I put this post together in a bit of a rush, and updated it a little later. I am hoping it helps remind others of how art can help us imagine ourselves in wintry landscapes! And I would enjoy hearing your suggestions as well.
Most of my suggestions are for movies: but I also note some interesting examples (and other posts I have written on these categories) of songs, animated Christmas TV specials, paintings, and photography.
FAVORITE WINTER MOVIES
Here are some examples of movies with memorable snow scenes.
(Note: I am leaving out the whole category of ‘Christmas movies,’ since people might only want to watch those movies before Christmas.) But there are certainly plenty of examples in those movies, perhaps none better than “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And there are other movies I left out which have memorable Xmas or New Years Eve scenes in them (“When Harry Met Sally,” for instance.)
[Note: I had a hard time figuring out how to describe these without SPOILERS, so you are warned.]
1. Atanarjuat (the Fast Runner). An Inuit film set around a millenium ago. Takes places entirely in the Arctic. Gives glimpses of epic conflict and adventure in the snow. But also provides an introduction to everyday life of those who lived in such climates.
2. Empire Strikes Back. The first section is set on the ice planet of Hoth. This film envisions the technology (and animals) from a galaxy far away; Han and Luke explore the bitter cold. The Hoth sequence is a pretty lengthy sequence depicting the characters in a cold world, including a base dug out of snow.
3. Citizen Kane. How do we find out what Kane was like as a child? By watching him play in the snow, including with a sled. And perhaps memories of that fun stay with him throughout his life? There’s a reason that he says “Rosebud” when he looks at a snowglobe, after all. Perhaps Welles, who was a boy in Wisconsin, remembered the fun he used to have here…
4.Way Down East (Director: D W Griffith). 1920 silent film, as melodramatic as the could make em back then… in the climax, the heroine rushes out into a stormy evening. Epic scenes take place on an icy river.
5. Groundhog Day. When the lead character explores this town – over and over – he encounters a town preparing for an outdoor festival in the snow.
Ski films of the 1980s; “Better Off Dead,” for instance.
“Fargo.” Bleaker portrayal of winter, but gives sense of living in the North. Provides a number of scenes of individuals surrounded by snow-covered farm fields.
“Scott Pilgrim vs the World.” Set in winter in Toronto. Snow is often in the background, and is foregrounded in some nice park scenes.
“Alexander Nevsky.” Classic Russian film depicts a famous battle fought in 1242 on a frozen lake.
“Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides.” This artist heads out into nature, and constructs sculptures (often temporary ones) based on what he finds. Including carefully constructing out of ice. At the end of the film, that means sculpting (and playing!) with snow.
“The Fellowship of the Ring.” A travel film, and that includes scenes hiking across snow. At one point, the party is forced to consider that a snowstorm may be an adversary too powerful to overcome.
“Gold Rush” and “Road to Utopia.” Take your pick; Chaplin, or Hope and Crosby, caught up in prospecting for gold in Alaska.
The following article also provides a great list:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-blog/8170951/The-best-snow-scenes-in-the-movies.html (I haven’t seen all of these, so I couldn’t put them all on my list.)
see https://milwaukeesnow.com/2011/12/21/preliminary-thoughts-images-of-nature-in-holiday-songs/ for my detailed discussion of good examples of songs. I particularly salute “Sleigh Ride,” “Jingle Bells,” “Marshmallow World,” and “Winter Wonderland.”
As far as songs that don’t usually get selected as ‘Christmas Carols’ go, I would recommend “Song for a winters night” – Gordon Lightfoot, “Blue Ridge Mountains” – Fleet Foxes, and “Aspenglow” – John Denver. (And I am working on my analysis of Kate Bush’s album “50 Words for Snow.”)
Tom Uttech, an area painter who evokes the spirit of the North Woods.
(2018 update: the #MuseumSnowballFight twitter hashtag has a great mix of paintings, and historical photos of snow.)
Wilson Bentley is the most legendary snow photographer, and is thus a great place to start: see
ANIMATED TV CHRISTMAS SPECIALS
for a listing of tropes used to portray winter, ice and snow in pop culture – each example is illustrated with references to a lot of examples.