Thanks to global warming, hitting March does not mean that we’re out of winter yet! In fact, we’re probably in the midst of the worst winter stretch. You know, that special time of year when the cold is at its coldest and everyone is so sick of it that things feel particularly dire. It’s that chapter in every winter season where most folks are over the novelty of snow and can’t even bother to pretend that they like being outside anymore. In other words, it’s the ideal season to be an indoor kid; a perfect time to snuggle up with some movies and avoid setting foot outside at all costs.
Some folks like to watch mood-lifting comedies or films set in the tropics during this butthole stretch of winter in the hopes of finding escape. Not me! Nope, this is the season to really dig into bitterly cold slices of cinema, because you can deeply relate to the plight of the characters. It’s the time of year when I like to dive into what I call “Winter Misery Movies.” There are many of these, more than you’d think. Best of all, most of them are genre movies in the corner of cinema that we specialize in here at CGM. Rather than keeping these especially harsh winter genre flicks to myself this year, I thought I’d share them with all you fine readers in a handy top ten list.
Now, this unofficial genre is so extensive that I couldn’t fit in all of my favourites, so feel free to check the “honourable mentions” sections below for a few extra titles if ten winter misery movies aren’t nearly enough to get you through the next few weeks. However, the following top ten titles are the ones to start with. They’ll take all of your bitter n’ cold feelings that spring from the winter season and transform them into nasty and bloody cinema. What could be better than that? For cynical and cinema-loving souls like myself? Nothing. So let’s dig in, shall we?
10) Snowpiercer (2013)
What better place could there be to start this list than an apocalyptic world of winter misery? Korean filmmaker Joon Ho Bong’s satirical action epic presents a world destroyed by a climate change experiment gone wrong, leaving the last remnants of humanity on a train perpetually touring the snow covered globe. Funny, biting, bloody, and relentlessly entertaining, it’s a genre movie delight (it stars Chris Evans, so delight is inevitable). However, also one with a bitter aftertastes that presents humanity in pretty harsh terms. You know, a feel bad work of pure entertainment. Stirring stuff that also proves that cold winter chill you’re escaping is only a few removed away from end-of-the-world territory when cast in the right cynical light.
9) The Hateful Eight (2015)
Quentin Tarantino’s latest effort snapped his recent hot streak of blockbuster success and it’s likely that even he saw that one coming. After all his Kurt Russell/Sam Jackson headlined Western is a nasty provocation rooted in all of the hate and prejudice found at America’s core. Sure, it’s also a fun drawing room mystery filled with hysterical dialogue and explosions of violence…but it is far from a nice film. It’s bitter and brutal. Not coincidentally, Tarantino set the movie in a harsh winter storm that forced all of his reprehensible characters in the same room together, a vicious room as inhospitable as the blizzard outdoors. That was no accident. It all fits in the piece. It might seem too soon to give The Hateful Eight a spot on this list given that it’s barely a few months old; however, I feel like the reputation for this flick is only going to grow over the years. So it makes sense.
8) Let The Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)
Ah yes, a depressing childhood vampire love story that could only come from Sweden. Tomas Alfredon’s heartbreaking tone poem is about alienation in all forms. It’s a tragic film dedicated to the lonely and the disenfranchised. Sure, it’s also a pretty fantastic vampire movie, but only in ways that suit the filmmaker’s more high-minded themes. It only makes sense that this heartbreakingly sad tale of tragic love and vampirism take place in the winter. That adds to the overwhelming mood of the piece in powerful ways. Let The Right One In has grown into a bit of a cult classic over the last few years, and justifiably so. It’s a beautiful little horror film and that word doesn’t typically apply to this genre. Controversially, I’d say that Matt Reeves’ American remake Let Me In is about as good as the original, for those viewers who don’t like subtitles. Sure, it doesn’t change much but that’s entirely deliberate and the few changes Reeves does employ tend to enrich the experience. There are few remakes worth recommending as much as the original. Let Me In is one of them. Both deserve a spot on this list.
7) Frozen (2010)
Unfortunately, Adam Green’s fantastic situational horror flick has gotten overshadowed in recent years since it accidentally shares a title with one of the most successful animated films of all time (I sure hope no parents accidentally rented this for their kids…but it’s terrifyingly possible). It’s a simple story about a group of friends who accidentally get trapped on a ski lift over a particularly frigid night, gradually transforming into one of the great survival horror flicks of it’s era. If you want to see the pure horror potential of freezing temperatures, let Adam Hatchet Green take you on a ride you won’t forget. Do not watch this movie if you have a particular phobia for frostbite—or maybe watch it specifically if you do. Depends on how much you like to confront your personal fears through filmed entertainment I s’pose.
6) The Grey (2011)
There are very few movies that I’ve ever seen as spoiled by a trailer as Joe Carnahan’s The Grey. It was designed to be a very simple and direct survival/action/thriller about a group of oil workers trapped in Alaska and surrounded by wolves with only Liam Neeson to help them survive. Walk into the movie with no expectations and Carnahan will take you on a wild and chilly ride with Neeson as your guide. Watch the trailer and you’ll see all the best moments ruined, including the damn ending. I don’t know what they were thinking. That trailer really spoiled this fantastic winter thriller’s box office potential, but thankfully enough time has passed that you finally appreciate the white-knuckle thrill ride as intended. Just do yourself a favour and avoid the trailer before watching the movie.
5) The Great Silence (1968)
Sergio Corbucci might not have the same reputation as his Spaghetti Western contemporary Sergio Leone (The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly), but he really should. Corbucci delivered a stream of brilliantly nasty and darkly hilarious Spaghetti Westerns through the late 60s that are desperately in need of rediscovery. Yet his masterpiece is likely The Great Silence. It has none of the humour as his other efforts, but doubles down on nihilism. The film stars the great Klaus Kinski as a bounty hunter who travels to an isolated mountain town filled with folks with bounties on their heads desperately trying to escape society. His goal? Kill everyone and collect all the money. Yep, pretty harsh stuff and in Corbucci’s hands it turns into a downright dirty and violent affair with one of the most surprisingly bleak endings in the history of the genre. Plus it’s sent in a brutally bitter winter setting that suits the cold-hearted nature of the film rather perfectly. Throw in a fantastically unsettling Ennio Morricone score and you’ve got yourself one of the most bleakly brilliant Westerns ever made. A tough movie to find, but well worth tracking down for any winter misery movie marathon.
4) A Simple Plan (1998)
After spending the first decade of his career making the most wilfully absurd and fantastical genre movies that he could dream up, Sam Raimi decided to play things straight on A Simple Plan and delivered quite possibly his finest film. A terse little small town thriller about a gang of locals who stumble upon a bag of money and tear each other apart over it, the movie has many obvious influences. Pitched somewhere between Fargo and The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, Raimi dialled by his wild instincts to deliver a painfully real thriller that goes for the heart and the jugular. Billy Bob Thornton delivers quite possibly his finest performance and Raimi very carefully toys with tension until he has the audience in his trap and pulls the ripcord. A harsh and resonant little thriller in desperate need of rediscovery. It was generally liked in ‘98, but also somewhat rudely dismissed as a Fargo knock off thanks to the “blood in the snow” setting. Thankfully, time has done it’s levelling thing and now A Simple Plan stands on its own rather nicely.
3) The Shining (1980)
Proof that even staying indoors is no escape from the brutal horrors of winter. Also…you know…a masterpiece…like all Stanley Kubrick joints.
2) Fargo (1996)
There are so many things to love about the Coen Brothers’ brilliant Fargo and so iconic images from this mundane crime comedy that have burned their way into our collective consciousness. Yet the sequence that always sticks out in my mind is when a cold, lonely, and desperate William H. Macy marches across an empty snow-filled parking lot to scrape the ice off his windshield while contemplating all of his failures and the kidnapping scenario complicating them all. If you’ve lived through a crappy winter, you know that feeling. The Coens captured it beautifully and then placed it within quite possibly the greatest crime/comedy of the 90s…and given that the decade was essentially defined by that genre, that’s really saying something.
1) The Thing (1982)
Finally, there was only one movie that could possibly top this list. One of the finest horror films ever made courtesy of John Carpenter, a fantastic ensemble cast, one of the greatest beards ever grown (good work Kurt Russell), astounding practical special effects that might never be topped, and of course one of the most brutal winter settings to ever trap a cast in a horror film. Carpenter was at the peak of his powers when he decided to remake one of his favourite childhood horror flicks. He took a clever campy genre classic and elevated it to a perfectly executed horror masterpiece without a frame out of place or a theme overstated. Rob Bottin’s ground-breaking effects created genuinely uncanny imagery that once seen is never forgotten. It’s damn near impossible to find fault in The Thing and it’s also a horror movie guaranteed to chill you to the bone in the midst of the latest round of snowmageddon. There’s no movie better to transform your winter aches into genre terror. Watch it in a snowstorm and prepare for nightmares.
Honourable Mentions (Just in case those ten movies weren’t cold and miserable enough for ya!):
The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Hanna (2011), The Ice Harvest (2005), Insomnia (either 1997 or 2002), The Last Winter (2006), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Misery (1990), Runaway Train (1985), The Thing From Another World (1951), 30 Days Of Night (2007)