It’s time for pumpkins and fall leaves, crisp cool air and wool sweaters, the Duke of Fall and the High Priest of the Harvest. So with that in mind:
What movie best captures the vibe of fall?
At what point will the turning of the leaves stop stirring up Proustian sense-memories of returning to school, starting up cross country, and getting vaguely excited by the terrifying social possibilities of the new school year? You can practically smell the dead leaves in Rushmore, Wes Anderson’s bittersweet and frequently very funny breakout film, which follows a very Wes Andersonian young man as he juggles his ambitions, crushes, and fears at the start of a new school year. The titular academy was portrayed, on-screen, by the actual school Anderson attended in Houston, and the director captures it in perfect first-months-of-school color, the backdrops pockmarked with emptying trees and the grounds themselves covered in scattered patches of warm-colored foliage. Anderson’s characters are funnier and listen to much better music, but the mood is pure, undiluted autumn, whether you’re starting up classes again or not.
Speaking on behalf of His Excellency, the Duke of Fall, I wish I could answer this with a movie that I actually like. But while I left The Vicious Kind relatively underwhelmed by its family drama and largely grossed out by its story of a burnout townie (Adam Scott doing a rougher-hewn version of Asshole Adam Scott) coming on to his little brother’s college girlfriend (Brittany Snow) over the Thanksgiving holiday, I still left the theater full of autumnal wistfulness. Maybe it was just a matter of timing: I caught The Vicious Kind at the Austin Film Festival in October of 2009, when my body felt like the leaves and the temperatures should be falling, yet my surroundings stubbornly refused to follow suit. For the four years I lived in Central Texas, I’d accept any form of ersatz fall, even if it came courtesy of something as ugly and misanthropic as a dysfunctional-family indie executive produced by Neil LaBute.
The second the daylight grows even slightly diffuse and the first day hits 60 degrees, I get the Pavlovian urge to revisit Fellowship Of The Rings. Part of this is very literal aesthetics. Peter Jackson says he designed Elrond’s home of Rivendell specifically with an autumnal palette to illustrate the waning presence of the elves in Middle Earth. The open, airy courtyards are littered with fallen leaves and the whole place is suffused with the golden honey light of fall. Part of it is the feelings evoked by all the establishing scenes in the Shire. The hobbit’s commitment to all the most comfortable of domestic arts resonates very strongly with the time of year you want to do nothing more than experiment with making savory tarts, huddle underneath a blanket, and drink a cup of tea that’s just as much bourbon. After all, as Bilbo has learned from his adventures, every journey is made sweeter for knowing that at the end, your own home awaits you.
This answer may be cliché, but here it is: Nothing sums up fall for me like Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal strolling through Central Park in When Harry Met Sally, while Harry Connick Jr. covers Gershwin tunes in the background. Nature in the city is one of my favorite paradoxes, so I love when the pair explores the park in full-on, vibrant foliage; you can practically smell the crispness in the air. Truth be told, I adore the vast majority of this Rob Reiner movie, which I’ve seen countless times, especially the Carrie Fisher moments and brief karaoke nods. But Harry and Sally’s walk-and-talks are so gorgeously autumnally framed, they remind me to get out there this time of year and enjoy my own Chicago version of fall magnificence: Lincoln Park, particularly the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, with Sinatra on earbuds. Or better yet, a friend to verbally spar with and get a cozy dinner with afterward.
Maybe I’ve just got Michael Myers on the brain, what with the new movie hitting theaters today, but when I think fall, I think of the original Halloween. For all the voyeuristic dread of Michael stalking Laurie and her friends across the (fictional) suburban streets of Haddonfield, I find the early scenes weirdly comforting—probably because they pretty perfectly capture the feel, if not the look, of fall in the Midwest, even though Carpenter shot the movie in California. Autumn’s always been my favorite season (keep your swim trunks, summer lovers), and a big part of that is how agonizingly brief it can be in this part of the country: a little pocket of blissfully moderate weather between the humid weeks and the frigid ones. Halloween, then, often becomes a kind of sendoff for the season, a last hurrah before the temperatures really drop. And Halloween, the movie, always takes me back to those bittersweet final days of fall; I almost wish I could step right into the film and take a stroll through the Strodes’ neighborhood, even if it meant possibly getting stabbed real good by an escaped psychopath in a painted Captain Kirk mask.