It is very very wintery in Michigan (and from what I gather, many other places also). We’ve had several inches of snow over the past few days, and the temperatures have been frigid – highs only in the teens, with sub-zero wind chills. Currently, the real feel is -2 degrees. The point is, it is really fucking winter here.
I’ve lived in Michigan my whole life, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. My husband’s job keeps us in our city, and my guess is it will keep us here until he retires. I actually don’t mind winter that much, mostly because it’s not summer. As far as seasons go, though, it’s my third-favorite. Days like today are why. I don’t mind hanging out at home, but force me to stay inside and the stir-crazy sets in quickly; I can go from zero to Jack Torrance in a couple of days. (An aside – now that recreational weed is legal in Michigan, these housebound days are infinitely more bearable)
What really gets me through days like today is pop culture. Streaming, reading, listening to music or a podcast – consuming pop culture is a must for me. So the weather got me thinking – what winter-set movies or series seem especially appropriate for a day like today?
- The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece is the quintessential “winter isolation will make you insane” story. Jack Torrance has gotten a job as the off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. Six months of winter isolation, with no contact from the outside world, is enough to drive a person mad. Add in the Overlook’s ghosts and Jack’s personal demons (alcohol and a serious anger management problem), and Jack seems doomed to insanity from the start. So is the hotel actually haunted, or does Jack just have a terrible case of cabin fever? Whether Jack’s demons are literal or metaphorical is kind of beside the point; the surreal terror and unrelenting suspense are exquisitely real. The Shining just dropped on HBO Max, so now is the perfect time for another watch.
2. The Ice Storm
A lesser known gem in Ang Lee’s filmography, The Ice Storm centers on two families in suburban Connecticut circa 1973. The ice is metaphorical initially, signifying the chilly distance between the two married couples at the heart of the story. Later, though, the ice is literal as well; the actual ice storm “Felix” features in the film’s climax (this is according to the film’s IMDb page) with tragic consequences. Your enjoyment of The Ice Storm will likely depend on your tolerance for tragic middle-class white people, but it is a lovely film with fantastic performances, most notably Sigourney Weaver, who earned the film’s sole Golden Globe nomination. (She was shut out at the Oscars)
3. Fargo (1996) and Fargo (2014)
The Fargo movie is a stone-cold classic, a neo-noir with a twist – instead of a steamy city, the setting is desolate, wintry Brainerd, Minnesota. The film features many Coen brothers staples – Frances McDormand, pitch-black humor, a bumbling cast of supporting characters, and breathtaking cinematography by Roger Deakins. The movie earned seven Oscar nominations, winning the awards for original screenplay and best actress for McDormand’s perfect performance as the brilliant, kind – and very pregnant – police chief, Marge Gunderson. Original and savagely funny, Fargo is one for the ages, and my favorite film of 1996.
I started watching the Fargo series only recently, so I can only speak to the action through episode six of season one, but I am enjoying it immensely. The Coen brothers were so impressed with Noah Hawley’s pitch, they signed on as executive producers, and it’s easy to see why. The show’s characters and tone fit perfectly within the film’s universe, even tying directly into the plot in the brilliant opening sequence of episode four. The cast is incredible; Billy Bob Thornton as the casually menacing Lorne Malvo is particularly great.
4. The Thing (1982)
Now considered a horror-sci fi classic, The Thing was a critical and commercial flop at the time of its release. Critics were turned off by the film’s nihilistic tone and grotesque creature effects, and audiences went to see E.T. instead. Like many cult films of the later 20th century, the film found its audience on home video.
A full ten percent of the film’s budget went to Rob Bottin’s creature effects, and it was money well spent. Bottin was only in his early 20’s at the time, but had worked with the legendary Rick Baker since he was fourteen (according to Bottin’s Wikipedia page, he had submitted a series of illustrations to Baker, who promptly hired him).
Of course, the special effects were only part of the equation; the film is almost unbearably suspenseful, as one by one the team falls prey to the monster and their own paranoia. As the research station burns, MacReady and Childs are left to wonder which of them has been assimilated. Either way, their fates have been sealed, and the two share a bottle of Scotch (or is it?) and await their doom.
5. Three Days of Snow, How I Met Your Mother (2009)
This season four episode highlights everything that makes HIMYM so inventive. From the beginning, the show played around with non-linear timelines and Three Days of Snow utilized this technique perfectly. As Lily and Marshall’s plotlines effortlessly converge on the third day – and Lily is serenaded by the Arizona Tech marching band (“Go Hens!”) – we realize how good Craig Thomas and Carter Bays are at bending both time and traditional sitcom rules. Season four was arguably the series’ best, featuring such standout episodes as Intervention, The Naked Man, Benefits and The Leap. Three Days of Snow doesn’t advance the overall plot of the series as much as those episodes, but it sure is a blast to watch. Bonus points for the Hoth reference and the way the creators hid Alyson Hannigan’s real-life pregnancy with an oversized cardigan.