As summer now begins to appear a distant memory and autumn is upon us, a look forward to the winter months, when long dark nights and open fires call for the accompaniment of a suitably seasonal movie.
There’s undoubtedly something comforting about being home in the warm watching a film where the characters are (metaphorically or not) freezing various body parts off.
Possibly to do with our folk memory of days when heated shelter in winter was the difference between life and death?
All movies selected are of relatively recent vintage, and studiously avoid the Christmas and New Year period.
Wind River (2017) – Amazon Prime Rent/Buy
Winter in the wilds of Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation is the setting for writer/director Taylor Sheridan’s (Yellowstone) hard-hitting neo-Western.
When expert tracker and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers the frozen corpse of a Native American woman, he teams up with FBI special agent Jane Banner (Elisabeth Olsen) to find the killer – or killers.
Wind River delivers as both a murder mystery and an indictment of the US government’s neglect of Indigenous peoples, as the end title board reveals that missing-persons statistics are kept for every demographic group in the country- except for Native American women.
The Revenant (2015) – Netflix
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s (Birdman) The Revenant is a real endurance course of a movie, with Leonardo DiCaprio playing Hugh Glass, a guide leading trappers through the untamed Dakotas in the winter of 1823.
From then on, DiCaprio’s character’s plight goes from bad to worse, as he copes with the murder of his half Pawnee son Hawk, being badly mauled by a man-eating grizzly bear, treacherous companions, homicidal French hunters/rapists, and premature burial.
Tom Hardy stands out as the truly nasty trapper John Fitzgerald, who thankfully receives his just desserts at the end of the picture.
A New York Winter’s Tale (2014) – Netflix
In his directorial debut, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) overreached himself with this magical fable which died the death at the box office.
The confusing plot concerns Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), who, as a baby is washed up on the Manhattan shoreline circa 1895 and is brought up by gangster-demons to be a master thief.
The non-ageing Lake seeks to escape the gang, find true love, and eventually ascend to become a star in the heavens.
Farrell, who with ANYWT, Fantastic Beasts, Dumbo and Artemis Fowl appears to be the go-to-guy for this kind of twaddle, does his best, but Russell Crowe as the demon Pearly Soames and Will Smith as Lucifer are frankly embarrassing.
A New York Winter’s Tale has its compensations in Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography, with some evocative images of the city, including Grand Central Terminal, Red Hook, East Village and Central Park.
The Grey (2011) – Amazon Prime
You can almost feel the biting cold in Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, another gruelling survival thriller that pits Alaskan oil workers against a pack of timber wolves when their plane crashes in the wilderness.
Fortunately, one of their number, the redoubtable Liam Neeson’s depressed John Ottway (not the singer) is a professional wolf hunter. Although that does them little good as the increasingly demoralised group are picked off one by one as their ravenous pursuers stalk them.
It has shades of 1997’s The Edge, but with more emphasis on gritty realism.
Winter’s Bone (2010) – Netflix
Jennifer Lawrence’s breakthrough role in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone could be a tough watch if you’re not in the mood.
Lawrence plays 17-year-old Ree Dolly, a rural Ozark girl who looks after her impoverished family after her no-good father Jessup left.
Things go even further south when she’s told that they’ll soon be homeless as the meth dealing Jessup put the house up for bail and has since failed to appear for trial. This prompts Rees’ grim quest to find her absent father.
The Ghost (2010) – Amazon Prime Rent/Buy
Roman Polanski enjoyed a return to form with this satirical thriller based on the Robert Harris novel.
Set (although not filmed in) in a very chilly off-season Martha’s Vineyard, the plot revolves around a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) hired to punch up the memoirs of a British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan).
Lang is hiding out in the US to avoid prosecution for war crimes involving allowing the CIA to torture terrorist suspects captured by the British, so it’s not hard to guess the target of Harris’s novel.
Ewan McGregor tries harder than usual as the unnamed ‘Ghost’ and has a fair few funny moments, especially when he’s semi-unwillingly seduced by Lang’s frosty wife Ruth.
McGregor still can’t nail a London accent though, which he also mangled (along with Colin Farrell) in Woody Allan’s tin-eared Cassandra’s Dream (2007).
Well-paced and with an especially neat ending, The Ghost’s cast also boasts quality turns from Tom Wilkinson, Kim Cattrall, and Eli Wallach.
Let the Right One In (2008) – Shudder, Amazon Prime Rent/Buy
Set in the dreary Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg in 1981, director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) provides a quirky vampire horror that centres on the unlikely friendship between a bullied 12 year old boy Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and the undead girl Eli (Lina Leandersson) trapped for centuries at the age she was turned.
Another picture where the cold is almost permeable, Let the Right One is one of the rare foreign movies where an English language remake (Let Me In) also proved a critical (if not financial) hit.
Matt Reeves (upcoming The Batman) successfully relocated the action to New Mexico in 1983, casting Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz as boy and vampire respectively.
Wonder Boys (2000) – BBC iPlayer
This wintry comedy-drama may have flopped at the box office but is a real treat.
Curtis Hanson (L.A Confidential) directs Michael Douglas as Pittsburgh creative writing Professor Grady Tripp, who’s afflicted with a chaotic love life, writer’s block, and a midlife crisis of epic proportions.
Douglas is ably supported by a cast that includes Robert Downey Jr as Tripp’s transvestite-dating editor, together with Tobey Maguire, Rip Torn, Katie Holmes, Frances McDormand, and Richard Thomas, probably best known as John-Boy from The Waltons.
A snowbound Pennsylvania highlights the chill between the characters and in their perceptions of themselves, but this essentially sweet-natured picture resolves itself in a satisfying fashion.
The Ice Storm (1997)
Ang Lee’s movie is set in Connecticut at Thanksgiving in 1973, when Watergate was beginning to escalate.
Based on Ricky Moody’s novel of the same name, this downbeat but enjoyable ensemble piece sees two well-heeled families and their attempt to embrace the decadent 70s vibe with alcohol, adultery, and a particularly cringe-inducing Swinger’s Party. All during the freezing ice storm of the picture’s title.
A marvellous cast includes Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire (again), Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes, Jamey Sheridan, and Sigourney Weaver.
Fargo (1996) – MGM Channel, Amazon Prime Rent/Buy
The Coen Brothers magnificent black comedy returns to the environs of The Revenant 173 years later, with its setting of the snowbound city of Fargo in North Dakota.
Cash strapped car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hires two inept criminals (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to abduct his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrüd) in the hope of extracting a substantial ransom from his wealthy father-in-law (Harve Presnell).
Naturally enough, things don’t go to plan, as pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) follows the clues – and the increasing body count that Buscemi and Stormare leave in their wake.
A point of interest for viewers unfamiliar with the region was the large number people of Scandinavian descent and with associated accents in Fargo – over 40% according to the most recent census.
The enduring popularity of Fargo led to a successful afterlife as an anthology series on FX; season 4 recently debuted in the US.