I have a pretty good handle on my Christmas/winter movie canon. But fall? Not so much. That’s what inspired me to consider the movies I return to during autumn, or seek out when I want that Mr. Autumn Man feeling on screen regardless of the season.
To qualify, they have to take place primarily within, embody the spirit of, and have the look and feel of autumn. Somy beloved Little Women (both the 1994 and 2019 renditions) don’t quite make the cut given their year-round plots. Nor do other movies that are widely considered fall movies but I either haven’t seen (Hocus Pocus, Practical Magic) or care enough about (When Harry Met Sally).
Here, listed alphabetically, is what I landed on, along with some of their appealingly autumnal attributes.
Dia de Los Muertos. The spookiness. The cemetery.
The foliage. The sweaters and coats. The gothic architecture.
The title of the movie. The overcast. The mournful spirit. The gorgeous music. The light jackets and flannel. (This is really #1.)
Remember the Titans
The nighttime football. The new-school-year vibes.
The cloaks. The chilly nights. The aphyllus trees. The forest walks.
Winter is a time of superlative life. Frosty air sets our blood to racing. The nip of the wind quickens our step. Creatures abroad at this season of the year live intensely, stimulated by cold, using all their powers, all their capacities, to survive. Gone is the languor of August heat waves. Winter provides the testing months, the time of fortitude and courage. For innumerable seeds and insect eggs, this period of cold is essential to sprouting or hatching. For trees, winter is a time of rest. It is also a season of hope. The days are lengthening. The sun is returning. The whole year is beginning. All nature, with bud and seed and egg, looks forward with optimism.
Alone among the seasons, winter extends across the boundary line into two calendars. It is the double season. We meet it twice in each twelve months. It embraces the end and the beginning of the year. It includes the great holiday times of Christmas and New Year’s. Alone among the seasons it retains its original Anglo-Saxon spelling. Spring began as springen, literally “to spring” as the grass springs up; summer as sumer; and fall as feallan, referring to the falling leaves. But winter was always winter.
Originally printed in the North Central Chronicle on April 3, 2009.
A friend of mine grew up with the California itch. Her family was from San Francisco but she was stuck in Wisconsin for most of her life. She always complained about it and talk about wanting to be an actress and live the life in Hollywood, get out of the Midwest and all that.
She eventually went to college in Los Angeles. But after a few years there she became disillusioned with the West Coast life for some reason. I thought nothing but a family reunion every decade would bring her back to the Midwest, but now she says she is coming home after graduation.
What brought her back? Maybe it was the bratwurst and quality beer. Midwesterners know how to eat and drink, that’s for sure. Maybe it was the sports teams. God knows the Packers are way cooler than the San Diego Chargers.
I don’t know exactly, but my point is we have a great thing going here in the Midwest. It’s hard to appreciate this when, if you’re like me, you have lived here your whole life. But we have seasons. Actual seasons. Californians don’t know the meaning of the word. All they get are sun and 70s. Some of you think that’s the perfect kind of weather. But when you get that all day, every day, it gets boring. You start thinking you’re entitled to perfect weather. Maybe that’s why West Coasters get that stereotype of entitlement.
Right now we are starting to enjoy the fruits of spring. There will be green grass and flowers and rebirth and sun. We get thunderstorms, baby rabbits, and puddles in which we can gleefully splash. Then summer will come with its freedom and fun and humidity and even more sun. Summer is a great season, sure, but our version doesn’t distinguish us from the rest of the world. Summer then leads us to autumn, the season that makes you think philosophically about life and death and bobbing for apples while you watch the colors fall from decaying trees.
And then, winter, the most polarizing season. The lovers love the snow, the sledding, the snowballs, and Christmas, while the haters hate the cold, the cold, and the cold. I am a self-proclaimed winter-lover. Yes, even the cold. It toughens us. It doesn’t allow us to take for granted the warmth of the summer. It makes the spring all the more beautiful after months of cold and dreariness.
You can’t go 10 minutes without hearing someone complain about the weather here. Like the weather is the only thing stopping them from enjoying their life. When did that become the case? June and July don’t have a monopoly joy. January has a share of it too. We are just exiting winter, so I suspect the complaints will subside-for now. Another year and the yelping will come back again, just as annoying as ever.
That’s why, amongst those who bemoan the trappings of winter, I exalt its virtues. I say I love it for all the reasons they hate it. It’s too cold, they say. All the better the warmth will feel. It’s too dreary, they say. All the brighter the sun will shine. In spite of all the bad things that are happening around us, I’m just trying to look for the good. We’re supposed to be living in the age of hope, after all.
So come November, as the temperatures drop and your nose hairs begin to freeze, turn that frown upside down and remember that Californians will never know how it feels to walk on ice. Or how it feels to get a snowball in the face. That, my Midwest friends, is something that is reserved for us.