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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

A Winter Watchlist: 8 films that capture the magic of the season

Winter is nearly come and gone, so celebrate the season with these cozy films.
Sofia El-Shammaa
A watercolor snapshot of a cozy room while a winter storm brews outside. (Hustler Multimedia/Sofia El-Shammaa)

It seems that once the holidays pass, students want to get winter over and done with. They hope for the winter weather to break and the ice to melt, but they also forget the magic of the season. The recent campus snowfall was beautiful, and while I don’t envy those who had to go to 8 a.m. classes in the freezing weather, it made me realize that we should relish the fleeting beauty of the season. Since I doubt many of us want to spend extra time outside now that the snow has melted (especially those who aren’t used to the cold), the perfect way to enjoy winter is with films that celebrate its beauty. Here are eight of my non-holiday winter favorites from all different genres, loosely sorted by genre and how approachable they are.

“The Holdovers” (2023) – Coming-of-age, slice-of-life

This recent release and Academy Award for Best Picture nominee is the closest to a holiday film on this list. Taking place at a New England boys’ prep school winter break in the early 1970s, it observes the unfortunate souls who couldn’t go home as they’re watched over by strict classics teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) and head cook Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). The two chaperones bond with each other and student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa).

The film is a beautiful, cozy character study about flawed people. Giamatti is great as Paul Hunham, earning him an Oscar nomination for best actor. Sessa performed very well, especially for a film debut, but Randolph’s Oscar-nominated portrayal of a grieving mother is phenomenal. I would be remiss to not mention how well the ‘70s atmosphere is portrayed; from the aesthetics to the narrative structure, it feels like a film from the era. It also received Oscar nominations for best original screenplay and editing, for five total nominations.

Available to stream on Peacock, watch in select theaters and rent/buy on most platforms.

“Little Women” (1994) – Coming-of-age, historical drama, romance

While the film takes place over several years, meaning plenty of the film isn’t in winter, the New England setting makes even the summer seem cold. The movie is about the March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (Trini Alvarado, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes and both Kirsten Dunst and Samantha Mathis playing the 12-year-old Amy and elder Amy, respectively) — as they grow up during and after the Civil War.

While I think that the 2019 version is just as lovely, the 1994 “Little Women” just feels more wintry to me. Ryder is fantastic as Jo, though all of the cast does well (they all have great chemistry). The writing is very approachable, and the costumes are great. It feels familiar, even on a first watch.

Available to stream on Fubo, Paramount+ and Showtime and rent/buy from most platforms.

“Chilly Scenes of Winter” (1979) – Romcom, drama

Based on the Ann Beattie novel, “Chilly Scenes of Winter” is about Salt Lake City civil servant Charles Richardson (John Heard) who falls in love with recently-separated Laura Connelly (Mary Beth Hurt) from another department. Though at the beginning of the film their relationship has been over for a year, Charles still believes they can get back together. We explore their relationship through non-chronological flashbacks. As we learn more about Charles and Laura, the movie asks what a truly happy ending for them would look like.

“Chilly Scenes of Winter” is a drab film; not in visuals, but in tone. It tells its story in a very quiet, somewhat sad way. Heard plays an obsessed ‘romantic’ fantastically. There are two endings, and while normally I’d recommend one version over the other, it’s hard enough to find this movie as the only place it’s available online is on Internet Archive. If you can’t find it, the novel is also great (and available at our library).

Best found via libraries

“Groundhog Day” (1993) – Comedy, romance

Since “Groundhog Day” has entered the public lexicon, I doubt that I need to explain the plot, but I will. Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a cynical, unkind TV weatherman who is about to travel to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover Groundhog Day with his producer Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliot). He soon discovers that he is in a time loop, continually repeating Groundhog Day.

“Groundhog Day” is a classic for a reason. Murray really sells the role. If you haven’t seen it, this is the season to do so. While it’s not the first or last time-loop movie, it certainly brought the concept into the public eye.

Available to stream on AMC+ and rent/buy on most platforms.

“Werewolves Within” (2021) – Mystery, comedy, horror

Based on the video game of the same name, “Werewolves Within” follows forest ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) as he moves to the small town of Beaverfield, Vermont where he befriends postwoman Cecily Moore (Milana Vayntrub) and uncovers tensions surrounding a gas pipeline that a local businessman (Wayne Duvall) wants to build through town. When the power goes out due to sabotaged generators and a body is uncovered, residents shack up in Jeanine Sherman’s (Catherine Curtain) lodge. When the assailant attacks another resident and environmentalist Dr. Jane Ellis (Rebecca Henderson) concludes the attacker is a werewolf, the residents have to determine who is not what they seem.

I think that winter is the perfect time for mysteries. While fall’s aesthetic is similarly well-suited, nothing beats the claustrophobic feeling of being snowed in with a killer. Even if horror is not your forte, “Werewolves Within” is very beginner-friendly because it focuses more on the mystery and comedy elements. While most characters are a bit one-note, it helps the comedic flow and certainly doesn’t hinder the viewing experience. It’s a cute little whodunit that is great for winter watching.

Available to stream on Hulu, AMC+ and Shudder, rent from Apple TV and buy from most platforms.

“Misery” (1990) – Horror, thriller

In “Misery,” based on the Stephen King novel, Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is an acclaimed novelist of a historical romance series about Misery Chastain. After publishing the final entry in the series, he writes a new, more serious manuscript in Colorado. When driving back home to New York City, he’s caught in a blizzard and crashes. Anne Wilkes (Kathy Bates), a former nurse, rescues him and brings him to her farm, far away from any town. Paul awakes to find himself with broken legs and a dislocated shoulder and in the care of Anne, his “number one fan.” As he recovers, he discovers that Anne may not be what she seems. 

“Misery” is one of my favorite Stephen King adaptations. Bates won an Academy Award for her role, as she nails the fragility of Anne’s psyche, teetering between sanity and chaos. Caan similarly has to walk that line, though he rightfully plays it much more subdued. It’s largely a one-location film, and it nails the claustrophobia that I want out of a winter horror movie. You could also swap this one out with “The Shining,” but “Misery” is much more ‘winter’ to me.

Available to stream on Paramount+, rent from Spectrum and buy from most platforms.

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (2020) – Mystery, psychological thriller

This surrealist film, based on Iain Reid’s novel of the same name, follows a young woman (Jessie Buckley) and her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) on a winter trip to his parents’ (Toni Collette, David Thewlis) farm. Things quickly devolve and the young woman finds her reality shifting and changing.

This is not a film for everyone. I watched it when it first came out and wasn’t a huge fan, but it’s grown on me since rewatching. There aren’t a lot of clear answers or structure, which can be annoying to some, but it is necessary for this film. In fact, the lack of structure soon becomes a structure of its own. The cinematography is great, Buckley and Plemons are excellent in their respective roles and it’s a mood piece that nails down the feeling of being detached from yourself and reality.

Available to stream on Netflix.

“The Man in the Woods” (2020) – Mystery, thriller

On a snowy night in 1963, a student at a New England boarding school goes missing in the woods. As her friends (Quinn Shepard, Gus Birney and Odessa Young) look for her, with the help of ex-cop Buster Heath (William Jackson Harper), they discover that their idyllic school is not what they were told.

If you’ve seen “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” and enjoyed it, “The Man in the Woods” is for you. It’s another mood-piece, heavily stylized in both its writing and visuals. This could be another one that is more hit-or-miss, but I think it’s worth watching if you enjoy older noir films. It feels like an old television play in the best way possible.

Available to rent/buy from Apple TV and VUDU.

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About the Contributor
Sofia El-Shammaa
Sofia El-Shammaa, Staff Writer and Photographer, Data and Graphics Staffer
Sofia El-Shammaa (‘27) is majoring in political science and communication studies in the College of Arts and Science. When they’re not writing or making graphics, you can find them with their cat, Mochi, watching bad movies or reading good books. You can reach them at [email protected].
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