Seven nearly perfect movies for autumn

Fall, that wonderful time of the year, when our thoughts shift from sandcastles and water ice to brightly colored leaves and jack-o-lanterns. In movieland, it’s the season to shift from teen-centric blockbusters meant to fill the cash drawer to contemplative fare intended to win awards. Similarly, films set in the fall tend to appeal to more melancholic, or at least, dramatic tastes, as in the DVDs suggested below.

Autumn Sonata (1978)

The focus here is on Ingrid Bergman, acclaimed star of Hollywood’s golden era (Casablanca, Gaslight), in her last big screen role, playing an aging concert pianist visiting her daughter (Liv Ullman), who longs for her mother’s love. Directed by Ingmar Bergman (Fanny and Alexander, Wild Strawberries), the movie is steeped in the chilly melancholy of Sweden but is warmed by the terrific performances of the actors.

Dead Poets Society (1989)

It’s bittersweet to watch the late Robin Williams play the popular high school English teacher at a conservative private boys’ school as he encourages students to find and follow their passions. In the buttoned-up 1950s, though, his efforts have unintended consequences. Many of the boys’ roles are played by young actors who have since become stars: Ethan Hawke (Training Day, Boyhood), Josh Charles (just killed off in TV’s The Good Wife), and Robert Sean Leonard (TV’s House).

Far from Heaven (2002)

Julianne Moore stars in this emotional family drama about Cathy Whitaker, a 1950s housewife whose life slowly comes undone when she gets romantically involved with her African-American gardener. Vibrantly photographed in saturated autumnal colors, the film is director Todd Haynes’ paean to the classic Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sir (All That Heaven Allows). Dennis Quaid is surprisingly effective as Cathy’s closeted, conflicted husband.

The Four Seasons (1981) Another Year (2010)

Both these films, made 30 years apart, follow a couple and their friends through the ups and downs of a full calendar year. The Four Seasons was a star-studded affair in the 1980s, featuring Alan Alda (who also directed), Carol Burnett, Rita Moreno, Sandy Dennis, and others through a rather tumultuous turn of the seasons. Although the film was successful in its original release, its earnest marital dramas have not weathered well. Another Year uses a similar conceit to reveal simpler, resonant truths about a happily married English couple. Played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, the couple becomes uncomfortably involved in the unhappy life of Mary, one of the wife’s coworkers.

Indian Summer (1993)

A quiet comedy about a group of friends who reunite, at the invitation of their former counselor (Alan Arkin), for a week at the summer camp they all attended as kids. Diane Lane (Under the Tuscan Sun) and Matt Craven (X-Men: First Class) also star in this sweet and nostalgic look at the good old days, which were definitely sunnier than the grown-up lives of the former campers.

The Trouble with Harry (1955)

The trouble is that he is dead, rather inconveniently for several residents of a small New England town in this black comedy from Alfred Hitchcock (it’s one of his lesser classics). John Forsythe and Shirley MacLaine (in her first film role) star, with clever supporting work from Edmund Gwenn and Mildred Natwick. The often-hilarious and beautifully photographed movie is also noteworthy for a brief appearance by Jerry Mathers (before his Leave It to Beaver days) and as the first collaboration between Hitch and composer Bernard Herrmann.

Mark Fields
Mark Fields has reviewed films for Out & About since October 2008. In addition, he has written O&A profiles of documentarian Harry Shearer and actress Aubrey Plaza. Mark also has written on the movies for several publications in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and his home state of Indiana, where he also served as on-air movie critic for Indianapolis’s public radio station. Mark has been an adjunct instructor of film history at Rowan University since 1998. A career arts administrator, he is the executive director of Wilmington’s Grand Opera House and now lives on Market Street. Mark spent the fastest 22 minutes of his life as an unsuccessful contestant on Jeopardy…sadly, there were no movie questions.