Stephen Arnell

Snow-filled films for cosy winter nights

Snow-filled films for cosy winter nights
Idris Elba (Shutterstock)
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This week, the southern counties of England were treated to the rare sight of November snow. The beauty of tla (Inuit for snow) is that it can render the most prosaic locale picturesque. Snow is an impossible element to control of course – especially in the movies, but the fake stuff is usually on hand for when Mother Nature fails to deliver.

Before the era of CGI, cotton was famously used on Hollywood film sets in the 20s, until it was deemed too much of a fire risk. A mix of salt and flour was favoured in Charlie Chaplin's Gold Rush. In It's A Wonderful Life, foamite, sugar and water were put through a wind machine to create the wintry scenes of Bedford Falls, while Dr Zhivago favoured marble dust. 

If you share my fascination with snow, you may want to check out (or revisit) BBC4’s Tales of Winter: The Art of Snow and Ice (2013), which will be repeated later this month. In the meantime, here are nine motion pictures where snow features strongly.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020) Netflix

With a title such as I'm Thinking of Ending Things, you can assume an absence of jollity. And you would be exactly right, as Charlie Kauffman’s complex psychological thriller keeps the viewer on their toes, an elliptical, dream-like picture that plays with the themes of time, identity, death, and love.

The movie begins conventionally enough as a young couple (Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons) drive to a remote homestead to stay with the boyfriend’s parents (played by Toni Collette and David Thewlis).

The Mountain Between Us (2017) Amazon Rent/Buy

A gruelling survival melodrama where the fatal stroke suffered by the pilot (Beau Bridges) causes his plane to crash in the High Uintas Wilderness. His two passengers survive though; injured photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) and widowed neurosurgeon Ben Bass (Idris Elba).

Hunger, sub-zero temperatures, inclement weather, a predatory cougar, and a bear trap add to their woes, not helped by the deceased pilot’s failure to log a flight plan. Oh, and there’s no mobile signal. Terrific. 

Will the pair escape? And if they do, what will their future relationship be?

Force Majeure (2014) BFI Player, Amazon Rent/Buy, remade as Downhill (2020) Amazon Buy

Ruben Östlund’s (The Square) critically lauded black comedy posited a unique dilemma. Swedish businessman Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), Norwegian spouse Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), young daughter Vera (Clara Wettergren) and preschool son (Vincent Wettergren) are on holiday at a luxury resort in the French Alps. Mistakenly thinking a controlled avalanche is the real thing, Tomas flees the outdoor restaurant where they are lunching, leaving his wife and kids to fend for themselves. Unsurprisingly, Tomas’ explanation(s) for his actions fail to convince his family. 

Will Farrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus starred in 2020’s unnecessary remake, which was co-scripted by Succession’s Jesse Armstrong.

The Hateful Eight (2015) Amazon Prime, Rent/Buy

Quentin Tarantino’s Western whodunnit begins with a lengthy sequence in the snowbound Rocky Mountains of Wyoming, set to the late Ennio Morricone’s evocative theme.

The bloody proceedings in Minnie's Haberdashery lodge are accompanied by a deadly blizzard swirling around the lonely outpost, where a body can freeze to death within minutes.

Kurt Russell co-stars as bounty hunter John 'The Hangman' Ruth; the actor was also stranded in a snowy location in The Thing (1982), which I’ll discuss shortly.

The Grey (2011) Amazon Rent/Buy

Easily director Joe Carnahan’s (Smokin’ Aces) best movie, The Grey harks back to the Hemingway-esque cinema of John Milius (Jeremiah Johnson) as Liam Neeson’s suicidal oil company wolf hunter is downed in an Alaskan air crash. As in Taken, Neeson has the requisite skill set, but this time carries the burden of leading the surviving passengers, his own nihilism, freezing Artic weather and a roving wolf pack with a taste for human flesh.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) Disney+, Amazon Rent/Buy

Before Netflix inflict their threatened Narnia-verse on us, you may want to watch the first of the movie trilogy, where the land is forever Winter (and never Christmas) under the iron heel of Tilda Swinton’s White Witch. The picture passes the time well enough, although the Pevensie children appear to have wandered in from an Enid Blyton Famous Five adventure.  Apart from naughty Edmund (Tory political advisor Skandar Keynes), memorably tempted by the Witch’s offer of ‘sweeties’ (Turkish Delight).

Liam Neeson pops up again as Aslan, CS Lewis’s Jesus avatar; James Cosmo (GoT) makes an appearance as Father Christmas; Ray Winstone lends his dulcet cockney tones to unimaginatively named Mr Beaver, with Dawn French as his wife, Mrs Beaver. Which does make one wonder what the other talking CGI beavers must be called.

Edward Scissorhands (1990) Disney+, Amazon Rent/Buy

This paper-thin fable from Tim Burton looks great and possesses a good deal of charm (especially for this time of year) but has a vacuum at its centre in the shape of Johnny Depp’s performance as the titular shear-handed character.

I’m afraid I must agree with the recent comments made by actor Brian Cox (Succession): 'I mean, Edward Scissorhands. Let’s face it, if you come on with hands like that and pale, scarred-face make-up, you don’t have to do anything. And he didn’t. And subsequently, he’s done even less.'

The Thing (1982) Amazon Rent/Buy

John Carpenter’s remake of Howard Hawks’ 1951 film is rightly now regarded as a classic, although on its release reviews were generally lukewarm. An Antarctic research facility is invaded by a murderous shape-changing alien entity, making the movie a sci-fi/horror variation on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

The Thing still provides more than a few shocks (no matter how many times you see the picture) and benefits from the lack of CGI, the overabundance of which marred the passable 2011 prequel of the same name.

Where Eagles Dare (1968) Amazon Rent/Buy

Admittedly a fair proportion of WWII actioner Where Eagles Dare was shot in the studio, where the painted matte backdrops are obvious, but the location scenes in and around Austria’s Festung Hohenwerfen remain both exciting and picturesque.

Stars Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood dubbed the movie ‘Where Doubles Dare’ due to the amount of stunt work onscreen. This may well have irked Clint, as he was famously keen on performing his own stunts in pictures, most notably The Eiger Sanction (1975). Burton possibly not so much.

The Heroes of Telemark (1965) was an earlier (and less humorous) snowy WWII adventure – doubtless the movie will be on our screens yet again over the holiday season.