Watch Closely: Midwinter Moods
By Peg Aloi
This week’s column is all about cozy comfort, decadent distractions, and heart-melting romance.
Although many parts of the Northeast have had a relatively mild winter this year, a rather depressing veil of dreariness still overlays the month of February. The days can be cloudy, bleak, cold, and damp. Sometimes (as we’re seeing this week) we are surprised by a somewhat treacherous weather event. So if icy roads and a wintry mix are not your cup of tea, and you’re able to stay home and get your hygge on, why not chill out with some TV to take your mind off all the really crappy things that are happening in the world right now? This week’s column is all about cozy comfort, decadent distractions, and heart-melting romance.
Peg’s Picks of the Week: Classic Cinema! If you don’t have a subscription to the Criterion Channel but are craving movies, not to worry. There are some great classic films recently added to Amazon Prime that offer hours of top-notch entertainment. This includes some of my favorites, like To Sir With Love (1967), starring Sidney Poitier as an iconoclastic public school teacher. For excellent horror, there’s the Satanic Panic classic Rosemary’s Baby (1968), the quintessential based-on-a-true-story haunted house thriller The Amityville Horror (1979), and Guillermo del Toro’s atmospheric Spanish thriller The Devil’s Backbone (2001). More of a franchise junkie? Then check out no fewer than three Indiana Jones movies, and a trio of Mission: Impossible movies. For recent arthouse picks, there’s Sean Baker’s quirky take of working girls, Tangerine (2015), filmed in day-glo brilliance on an iPhone, and Barry Jenkins’s dreamy, gritty period love story set in Harlem, If Beale Street Could Talk (2018). Also check out Sidney Lumet’s excellent crime thriller Serpico (1973), starring Al Pacino as a cop fighting corruption among his co-workers, and the indescribably weird and hilarious cult fave by Hal Ashby, Harold and Maude (1971).
Eye Candy: This week marks the three-year anniversary of the release of Autumn de Wilde’s feature debut Emma, a sumptuous adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. This visually delectable film was the last one I saw in a theater before the early pandemic lockdown in March 2020, so it holds a special place in my heart. Its fabulous cast includes Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, and Josh O’Connor (which reminds me, you should make a note to watch these phenomenal actors in The Witch, Operation Mincemeat, High Life, and God’s Own Country). This witty comedy of manners is full of romance and just a touch of absurdity. Toss in a sensual mise en scène full of sartorial splendor, decadent desserts, and bucolic scenes of nature and you have a feast for the senses. (Available streaming free on Prime, for rental on several channels, and on DVD.)
Warm Mediterranean Getaways: Now, I am not much of a beach or tropics person myself, but I know a lot of New Englanders who long for a getaway to a sunny paradise at this time of year. What about gorgeous Tuscany or the sunny Italian Riviera? 2017’s Call Me By Your Name is among the most moving cinematic love stories of the last decade. Starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, this stunning film is directed by Bones and All’s Luca Guadagnino (Netflix). A slightly older film (with many subtle parallels to this one) is also available for your viewing pleasure: Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty (1996), a sensual coming of age story that stars Liv Tyler as an American girl who spends an eventful summer full of love and loss in Tuscany (AppleTV and Prime). And who can forget A Room with a View, the most romantic of the Merchant-Ivory films? It is an adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel about a young English woman whose summer trip to Italy ignites numerous life changes. A brilliant cast includes breakout roles from Helena Bonham-Carter, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Julian Sands, as well as Maggie Smith, Denholm Elliott, Rupert Graves, and Judi Dench (AppleTV and Prime). But let’s face it: in all of these gorgeous films the real star is the sun-dappled Italian countryside.
Chilly Thriller: Baltasar Kormáákur (whose film debut Reykjavik 101 was a sexy dark comedy) is making a name for himself directing excellent thriller series set in Iceland. Katla was a clever, unsettling story of the psychic reverberations triggered by a series of volcanic eruptions. Trapped is more down to earth, but no less disturbing. Andri, a smart but uncompromising detective with a checkered past, investigates the suspicious death of a teenage girl in a building fire. He eventually discovers a conspiracy made up of local land owners, rough biker clubs, and strange New Age cults. The story’s strength lies in its authentic acting, intriguing characters (including Andri’s partner, Hinrika, who prefers to do things by the book, as Another Round’s Thomas Bo Larsen, who plays a Danish drug kingpin) and the relentlessly bleak but beautiful Icelandic landscape itself.
Maybe these suggestions will take your mind off the crappy weather and/or help stave off your cabin fever. Stay tuned for a review of a new series full of wintry weirdness, Three Pines. Until then, here’s hoping you stay warm and don’t run out of snacks.
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for the Boston Phoenix and member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes on film, TV, and culture for web publications like Time, Vice, Polygon, Bustle, Mic, Orlando Weekly, and Bloody Disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found on substack.