5 Winter Movies
Greetings! Welcome to this week’s update. This newsletter is available for every subscriber, and will come out most Wednesdays this year. In addition to the regular update, the final week of each month will be set aside for a Monthly Q&A. I will answer YOUR questions and ask a few of my own. Please consider asking me a question about… well, anything really… and I will do my best to answer. This month’s Q&A will be released on January 26. The sooner you ask your question, the greater the chance I will have to answer. I will pick a few of the best to share with everyone at the end of the month. To ask your question, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or reach out to me on Instagram (@combatsnuggles). I hope you enjoy this week’s update!
Last week it snowed for the first time this year. And as the weather turns colder - in fits and starts - I start to feel some vital part of myself slip away.
I don't like winter. I never have. On the ranch where I grew up, winter meant that the stock tanks would freeze over. Frozen tanks meant that the cows wouldn't have water. One of my jobs before and after school was to ride to each of the 4 tanks on the ranch with an axe and break ice along the banks so that water was available for the cows. Depending on how cold it got (and sometimes it got damn cold) it could take a while to break through the ice. That meant an early morning. And I was like 12 so I couldn't even have coffee.
I just remember it being cold. Cold in a way that made everything feel numb. And this wasn't a typical feeling. I mean... it was Texas for fuck's sake. Who expects it to get that cold?
I have always associated winter with negativity. It is dark. It feels devoid of life. Even devoid of hope. I go into a funk frequently. It is harder to find my way out of the dark woods my mind can find its way into.
And in its own way, the winter brings with it clarity. It brings focus. Everything is minimized. The leaves and the green and the warm blanket of summer and the gentle, brilliant colors of fall are stripped away. It is just the cold. And us.
Writer Katherine May in her book Wintering points out that "(p)lants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximizing scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible." (emphasis mine)
It is in this crucible that we will find ourselves over the next few months. And we will see what extraordinary acts of metamorphosis occur.
Now to this week's update...
Kazakhstan is the biggest story in the world right now that most of the west is not paying attention to. The main reason it is a big deal is that instability there threatens to cause increasing tensions between NATO and Russia. And there is almost no scenario where that is a good thing. This Twitter thread provides a great short intro to what's happening there and why it matters.
I told you last week all about Justin's love for space. And that has spread to the rest of the house. We have all been watching the deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope with anticipation. The JWST is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and could radically transform all that we know about the birth and early development of our universe. It launched a couple of weeks ago and has been delicately deploying since then. And it wasn't easy. It had to deploy a tennis court sized, 5-layer heat shield, then move all of its mirrors into place. All in all, there were some 350 single points of failure during this deployment process. But it went off without a hitch and the JWST should be fully operational within weeks. This is VERY exciting news at our house.
Picture of the Week
Justin was feeling a little sick this past weekend and hasn’t gone to school yet this week. It isn't Covid. And we know that for sure. He has been tested multiple times now. It is a non-Covid viral infection, but he feels pretty crummy. It is both challenging and sweet when your kids are sick. Justin can be all elbows sometimes, even more so when he isn't feeling well. And he can be melt-your-heart sweet too. Photo credit to the incomparable Barbara Hall.
5 Winter Movies
I love movies.
Okay. That may be underselling things a bit. I REALLY love movies. I think that cinema is maybe the best way of telling human stories ever created. There is something about the combination of visual engagement, words, and the human connection that can be created through movies that no other medium really possesses. And it all feels so personal too. Like the film was made just for you.
As I thought about winter, and all the ways it affects us, I thought about winter movies. Movies that take place in winter, or that feature winter somehow. I wanted to share some of them, but it was important to me that the movies I shared had winter not just as backdrop, but as a central part of the story. I wanted winter cold and snow and ice to almost be another character.
These are my 5 favorite winter movies.
A couple of quick notes. First, the list is not in any particular order. Second, while winter plays an important role in many holiday movies, I specifically left those films off. That's a whole different list.
Also, just as a heads up, at least one of my posts each month will feature movies, TV or books. Sometimes it will be a top 5, sometimes just one work that I do a deep dive on. I don't know if that will make you want to read more or less, but it is a something that I will be doing.
1 – Frozen
I mean. Of course, right?
Frozen is the quintessential winter movie. I have seen this movie more than any other movie on this list, mainly because I have a 6-year-old but also because it is, like most Disney movies, compulsively watchable. Disney has discovered the secret to telling children's stories that aren't childish - trust the emotional intelligence of children. They get it. And when you trust kids (and hire amazing creative talent) good things happen.
Best Scene: When it comes to establishing the overall feel of winter and cold, the movie starts with a banger.
2 - Winter's Bone
This 2010 movie is a film noir set in the Ozarks and starring a 19-year-old Jennifer Lawrence in her first lead movie role. Lawrence would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award in the film, and it is easy to see why. She may have gone on to be a bona fide movie star, but underlying her success is the fact that Jennifer Lawrence can act her ass off. She absolutely inhabits the role of Ree, a 17-year-old girl hunting for her deadbeat dad. You can feel the cold in the air and Ree's desperation throughout this movie.
Best Scene: In this scene, Lawrence's Ree goes toe to toe with the incomparable John Hawkes. Everything about this scene - from the lighting to the shaky camera work to the magnetic performances - communicates stress and tension.
3 - The Shining
Perhaps the greatest horror movie ever made, winter plays a major role in The Shining. Winter is the reason the Torrance family has come to the Overlook Hotel, and why they cannot escape the malevolence there. The feeling of being trapped with no escape is a common feeling in winter, and the feeling of powerlessness over some much larger force - like nature in winter - helps contribute to the overall sense of foreboding that pervades much of this movie. Add in Stanley Kubrick's visual style and you get one scary movie.
Best Scene: In this scene Shelley Duvall's Wendy Torrance discovers the "work" her writer husband Jack has been doing. The scene is a master class in building suspense.
4 – Snowpiercer
There is nothing that says winter more than a frozen planet where nothing can live. The only thing keeping humanity alive is a train in perpetual motion around a world in an ice age, waiting for the thaw. Directed by brilliant South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, Snowpiercer explores the themes of class struggle and identity that have come to characterize his work. The movie stars Chris Evans (among many other luminaries) who proves that, shield and tights aside, he can flat out act.
Best Scene: When I said Evans could act, I wasn't kidding. In this scene his character Curtis finally makes it to the front of the train where he confronts Ed Harris' Mr. Wilford.
5 – Fargo
I like all the movies on this list, and I think that they are all very good. I mean. I made the list. And while the list is not ordered, there is one film here that stands out to me. Fargo.
The Coen Brothers are among my favorite filmmakers. Their unique visual style, compelling storytelling, and ability to cross, mix, and remix different genres mark them as original and capable creators with a deep understanding of film and its history.
Fargo is another film noir, this one set in Minnesota in the middle of winter. The performances in this film are incredible and the Coens create a world that is both familiar and still remote, one that belongs to the story they wish to tell. Winter's presence looms large in the film, stripping the world and the people in it down to their most basic elements.
Best Scene: The Coens are masters of small moments. They efficiently use staging, dialogue and performance to invoke complete characters. There is no need for exposition. The Coens show rather than tell. In this scene, we see that William H. Macy's Jerry Lundegaard is a desperate and profoundly tense man, beset by worry and fear. And we see the intelligence, calm, and grounded-ness of Frances McDormand's Marge Gunderson. All in two minutes of polite, midwestern conversation.
In the end, winter (and the movies that capture it) is about what happens when all that seemingly sustains us is stripped away. When we are left with what we have hopefully stored away. When the days get short and the weather sharp. When we are forced inside and kept there. When we face the crucible of the life cycle.
What happens then? How do we respond? Collectively and individually? And what does that say about us?
Winter brings as many questions as answers.
As always, thank you for reading. I hope that wherever you are, you are warm and cozy.
Be well, y'all. And keep pounding the rock.