So many of my favorite movies are set in a cold, bleak winter. My favorite comedy of all-time, Groundhog Day, exists in a perpetual winter, its hero reliving the same grey, slushy day just before a blizzard. My favorite drama of all-time, Fargo, is a meditation on criminal behavior in the land of the nice, nice even though they are buried in snow and frozen with cold. Perhaps my fascination with snowy movies is the fact that I live in a place where it doesn't snow that much (with this past winter as an exception to that rule).
Of course...I've used both of those titles before, so I had to go with the rest of my brainstorm, which, believe it or not, contains several more of my favorite movies.
So, Good Thursday! New Year's Eve. The last Thursday of 2015 and for Wandering through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks this year. This week's theme...Snowy Winter Movies.
Here are my picks:
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Dir. Robert Altman, 1971
I am coming to think that being raised on Tarantino has made me more of a fan of the Revisionist than the Classicist. I recently saw his snowy winter Western, The Hateful Eight, and, as flawed as I find it to be, I still enjoyed it more than most of the traditional Westerns I've seen a la John Ford, etc.
One of the great Revisionist Westerns out there is Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Warren Beatty stars as John McCabe, who moseys into the Washington town of Presbyterian Church around the turn of the 20th Century. He quickly starts up a brothel and takes control of the town's simpleton miners. In walks Constance Miller (Julie Christie), an opium addict who wants to go into business with the newly established McCabe. Things go awry when a group comes in to buy them out. Altman shot the film in sequential order over a short time. The snow is NOT constant here, but it was filmed in the wet, Vancouver winter. And when the snow came, Altman just kept shooting. The tone of this film...cold, wintry, then snowy. The finale is one of the most gorgeous things I've ever seen. And the Leonard Cohen soundtrack doesn't hurt at all.
Dir. Ted Demme, 1996
Or maybe this is my favorite comedy of all-time... I caught this movie randomly on cable when I was in high school and never looked back. Timothy Hutton stars as Willy, a down-on-his-luck piano player, who decides to go back to his hometown for a couple weeks. Rural Massachusetts in the dead of winter. He has lost confidence in his talent and can't decide if he wants to go to the next step with his girlfriend, Tracy (Annabeth Gish). His visit affords him some bro time with his old bros, now salesmen and snow plow drivers, in Mo (Noah Emmerich), Tommy (Matt Dillon), and Paul (Michael Rappaport), who delivers one of the best-written movie monologues of all-time. This is a small ensemble movie that just works on every level and features a great supporting cast of female actors as well in Lauren Holly, Uma Thurman, Mira Sorvino, Martha Plimpton, and Rosie O'Donnell. Oh, and it makes me fall in love with Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" all over again every time.
The Sweet Hereafter
Dir. Atom Egoyan, 1997
One of the most beautiful, heartbreaking stories ever told, The Sweet Hereafter, based on an even better novel by Russell Banks, is a Canadian film that covers the aftermath of a tragedy involving a school bus wreck. A tiny town has lost its children and, thinking a lawsuit might help, lawyer Mitchell Stevens (Ian Holm) travels to the snowy town to convince the grieving to join him in class action. At the center is teenaged crash survivor, Nicole (a superb Sarah Polley), being coerced into remembering things she may not remember with an overbearing (in several ways) father at her side. Also affected is the grieving father of two lost children, Billy (an equally superb Bruce Greenwood), and the bus driver, Delores (Gabrielle Rose). This film is poetic, bleak, but satisfying in its power.
McCabe and Mrs. Miller is the only one of these I've seen and I wish I could say I love it starring as it does my absolutely favorite living actress, Julie Christie. To say I respect the artistry of its cold dusky heart would be closer to the mark. The acting is all superior, I read that Altman struggled to get a balance in the work since Julie was best on the first take whereas Beatty improved over multiple tries, unsurprising considering his reputation to take forever to get anything done. It does have multiple beautiful images.ReplyDelete
I've considered The Sweet Hereafter but it seems so despairing it's hard to just jump in into it. Beautiful Girls is one that I've always meant to catch up with and it slips my mind, thanks for the memory jog.
For whatever reason my first two came right to me and I had to cast around a bit for my third which I think is the most flyaway film I've recommended all year.
Mystery, Alaska (1999)-Mystery, Alaska is a small, quiet town where hockey is the most important thing in the lives of the townsfolk. The mayor oversees special "Saturday Games" selecting locals to play against each other for the enjoyment of the other townspeople. When an article about the town and their hockey playing is published in Sports Illustrated a native son, who has left and made a name for himself in sports, convinces the NHL to have the N.Y. Rangers play a televised exhibition game in the town for publicity. This causes no end of upheaval. This was Russell Crowe's last film just before moving on to superstardom in Gladiator.
Iron Will (1994)-Having recently lost his father and in peril of losing the family farm a young man, Will Stoneman, enters a grueling dog sled race across the frozen north just before the outbreak of WWI. As he endures many hardships the newspapers latch onto his story and he becomes an inspiration for the country famed as "Iron Will".
Ski Party (1965)-Silly comedy, basically a beach party movie moved to the slopes. Two college boys pretend to be women on a ski weekend to meet other women. Taking into consideration the name of the movie your expectations should be low to start with but this is still a pretty dumb time waster. The major redeeming feature would be the appearances of James Brown and even more so Lesley Gore. Notice how whenever someone sings the movie switches to stereophonic sound! Also the scene of night skiing with color flares over which the opening credits are projected is very striking but otherwise...well read the description.
I read the same thing about this film. Altman said Beatty didn't like to rehearse (which is what Altman thrives on) and that "film had to actually be running through the camera to get him to do it." I find it to be perfect and quite effective, despite any balance issues.Delete
The Sweet Hereafter is not as brutal as you might think, but it is intensely emotional at times. Beautiful movie. I can't recommend Beautiful Girls enough. It may be considered over-written. Very show-offish in its dialogue. But I like that, and all the actors really pull their weight and sell it.
I almost picked Mystery, Alaska myself. I watched it on a whim one day and loved it. Such a classic underdog sports movie with a great performance from an emerging Russell Crowe. I want to watch it again soon.
I remember Iron Will but never saw it. Sounds great.
Thanks for sharing here, once again, Joel. See you in the New Year!
I haven't seen any of these. For some reason that's not what I thought Beautiful Girls was about. I should see that sometime.ReplyDelete
I really think you'd like Beautiful Girls. It's really great. And I forgot to even mention the best part of the movie in my snippet up there...a young Natalie Portman as the Hutton character's voice of reason. She is fantastic.Delete
I've seen parts of McCabe and Mrs. Miller years ago, but don't remember a whole lot. Never saw any of the other two, but they both sound very good.ReplyDelete
Yes. See them all. I think Beautiful Girls should be essential viewing for all adult males.Delete
McCabe & Mrs. Miller is dark and very 70's as I call it but it is good although I would watch a John Ford Western over this:) I have not seen the other 2 but I do want to finally see The Sweet Hereafter. I have not watched it because I heard of it being so depressing and I thought there was a bus crash that did occur but it involved the elderly and many died so i think that is what made me stay away from this film that I know will be brilliant.ReplyDelete
I can understand that about McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and that's what I think I like about it. Lol. Definitely give The Sweet Hereafter a try.Delete
I love Fargo. Still haven't seen Groundhog Day.ReplyDelete
I've said it before, but I LOVE The Sweet Hereafter. It should've won Best Picture in 1997.
It is a great movie, man. Probably a bit too small (and bleak) for a BP win, but I don't put much stock into awards. Most years, my favorite movie isn't an Oscar winner. I'm certainly pulling for The Big Short this year though.Delete
I feel like I've heard about the Sweet Hereafter but never really knew the premise.ReplyDelete
I love Beautiful Girls! It is so good. For some reason I forgot it was set in winter.
Both great movies. Beautiful Girls is a delight!Delete