In one of the biggest surprises of the Academy Award nominations yesterday morning, the little film that could Winter’s Bone edged out Ben Affleck’s The Town for a Best Picture nomination. This movie was loved by nearly every critic in the industry but viewed by almost no one besides them. After its major success at the Sundance Film Festival last year where it won the Grand Jury Prize for a dramatic film, Winter’s Bone first opened on only four screens. It eventually spread to a small number of venues across the country, especially in the heartland. When I saw it in a small arthouse theater in Missouri–the state it is set in–the employee who introduced it said, “The only thing I can say is that it won’t be good for tourism.”
For those of you who haven’t seen it, have a look:
It is every bit as chilling as it looks. Director Debra Granik describes her filmmaking style as “scrappy,” a good way to look at Winter’s Bone. It is low budget, but the acting, setting, and story are all so raw that a lot of the film reads as a well done, in-your-face documentary.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a 17-year-old girl living in the Ozarks. Her father is apparently one of the best meth-cookers around, but no one knows where he is and his wife’s destroyed mental state leaves no one but Ree to care for their questionable house and her two younger siblings. She teaches them how to shoot and cook squirrels for dinner, and from the beginning of the film you know Winter’s Bone is going to take you with it all the way. It does not let you off the hook.
Everyone should see this film, and I suspect a lot more people will. The same phenomenon happened last year with The Hurt Locker (there was even a lawsuit after many illegally downloaded the film). The journey both films took on the road to the Academy Awards are so similar that earlier this month The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow voiced her support for Winter’s Bone, calling it a “masterful film that deserves exposure.”
The acting of Lawrence and her costars is so phenomenal that it transcends acting. She lives the life of her character, and all the audience sees is the truth of the story. It is completely deserving that she and John Hawkes, who plays her uncle, both received Oscar nominations for their roles. The film is so genuine that even Ree’s younger sister Ashley is played by a girl who normally occupies the southwestern Missouri home they filmed in. Granik makes all the right choices to create a raw, uncensored film that could not have been more entitled to an Academy Award nomination, The Town be damned.