Make the Case: 5 Great Wintry Movies

Make the Case
Make the Case

Let’s define a wintry movie right now as anything in which most of the film is set in a winter or snowy setting. The atmosphere of such has to feel like the snow itself is a character in the movie. Bonus points for movies in which the snow is somehow important to the plot.

This is a broad topic, but movies with a wintry vibe are hitting me particularly hard right now. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m forced to live in Florida, but I find myself missing the snow this year. Not being able to drive a car helps with that, too. It’s a nightmare for pedestrians, too, but it’s also easy for me to just stay home and watch the snowfall slowly blanket the trees, grass, and homes that make up my surroundings. I’ve always liked snow. Living in the hellish (literally and figuratively) middle of the Sunshine State leaves me without any serious winter weather to look forward to. This frustration also has me looking for movies that are covered in whole planets of grey skies, bitter winds, and seasonal precipitation.


5. The Thing (1982)

The Thing movie
The Thing movie

Director: John Carpenter

Some horror fans consider John Carpenter’s 1982 science fiction horror masterpiece The Thing to be a pretty cozy movie. That makes sense to me, too, although it’s an odd way to interpret the word when we’re talking about a story of 12 men working at a remote Antarctica research station, who discover a horrific alien threat beneath the ice and snow. Most of the film is either outdoors in the bleak, beautiful, and perpetually white surroundings, or indoors with monstrous transformations, intense paranoia that the “Thing” has taken over one of them, and some of the best practical effects in genre history. It’s a compact cinematic universe that very easily wraps itself around your conscience.

The Thing is a classic for a reason and is widely considered these days as one of the best from director John Carpenter (working with such talents as screenwriter Bill Lancaster and editor Todd Ramsay). The weather in this film is almost as much of an antagonist as the alien creature that threatens everyone, and by extension, the entire world. The tension and genuine horror are powerful in The Thing, and the constant reminder that these men, led by career-defining performances by Kurt Russell and Keith David, aren’t getting away from those icy winds or constant snowfall anytime soon.


4. A Simple Plan (1998)

A Simple Plan (1998)
A Simple Plan (1998)

Director: Sam Raimi

A Simple Plan is sometimes compared to Fargo, but the former is considerably darker and meaner in its bleak wintry landscape. A Simple Plan didn’t do great at the box office, was unfairly compared to Fargo, and has been largely forgotten. This story of three people who decide to keep the massive fortune they find in the ruins of a plane crash deserves better than that. To date it proves that at one point there were few directors who could touch Sam Raimi for building stakes and keeping us hooked on almost dizzying doses of tension. This might just be his best movie.

A Simple Plan also gives us interesting characters, played with depth and energy by Bill Paxton, Bridget Fonda, and Billy Bob Thornton. They reveal dynamics and decisions amongst them that drives something deeper and scarier than just a story about the consequences of found fortune. Noir frequently answers the question of “How much of your soul are you willing to sell for what you think you want”, and the best examples highlight hollow victories and disastrous, terminal failures. A Simple Plan doesn’t innovate any of this. It just pushes these poor, well-meaning idiots across the snowy threshold of a hell of their own understandable design.


3. Nobody’s Fool (1994)

Nobody’s Fool (1994)
Nobody’s Fool (1994)

Director: Robert Benton

The snowy, sleepy world of Nobody’s Fool pairs well with the movie being laidback about everything else. That doesn’t mean Nobody’s Fool, directed by the great Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer), is boring or poorly paced.

Nobody’s Fool is a pretty light comedy on paper, but in execution creates characters who are interesting and sparingly eccentric, who keep the movie going even as the plot itself is straightforward. A cranky, immensely affable old man named Sully (Paul Newman, still great) lives in modest circumstances as a tenant in the home of his 8th grade teacher (the distinctive, late Jessica Tandy). He has no particular ambition or eagerness to change the routine of freelance construction work, hanging out with his friends, and charming the socks off almost everyone he meets. His son (Dylan Walsh) comes back to town to visit his mom, and Sully unexpectedly finds himself with a chance to repair a fractured relationship and get to know his young grandson a little better.

There’s a little more in the meat of Nobody’s Fool with the other people in the town, played by big actors in considerably smaller roles by the likes of Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, and a not-quite-famous-yet Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but this is mainly Sully’s quiet redemption arc. Watching it unfold can make for a comfortable afternoon watch, when going outside in bad winter weather is out of the question.


2. The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful Eight
The Hateful Eight

Director: Quentin Tarantino

A bounty hunter (Kurt Russell), his fugitive (Jennifer Jason Leigh), another bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and the alleged new sheriff of Red Rock, Wyoming (Walton Goggins) take shelter during a blizzard in post-Civil War Wyoming. There they meet four others, each with their mysterious motivations and questionable backgrounds.

The Hateful Eight is stacked with longtime Tarantino collaborators like Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, and Zoë Bell, and every performance is tuned to Tarantino’s notion of eight irredeemable bastards, a serious blizzard, and a slew of guns. In other words, The Hateful Eight is Tarantino at his most direct and meanest. There’s no grey hair. The unforgiving winter landscape doesn’t reveal an unexpected hero. These people are at best liars in a desperate situation. At worst, as the movie slowly reveals over a very long running time (168-210 minutes), they’re monsters.

There’s something very dark in the way The Hateful Eight defines humor. This is far and away the nastiest and ugliest movie Tarantino has ever, and likely will ever, bring to the screen. That might be too much for some, and I get that, but even as a shallow viewing experience, The Hateful Eight is a violent mystery that demands my attention to the end. It’s good wintry fun the whole family, if your family is very, very strange.


1. My Winnipeg (2007)

My Winnipeg (2007)
My Winnipeg (2007)

Director: Guy Maddin

Nothing I’ve covered this month is like My Winnipeg, which director/co-writer (with George Toles) Guy Maddin described as a “Docu-Fantasia.” That’s accurate enough, but everything about this surreal pseudo-documentary defies description. This includes the notion that My Winnipeg is steeped in fantasy under the guise of a documentary. The film ostensibly begins as a look at the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, offering history and insight into this vast, often winterized locale. However, the proceedings start strange, with the film quickly wrapping you in its winter atmosphere and dreamlike visuals, and everything only serves to become more breathtakingly beautiful and confounding as you go along.

The movie often feels as though it is whipping you across the entire span of human potential, detailing lives, legends, and eventually shifting into a story in which someone claiming to be Guy Maddin himself is using the film we’re watching as an opportunity to celebrate Winnipeg with the same incredible, brilliant cinematic gesture that tries to cast it away forever. The concept of leaving Winnipeg, which seems to be its own character with its own goals and quirks, becomes the dominant feature of My Winnipeg. The fantastical elements only increase and grow louder, stronger, and more captivating. Yet it all seems to remain under a blanket of snow, rooted to something we can touch and understand.

My Winnipeg isn’t just my favorite wintry movie, but an assertion that filmmaking can do pretty much anything from a marriage of style and story standpoint. It’s incredible in every way, and in ways I haven’t yet put to words. My Winnipeg has nothing to do with me, and yet feels curiously like a narrative built around my own existence. I have a feeling you’ll have a similar experience.

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