REVIEW: Winter’s Bone

26 12 2010

For a long time, “Winter’s Bone” was a blank box that needed to be checked on my essential 2010 movie viewing.  Now that I’ve seen beside Debra Granik’s gritty drama, the movie remains little more than a box that I’ve checked.  It’s bleak and unsparing, not meant to be anything grandiose or over-the-top, yet in accomplishing this goal, the movie manages to make itself rather forgettable.

At the center of the movie is a fascinating heroine, Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), forced to be a mother to her younger siblings as her father has disappeared and her mother is incapable to care for them.  She’s forced to become the best bounty hunter of 2010 (take THAT, Gerard Butler) when she’s informed by the police that since her father put the family home for bond, she will lose it if her father doesn’t show in court.

Commence a search for her father amidst the backdrop of the Ozark drug dealing underworld, where she encounters plenty of unsavory figures with some disgusting meth faces who don’t want her nosing around in their business.  They recognize that she will stop at nothing to save her family, and with Ree’s determination, she could lead the wrong people into their operations and put a pinch on their profits.  She finds one ally in her uncle, Snowflake (John Hawkes), who does his best to protect her.

Lawrence gets the opportunity to play a very strong and courageous female character in Ree, and as the movie’s landscape bores, she keeps us drawn into the action.  The sheer trauma of facing reality and the consequences of her father’s actions is overwhelming, yet Lawrence manages to play it with such subtlety that it fades into the mountains with the rest of “Winter’s Bone.”  I wouldn’t jump straight to awards for Jennifer Lawrence, but my discordant voice is practically inaudible among a chorus singing her praises. B-





Oscar Moment: December 10, 2010 Awards Round-Up

10 12 2010

Welcome back to another exciting awards round-up post!  It’s been a whole week since I’ve said anything about the Oscars, which is the longest I’ve gone since September!  It’s a good thing this week has been pretty stagnant aside from a few minor critics groups and some top 10 lists out in the mix.

Please remember to take the poll at the end of the discussion!  It will help to make these posts more community-driven – it’s fun just reading it and writing about it, but I sure do enjoy it more when I get your feedback!  You don’t have to live and breath Oscars like I do to take part!

As for last week’s poll, you all think that “The Social Network” will beat “The King’s Speech” for Best Picture.  And by you all, I mean all one voter that took the poll.  So let’s shoot for higher this week!

(And another reminder: I spent a lot of time linking the titles of movies in this post to their respective Oscar Moments/reviews if you want to know more about them.  So don’t hesitate to click!)

Awards

Washington, D.C. Film Critics announce. Generally not a very exciting bunch; Kris Tapley of In Contention said their picks are usually just guessing what the Oscars will nominated in about 7 weeks.  Like myself and several others, they think “The Social Network” is going to be the cup that the Academy sips from when picking their awards.

Their Best Picture line-up was absolutely stellar though: “Black Swan,” “Inception,” “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” and “Toy Story 3.”  If those were Oscar’s five (way back when they only nominated that many movies for Best Picture), I would be a very happy man.  Since many are already boiling the race down to a horserace, it’s curious not to see “The King’s Speech,” but it got plenty of love, including a win for Best Actor for Colin Firth and Best Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, and Original Screenplay nominations.

Jennifer Lawrence took Best Actress for “Winter’s Bone,” which definitely showed some strength from the win as well as nominations for Supporting Actor (John Hawkes) and Adapted Screenplay.  I think we could definitely be looking at a critical favorite in Lawrence, although this is a very similar trajectory to Carey Mulligan last year who wound up not taking home any major prizes.

Predictable wins for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo in “The Fighter” in the supporting categories, with the former looking more and more like a lock with each passing day.  “The Social Network” also won Best Director and Adapted Screenplay, neither of which was surprising given the group’s love for the film.

Interestingly, “Inception” won Best Original Screenplay over the field of “The King’s Speech,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Another Year,” and “Black Swan.”  This category has played out interestingly at the Oscars over the past two years.  2009 brought us “The Hurt Locker” ultimately triumphing over “Inglourious Basterds” with “Up” as a dark horse looming in the background.  2008 was the horse race between two totally different types of movies, “Milk” and the almost non-verbal “Wall-E.”  Given what’s been going on recently, “Inception” makes a fascinating wild card.  “The King’s Speech” is like past winner “Milk,” and “The Kids Are All Right” gives off “Juno” vibes.  There hasn’t been a movie like “Inception” in the race in a long time (unless you want to compare it to the mind maze of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”).

For a historical reference point, last year the group picked “Up in the Air” as their Best Picture.  Aside from the slam dunk supporting categories, the only Oscar winner they selected was Kathryn Bigelow as Best Director for “The Hurt Locker.”  Since 2002, they haven’t been a very reliable predictor at all of the ultimate selections of the Oscars.

For a full list of nominees, see the official press release from the WAFCA.

The British Independent Film Awards. Predictably, “The King’s Speech” cleaned house at the British Independent Film Awards, the equivalent of the Independent Spirit Awards across the pond.  The very British story of King George VI took home Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay.  Curiously, director Tom Hooper lost Best Director to Gareth Edwards for his work on the ultra-low budget “Monsters.”  Mike Leigh was also nominated for “Another Year” in this category.

These awards don’t really show us much other than that the British are firmly allied over their love of this movie.  Last year, “Moon” triumphed over eventual Best Picture nominee “An Education,” the movie considered to have the “British vote” going into the Oscars.  This faction will be crucial to “The King’s Speech” if it is to prevail in the Best Picture category, and this is a very reassuring ceremony for the movie.

Also worth noting: “Never Let Me Go” may be almost entirely forgotten, but apparently Carey Mulligan isn’t.  She won Best Actress for her performance, and I still wouldn’t count her out as a dark horse Oscar nominee.  I don’t think a Golden Globe nomination is entirely out of the question (a la Tobey Maguire in last year’s “Brothers“).

The European Film Awards. Not much to report here as the only awards contender really in play was “The Ghost Writer,” and it capitalized on its seven nominations by winning a stunning six categories.  Lesley Manville was in contention for “Another Year” but lost Best European Actress to an actress I’ve never heard of in a movie I’ve never heard of.

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Oscar Moment: December 3, 2010 Awards Round-Up

3 12 2010

Welcome to the first ever Awards Round-Up post!  With the Oscar season officially kicked off, there’s just not enough time for me to cover every event and every development in real time, so I’ve devised this Friday post to cover everything that happens until the curtain rises at the Kodak Theater on February 27.  (Take a look at this awards season calendar, conveniently compiled by the folks at Entertainment Weekly.)

I’m attaching a poll to the end of this post, and I ask you to please vote.  My goal is to post the results on next week’s round-up and keep the cycle going.  The poll will relate to the “discussion” at the end of the post.

So … let’s begin.

Awards

National Board of Review announces. Yesterday, the historic kick-off of the season took place with the announcement of the year’s best from the National Board of Review, a “selective group of knowledgeable film enthusiasts, academics, film professionals, and students” in New York that reflect a wide range of interests.

In 2010, they clearly liked “The Social Network,” awarding in four major prizes, including Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay, three categories it is considered a frontrunner for at the Oscars.  However, they gave a massive boost to the campaign of Jesse Eisenberg for Best Actor, who has a likely nominee but by no means certain due to his age.  The NBR is usually a good indicator of Academy tastes in this category; their winner went on to be nominated 70% of the past decade and won 40%.

Another big winner was Mike Leigh’s “Another Year,” making the group’s top 10 list as well as picking up a Best Actress win for Lesley Manville.  The movie’s support, initially through the roof, has grown tepid over the past few months, and these awards could indicate we are looking at a critical darling.  Leigh’s movies often rack up these critics groups awards, and Manville could gain some thunder in the next month.

More on Sony Pictures Classics’ push to get Jacki Weaver’s performance in “Animal Kingdom” into contention later, but it appears to have paid off with a Best Supporting Actress win here.  This category matched up with the Academy 6 out of the last 10 years, so things look good for Weaver.  The NBR got the ball rolling for Amy Ryan, an unknown who marched into an Oscar nomination on virtually unanimous support; we could be looking at a similar storyline here.

Their top 10 list was nothing too out of left field as long as you know the NBR is obsessed with Clint Eastwood and lavishes excessive awards on his movies, so don’t look much into the inclusion of “Hereafter.”  The list was mostly expected contenders with the encouraging inclusion of “Shutter Island” and “The Town,” two commercial powerhouses which may prove to be a threat to the established order.

As for exclusions, “The Kids Are All Right,” “Black Swan,” “Rabbit Hole,” “Blue Valentine,” and “127 Hours” were nowhere to be found.  The exclusion of the latter is the most shocking since Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” won Best Picture from the NBR back in 2008.  With the exception of Lisa Cholodenko’s comedy, all the other movies were fairly dark and gritty, which is not always well-received by the NBR.

This is a group notorious for high-profile exclusions, some indicative of where the race is going and others completely misguided.  “Precious,” “The Reader,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “The Queen” are some of the recent Best Picture nominees to be overlooked; the last winner to be snubbed was “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”  Then again, they’ve sent some messages by passing up heavily favored front-runners which ultimately fell short like “Nine” and and “Dreamgirls.”

Here is the abridged winners’ list:

Best Film: “The Social Network”

Best Director: David Fincher, “The Social Network”

Best Actor: Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”

Best Actress: Lesley Manville, “Another Year”

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, “The Fighter”

Best Supporting Actress: Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom”

Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, “The Social Network”

Best Original Screenplay: Chris Sparling, “Buried”

Best Foreign Language Film: “Of Gods and Men”

Best Documentary: “Waiting for Superman”

Best Animated Feature: “Toy Story 3″

Best Ensemble Cast: “The Town”

Breakthrough Performance: Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”

Ten Best Films
“Another Year”
“The Fighter”
“Hereafter”
“Inception”
“The King’s Speech”
“Shutter Island”
“The Town”
“Toy Story 3″
“True Grit”
“Winter’s Bone”

The Gotham Awards.  A pretty minor awards ceremony with little relevance to the Oscars, the Gotham Awards have never been a very good predictor of Oscar tastes simply because it strictly limits itself to American independent film.  But their awards were more significant than usual.

Their 2010 pick for Best Feature was “Winter’s Bone,” the gritty Sundance favorite.  It’s a significant victory because of the competition that it beat out.  This category included heavyweights like “Black Swan,” “Blue Valentine,” and “The Kids Are All Right,” all of which have been in the thick of Best Picture discussion for quite some time.  This could really mark the rise of “Winter’s Bone” to a strong Best Picture contender; last year’s winner was “The Hurt Locker,” and we all know how that turned out.  (And for the record, it also beat out “The Kids Are All Right” for Best Ensemble Performance.)

Sight and Sound.  “The Social Network” took home Best Picture of 2010 from the British publication Sight and Sound, a very respected film magazine.  This might not be so significant if their past selections weren’t so incredibly artistic that 99% of the American population hasn’t heard of them.  “Brokeback Mountain,” the 2005 indie darling that almost took Best Picture, was the last American movie to top their top 10 list.  I think this victory means that “The Social Network” has incredible crossover appeal between the art-house theater and the multiplex that can’t be underestimated, which is what makes it such an appealing choice for the Academy’s Best Picture.

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“Winter’s Bone” Poll Results

14 07 2010

The readers have spoken, and it is as close to definitively as you can get with 6 voters.

About a month ago, I wrote about the indie hit “Winter’s Bone,” which amassed some nice prizes at Sundance Film Festival.  Since then, it has made some nice money -$2.5 million from 106 theaters.

As my poll question, I asked what awards path the movie would tread by using two similar movies – the enormously successful “Precious” and the modestly successful “Frozen River.”  And then I also left the option of no success.

Half the voters saw “Winter’s Bone” being more like “Frozen River,” which had a quiet release in the summer and a pretty quiet campaign.  All of a sudden, it exploded onto the Oscar scene with Best Actress and Original Screenplay nominations.  Those are two categories where this movie could easily score.

A third of the voters can foresee it being like “Precious,” getting heavy momentum going into the awards season and then keeping it, cashing in and receiving a Best Picture nomination.

And then there was the one cynic who thinks “Winter’s Bone” isn’t headed for anything great.





Oscar Moment: “Winter’s Bone”

15 06 2010

All is looking good for Deborah Granik and Jennifer Lawrence, two people who you likely hadn’t heard of before this post and almost assuredly hadn’t heard of before this year.

Granik started off 2010 premiering her film, “Winter’s Bone,” at the Sundance Film Festival to massive acclaim.  It won the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic films, a very prestigious award, and was bought by Roadside Attractions for $500,000.  It was released last Friday, June 11, to outstanding critical reception – a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an outstanding 87 on Metacritic.

Looking at the last two winners of the dramatic Grand Jury Prize might show us some potential fates for “Winter’s Bone.”  2009’s recipient was “Precious” (then known by the name of its source material, “Push”), and the 2008 winner was “Frozen River.”

“Precious” had more than just the Grand Jury Prize going for it coming out of Sundance.  It won the Audience Award as well, showing how popular it was with everyone who attended the festival (Mo’Nique also won the first of many prizes for her role in the movie).  It also got the sizzle and added press from its support by Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey.  “Winter’s Bone,” on the other hand, has a release with as little grandeur as its setting in the Ozark Mountains.  “Precious” went on to make nearly $50 million and score a stunning 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and a very good 79 on Metacritic.  As we all know, it received Best Picture nominations from the Golden Globes and Oscars, winning 2 Academy Awards on Hollywood’s biggest night.

I see more parallels with “Frozen River,” the decidedly unglamorous and gritty tale of a desperate mother (Melissa Leo) who illegally smuggles people across the U.S border with Canada.  After winning the Grand Jury Prize, it was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics (an expert in marketing independent movies) for $500,000.  They opened the movie in late August to tepid audience reaction, opening with a fairly weak $10,000 per theater average, a statistic that shows that theaters weren’t exactly packed.  Critical reception was much more positive, showed by its 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and 82 on Metacritic.  But at the end of the year, people remembered “Frozen River.”  It picked up momentum as the season dragged on, beginning with a surprising SAG nomination for Leo that eventually led to an Oscar nomination over the favored Sally Hawkins.  Leo’s strength undoubtedly helped Courtney Hunt’s screenplay get into the Best Original Screenplay fold as well.

I’m inclined to say “Winter’s Bone” will take the “Frozen River” path mainly because they have very similar, dark tones, a strong female performance, and a well-written script (“Winter’s Bone” picked up a screenwriting award at Sundance).  But the per theater average was nearly double that of “Frozen River,” so perhaps it will have a little bit more audience support to carry it through.  I’m just really not expecting it to receive a massive outpouring like “Precious” because it is “one of the unshowiest and most true-blooded epics of Americana you’re ever likely to see,” according to Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum (who gave it an A).

The movie’s leading lady, Jennifer Lawrence, just screams “this year’s Carey Mulligan.”  Even younger than last year’s Best Actress nominee at 19, Lawrence has been a huge talking point of the movie.  Her breakout role has garnered her large attention from the media, leading to a spotlight from Esquire with a fairly steamy photo shoot.

Granik gave Vera Farmiga her big break with her debut feature, “Down to the Bone,” for which she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and won Best Actress from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.  Don’t quote me on this, but I’m fairly certain that Jason Reitman has stated that seeing her in “Down to the Bone” led to her casting in “Up in the Air,” the movie that got her Golden Globe, SAG, and Oscar nominations.  So while it remains suspect how much love Lawrence will receive for this particular role, all signs point to a promising future for the young performer.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Actress (Lawrence), Best Adapted Screenplay

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director (Granik)





What To Look Forward To in … June 2010

16 05 2010

Summer heats up with June’s releases.  We have the welcome return of an old franchise (“Toy Story”) and the unwelcome return of a newer one (“Twilight”).  We have reboots (“The A-Team”) and remakes (“The Karate Kid”).  We have old comedic stars (Adam Sandler) and new ones (Russell Brand).  Whatever the month give us, let’s just hope for some entertainment.

June 4

“Get Him to the Greek” looks to provide some summer humor in the same weekend that made “The Hangover” the smash success of 2009.  I’m not even watching the trailer in an attempt to make it the most hilarious experience possible.

“Splice” stars Oscar-winner Adrien Brody and Oscar-nominee Sarah Polley (for writing, not acting) as scientists who create a monster.  This looks really freaky.

Really, Katherine Heigl?  You quit an Emmy Award-winning show so you can focus on movies, and now you are doing this?  And you really expect people to take you seriously?  Really?  SNL references aside, “Killers” looks absolutely horrific.

June 11

“The A-Team” looks to reboot the franchise with only a little bit of nostalgia.  Good luck.  With Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley of “District 9,” and some guy who looks like Mr. T, it might be possible…

A remake of “The Karate Kid” already?  The original only came out 25 years ago, and Pat Morita only just passed away.  I’m curious to see how this fares.  Jackie Chan isn’t exactly on a hot streak – “The Spy Next Door,” anyone?  Jaden Smith is unproven other than “The Pursuit of Happyness,” which was all his dad.  It’s only going to corner the market on the family crowd for one week, so Sony had better hope all the families come out on opening weekend.

Opening in limited release is “Winter’s Bone,” a Sundance hit which made it onto my list of the ten most anticipated movies of the summer.  It reminds me a bit of “Frozen River.”  That movie got 2 Oscar nominations.   We’ll see how this turns out.

I’m really excited to see what makes Joan Rivers tick in the documentary about her, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.” What lies behind that plastic face will most certainly be entertaining. Now it just has to get to Houston…

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What To Look Forward To in … Summer 2010

5 05 2010

Before the season actually gets kicked off in two days, I thought it was necessary to spell out my five most anticipated movies of summer 2010.  Rather than bore you with verbose observations, I will give you the rationale for my picks with only two things: the movie’s trailer and 10 words or less describing why I’m dying to see it.

Winter’s Bone (June 11)

I can’t wait because … it’s a rare summer drama and won big at Sundance.

Shrek Forever After (May 21)

I can’t wait because … it has to redeem “Shrek” after the last movie stunk!

Eat, Pray, Love (August 13)

I can’t wait because … this is that enjoyable watching chick-flick I’m always weak for.

Robin Hood (May 14)

I can’t wait because … Russell Crowe has Maximus bottled up inside for this.

Get Him to the Greek (June 4)

I can’t wait because … it’s time for Jonah Hill and Russell Brand’s breakout movies.

The Kids Are All Right (July 7)

I can’t wait because … it’s an indie and this makes comedy out of controversy.

Iron Man 2 (May 7)

I can’t wait because … action plus Robert Downey Jr. have equaled big fun before.

Toy Story 3 (June 18)

I can’t wait because … it’s going to be like revisiting my childhood!

Salt (July 23)

I can’t wait because … Angelina kicks butt!  And it’s not a franchise movie!

Inception (July 16)

I can’t wait because … it’s Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to a new classic.