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Autumn in New York: The Ultimate Watchlist

Everyone told us: don’t worry. Come Autumn, it’s gonna be worth it.

Martin and I moved to New York on a January weekend so relentlessly dismal that it took us 48 hours to even get anywhere near the city. (Near, according to Delta Airlines, was Charlotte, North Carolina. But that’s another story… let’s just say I remain convinced that our having watched The Out-of-Towners just before leaving jinxed us…)

By the time we made it to our new home on the upper west side, it was dark, freezing, and our street had yet to be snow plowed which made lugging our over-sized suitcases something of a wet, slushy nightmare. Better yet, our rather sketchy landlord insisted that we pick up our apartment keys from a laundromat about 10 blocks away while refusing to give us specific contact details.

“Just show up,” he said. “They’ll be expecting you.”

UMMMM….

We moved ourselves up our 4-floor walk-up—in the snow—and along with dealing with a new job and selling our home back down in Atlanta, let’s just say, were were worried. What had we done. As kids who grew up in hot climates (I’m from Los Angeles, he’s from Atlanta) and in cities designed laterally instead of vertically (again, Los Angeles and Atlanta) the culture shock was immediate and real.

As the days lengthened into weeks and months, with no end of the winter in sight, we settled into a state of acceptance and a burgeoning grudge with Woody Allen movies: False. Advertising.

And still people told us, “Don’t worry. Just wait until Autumn gets here, you’re gonna love it.”

Two months of snow, six weeks of oppressive heat, and endless days of manic depressive weather and … suddenly we are Dorothy over the rainbow:

“They” were right. In fact, it’s hard to improve upon the evocative lyrics of that beautiful, timeless song:

Autumn in New York, the gleaming rooftops at sundown
Autumn in New York, it lifts you up when you’re let down

Needless to say, it’s also a supremely romantic time of year— just as the song also says, it “brings the promise of new love.” With the smell of nutmeg and pumpkin spicing the brisk air, autumn leaves falling onto the dewy streets, and couples bundled in layers of woolens walking hand in gloved hand, the city becomes a natural muse for writers, musicians, poets, and of course, filmmakers.

Now, the movies have always had a love affair with New York. The industry was born here after all, and filmmakers lovingly dote upon the city.

In his excellent book Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies, James Sanders makes engrossing study of what he describes of two different New York Cities: the real city– the one that greeted us that dreadful January day– and the movie city. The dream city.

“For decades have been visiting [the dream city], inhabiting it, thrilling to it–to its cocktail parties and power lunches, its subway chases and opening nights, its playground rumbles and penthouse romances. We know its people: Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly in a rear apartment in the Village. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in a glamorous rooftop nightclub …

New York and the movies seem made for each other. New York is dynamic, restless–ideal for the constantly moving images that make up a film. In a city of action, a place where things happen. It is a city of powerful imagery, of sharp verticals and rushing horizontals. It is a city of fast-paced living, well suited to the brevity of feature film. Like New York, film is big. Like New York, it is larger than life. And like New York, it embodies–even defines–qualities of romance, glamour, danger, adventure.

Film has transformed New York–a city that looms so large by almost every measure–to an even higher plane. It becomes an elemental force, transcending any earthly place: a super city, a mythic city, a dream city.”

With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of New York movies that, in this writer’s opinion, do a masterful job of capturing the essence of what Autumn in New York feels like: cozy, soft, romantic…and a wee bit wistful. Some selections are quite obvious (You’ve Got Mail) others much more figurative (An Unmarried Woman) and a few of them fudge on the whole “autumn” thing ( Moonstruck ) but all of them, I hope, are movies that you’ll want to snuggle up to with a glass of wine during these long autumn evenings.

Enjoy your trip to film’s ultimate “Dream City”… and you don’t even have to deal with the MTA to get there. Lucky.

BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1967)

“Thank you, Mr. Dooley. Next time you’re in New York, just call me up.”

The film takes place in winter not fall, but Neil Simon’s spunky, sparkling dialogue (not to mention Fonda’s awesome sweater game) make it a perfect choice for a snuggly night-in on a brisk autumn evening.  Robert Redford and Fonda are The Bradfords: a young (and drop-dead gorgeous) newlywed couple fresh from their honeymoon of 7 days (and nights) at The Plaza Hotel who are about to find out that they have absolutely nothing in common.

Available for rent on Amazon Video.

AN UNMARRIED WOMAN (1978)

Fucking city’s turning into one big pile of dog shit!  Come on out and take a crap on me – everybody else is!

Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman is hardly a film you’d think of as a romantic New York movie. But. That’s because everything about it is so painfully realistic–right down to the trash on the sidewalks– which makes the magical moments in the film so thoroughly unforgettable. Set in SoHo (before SoHo was sexy) Jill Clayburgh (in a powerhouse Oscar-winning performance) takes us through the drastic ups and downs of divorce with that most scene-stealing of co-stars: New York City.

Available for DVD rental from Netflix.

MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON (1984)

Yesterday I bought my first pair of American shoes. They were made in Italy.

Like An Unmarried Woman, this is another film that you wouldn’t think of snuggling up to on an autumn evening. But it should be. Because this is a film that, to me, really sums up the magic of New York like few others have accomplished. Robin Williams turns in a marvelous performance as a Russian saxophonist who, desperate to escape to America, defects at Bloomingdales. The film is equal parts funny and heartbreaking; sweet and somber. Which is to say, it’s much like the city itself.

Available for rent on Amazon Video.

 BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961)

And I always heard people in New York never get to know their neighbors.

I’m going to be honest, here: Breakfast at Tiffany’s is probably my least favorite of Audrey Hepburn’s films. That said? There’s something undeniably wonderful about it. (Mickey Rooney not included. #SorryNotSorry.) Maye it’s Mis Hepburn’s Givenchy wardrobe, Henry Mancini’s score, Cat, or, let’s be honest: Patricia Neal. And of course there’s Holly Golightly’s impossibly charming Upper East Side brownstone. Her New York is the kind of “Dream New York” that Celluloid Skyline discusses at length.

Available for rent on Amazon Video.

 

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957)

Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories. We’ve already missed the spring!

Full disclosure: I’m putting this one of the list because I can’t, in all consciousness, not mention something that is in someway related to a personal fall favorite, Sleepless in Seattle. Obviously Sleepless is disqualified from this list since New York only makes a cameo at the end, but after all, it was Meg Ryan’s obsession with An Affair to Remember that sent her across the country and back. “You don’t want to be in love, you want to be in love in a movie,” Rosie O’Donnell admonishes her after her umpteenth viewing of the film. Watch it. You’ll get why.

Available for rent on Amazon Video. 

 

ONE FINE DAY (1996)

 Don’t bother with the cute face. I have 5 sons. You make eyes at me like that, I make you pot roast.

Look up “chick flick” in the dictionary and One Fine Day should be right there at the top. This is not the kind of movie that wins awards, but it might just succeed in making you smile. A lot. Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney (at the height of his ER fame) are single working parents who find their lives intertwined one rainy New York day when everything that can go wrong, does.

Available for rent on Amazon through STARZ. 

 

MOONSTRUCK (1987)

Snap out of it!

Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck is a sweeping, joyous celebration of love and everything that goes with it: heartbreak, disappointment, hope, and dare I say it: romance. Loretta (Cher) a tough Italian dame from Brooklyn surrenders to her inexplicable passion for Ronny (Nicolas Cage), while her mother (Olympia Dukakis) comes to terms with her philandering husband. Roger Ebert put it as no one else could: “[Moonstruck] exists in a Brooklyn that has never existed, a Brooklyn where the full moon makes the night like day and drives people crazy with amore, when the moon-a hits their eyes like a big-a pizza pie.”

Available for rent on Amazon video.

 

SPLASH (1984)

I don’t understand. All my life I’ve been waiting for someone and when I find her, she’s… she’s a fish.

Fairytales naturally lend themselves to New York City as it’s a place where anything and everything is possible. and this is one of the most charming. When a beautiful, mysterious blonde (Darryl Hannah) enters the life of a New York produce wholesaler (Tom Hanks) it’s love at first sight. Of course, you know, the fact that she’s a mermaid rather complicates things. Just a little.

Available for rent on Amazon Video or  Showtime on demand.

 

WORKING GIRL (1988)

“Can I get ya anything? Coffee? Tea? Me?”

Ah, the movie that launched a million girls’ dreams of making it in the big city (myself included). Norman Jewison’s love story about an ambitious secretary (Melanie Griffith) her deliciously vicious boss (Sigourney Weaver) and the man they both love (Harrison Ford) is, admittedly, a cotton candy of a movie. And that’s 100% OK by me. ( Joan Cusak’s hair alone deserved a best supporting Oscar.)

Available for rent on Amazon video.

 

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986)

“For all my education, accomplishments and so-called wisdom, I can’t fathom my own heart.”

Look, this list could have been all Woody Allen movies but Hannah and her Sisters is a given since it’s book-ended with Thanksgiving. It’s also, in this writer’s opinion, one of Allen’s very finest.  The film, about a dysfunctional New York family, boasts an all-star cast: Mia Farrow, Michael Caine, Barbara Hershey, Max von Sydow, Dianne Wiest, Carrie Fisher, Sam Waterston, Lloyd Nolan and Mia Farrow’s real-life mother, the legendary Maureen O’Sullivan. (Caine, Wiest and Allen all received Oscars.)

Available for rent on Amazon video or as part of Tribeca Shortlist.

 

YOU’VE GOT MAIL (1998)

“Don’t you just love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies.”

Pure Hollywood escapism at its finest, this charming (and faithful) remake of Ernst Lubistch’s classic The Shop Around the Corner is what I’d like to consider a modern classic.  Taking place on New York’s Upper West side, Nora Ephron’s romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail is the story of two people (Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan) who fall in love online with no clue that, in real life, they are professional nemeses. Here in 2017, this 1998 film is already becoming as much as a piece of nostalgia as the original: the dial-up modems, AOL chat, and, sorry to say it, even the New York skyline itself has changed forever. And, as with all pieces of nostalgia, it does make you wistful for a simpler place and time…yes, even if that place and time is New York City, 1998.

Available for rent on Amazon video.

 

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989)

 I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

Not only is Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally the ultimate New York City romantic comedy, it’s also one of the most important films of its genre. “Romcoms” often translate to “chick flick,” but this film exists in a class all its own. A film that appeals equally to both men and women, Nora Ephron’s razor sharp screenplay cuts the crap and gets right to the heart of the matter: Can men and women actually be friends? Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan’s exploration of this age-old question takes us through a beautifully photographed New York at the peak of its seasonal sensuousness. Supported by the sparkling chemistry of Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher, When Harry Met Sally is proof of James Sanders words: “[New York on film] becomes an elemental force transcending any earthly place: a super city, a mythic city, a dream city.”

Available for rent on Amazon video.

 

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