by Michael S. Palmer
I know what Phil said about spring being near, but if you'll pardon my French for just a moment... That little marmot is full of s#!+.
2010-2011's winter season has been epic and record breaking, dumping storm after storm (after storm) across nearly every state in the union (looking at you, Florida!). And while some may be praying for summer, there are those amongst us who, miraculously, still love every falling flake and blustery afternoon.
So, here's to you, Guys N' Gals Who Love Tundra Livin'. This winter's for you, and so is this list of The Top 10 Blu-rays For People who (still) love winter!:
10) 'Eight Below'
A fun piece of family entertainment about a dogsled team who, after being left behind, must survive the long and perilous Antarctic winter. In Hollywood terms, it's 'Shackleton' with dogs. Directed by Frank Marshal, this Paul Walker / Jason Biggs flick could have been another 'Snow Dogs'. And while talking dogs certainly have a time and a place for the kiddies (and my beautiful wife), 'Eight Below' is a mostly silent film in the tradition of 'The Bear'. The infinite icy vistas are beautifully photographed, and the puppy performances are riveting (seriously…I can't stop watching them. Someone please send help). Never thought I'd like this movie, but color me surprised.
On every list, there must be at least one title that bends the rules just a skosh. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's 'Edward Scissorhands' is a odd fairytale about a lonely young man, who has scissors for – yes – hands, and ends up changing suburbia forever. And while much of the film takes place during warmer times of the year, the film's most magical and beautiful scene involves Edward making it snow in a place where it never does. 'Edward Scissorhands' is for those of us who love winter, but live where there is none. Or, for those of us who may have forgotten, after three blizzards in a row, what it feels like to see the year's first new snow.
There are two films on this list that are literally set at the coldest place on earth: Antarctica, but neither film, nor any other here, FEEL as cold as 'Fargo'. Everything in this movie is soaking in frigid air and caked with snow: endless fields, Main Street, parking structures, cabins in the woods. There's no escaping winter. The Coen Brothers are diverse talents, and here they show their unique ability to blend quirk with very raw and dark subject matter. The effect is, dare we say it… chilling.
7) 'The Edge'
'The Edge' is a classic man vs. nature story about a billionaire (Anthony Hopkins) who crashes in the wilds of Alaska with a photographer / "friend" (Alec Baldwin) who may want to kill him for his wife and his money. While many stories feature freezing temperatures, epic locations, and man-eating bears, director Lee Tamahori and writer David Mamet elevate a B-picture into a thematic tête-à-tête between two rivals. It's a complex mixture of survival, and the second half of a heist film where everyone start double-crossing one another for the prize. In two words, 'The Edge' is equal parts gripping and beautiful. But whatever you do, dear Readers, do not share this Blu-ray with loved ones before taking them to Alaska. My wife is still mad at me.
Nothing says winter in the Palmer household like a 1980s ski movie. You know, where the jocks / ski patrol are dictators ruling the slopes with iron ski poles. But, the rag-tag group of losers will train in some sort of a montage to win the girl and, hopefully, the race. The trouble, though, is two fold: 1) 'Aspen Extreme' and its ilk don't really hold up that well. And 2) most of them aren't out on Blu-ray yet.
As a replacement, I give you 'Hot Tub Time Machine', a raunchy story about four guys (and that hilarious kid from 'Sex Drive') who WOULD have most likely been in an '80s ski movie, but instead have traveled back in time via a magic hot tub to somehow correct the mistakes of youth, while not upsetting the time-space-continuum. Or something to that effect. Sure, the plot's ridiculous and the time travel rules are crap, but this nostalgic poke at the Decade of Greed makes me laugh for two hours (Motley Lou forever!!!). Plus, Crispin Glover is super-hilarious, and just so happened to be in the best time travel movie ever.
If my only experience with Europe was from the Jason Bourne Trilogy of action-thrillers, I would assume it to be a very cold and miserable place. Cutting across all three films (with some nice warm diversions to India and Morocco), winter makes for some exciting locales, highlighted by the epic car chase in 'Supremacy' on the streets of Moscow.
For many, winter is synonymous with the Holidays, and friends, 'It's a Wonderful Life' is the king of Holiday movies. It's drenched with ice and snow from the very first scenes where young George Bailey falls under the ice, to the snowy and joyous climax where adult George runs through the streets wishing all of Bedford Falls a Merry Christmas. What I find fascinating about 'It's a Wonderful Life' is how everyone thinks they know it -- it's on TV all December long -- but every time I watch it, I see something new. Because every time, I'm surprised that what's ingrained in the pop culture ether isn't the whole movie, but rather the film's final forty minutes. Every man and woman needs to feel wanted, needs to feel they've made the right choices and sacrifices over the years. And nothing warms that need, and cold winter nights, like revisiting Bedford Falls in high definition.
As we approach the top of our list, it's important to acknowledge Winter as a source of isolation and confinement. 'Misery' is about Paul Sheldon (James Caan), a famous romance novelist trying to become a "real" writer by killing his most popular character, who wakes up after a terrible car accident in the home of his biggest fan, Annie Wilkes (an Oscar winning performance by Kathy Bates). What seems like a stroke of luck turns into a nightmare because, in the coldest sense of the term, Annie Wilkes is insane. And if Paul Sheldon doesn't write his character back into being, she'll kill him. So he writes, trapped in a cabin, both legs broken, surrounded by the snowy wilds of rural Colorado. Completely, and utterly, alone. 'Misery' is an excellent film and one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever made; a true exercise in Hitcockian suspense that could sit right on the shelf next to 'Rear Window' (if 'Rear Window' would actually come out on Blu-ray).
2) 'The Thing'
Here we are back in Antarctica, trapped and cut off from civilization… Oh, and one of the members of our scientific expedition may just be a shape-shifting alien from outer space! Nearly thirty years later, John Carpenter's 'The Thing' remains a very effective and terrifying film, thanks to the top notch special effects by Rob Bottin and Stan Winston, which feel more real as compared to today's over reliance on CGI. Here, winter plays one of the villains, as Antarctica's cold temps are just as dangerous as the alien amongst. This 1982 version is also the best adaptation of John W. Campbell's novella, "Who Goes There?"
And now, the number one Blu-ray For People who (still) love winter:
It's odd that Stephen King spoken openly about not loving Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of 'The Shining,' before coming to an agreement that let him re-adapt it as a mini-series. We can, of course, examine the differences between novel and film, see what plot points were cut, and what choices were made. Yes, the hotel as a character was cut significantly and the awesome boiler sequence is gone, but -- and I say this as a life long fan -- I'm sorry, Mr. King; Kubrick's movie is damn near perfect (anyone else think the Florida hotel decorations are a little weird?). 'The Shining' is a merciless descent into madness. Jack Nicholson stars as Jack Torrance, an aspiring novelist with an alcohol problem, who takes his family up to the remote Colorado Rockies to care for a hotel with a horrific past. The snow comes and traps them. And then it's quite clear that the hotel wants Jack's son, Danny, to be among its eternal guests. 'The Shining' works so well every time, I think, because it is both direct (with its shocking imagery), yet open-ended (no official explanations are ever offered). And, on Blu-ray, it's never looked better (especially after the misfire that was the full-frame DVD).
Well, there we have it, Dear Readers, another day, another list. As always, there are certainly more films to mention than what's considered on this list of favorites -- yet remember, we're only considering currently available Blu-ray Discs -- so I encourage readers to hit up the forums to add titles and/or arrange your own list.
Here are some of the other titles I wish I had room for (or wish were better films) above: 'Groundhog Day', 'Let Me In', 'Let the Right One In', 'Inception', 'Dead Snow', 'The Day After Tomorrow', 'Doctor Zhivago', 'Cliffhanger', 'Surf's Up' (my personal favorite in the animated penguins world), 'Home Alone', 'Die Hard 2', and 'Monsters, Inc.'. What else is missing?