A Fall Haul, Y’all

More seasonal cinema

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

It’s all James Bond’s fault.

Over the course of 24 official films, 007 has dispatched some iconic villains—from Dr. No to Goldfinger to Hugo Drax and so on—but such badassery has not come without collateral damage. A lot of collateral damage.

But I never saw the shaken-not-stirred secret agent taking down an entire theater chain simply by failing to show up on time. Now there’s a plot twist no one could have predicted.

However, that’s exactly what has happened. When it was announced that the release of No Time to Die, Bond installment number 25, would be delayed until spring 2021, after having already been bumped from spring to autumn 2020, Cineworld, the parent company of Regal cinemas, announced the temporary closure of every single one of its theaters in the United States until further notice.

Far from some nefarious plot worthy of a Bond film, their reasoning was as simple as these things get: Mainstream multiplexes rely on major blockbusters to survive, which is especially true now, when so many theaters are closed or operating at limited capacity due to COVID-19 shutdowns. With distributor after distributor delaying major release after major release, chains such as Regal have nothing to show. Nothing to show and the math doesn’t pencil.

Blame it on Bond, blame it on COVID—either way, it appears as if none of us will be stepping foot inside a mainstream theater anytime soon.

Which brings us right back to where we started this pandemic, which is to say on our couches, watching movies at home. With Halloween on the horizon, I’m one of the many people who will begin to binge horror flicks shortly. But before I invite Freddy, Jason, and Michael into my living room, I plan to take a deep dive into a different kind of seasonal cinema, those movies that are steeped in autumn’s golden glow. Don your favorite sweater and pick up a PSL (that’s pumpkin spice latte) because it’s a fall haul, y’all.

Before I watched it, I knew I’d love Knives Out. It checked all my mystery boxes: major Agatha Christie vibes, a director (Rian Johnson) as obsessed with both Clue and Gosford Park as I am, and a patriarch with a name (Harlan Thrombey) ripped straight from the pages of a Choose Your Own Adventure whodunit. Add to that a stellar cast that includes Daniel Craig, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, and Jamie Lee Curtis, all bringing their considerable chops to bear on wholly absurd characters, and it was a movie that felt made for me. But it was Chris Evans—and his much-remarked-upon sweater—that makes Knives Out a fall flick I will watch over and over again. As spoiled, smarmy Ransom Drysdale, he’s about as far as can be from the highly moral Captain America—and he’s become my favorite Hollywood Chris because of it.

When Harry Met Sally is one of those movies that probably shouldn’t hold up, but thanks to a timeless rom-com turn by Meg Ryan (all apologies to Billy Crystal, but he’s not doing the heavy lifting here) and plentiful footage of the glories of New York during fall, the Nora Ephron/Rob Reiner classic is always good for a rewatch. Centered on Harry’s (Crystal) premise that men and women can’t be friends, it traces a dozen years of his very fulfilling and only sometimes frustrating friendship with Sally (Ryan), introducing us to such phrases as “high-maintenance” and “transitional person” that have now become part of our lexicon. Life sure seems a lot more complicated than when the movie was released in 1989, so pull up a piece of pecan pie and travel back to a simpler time.

There is no opinion that I’ve had to defend more times in my life than my ambivalence about Wes Anderson, both his style and his films. I’m not going to hash that out now as I’m not here to hate on anyone, but I will say that nearly all of Anderson’s cinematic efforts leave me cold, save for one standout: Fantastic Mr. Fox. Somehow, all of the things that irritate me about Anderson’s live-action movies become strengths when rendered in charming stop-motion animation. Impeccable voice work by George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Anderson stalwarts Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, and others, combined with Mr. Fox’s dapper corduroy suit that suits the season, make this an animated adventure perfect for autumn.

For so many people, fall means football. I am not one of those people, but I do enjoy a football film, such as Any Given Sunday, Remember the Titans, or even Rudy. However, of all the fine football flicks out there, my favorite is Friday Night Lights. Before it was an acclaimed television drama, it was a 2004 film directed by, of all people, Peter Berg (he also developed the TV show). And before it was a movie, Friday Night Lights was an excellent nonfiction book written by Buzz Bissinger (seriously, I encourage you to read it—you’ve got time these days). Both the book and film follow the Permian Panthers, a high school team in football-obsessed West Texas, as they make their 1988 state championship run. There’s a lot more on the line for kids, parents and townspeople than just a trophy, as the film capably captures (it also features Tim McGraw in his first big-screen role—and the country crooner does a good job with it).

So far, all of my recommendations are for movies that most people would consider to be good. But sometimes when the leaves fall and a chill creeps into the air, all you want to do is bundle up, find a blanket, pour a little whiskey into your hot apple cider and watch something truly, completely, unequivocally and unapologetically terrible. Have I got the movie for you. On paper, Autumn in New York doesn’t seem so bad. It stars Richard Gere at his matinee idol best as a 48-year-old womanizer (clearly the role was a stretch for him), and Winona Ryder as the somewhat free-spirited 22-year-old woman he falls for. It’s your classic May-December romance as he tells her they have no future on account of how he’s a commitment-phobe and she tells him they have no future on account of how she’s dying. Cue autumnal scenes of New York in which she recites poetry, he falls in love—and then there’s something about an illegitimate daughter and a swan and by the time it’s over, Richard will be crying but you probably won’t be.

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