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.
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.
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').
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.