So, yes, if you've confined yourself to Hollywood pictures this year, by choice or circumstance, you most likely have convinced yourself that there are no good movies out there... and largely, you're correct. However, as I have said, there are modest virtues to be witnessed in the John Cusack-Billy Bob Thorton headliner, The Ice Harvest, which opened nationwide last week to below average reviews and an indifferent public -- judging by the poor box office. What critics and audiences have missed in passing over the über-cruel comedy cum neo-noir is this year's most extravagant reinterpretation of genre, in this case the Christmas film, even if the Ramis-helmer may at times seem like Bad Santa (2003) redux or a Coen Brothers retread.
In the Groundhog Day director's favor, however, is what might be judged to be the fuller reversal of genre (even if it can't equal Bad Santa's wicked pleasures) and the more generous picture, as it avoids the condescension of the Coen's, however nihilistic Ramis' perspective may be. The point is that The Ice Harvest operates according to a spatial logic that catalogues those places that Christmas movies tend to elide -- bars, strip-clubs... okay, lots of strip-clubs, etc. -- and a set of details that seem to cut against the holiday's mythical grain, be it Oliver Platt's Christmas Eve binge-drinking and subsequent purging, Thorton's porn video and even the (freezing) rainstorm itself, which Ramis snidely and economically introduces during the opening credit sequence with a few drops falling on a nativity Christ child. These are people and places which exist -- on Christmas just as they do anytime else -- but typically have no place in your typical Christmas movie... and rightfully so, one could argue.
Nevertheless, Ramis' Bad Santa set-up (which is surely the epochal film in this sub-subgenre) gives way to a Fargo (1996) or A Simple Plan (1998) without the accents -- or more importantly, given that we are talking about Witchita and not Minneapolis, the snow. Consequently, Ramis reminds us of his postmodern street-cred by giving us another generic mash-up, just as he presaged Pulp Fiction a decade earlier with his experimental Groundhog Day-time structure. Still, it is less the director's adept generic/tonal shift than it is the cohesiveness of his heterocosm that marks The Ice Harvest as noteworthy new Hollywood cinema. The very fact that The Ice Harvest engages our sense of narrative expectation, let alone the rigor of its conceit, provides its anomaly in the wasteland that has been 2005.