Let’s face it, summer isn’t as great as everyone says. In fact, summer is actually kinda rotten: mosquitos, heat waves, tornadoes, people who shouldn’t be wearing shorts walking around wearing shorts (I include myself in this number).
But it’s September now. Things are starting to cool down. Sweaters are pulled out. High school football is back. You get to make pumpkin pies and not have to justify that to yourself. It’s your duty as an American.
So while you’re eating pumpkin pie, having a caramel apple at a high school football game, or walking along wearing a sweater on a chilly morning, it’s time to add some autumnal movies into your queue.
This is one of those movies that you wonder about. When you first watched it, you probably loved it. The question is: does it hold up? Is it as charming, winsome, and the kind of tear-jerking delight that you remember it to be? The answer: this movie is pretty much as good as you remember it. Zach Braff plays a struggling actor in Los Angeles who travels to his small hometown in New Jersey to bury his mother, runs into some friends from high school, and starts dating Natalie Portman, who is the definition of quirky. Braff wrote, directed and starred in this movie. And it has a magical soundtrack that Braff put together himself and for which he won a Grammy. Yes, it’s worth seeing Garden State again, especially with the leaves turning and now that you’re feeling a bit melancholy.
You know, you could go out and watch Autumn in New York (2000), but for my money, the best Autumn in New York movie is this one. Nora Ephron’s script is a comedic masterpiece that tries to answer the question “Can men and women just be friends?” Uh, no? This movie has so many memorable moments, none better than the scene in the deli when Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm to demonstrate to Billy Crystal that women can do that effectively almost anywhere. “I’ll have what she’s having,” says an old lady sitting next to them. No matter how many times I see that scene, that line is still funny. The most remarkable achievement of this Rob Reiner movie, however, is that Billy Crystal is not annoying. He’s actually charming and funny! Who knew?
Okay, I confess: I am a total sucker for this movie. I think it’s just wonderful. It’s fall in Philadelphia, the Eagles’ season has started, and Bradley Cooper is home after a long stay in a mental institution and is dealing with his various mental health issues. He’s not really ready for normal, everyday life, much to the consternation of his family and everyone else who knows him (including Robert De Niro who plays his father)… except for the self-destructive young widow he meets, played by Jennifer Lawrence. This masterwork, written and directed by David O. Russell, is a clear-eyed and realistic look at how mental illness impacts families. It’s moving, funny, sad, and inspiring. Put this one in your queue right now.
And you thought stop-action movies died out with Gumby cartoons. Well, they kinda did, until Wes Anderson came along with this beguiling film about a group of animals rising up to combat a trio of mean farmers. It’s harvest time on the farms, and the farmers are particularly prickly about the foxes, badgers, weasels, et al., trying to snatch up their crops before they can harvest them. Normally, a person would be on the side of the farmers, but in this case, you’re cheering for the animals, especially Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney—hey, George Clooney could talk me into just about anything.). The stop-action animation here is brilliant, the overall design and look of the film is gorgeous, and it also features the voice work of Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, and Owen Wilson. This is a reverse of the old paradigm of a kids’ movie the parents will enjoy. This is an adult movie the kids will love.
Here’s your chance—if you haven’t already—to discover one of the greatest directors in world cinema: Yasujiro Ozu. Ozu is a sort of mirror opposite of his fellow countryman, Akira Kurosawa, although both delve deeply into Japanese culture and identity. Kurosawa’s films are usually historical dramas, epic in scale and theme, and filled with incident. Ozu, on the other hand, focuses his films mainly on issues of family, marriage, and the small events of domestic drama. An Autumn Afternoon was his final film, and probably his best. It tells the story of a family patriarch who is attempting to arrange a marriage for his daughter, Michiko. This is a profoundly melancholy and yet intensely beautiful film. Don’t be put off by the Japanese; the version here is subtitled. Relax. You’ll get used to reading the dialogue. This is a wonderful movie and definitely one to watch on a chilly September night. Sit down on the couch, pull an afghan over yourself, grab some Kleenex, and enjoy.
Well, here it is—a comedy by Alfred Hitchcock. No kidding. Set in a small town in Vermont during the height of foliage season, a dead body is found on the edge of town and somehow everyone in town feels guilty that they may have inadvertently killed Harry, even if they are uncertain how they did it. Maybe an errant bullet by a deer hunter? Maybe a blow to the head from a milk bottle by someone else? You get the picture. It’s a pretty movie to watch because it’s set in a small town in Vermont during the fall, but it’s also tremendously amusing. If you’re a Hitchcock fan and have never seen this, it’s time to put it in your queue. The outstanding cast includes Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine, and, Jerry Mathers. Yes, that Jerry Mathers from Leave It to Beaver. Guess what? He plays a pesty little kid. Perfect!
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.