Recently, a lil’ horror movie called The Witch was released and caused quite a ruckus. Deservingly so, too. Rob Eggers’ film was one of the most striking horror debuts in recent memory. Combining art house drama with visceral thrills, the film is both intelligent and terrifying.
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)
If you have a pulse, internet access, and a sense of nostalgia, then it’s safe to say that you’re excited about the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Summer movie season is the land of too many sequels and has been for at least 30 years. Complaining about sequels is one of the most easy and common practices available to film critics, but it ignores one fact that is impossible to deny: plenty of sequels are really damn good. In fact, there are many sequels out there that are better than the original. Granted, we’re talking about the minority of sequels given that this is the cashiest of cashgrab genres, but that’s not what this article is about dangnammit! In a week when not one, but two sequels will be competing for the top slot at the box office (How To Train Your Dragon 2 and 22 Jump Street), we thought we’d take a look back at the top ten sequels that are better than the films that spawned them. This is how to do a sequel right, Hollywood. I know you’re not listening, but please let me have my moment.
10) Star Trek: Wrath Of Khan (1982)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture promised the first generation of Trekkies the film of their dreams that would prove that Star Wars movie was malarkey compared to their cherished Enterprise and its crew. What they got was a deeply boring movie that spent more time lingering on shots of spaceships docking that anything resembling an adventure. But, just three years later Wrath Of Khan came along to not only set things right, but deliver what remains the finest Star Trek movie even 30 years later. The movie was riveting, larger than life, and thrilling in ways the TV series could never be (and that’s just Ricardo Montalban’s prosthetic chest. ZING!). It was also a film that dared to kill off main characters for drama and provided a legitimate sense of dread and menace that could never be achieved on a weekly TV series that required a reset after every episode. In short, the film was the peak of the entire first generation of the Star Trek franchise and proved to be so successful that the film series continued for decades until last year when JJ Abrams essentially remade the picture and pissed off the fans for some reason (Oh Trekkies, you’re so adorable in your pop culture Puritanism)
9) X-Men 2 (2003) (plus X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days Of Future Past)
Hard as it is to believe now, back when Bryan Singer made the original X-Men movie in 2000, superhero blockbusters were not considered a sure thing. So, the director didn’t have the time, resources, or money to do the franchise justice. Plus, he faced the necessary burden of having to establish a whole world of characters while still trying to deliver a satisfying action movie. It wasn’t until X-Men 2 that Singer was able to make a proper X-Men film and delivered a sequel that managed to increase the action, deepen the meaning, and expand the characters established in the first flick in a far larger and more satisfying package. It’s a pretty spectacular piece of work that remains the best entry in the franchise. That said, First Class and Days Of Future Past at least equal X2 in quality because they benefited from advancements in special effects technology, increased budgets, and ambitious screenplays. The franchise is pretty fantastic sequel factory that should keep Fox in the blockbuster business for quite some time.
8) Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The absolutely massive success of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man that kicked off with the first ever $100 million opening weekend can be attributed with the current summer superhero movie onslaught. But, as strong as that movie was, it was still marred by some distractingly cheesy blockbuster conventions (hello unnecessary Macy Gray cameo!) and Raimi’s directorial flourishes felt somewhat neutered. Then came Spider-Man 2, possibly the greatest superhero blockbuster ever made. The film defined the color palette, gently comedic tone, and stunning CGI action set pieces of the future Marvel Cinematic universe. It was also littered with direct references to the original comics (even mimicking famous panels), served up genuinely moving human drama, provided heaps of genuine laughs (hello JK Simmons playing the ultimate J. Jonah Jameson), and even allowed Raimi to add his personal brand of visual insanity to the proceedings (the Doc Ock surgery scene alone felt like it came ripped from a Evil Dead flick). It is in many ways a perfect Spider-Man movie and its only flaws are those inherent in the source material (let’s face it, Spider-Man has always been a soap opera with superhero interludes). The film is so damn good that no Spidey film has even come close to matching it. Maybe some day some filmmaker who isn’t named Marc Webb will get a chance to top Spider-Man 2, but even if Sony never lets that happen, at least there’s one Spidey masterpiece that exists for all time.
7) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
When it comes to sequels, bigger isn’t necessarily better. That is of course, unless you’re James Cameron in which case that sentence pretty much defines your entire directorial career. Cameron’s breakout movie The Terminator is a bit of a masterpiece in its own right, but it’s more of a horror film with a time traveling robot slasher than the over-the-top action delivery system the franchise is remembered as. It wasn’t until T2 that Cameron had the opportunity to cut loose and fulfill his wildest ambitions (it was the first time he mounted the most expensive movie ever made and literally every movie that he’s made since topped his own budget records). It’s a blockbuster that continues to deliver its thrills perfectly all these years later, filled with clever ideas like a liquid metal machine, crackerjack plotting that moves like a runaway train, astounding amount of physical action, groundbreaking digital effects that changed the way movies are made forever, and of course it features Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of its powers. Were it not for a couple of silly flaws like that deeply stupid thumbs up finale, Terminator 2 might even be a perfect movie. Though to be fair, as with all James Cameron productions the goofiness is a big part of the charm.
6) Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Night Of The Living Dead might possibly be the most important horror movie ever made, but George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead remains his masterpiece. This bright, colourful, and silly follow up to the original downer zombie movie was in many ways the antithesis of the original. But it was also a necessary evolution on Romero’s ingenious zombie concept. With Tom Savini at his side for the first time, Romero cut loose on gore like no film before and single handedly kicked off the splatter-flick trend that would define the next decade of horror movies. The sequel also came laced with biting social commentary about consumerism and human nature as well as introducing the idea of the slapstick zombie comedy before the zombie movie was a genre (there’s even a zombie pie fight in here people). This grindhouse hit that defied the ratings board was even recognized by critics in a time when no one took horror movies seriously and remains the greatest achievement in zombie filmmaking even after decades of follow ups. Few movies have ever been so influential, sequels or otherwise.
5) Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Much like Dawn Of The Dead, Sam Raimi’s batshit insane slapstick horror/comedy Evil Dead 2 was so influential that many people mistake it for the original entry in the franchise. Ask anyone to describe the Evil Dead trilogy and they’ll talk about Bruce Campbell’s legendarily deranged performance and the lovingly ludicrous comedy despite the fact that neither element hit its stride until this sequel. Following a 15 minute remake of the original movie (which Raimi had to shoot because the sequel’s budget was too low to be able to afford to use recap footage from the original movie), the director and star transform their cult horror movie into a live action Looney Tunes cartoon with buckets of blood. It’s hard to even pick a favourite moment from the movie. Is it when Campbell cuts off his possessed hand or when the furniture starts laughing at him or perhaps when Campbell delivers the most dramatic line reading of the word “Groovy” in the history of cinema? It’s impossible to decide, but also impossible to deny that Evil Dead 2 is just straight up one of the entertaining movies ever made. Without it, chances are the Evil Dead series would not be remembered as a genre classic.
4) The Dark Knight (2008)
Sure, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins changed the face of Batman movies forever, but it wasn’t until the sequel that the ever-serious directing Brit delivered the greatest superhero movie ever made. What’s even left to be said about The Dark Knight? It’s a movie that treats the source material seriously and pulls from countless classic Bat comics (The Long Halloween, The Killing Joke, Gotham Central: Soft Targets, etc.) yet reinvents all of the influences to create something new that makes a potent statement about the relationship between control and chaos along with one hell of a visceral rush of Batman drama. Plus there’s Heath Ledger’s Joker, which is just one of the most iconic movie villains ever created. Sure, the third act features some missteps, but it’s unlikely anyone will ever make a better Batman movie (certainly not Zack Snyder at the very least). The Dark Knight is definitive proof that even big glossy superhero sequels can be art when treated with respect.
3) Aliens (1986)
The genius of James Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien was that he completely changed genres. Scott’s 1979 classic may have featured astounding set design, ageless special effects, and the greatest movie monster ever created (R.I.P HR Giger), but it was also a very slow-paced, atmospheric, and claustrophobic movie. Cameron’s Aliens, on the other hand, was a balls out action movie that traded in slow creeps for a non-stop adrenaline rush. It was an ingenious reinvention of hit movie that took huge risks with the source material (granted they were highly commercial risks, but risks nonetheless) to deliver one of the most purely entertaining popcorn movies ever made. In addition to reinventing the franchise and designing the iconic Alien queen, James Cameron delivered an amazing blockbuster screenplay that managed to ably introduce a half dozen characters before killing them off in elaborate ways, slip in some feminist discourse, topped one of the greatest effects films of all time with sheer spectacle, and even found time to have Paul Reiser eaten by an alien. It’s a movie that makes sequels look easy and a blockbuster that’s rarely been topped for sheer entertainment value.
2) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
George Lucas’ Star Wars may have changed the Hollywood film industry forever and remains one of the most perfectly conceived pieces of entertainment ever produced, but it was The Empire Strikes Back that made the series one of the most important cultural artifacts of the 20th Century. Star Wars is a masterpiece, but even with all of its rigid adherence to Joseph Campbell’s theories about heroes and storytelling, it remains first and foremost an homage to movie serial storytelling. It wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that the Star Wars saga became a myth, layering on levels of philosophy through Yoda’s mouth, delivering one of the most jaw-dropping final twists in film history, and daring to traumatize children with a harshly downbeat ending that offered little of the heartwarming, crowd-pleasing resolution that made the original such a success. Its a ballsy extension to a popular franchise that deepened its subtext while also improving the series’ groundbreaking spectacle tenfold (there’s a reason why Empire was the movie least affected by Lucas’ Special Edition tampering). The Empire Strikes Back is a timeless masterpiece of blockbuster filmmaking that not only works beautifully on its own, but somehow managed to make the original Star Wars even better.
1) The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Speaking of sequels that make the original movie better, you’ve got to bow down to Frances Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II as the ultimate trump card to play during discussions of whether or not sequels can ever top the original. The Godfather might be the most iconic movie of the series, filled with memorable moments that are enshrined in film history. But, it was Godfather 2 that elevated the pulpy series into full on art. Using a flashback structure that made the movie both a sequel and a prequel, Coppola expanded on his universe and transformed a gangster tale treated as myth into a deeply moving tragedy that cut deep into the heart of the myth of the American Dream and mined the depths of human nature. It’s a devastating piece of work that when combined with the masterpiece that proceeded it, just might be the greatest single achievement in the history of film. Now, let’s just pretend that The Gofather: Part III doesn’t exist. It’s easier that way.
Honorable Mentions: The Avengers (if that counts as a sequel), Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey, Blade II, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum), Bride Of Frankenstein, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Good The Bad And The Ugly, Gremlins 2, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, Hellboy II, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, Toy Story 2
So with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on store shelves (unless you have an Xbox One, then you’ll just have to download it), and the movie out, there’s a lot of Spider-Man to digest. That doesn’t stop us from looking back and thinking about the best games the wall crawler has ever swung into.
The combination of Joel and Ellie in the PlayStation 3 action game exclusive, The Last of Us, captivated people around the world, and as a result the Naughty Dog title is receiving the big screen treatment.
Neil Druckmann, creative director at Naughty Dog, will write the film’s script according to Deadline’s exclusive story. Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra, Naughty Dog co-presidents, alongside game director Bruce Straley are also involved with the project.
Screen Gems, Sony’s own production company will be distributing the movie, while The Evil Dead director Sam Raimi and his Ghost House Pictures company are also attached to the project. The capacity of Raimi’s involvement is still unclear.
Wells had some positive things to say about Screen Gems and Ghost House Pictures.
“Since our game released last June, we’ve talked with many companies about making a film, but we couldn’t have found better partners who share our creative vision and high standards.”
Arguably one of the most emotional games of last year, The Last of Us relied heavily on those elements alongside the survival-horror theme, resulting in a magnificent story-telling, and gameplay experience. Raimi’s extensive history with horror and character development should come into play nicely here. Though the initial reaction to this announcement is likely being met with sighs and shoulder shrugs, the talent behind the project is undeniable.
The question now is, who should play the main roles of Joel and Ellie? Ellen Page will be playing one of them right?