By Molly Grogan, Third Year, English
I’d like to propose a new and specific genre, under which fall those films with a grainier picture, evocative ‘of their time’ soundtracks (Frank Sinatra always finds his way in somehow), and which all seem to play out with the cold of winter standing at the doorway and the snow flurries in the background. They feel like a warm house with glowing amber light emanating from the kitchen, the smell of bonfires in the air, cities in the snow, and dark mornings that make it impossible to defrost.
There are a few no-brainers I haven’t included; When Harry Met Sally, Little Women, but then a few that I have, and I’ve avoided (most) Christmas films, for anyone not ready to don the Santa hat. Hopefully, you’ll find a more unconventional winter warmer for the nights you’re not stuck at the library. Let hibernation season commence!
1. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
As Hannah and her siblings, Lee and Holly, come together for Thanksgiving dinner each year, we watch their lives and relationships change and develop. Especially when Hannah’s husband Elliot (Michael Caine) realises he has fallen in love with the bohemian Lee (Barbara Hershey), and they begin a clandestine affair (which takes place in various enviable and stylish New York lofts or hotel rooms).
All the while, Hannah’s hilarious hypochondriac ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen, who, painful as it is, is also writer and director) rekindles his relationship with struggling actress, and Hannah’s other sister, Holly (Dianne Wiest).
It’s got all the markings of a Woody Allen production; ridiculous relationships, breaking of the fourth wall, Jewish humour, oddball New York intellectuals, plenty of cable-knit and floor-length tweed coats. It’s brilliant (and sometimes we do just need to separate the art from the artist, so as not to lose great films like this).
2. The Family Stone (2005)
If you’re bored of watching the same four Christmas films on repeat, look no further than the 2005 rom-com The Family Stone, a cheesy but star-studded caper where girl-meets-boyfriend’s-parents-during-the-holidays and all goes very wrong.
When the entire Stone clan gather at their childhood home for Christmas, tensions rise when new girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) is introduced, to a very critical reception. Under scrutiny of the Stone matriarch, played by Diane Keaton, and sceptical sister Amy (Rachel McAdams), Meredith finds herself challenged to drop the uptight personality amongst her boyfriend’s quirky and easy-going family.
Things only get more complicated when she calls in her own laidback sister (Claire Danes) for help and they instead warm to her. So basically, Meredith gets ripped apart for caring about her job and being a little dull. But, if you can get past the judgement, it makes for sweet, wintery watching, yet another film characteristically bathed in warm, orangey hues.
Watch, as characters all wear impressively fluffy knitwear, wiling away the holidays snuggled up reading and cuddling hot beverages. And it still always manages to make me cry.
3. While You Were Sleeping (1995)
Lonely girl Lucy (Sandra Bullock) finds herself in trouble after saving handsome stranger, Peter, from an oncoming train at the station where she works the ticket booth through the holidays. After following him to the hospital, where he now lies in a coma, Lucy becomes entangled in a spiralling lie to his family, who assume her to be his fiancée, and after failing to correct them, she’s welcomed with open arms to spend Christmas with them.
Only, as time goes on, Lucy finds their family unit harder and harder to leave, knowing she has only her cat and empty apartment to return to. Things then get doubly complicated (and a little weird) when she finds herself falling for Peter’s awkward brother, Jack (Bill Pullman), set against Chrismassy New York snow and the Rockefeller tree.
If you like plinkety, 90s piano soundtracks and sets decked in now-dated mid-century wallpaper and Poinsettias as much as I do, While You Were Sleeping is the ideal cold-bedroom antidote.
4. Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)
Unfortunately, saturated as it’s now become, Gilmore Girls remains one of the cosiest, warmest, wittiest TV shows out there (sorry, I don’t make the rules). Centring the two Lorelai Gilmore’s - Lorelai and Rory respectively - played by Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel, the mother-daughter duo spend the majority of every episode firing quippy remarks, eating pie at Luke’s diner, encountering the eccentric cast of Stars Hollow’s townspeople, and arguing with Lorelai’s overbearing and wealthy parents.
Saturated with that same infamous 90s/early 2000s hue characterising all the names on this list, their New England town seems stuck in a perpetual state of Autumn/Winter. Pumpkins and fairy lights constantly line the streets and town bandstand, making it hard to believe the entire thing was filmed in a California studio lot.
Along with her quirky best-friend Suki, played by Melissa McCarthy, Lorelai runs the Dragonfly Inn, whilst the studious Rory spends her days at Chilton, with hopes of eventually getting into Harvard.
In Stars Hollow, the coffee flows fast, but the Gilmores talk faster, and the show’s smart writing (credits go to Amy Sherman-Palladino), strong ensemble cast, and wonderfully wintery sets make even my cold heart swell.
5. Uncle Buck (1989)
John Hughes’ 1989 comedy never fails to charm me. Set in the non-descript snowy purgatory between November and Christmas (probably), irresponsible man-child and bachelor Buck is called on by his brother to come and take care of the three Russell siblings in the midst of a family emergency.
Clueless and cool, Buck breezes in but fails to make an impression on his nieces and nephews. Especially the sixteen-year-old ball of teenage angst, Tia, who spends half the film scowling at the camera, and making Buck’s life a living nightmare. But soon, Buck’s kindness and warmth, and genuine desire to help out finally win him the ‘Cool Uncle’ status and the kids grow attached.
I would recommend basically any film with the late, great John Candy because he’s just so genuinely wonderful to watch. They all share the same jolly, wintery glow – Cool Runnings, Planes Trains and Automobiles and Home Alone, too.
6. Twilight (2008)
There’s not much to say on this one. You’re either with me, or you’re not. I’m not going to try and convince you if it’s the latter.
7. Fargo (1996)
The Coen Brother’s 25-year-old snowy masterpiece is as subtly funny as it is shocking and touching as it is tragic. Now an easily accessible Netflix adaptation, it might be easy to settle, but nothing comes close to the original. Underscored by an overdramatic soundtrack that cleverly contrasts Fargo’s mundanity, the ‘ah, geez’s’ and ‘yahs’ (21 to be exact) litter the macabre portrait of the insular North Dakota colony. It is film noir at its best.
Starring the young and ever-talented Frances McDormand, a seven-months-pregnant police officer, Marge Gunderson, investigates the roadside murder of a fellow trooper at the hands of Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare), two hitmen hired by a stumbling and imbecilic car salesman Jerry Lundergaard, played by William H Macy, hoping to fake his wife’s kidnap after finding himself deep in fraudulent debt.
It’s a little gory (a warning for those looking purely for wholesome comfort), but something in the shots of middle-America buffet restaurants and gloved hands holding hot coffee against blank white swathes of snow makes it, in a strange way, comforting.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Wilson Webb on IMDB
What are some of your favourite winter-warmer movies?