I’ve always said it’s silly that in December, before winter has really begun, we sing “Let it Snow” and “Winter Wonderland” and then, once Christmas is over, we suddenly stop loving the snow. Without tinsel and twinkle lights, we apparently can’t stand the stuff. It gets old, I guess, but it’s like we’ve programmed ourselves to stop having fun come January 1st. We have a holiday marking the new year and, for many of us, marking the many ways we’d like to change. We vow to lose the holiday weight. We join gyms and then feel guilty for never going. Then comes Valentine’s Day, which is a joy to some but a complete nightmare for others, and honestly, even those of us who’ve found the loves of our lives aren’t counting the days till we get a box of Russell Stover’s and a Hallmark card. Once trash pick-up resumes on January 3rd, many of us toss out our high spirits along with a dehydrated tree.
Some people spend the winter fantasizing about warmer weather and tropical climes. As far as movies go, you’ve got a lot to choose from in that category, so you probably don’t need my help. But I think that winter is actually a great (and under-utilized) setting for storytelling. Some of my favorite movies take place in the winter, and I thought I’d share them with you:
This one really takes advantage of both the drab and the whimsy of winter. It’s February in New York State, and against the scabby snow and gray skies, Joel and Clementine’s relationship is falling apart. When she has him erased from her memory, he decides to erase her, too, and in doing so we are transported to the scattered, often mixed-up fragments of his memory, full of sand and snowstorms and the frozen Charles.
A classic, but I thought it worth mentioning because I wonder if you’ve thought of it as a movie about winter. Winter in Seattle is, obviously, not winter in Baltimore (both of which are represented). There’s something about Meg Ryan’s wardrobe of big coats and warm socks that lends to this movie’s sense of the warm and fuzzies. It’s been described as a movie about love in the movies, and I don’t think any moment captures that better than Meg Ryan and Rosie O’Donnell sitting around, watching An Affair to Remember in their sweats and writing a letter to Sleepless in Seattle, care of Dr. Marcia Fieldstone.
Another classic, though I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves. Set in Chicago from Christmastime through January, this one uses the winter cold to contrast Sandra Bullock’s character’s loneliness with the warm, cheerful family scenes among the Callaghan family (including Peter Boyle at his most charming). Also, a really good scene of Sandy slipping around on the ice with her love interest, ending when he rips the seat of his pants.
Groundhog Day (as in February 2) used to be one of my favorite holidays because with whatever free time I had, I’d look up the groundhog’s prediction, then snuggle up with some cocoa or coffee and watch Groundhog Day (the movie) as many times as I could. I cannot do this now that I have children. Well, I might fit in one viewing. But I can’t keep it running all day like they do (did?) on TBS. It would stress my kids out and they’d keep asking me to change it to Clifford or “Memmo” (Elmo). And no, I don’t want to teach my kids to keep the TV on all day, but I do want to teach them to appreciate the brilliance of Bill Murray (and the far underrated Chris Elliott), and to memorize some of the movie’s best lines (“Do you really want to talk about the weather or are you just making small talk?”).
If upon seeing this title you think, “That’s a TV show!” then you really need get on Netflix (it was there awhile ago–I don’t think they’ve taken it off, though if they did it might have been because there was this one account in the Seattle area that was streaming it every day for a long time and they thought they might want to cut that person off. I don’t know who that person was) and WATCH THE MOVIE. I hear the TV show’s great, too, but it’s more loosely inspired by than based on the movie, which is based on real events. William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi–do I really need to sell it to you? It’s so funny and stupid and raw and disturbing all at the same time. It’s so good and so hard to classify that I’m almost surprised Hollywood took it on in the first place. But I’m glad they did.