Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snow day

The highlight of yesterday was staring out the windows at the desolate icy streets of New York. I don't know how the city was so unprepared for the snowstorm, and maybe other neighborhoods were better cleared, but there was so much snow downtown that it looked like Omega Man. Cars and roads and sidewalks were buried, leaving no way for people to get around. Occasional brave souls stumbled and slid, following the rough tracks left by a rare delivery truck, but for the most part you could pretend it was after the end of the world. It got me thinking about the way that an expanse of snow can make the landscape feel so much more desolate, the vastness that ice creates. I'm pretty sure that people who work in the arctic can go crazy from the unbroken horizon the same way that sailors do.

This desolation has been used to great effect by filmmakers. The suburban loneliness in Let The Right One In definitely benefits from its snowy setting, the same way that the Hoth scenes in Empire Strikes Back let you know how far the rebels will go to hide out. Pretty much the only good thing about Quintet is the setting, with the limitless winter telling a much better story than the script. Below are four snow day picks with enough storms and snow to convince you there's no one left on earth.

1. The Last Winter

This movie rules! Starring both underdog quarterback Matt Saracen and Tami Taylor (coach's wife) from Friday Night Lights, it tells the story of an Alaskan drilling operation that is quickly unraveling due to bad weather, damaged psyches, and something much worse! Their arctic isolation is inescapable, and its hostility nicely mirrors the tangible danger surrounding them. Will scare you without grossout.

2. The Thaw

But if you want grossout... The Thaw is one of those "Ghost House Underground" DVDs that I think make most people skeptical. Low-budget horror is dangerous territory. The Thaw has the added gray area of Val Kilmer, who stars as a scientist doing research in the unforgiving north. The melting ice caps reveal a wealth of specimens, one of which could turn the tide of humanity, leaving Kilmer with a difficult decision. Better than expected, and blood looks really good on snow.

3. Eight Below

Tearjerker! Eight sled dogs are abandoned at an Alaskan fort after an emergency evacuation. It's too dangerous for their human friends to return and rescue them until after the winter, so the dogs much survive the cold and ice for 5 months on their own. After the first few minutes there aren't any people in it at all, just the dogs fighting killer whales and eating reindeer and stuff. Insanely dramatic, a good one to watch on your own. If it meant the world would be like this forever, I'd be totally okay with a new ice age.

4. The Thing

No movie takes better advantage of a winter setting to build fear than The Thing. John Carpenter's study of the claustrophobia of hiding indoors vs. the vulnerability of the snowy wilderness is so powerful the alien is almost incidental. But then the alien rules too and it's like a WIN WIN WIN scenario. I love the story that this movie came out a week after E.T., providing the most ghastly, brutal counterpoint to a family favorite. The best!

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