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Best Picture Buzz: The Academy Goes to Winter’s Bone, the “Little Film That Could!”

If you’re at all like me, your favorite season doesn’t revolve around changing weather. No, our hearts belong to the “Awards Show Season.” That’s right. I’m talking about that time of year when it’s okay to appreciate celebrity news and when music and film are elevated to their intended forms as art. My favorite award show is by far the Academy Awards. So, in celebration of my favorite season and favorite award show, I’m bylining a short blog series about the films nominated for the Best Picture category. I’ll examine the 10 selected films and discuss why I think they were nominated. You might not agree with everything I say, but that’s what the comments section is for!

Winter’s Bone, The Little Film That Could

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes and citizens of Forsyth, Mo.
Directed by: Debra Granik
Other Nominated Categories: Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay

For this year’s Best Picture nominations, The Academy has thrown a bone (pun intended) to the little film that could. With an impressively low budget and inspiring casting and production, The Academy got it right in recognizing Winter’s Bone as one of the most outstanding films of the year. However, the film hasn’t been entirely overlooked in the awards circuit this year: It has been recognized by several groups, including the Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards, National Board of Review, Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Sundance Film Festival, just to name a few.

Winter’s Bone is a film adapted from the novel of the same name written by Missouri native Daniel Woodrell. It follows the story of 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Lawrence), who is determined to track down her meth-cook, jailbait mess of a father when she discovers he posted their house for his bail bond. Set in the Missouri Ozark country, Ree is challenged by the code of silence that surrounds her father’s — and several of their family members’ — trade. It’s only through her desire to make life right for her younger siblings, and with the fortunate aid of her Uncle Teardrop (Hawkes), that Ree begins to piece together the truth of her father’s untimely disappearance.

To put it simply, this movie is raw. The acting is raw, the characters are raw, the story is raw and the directing is raw. And the budget proves it. With $2 million set aside for production (the lowest of any of the other nominated films), director and co-writer Debra Granik produces a fabulous film out of the big MO. To really get a sense of what went into making the film, I suggest picking up a copy of the DVD and watching the special features. All filming was done on site in Forsyth, Mo., with most of the actors and extras coming directly from the area. Actors talk to the camera crew; they let you know it’s the weekend and they’ve got real jobs at the factory to get back to the next morning. It’s so real, it’s sick. Not the fact that these people have real jobs, but the fact that Missouri has a real meth problem.

In my opinion, the only shortcoming is the methamphetamine drug use issue, which isn’t ever properly addressed. We see Ree’s struggle with the local drug lords and the poverty her family lives in, but the ambiguity of the drug use is never a direct focus. Going to school in Missouri (and most of you readers are probably from Missouri) can help you understand that the movie is talking about the use and production involved in making meth. But the haziness of the “drug of choice,” if you will, leaves viewers outside the realm of knowledge of the situation. There were also certain aspects of the book that the film didn’t address that might cause disappointment for some viewers. However, if you haven’t read the book, you won’t find the missing pieces to be actually missing (word to the wise, don’t read the book the night before you see the movie!). I’m not going to address those concerns here, but if you have any thoughts about the book in comparison to the movie, hit up the comments section; I’m happy to respond.

All in all, the film did comparatively well before it even received the Best Picture nomination by grossing $7,812,032 worldwide. Although that’s nothing compared to the Inception box office win of $823,576,195, it’s by no means a failure. Keep in mind that Winter’s Bone also didn’t have the A-list cast and director of Inception. Hey, if you break even, you’ve done good.

That “good” got even better when Winter’s Bone got the Oscar nod — owed in part to what has been dubbed The Bigelow Effect. If you remember, last year’s Best Director win went to the first female in The Academy’s history to Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. This year, Bigelow put her two cents in by promoting Winter’s Bone right before the nominations. She said, “I just think it’s a masterful film that deserves exposure – and if I can do anything to help it out, I’m happy to do it … I was fascinated to meet [Debra Granik], because the film is so perfectly crafted. The performances are extraordinary; Jennifer Lawrence is a star turn. And it’s got this prescient knowing, this confidence you feel watching a film that’s haunting and provocative. It’s just a magnificent film.”

Well, looks like The Academy took her opinions to heart.

Bottom Line: Winter’s Bone gets at the heart of filmmaking by showing Hollywood it doesn’t need all the money or fame to make a great film.


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