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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “Cold Weather”

Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “Cold Weather” (photo)

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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11 is a column with one simple goal: to help you decide what films you need to see before making your end of the year top ten list. Each installment features my thoughts on a critically acclaimed 2011 movie, a sampling of other critics’ reactions, the odds of the film making my own list, and the reasons why it might make yours.

This time we’re covering “Cold Weather,” which has been suggested by more readers for inclusion in this column than any other film released in 2011. Are my readers brilliant cinephiles or nutjobs who have no idea what they’re talking about? Let’s find out.

Movie: “Cold Weather”
Director: Aaron Katz
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%
Plot Synopsis: A college dropout and Sherlock Holmes fan finds himself at the center of a mystery in his hometown of Portland, Oregon.
What the Critics Said: “Gorgeous, lyrical, leisurely,” Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies
“Good in so many subtle ways,” Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“Almost a textbook example of how to do more with less,” Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor
Were They Right?The 74% of critics were, anyway. I’m surprised the Tomatometer score for this movie isn’t higher, given the passion of the film’s supporters. I suppose its pacing — which is, as Kenny notes, leisurely — and its charms — which are, as Ebert notes, subtle — are not necessarily for everyone.

Its structure reminded me a little bit of “Meek’s Cutoff,” the film I covered in this column last week. Both open with scenes of seeming inconsequence whose importance only becomes clearer later in the film. In the case of “Cold Weather,” it’s a sequence following Doug (Cris Lankenau) as he readjusts to life back in Portland. Doug dropped out of school where he was pursuing a degree in forensic science and moved in with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn). Looking for any job that’ll have him, he finds one in an ice factory where he initiates a friendship with another guy on the graveyard shift named Carlos (Raúl Castillo). They have a lot of time for chit chat while they haul bags of ice; they spend most of it discussing pop culture. Carlos likes “Star Trek;” Doug prefers Sherlock Holmes novels. Carlos lives his “Star Trek” obsession by attending conventions but Doug is about to get an even more powerful opportunity to step into the role of his hero.

An ex-girlfriend of Doug’s named Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) comes for a visit and starts hanging out with Carlos. When she stands him up on a date, Carlos becomes convinced she’s gone missing. He drags a skeptical Doug to her motel room in the middle of the night. Rachel is nowhere to be found. While they search her room, Doug glances out the window and sees a pickup truck in the parking lot, watching them. As they head outside to see what the driver wants, he peels out into the night. Suddenly, Doug’s not so skeptical anymore.

Katz is previously known as the director of two “mumblecore” features about tentative romantic encounters between young men and women. He may have started this project from an experimental impulse: trying to marry his low-fi, naturalistic style with a genre that relies heavily on contrivance and formula. “Cold Weather”‘s early scenes feel as aimless as Doug’s life and as carefully observed yet carefully plotless as many other mumblecore films. But from the moment Doug sees that pickup truck and becomes convinced that Rachel is, in fact, involved in some kind of trouble, the pace tightens, aided immensely by a terrific, percussive score by Keegan DeWitt.

Rachel’s mystery is suitably realistic for the confines of Katz’s understated cinematography and drama, and the director pauses, cleverly I think, even after the detective story kicks into gear to remind you that these characters are living in “the real world.” Stumped, Doug decides to do what Sherlock Holmes would do: smoke a pipe. Only our hero doesn’t own a pipe, so he has to go buy one. The film dutifully follows him to a tobacconist for a hilarious scene where he tries to find a cool looking pipe that he can afford on his meager budget. There’s Katz’s project in a nutshell: “I want to make a detective movie. How do I make something that looks cool for no money?”

The cigar store scene isn’t an aberration; for a mystery story with no jokes, “Cold Weather” is a surprisingly funny movie. That’s because Katz is, in a very quiet way, a brilliant observer of human behavior. Sherlock Holmes is the most obvious antecedent for “Cold Weather” but there’s also a bit of “Seinfeld” in here as well. The scene in which Doug, Carlos, and Gail stake out a man’s apartment and kill the time with awkward conversations, reminded me of “The Sniffing Accountant,” a “Seinfeld” episode that featured a similar, albeit more overtly jokey, riff on the same premise.

I really enjoyed Katz’s last feature, “Quiet City” (also starring the ultra-laconic Lankenau), and I liked “Cold Weather” even more. The early moments of quiet slackerhood that look so superfluous really pay off as the mystery deepens. Because Doug, Carlos, and Gail seem like real people, there’s real tension in the film’s various chases, stakeouts, and break-ins. With a true sense of reality established, there’s no guarantee of a Hollywood ending and no certainty that Sherlock Doug will be right about his hunches or survive to solve another case even if he is. Add in some beautiful photography of the Pacific Northwest and that memorable score and you’ve got one of the best movies of 2011, and maybe the one I’d be most happy to see a sequel to at some point in the future.

Worthy of an Oscar Nomination For: Best Original Score (Keegan DeWitt)
Chances of Making My Top Ten: Not a mortal lock, but definitely not a pipe dream either.
It Might Make Your Top Ten List If: you’re a sucker for off-beat genre movies; you love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and hate Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes.”

“Cold Weather” is now available on DVD and Netflix Watch Instantly. If you see it, tell us what you think; leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

Previously in Countdown to Top Ten 2K11
“Meek’s Cutoff,” directed by Kelly Reichardt
“Margin Call,” directed by J.C. Chandor
“Bill Cunningham New York,” directed by Richard Press
“Hanna,” directed by Joe Wright

Have a movie you wanted covered in a future installment of Countdown to Top Ten 2K11? Let me know on Twitter.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.