Summer Fun: Some Like It Hot Cold & Dreary

Counterprogramming Gidget: 11 icy, downer movies

Sixties films were wild about sandy frolics starring Gidget, Elvis, Frankie and Annette. None of that beach bunny nonsense for us: When summer hits, we like to snap the shades shut, burrow under blankets, and tuck in with a foul-weather downer of a movie.

The Claim (2000)

Director Michael Winterbottom has three times now mined the miserablist-catnip novels of Thomas Hardy, including 2011’s Trishna (loosely based on Tess of the d’Urbervilles) and 1996’s Jude (y’know, the Obscure). In between, Winterbottom made the underrated The Claim, which moved The Mayor of Casterbridge to Gold-Rush era America and peopled it with consumptives, sad hookers, and broken men. The cast is terrific (Sarah Polley, Peter Mullan, Wes Bentley, Shirley Henderson, Natassja Kinski, and a scene-stealing Milla Jovovich), and Michael Nyman’s gorgeous score might as well be called “Music To Curl Up in a Snow Drift and Die To.”

Read our review.

Let the Right One In (2008) / Let Me In (2010)

What bother is below-freezing temperatures to a vampire? Both Tomas Alfredson’s original chiller, set in Sweden, and Matt Reeves’ worthy-on-its-own-merits American remake, which moved the action to New Mexico, make smart use of barren, snowswept-scapes to articulate the profound sadness and isolation of a human boy who finds a friend in his vampire neighbor. Also: Blood really pops against white space.

Read our reviews: Let the Right One In, Let Me In

Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948)

Snowy Vienna is the stage for this classic weepie by Max Ophüls about a feckless, womanizing concert pianist named Stefan (Louis Jourdan) and the younger woman, Lisa (Joan Fontaine), who patiently adores him. They first meet when she’s just a kid with a crush. Years later, Lisa “casually” bumps into him – he doesn’t remember her – but this second encounter turns into a lovely romantic idyll that nonetheless ends in Stefan’s casual abandonment of her. Their third and last assignation ends abruptly when Lisa realizes that yet again Stefan cannot even remember her damn name. He’s a louse, alright – but Louis makes lousery awfully seductive.

The Shining (1980)

Hey, everybody likes popsicles, right? We’ll call this flavor “Iced Axe Murderer.” Ingredients include: whiskey, paranoid delusions, paralyzing writer’s block, redrum.

Alive (1993)

Sympathetic performances from a young Ethan Hawke, Josh Hamilton, and Vincent Spano distinguish this dramatic retelling of the real-life Uruguayan rugby team that suffered a plane crash in the Andes and survived by eating their dead. There are so many ways you could go wrong with a ripped-from-the-headlines movie about cannibalism, but director Frank Marshall (Arachnophobia) and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) respectfully skip sensationalism to focus instead on the triumph of the human spirit.

Read our review.

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Julie Christie and Omar Sharif both possess lovely long eyelashes, and they never looked better than with frost clinging to them. David Lean’s epic take on Boris Pasternak’s novel – about a tragic affair between the doctor-poet Zhivago and nurse Lara, backdropped by World War I and the Russian Revolution – is knee-deep in snow, but it’ll pierce even the stone-coldest heart with its balalaika-strummed romance.

Snow Angels (2008)

Adapting Stewart Nan’s novel about a missing child proved so emotionally wrecking for filmmaker David Gordon Green that he told his agent afterwards, “Can I make a big studio comedy in L.A. that's fun and I can goof around?” (He got his wish: He made Pineapple Express next.) Yep, Snow Angels is a major bummer – but a beautiful bummer – and its sweet rendering of young love tempers all the stories of adults tearing each other to shreds.

Read our review.

Portrait of a Lady (1996)

Director Jane Campion (The Piano) puts the iconic Isabel Archer (played by Nicole Kidman) through the wringer, and of course Isabel’s true-hearted cousin Ralph (Martin Donovan), coughing up blood in his kerchief as the curtain drops, gets a mighty drubbing, too. (Consumption strikes again!) Campion re-tuned Henry James’ 1881 novel to her own feminist sensibility, but that last image – of Isabel, tromping through snow to get away from another suitor, but then stopping to maybe rethink her decision – was just as ambiguous as James’ original ending.

Read our review.

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

Or: Cougar On, Righteous Lady (P.S. Your Kids Are Assholes). In this storied tearjerker by Douglas Sirk (reimagined by Todd Haynes in 2002’s Far From Heaven), Jane Wyman plays a well-to-do widow who takes up with her hunky, much younger gardener (Rock Hudson). Her adult children disapprove of the match, so she calls off the engagement, and they buy her a television as consolation prize. A TV set can keep you company, but it can’t keep you warm on a frigid New England night; when Rock reenters the picture, he’s better than a sweater.

I Know Where I’m Going! (1945)

OK, this one’s a cheat: It’s not about snow, but rather torrential rain, and it’s not dreary, either – just a romantic delight. But after so much doom and gloom, why not end with a picture of calamitous weather that actually bears good tidings, not bad? (If you’re still itching for ice-capped tragedy, check out Powell & Pressburger’s sex-starved nuns-in-the-Himalayas melodrama Black Narcissus instead.) Here, P&P – the dynamo writer/director duo that dominated British cinema in the Forties – complicate Wendy Hiller’s attempts to marry up by raining down on her: In northernmost Scotland, she waits for the weather to break so she can take a boat to join her fiancé and wed. While she cools her heels, she meets a cute naval officer on leave (Roger Livesey), and all the wet weather in the Commonwealth can’t dampen the sparks between them. How’s that for heartwarming?

Read our feature about Powell & Pressburger.

Read more Summer Fun stories (and check out the last few years of fun) at as we slather on the SPF and Ride the Wild Swell of our special annual issue celebrating Austin's sunniest season. The Austin Chronicle’s 2014 Summer Fun Issue hit the stands Thursday, May 16.

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downer movies, Summer Fun 2014, Summer Fun, The Claim, Let the Right One In, Let Me In, Letter From an Unknown Woman, The Shining, Alive, Snow Angels, Portrait of a Lady, Doctor Zhivago, All That Heaven Allows, I Know Where I'm Going

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