It’s Academy Award season, the Hollywood gathering of decolletage and glitz, while we’re here in our long johns, bulky sweaters and hats with ear flaps.
I say it’s time to set our own scene. Lay out the red carpet on a frozen lake, find a costume designer who knows about wool and wicking, and hand out a new film award: The Vodka Icicle.
In the spirit of this northern answer to sun-drenched southern California, let’s build a list of films we love…set around or above the 45th parallel. (Locally, for your information, the 45th parallel passes through Rouses Point, NY and Alburgh, VT on Grand Isle.)
If white is the color you associate with a particular movie, very likely it’s the snow you’re remembering and it’s probably eligible for the Icicle.
Here are a few of my iconic northern-based films, in no particular order and definitely not comprehensive. These are just a few of the titles that come immediately to mind. Add your picks in the comment section below. We can fight over which movie deserves the first ever Vodka Icicle Award.
Nanook of the North, 1922 Robert Flaherty silent classic about an Inuk man in the Canadian Arctic. Some say this movie suffered from an anthropological outsider perspective , but in its day, it was exceptional and did document a fading culture. Overall, still respected as a remarkable contribution to the world of film and may be the first commercially released documentary.
Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner, 2002, Zacharias Kunuk. Jump ahead about 80 years for another innovation: what is considered “the first feature film ever to be written, directed and acted entirely in Inuktitut” (from the Wikipedia entry). What stayed with me from this film was the amazing barefoot, almost-naked run of the protagonist across the open Arctic snow. Voted one of the top 10 Canadian films of all time.
Fargo, 1996, Joel and Ethan Coen. Set in North Dakota–part black comedy, part police procedural–winner of multiple awards at major festivals the year it was released. What I remember most vividly is a long shot of a snow-covered field with a barbed-wire fence that could have come straight out of our north country (okay, I also remember the gruesome use of the wood chipper).
Into the Wild, 2007, written and directed by Sean Penn, based on the 1996 book by Jon Krakauer. I read and loved the book and went to see this movie reluctantly, but was very pleasantly surprised. I was particularly touched by the treatment of the young man whose life and death are chronicled in this true story. Most vivid image: the aerial pan of the Alaskan location where Christopher McCandless died.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow, 1997, Bille August. Another one based on a book (1992 novel by Peter Hoeg) that succeeds as well as the book. A thriller, mystery starring Julia Ormond, Gabriel Byrne and Richard Harris with lots of snow and northern water, filmed primarily in Greenland and Copenhagen.
Gorky Park, 1983, Michael Apted. One more based on a book (1984 mystery by Martin Cruz Smith). This, too, was a great read and a terrific film. Lots of Russian snow.
Frozen River, 2008, Courtney Hunt. Roger Ebert gave this indy production a five-star rating. It’s set about as locally as it gets for us: on the Mohawk reservation straddling the U.S. and Canada. It’s a thriller and mystery on a landscape we all know.
I’m going to stop here and let you pick up the thread. Maybe we’ll take a poll once you’ve had a chance to add your favorites to the nomination list for The Vodka Icicle. No contenders for the Icicle among this year’s Academy Award nominations — none of the nine best pictures are set above the 45th — but you’ll find all of the nominees in all categories on the link.
Oh, and here’s a link to a story Brian Mann did on the real Captain Phillips. The movie “Captain Phillips” as well as “12 Years A Slave” are both in the best picture nominations, and both have a regional connection–though neither is set on northern terrain.