Content warning: Mentions suicide, homicide, graphic imagery, and other mature content
It’s that wonderful time of year again, when meteorologists wave the false hope of school closures before millions of desperate children and staff. Should we find ourselves gifted with a late start, or God-willing, a full day off, it’s crucial that you have a plan for how to spend the precious few hours you have with the layer of white stuff outside. You could always go sledding, have a snowball fight, or build a snowman that will inevitably be at least 35 percent dirt. But you know what’s better than all of that? Watching fictional people in more snow, doing more interesting things. I’ve compiled a list of films fitting this exact description, to be referred to in the event that snow falls in significant enough proportions this season. Additionally, with the exception of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “The Snowman,” these films have nothing to do with Christmas or the holiday season.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
It’s said (in the beginning of this film, in fact) that stories seek out the writer, so long as they are willing to listen. Within the “enchanting ruins” of a once picturesque hotel, now reduced to shabbiness and obscurity, our story is revealed by one-time lobby boy, Zero (Toni Revolori, F. Murray Abraham). What ensues is not only a gripping interwar-period tale of matricide and various forms of murder, an art heist, frame-ups, shoot-outs, and a high-speed chase via bobsled; but also a protege’s ode to his beloved mentor, Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), an aficionado of fine fragrances and older, richer women, whose life and one true love was the establishment for which he served. Taking place on the blizzarding alpines of former Zubrowka, Wes Anderson’s witty crime drama is beautifully set, costumed, and scored (by Academy Award winning composer Alexandre Desplat). It’s sure to have you gespannt wie ein Flitzebogen (by the edge of your seat). Also starring Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, and too many other distinguished actors and Anderson regulars to name here, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is available to stream on HBO Max.
The Shining (1980)
Hired to manage the Overlook Hotel during its winter off-season, aspiring writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) feels that five months of solitude with his wife (Shelley Duvall) and son (Danny Lloyd) up in the Rockies is exactly what he needs. But as his behavior towards his family becomes increasingly hostile, haunted by hallucinations of the Overlook’s gruesome past, Jack gradually succumbs to the persuasions of “cabin fever” he thought himself immune to. Stanley Kubrick’s psychological horror classic, based on the novel by Stephen King, never fails to provoke unease; due, in large part, to the ominous cymbal clashing and spiraling synth of its score (the opening theme composed by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkins, with additional music by Krzysztof Penderecki). Few other scores could make even the removal of paper from a typewriter terrifying. Additionally, watching Nicholson descend into isolation-induced madness while being snowed-in yourself is an experience I would highly recommend. And if you don’t care for ax murder and blood-gushing walls, stay for Duvall’s campy overacting; it’s worth it. Available to stream on HBO Max.
There’s more to life than a little money, dontcha know. Had Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) considered this advice, perhaps there would have been less bloodshed. Caught in a “personal” financial jam, car salesman Jerry enlists two criminals⸺Funny lookin’ Carl (Steve Buscemi), and Marlboro Man Gaear (Peter Stormare)⸺to kidnap his wife and hold her for ransom, hoping that his wealthy father-in-law will pay the price. But, as they often do in such situations, things don’t go so super; especially not with seven months pregnant Chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), as sharp an investigator as she is polite, trailing Carl and Gaear’s tracks. This Coen brothers crime comedy, based on true events, will have you laughing at things you’ll feel terrible for laughing at. Unless that’s just me, and Buscemi using old receipts as gauze for the bullet hole in his jaw isn’t funny. Like you’re so perfect. Regardless, “Fargo” is 90 thrilling minutes of twists, turns, Midwestern American accents, and what Marge refers to as “execution type deals,” with plenty to offer for new and returning viewers. Available for rent on Amazon Prime.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
At exactly 10:45 PM on Christmas Eve, George Bailey (James Stewart) will attempt to take his own life. George is a man who time and again has sacrificed his own aspirations for the benefit of those in need; foremost, his remaining in Bedford Falls to manage his late father’s Building and Loans Association, taking responsibility for the defense of his neighbors’ livelihoods against the cruelty of landlord and multi-business owner Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). But despite all that he’s given, George never seems to get ahead. When his uncle misplaces an $8,000 deposit, George is not only set to lose the Association, but likely his personal freedom. On that snowy eve, George wishes he’d never been born. But when his wish comes true, thanks to his “second-class” guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), George sees just how valuable his existence is to the people he cares for. Although “It’s a Wonderful Life” is inarguably a Christmas classic, Frank Capra’s drama is a touching reminder to appreciate what we have, and know the value of our mere existence in the lives of our friends, no matter the time of year. Available to stream on Tubi, and on cable channels 24-7 in December.
The Visit (2015)
In this M. Night Shyamalan mockumentary horror film, siblings Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) travel to rural Pennsylvania to visit their estranged grandparents, whom they’ve never met. Their mother (Kathryn Hahn) hasn’t been in contact with her parents since she ran away with the siblings’ father at the age of 19. Following their father’s own recent flight out of their lives, Becca uses the trip as an opportunity to make a documentary film fostering reconciliation between her mother and grandparents. But when their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) begin to act strangely, the crocheted pillows and oatmeal cookies they’d envisioned seem to be a disguise for something sinister; and the “they’re just old” excuse wears thin with each naked grandma sighting. “The Visit,” while certainly not for everyone (there’s only so much rhyme-spitting from “T-Diamond Stylus” one can handle) offers a refreshing concept and Shyamalanian plot-twist, making for a chilling watch any avid horror fan will appreciate. Agh, Sarah McLachlan! Available for rent on Amazon Prime.
The Snowman (1982)
“The whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day, and it was on that day I made the snowman.” This animated short, originally aired on British television, follows the short-lived friendship between a young boy and his snowman; leaving the boy’s ordinary life behind, and flying to what can only be described as a snowman coven and/or costume party. Based on Raymond Briggs’ original storybook, and drawn in his signature, grainy illustration style, the short is beautifully animated, despite its simpleness. If you’re not a fan of the crime and gore found on this list, I would recommend this short as a pleasant, more poignant option for your snow day viewing. Set to compositions by Howard Blake, “The Snowman” is a nostalgic favorite that beats the hell out of Frosty any day. Available for rent on Amazon Prime.
Crimson Peak (2015)
“When the time comes, beware of Crimson Peak.” This was the beyond-the-grave warning 10 year old Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) received from her deceased mother, shortly after her funeral; a message Edith won’t be reminded of until she meets aspiring entrepreneur Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) a decade later. Charmed by him, Edith eventually packs up her life and savings to England, to live in matrimony with Thomas. It’s not until she uncovers the true motive behind Thomas’ marrying her, hidden within the dusty shelves and red clay wells of his dilapidated childhood castle, that Edith will come to understand what her mother’s message meant. Guillermo del Toro’s Victorian era horror romance, with chilling phantoms and at-times shocking gore, is a very “del Toro” spin on an often predictable genre. The dedication to partial practical effects in “Crimson Peak” make for beautifully grotesque visuals, a testament to the shortcomings of pure CGI. Additionally, if frightened people in lacy nightgowns holding dripping candelabras is your bag, you should enjoy this film. Also starring Jessica Chastain as Lady Lucille Sharpe, “Crimson Peak” is available to stream on Netflix.
When the snow turns to slush in the late afternoon, and we all inevitably return to school the next morning, I hope whichever film you chose from this list left you content with how you spent your snow day. In the meantime, may we all persist through second semester, never allowing the weatherperson’s words to go to heart; yet never entirely letting go of the hope that their forecast comes true.