peter Hedges's Pieces of April (2003), as Katie Holmes invites dying mother Patricia Clarkson to Thanksgiving dinner in her cramped apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. However, while the Oscar-nominated Clarkson sets out from suburban Pennsylvania with husband Oliver Platt and precocious daughter Alison Pill, Holmes discovers that her oven is broken and has to scour her tenement for someone who can help her, while boyfriend Derek Luke tries to find a decent suit to make a good impression on her parents. Doubtless, the news about the malfunctioning stove would be music to the ears of Jake (Woody Harrelson), the leader of the Turkey Freedom Front in Jimmy Hayward's time-travelling animated comedy, Free Birds (2013). But he can't take any chances and coerces Reggie (Owen Wilson) to venture back to the First Thanksgiving to try and ensure that turkey stays off the menu.

  • The Trouble with Harry (1955)

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    1h 35min

    Alfred Hitchcock often cited this adaptation of a Jack Trevor Story fable about a body in the Vermont woods as his favourite film. It's certainly among his most mischievous, as he relocates his trademark everyday terror from the city to the New England countryside and allows retired sea captain Edmund Gwenn, prim matron Mildred Natwick and new neighbour Shirley MacLaine to believe they are each responsible for the death of the latter's ex-husband and repeatedly exhume and re-bury his corpse. Amused by their antics, artist John Forsythe aids and abets their efforts to find out what actually happened to the hapless Harry and keep him away from snooping deputy sheriff, Royal Dano. While the picture flopped Stateside, European audiences got the joke and the sly allusions to faith being exploited as a means of social control. Bernard Herrmann's twinkling score reinforces the mood of macabre whimsy, but it's Robert Burks's lustrous Technicolor imagery that lingers in the memory.

    Director:
    Alfred Hitchcock
    Cast:
    John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine, Edmund Gwenn
    Genre:
    Thrillers, Classics, Comedy, Collections
    Availability:
    Blu-ray, DVD
  • An Autumn Afternoon/A Hen in the Wind (1962) Sanma no aji/ Kaze no naka no mendori

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    3h 13min

    Although its original title translates as 'A Taste of Sanma' and refers to a Japanese fish dish, an unmistakable air of autumnal melancholy pervades Yasujiro Ozu's final film, An Autumn Afternoon. Widowed salaryman Chishu Ryu seems content to let daughter Shima Iwashita take care of him and youngest son, Shinichiro Mikami. But his attitude changes when he attends a school reunion and sees how dutiful daughter Haruko Sugimura has missed her chance of happiness by staying home to look after her ageing teacher father, Eijiro Tono. Written with regular co-scenarist Kogo Noda, this deceptively droll story was typical of the 'shomin-geki' brand of realist melodrama that Ozu produced in his postwar heyday. Shooting in Agfacolor, cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta spends little time in the Tokyo streets. But he deftly etches in the seasonal mood, as Ozu ruminates with a delightful blend of wit and warmth on ageing, nostalgia, loss, loneliness and the responsibilities that parents and children have towards each other.

    Director:
    Yasujirô Ozu
    Cast:
    Chishû Ryû, Shima Iwashita, Keiji Sada
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • Autumn Sonata (1978) Hostsonaten

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    1h 30min

    Exquisitely photographed by Sven Nykvist, the only film Ingmar and Ingrid Bergman made together turned out to be the Swedish actress's cinematic swan song. It proved to be an unhappy experience for them both, as Ingmar had been forced into exile after being falsely accused of tax evasion, while Ingrid had recently been diagnosed with cancer that would kill her in 1982. Moreover, she disliked the language used in the screenplay, while he detested the fact she had rehearsed before a mirror before arriving on set, which went against his preferred brand of naturalism. Yet, while they argued throughout the shoot, Ingrid realised that Ingmar had prompted her into examining her own experience of motherhood to give one of her most nuanced performances, as a concert pianist who is reunited with daughter Liv Ullmann for the first time in seven years and is forced to concede that she has neglected her incurably sick daughter, Lena Nyman.

    Director:
    Ingmar Bergman
    Cast:
    Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Lena Nyman
    Genre:
    Drama, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Fly Away Home (1996)

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    1h 43min

    Seventeen years after they had collaborated to the exceptional effect on The Black Stallion (1979), director Carroll Ballard and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel reunited on this heartwarming saga. It was based on the exploits of Canadian artist Bill Lishman, who had started experimenting with teaching geese to fly behind a microlight aircraft after watching compatriot Stephen Low's documentary, Skyward (1985). Lishman had made his own short, C'mon Geese, before Ballard embarked upon this project, which adds a family angle to the feathered fable. Coming to live with estranged father Jeff Daniels after her mother is killed in a car crash in New Zealand, the 13-year-old Anna Paquin talks him into letting her guide 16 Canada Geese on their autumnal migration from Ontario to North Carolina. While the aerial photography and the discreet use of special effects prove crucial to the film's spectacle and plausibility, it's Paquin's wonderful rapport with the growing birds that makes this so cherishable.

  • You've Got Mail (1998)

    1h 55min

    Having been teamed in John Patrick Shanley's Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) and Nora Ephron's Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan had no hesitation in signing up to Ephron's updating of Parfumerie, a 1936 play by Hungarian Miklós László that had already inspired Ernst Lubitsch's timeless romcom, The Shop Around the Corner (1940), and Robert Z. Leonard's musical, In the Good Old Summertime (1949). As before, the story (which opens as the leaves start to change colour) centres around two anonymous correspondents who fall in love through their messages while being unaware that they loathe each other in real life. In this case, Ryan runs an independent bookshop in Manhattan's Upper West Side that is under threat from the chain of soulless mega-stores that employs Hanks. Notwithstanding the fact that modern social media practices render the action rather antiquated (and, sometimes, a little disconcerting), this has lost little of its charm over the intervening 20 years.

    Director:
    Nora Ephron
    Cast:
    Tom Hanks, Elwood Edwards, Meg Ryan
    Genre:
    Drama, Comedy, Romance, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • An Autumn Tale (1998) Conte d'automne

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    1h 47min

    Set in a vineyard in the Rhône Valley, this teasing treatise on midlife ennui forms the concluding part of Eric Rohmer's joyous series on the Four Seasons, which had started with A Tale of Springtime (1989), A Winter's Tale (1992) and A Summer's Tale (1996). Wishing her friend was as content as she is, bourgeois Marie Rivière persuades Béatrice Romand to place a lonelyhearts ad in the local newspaper and even offers to assume her identity in order to vet divorced businessman Alain Libolt. But Rivière is not alone in trying to matchmake Romand, as her son's new girlfriend, Alexia Portal, has hit upon the idea of pairing her up with her teacher, Didier Sandre, to make amends for ending their affair. In many ways, this is a companion piece to The Green Ray (1986), in which Rivière had been pining for love. But there's also a hint of Rohmer's hero, Alfred Hitchcock, in the various deceptions and impersonations.

    Director:
    Eric Rohmer
    Cast:
    Marie Rivière, Béatrice Romand, Alain Libolt
    Genre:
    Romance, Drama, Comedy, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • The Straight Story (1999)

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    1h 47min

    David Lynch had revelled in the shades of Fall captured in his cult TV series, Twin Peaks (1990-91), and the autumnal landscape plays an even more pivotal part in this mischievously leisurely and astonishingly fact-based road movie. On hearing that his older brother, Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton), has suffered a stroke, seventysomething Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) forgets all about their decade-long feud and climbs aboard his John Deere 110 Lawn Tractor (which has a top speed of five miles an hour) to make the 240-mile journey across four states from Laurens, Iowa to Blue River, Wisconsin. Having driven a chariot in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956), this represented quite a change of pace for the onetime stuntman, who became the oldest Best Actor nominee at the age of 79 years and 167 days. But cinematographer Freddie Francis was in his eighties when he produced the majestic views of the harvest-time fields and spectacular skies.

    Director:
    David Lynch
    Cast:
    Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Jane Galloway Heitz
    Genre:
    Drama, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Autumn in New York (2000)

    1h 41min

    It's never a good sign when a film is released without a press screening in the hope that it can make a few bucks before the critics maul it. And the knives were undoubtedly out for Joan Chen's follow-up to her lauded Chinese debut, Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl (1998). The mawkish twist prompted tutting comparisons to Arthur Hiller's Love Story (1970), while most were in agreement that womanising restaurateur Richard Gere was too much of a slimeball to deserve the devotion wasted on him by free spirit Winona Ryder. But it was the 26-year age gap and the fact that Vera Farmiga is about to make Gere a grandfather that drew the most ire. Times have changed since the likes of Cary Grant romanced women young enough to be their daughters, but this picture got more than its share of brickbats, as Gu Changwei's photography is consistently lovely, even though Chen does overuse the falling leaf motif.

    Director:
    Joan Chen
    Cast:
    Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, Anthony LaPaglia
    Genre:
    Drama, Romance, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Far from Heaven (2002)

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    1h 42min

    A wisp of autumnal perfection greets the viewer in the opening sequences of Todd Haynes's fourth feature. But don't be fooled by production designer Mark Friedberg's impeccable recreation of small-town America in the Roosevelt era, as this is very much a commentary on the conservative drift that would eventually sweep Donald Trump into power. The story of a model wife and mother (Julianne Moore) who learns who her real friends are when she seeks solace from her black gardener (Dennis Haysbert) after discovering that her sales executive husband (Dennis Quaid) is homosexual owes much to such Douglas Sirk films as All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Imitation of Life (1959). But this is no mere pastiche, as the Hartford, Connecticut recreated for Edward Lachman's Technicolor camera sets the same store by consumer comfort and social acceptance as modern Americans do. The performances are neatly judged, while Haynes succeeds fully in producing 'a film that makes you just weep'.

  • Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

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    1h 23min

    Although the story draws on Roald Dahl's beloved children's book, Wes Anderson's stop-motion animation also owes much to such cinematic sources as Ladislas Starevich's enchanting fable, The Tale of the Fox (1941). Capturing the essence of autumn, the colours of the woodland setting and the costumes worn by the animals make this visually irresistible. But there's nothing quaint about the efforts of farmers Bean, Boggs and Bunce to eliminate Mr Fox (George Clooney) after he breaks his promise to wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) and drifts away from his new career as a newspaper columnist to return to a life of crime with sidekick, Kylie Opossum (Wally Wolodarsky). The vocal work is polished, while the storytelling allows for the odd flight of fancy without losing sight of the core message. But this is a visual treat that reminds audiences of all ages that state-of-the-art animation doesn't always have to be generated by a computer.

    Director:
    Wes Anderson
    Cast:
    George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray
    Genre:
    Children & Family, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
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