“Dead of Winter Film Survival Guide” by Alex and Nate Blake

Let’s be honest, January and February are the worst months of the year. Between the weather and all the winter illnesses going around, these two months can suck it. To make matters worse, even if the roads aren’t covered with snow and I don’t have the sniffles, the new releases at the theater this time of year have a bad reputation. It is a time for Hollywood to dispose of all their most egregious wastes of money. It’s not that bad films only come out this time of year, it’s just that the number of early in the year releases that suck is consistently staggering. Unless you’re heading out to see one of the Oscar holdovers that you haven’t caught yet, the options are pretty dismal. Alex and I are here to help. First, she’ll share some comedy recommendations to brighten your spirits during these difficult months. Not all of her picks are classics, but they are likely to make you smile. I’ll follow by sharing a few of the rare good movies that have come out during January and February in the last 30 years.

Alex:

As Nate suggested, it is that time of year when we are all trapped inside experiencing a severe vitamin D deficiency and hoping that spring comes sooner rather than later. It doesn’t help that we can’t leave our houses to go to the movies because snow is constantly falling and there is not a single movie worth spending money on right now.

Here is my personal list of favorite films to help you beat the winter blues:

Tommy Boy

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Okay, this one is very nostalgic for me. It is one of those that I probably started watching at way too young of an age (Thanks mom!). So, naturally this is one of my go tos this time of year when we haven’t seen the sun in three weeks and are buried under literal feet of snow. There are so many lines and visual gags that I will be referencing for weeks after watching. The incomparable Chris Farley left us far too soon and watching this movie makes me wonder what else he would have done during his career. I do understand that this film really is no masterpiece. However, if you don’t think too hard about the plot or character development, I promise it will make you laugh.

Spy

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I’m not usually a huge Melissa McCarthy comedy fan. It just seems like she is always the butt of the jokes for either her appearance or her weight. While there is a little bit of that in Spy, it is not as bad as other films she has made in the last decade. This one is just good, stupid fun. It is funny as hell, has a bit of a mystery aspect to it, and really just tells the story of a woman kicking ass. You also get to look at Jude Law a lot which is always a plus.

Little Miss Sunshine

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We all like a good coming of age story. But there is just something extra special about this one. Perhaps it’s the extra dose of cynicism. Or, maybe it is the dark humor paired with the bright color palette. Despite the darker spin on a traditional story, it is truly a heartwarming tale of a little girl coming to understand how the world works; for better or for worse.

Game Night

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Honestly, when this came out I watched it because Jesse Plemmons and Kyle Chandler are in it. I am not a huge Jason Bateman fan, but I was willing to overlook it for a good laugh. And I am so glad that I did. This film is full of unexpected twist and turns. It isn’t going to blow your mind, but it definitely will allow you to turn your brain off for a couple hours and ignore this shitty timeline we are currently inhabiting.

The Big Lebowski

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I am never going to stop recommending this film to people. With that being said, you need to trust me when I tell you that you have to watch it at least twice. Don’t watch it once and then come complain to me that you didn’t get it. WATCH IT AT LEAST TWICE PEOPLE. This film forces you to let go of the traditional belief that a plot has to have a purpose. Once you accept that the plot really doesn’t matter, you will enjoy it so much more. And it will provide you with so many quotes to repeat to the people around you whether they are in on the joke or not.

Nate:

I agree with most of those picks. Alex hadn’t seen The Big Lebowski before we started dating, but very early in our relationship we watched it and her response after that first viewing was “I didn’t hate it.” She watched it again a few weeks later and ever since then it has been a rare occurrence for us to go more than six months without re-watching it. On the flipside, Tommy Boy was the first of her favorite movies that I hadn’t seen that she showed me when we started dating. I’m still not a huge fan. There are some funny moments, but it’s just not my thing. I was a lot more into 12 Angry Men, which somehow I hadn’t seen until a couple years ago. She got me to watch that and I am forever grateful.

Now, I’m mainly here to talk about the rare occasions during my lifetime when the dead of winter saw the release of a good film. When I think of those months, I generally think of notorious turds like My favorite Martian, Monkeybone, Kangaroo Jack, Welcome to Mooseport, Son of the Mask and Norbit, just to name a few. If you don’t remember any of those films, you are lucky. If you have seen any or all of them, well, I share your pain.

Looking back on just my lifetime, there have been a few gems released in what is traditionally a wasteland of terrible horror movies, saccharine Valentine’s Day trash, comedies that lack a single laugh and the lamest family fare you can imagine (I’m talking about you, A Dog’s Purpose). Despite Hollywood’s best worst efforts though, a few great films have hit theaters during the dead of winter. That said, the list below doesn’t include anything from January. There are just no redeeming qualities to that month, I guess.

The Silence of the Lambs (February 1991)

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I’m not as fond of this film as everyone else is, but it’s still a solid crime drama with stellar performances from Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. This February release went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars.

Groundhog Day (February 1993)

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Filmed primarily in Woodstock, IL, this film introduced a concept that has been ripped off many times since, with none of the imitations coming close to the charm of the original. It’s a romantic comedy-fantasy that works because of the performances by Bill Murray, Andie McDowell and Chris Elliot. Murray plays a selfish and unpleasant weatherman who is forced to live the same day over and over again in order to learn to be a better person. Murray’s trademark grouchiness keeps the content from becoming too syrupy. It’s arguably his best film, though Ghostbuster fans may disagree with me.

Happy Gilmore (February 1996)

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This is not a great film by any means, but it is one of Adam Sandler’s better comedies and has some iconic, quotable lines. It’s dumb and one note, but peppered with just enough laughs to make it a fun watch occasionally.

October Sky and Office Space (February 1999)

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These two very different films were released on the same day in February 1999.  Neither was a hit, with Office Space initially being regarded as a flop, but both went on to gain popularity on home video. October Sky stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Laura Dern and Chris Cooper, and tells the true story of Homer Hickam Jr., a teenager in the 1950s who became obsessed with building and launching rockets, despite opposition from his father. October Sky is a classic family film, though you don’t hear about it as much now as you do Office Space, which is a much different kind of film. Office Space went on to achieve cult status, and is a simple and all-too-relatable comedy about being stuck in pointless, repetitive jobs. It hits that “too real” button every moment of its brisk 80 minute runtime. Despite being painful to watch, it’s also too funny to turn off.

In Bruges

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I’ll admit that this is my least favorite Martin McDonagh film so far, but it’s still enjoyable. It’s one of those films that if you haven’t seen it, I would rather not provide many details and ruin it for you. If you like dark comedy and don’t mind characters repeatedly using the C-word, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Black Panther

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My favorite Marvel film by far, Black Panther is, by blockbuster standards, an intimate and thought provoking story about the ongoing struggles a new leader inherits when stepping into a powerful role. Black Panther stuck with me longer than most MCU films and is just as thrilling on repeat viewings. It was released shortly before High Contrast was launched and we didn’t get a chance to review it, though I did place it on my 10 best movies of 2018 list. As with The Silence of the Lambs, this February release also received some Oscar love. Who knows, maybe this February will also give us a future Oscar contender?

(checks the release schedule for the next couple of weeks)

Okay, probably not.

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