Winter's Bone (directed by
Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone
Ree has been dealt a bad hand: her father's free-roving meth adventures have left her mother depressed and non-functional and Ree in charge of two younger children, Sonny (tow-headed Isaiah Stone) and Ashlee (whimsical Ashlee Thompson). Food is scarce, the weather is cold, and ends in general are not meeting, even with the grudging help of neighbors and relations. Worse, the sheriff (Garret Dillahunt, just the right amount of douchey) informs her that her dad put up their house and land when he posted his last bail. If he does not turn up for his court date, they will lose everything, leading to a premise not unlike that in True Grit: this straight-shooting teenage girl goes on a manhunt, in this case for her own drug-dealing father.
Ree's isolation is captured in the sunless, bleak evocation of the Ozarks (cinematography by Michael McDonough) and the rough-faced cast of characters who enforce a clan code as harsh as that in Shakespeare's Macbeth. There are many laudable performances in minor roles, making this a company achievement, although the axis of tension is between Lawrence's Ree and John Hawkes as Ree's hapless and slightly creepy uncle, Teardrop. Both Lawrence and Hawkes received Oscar nominations that they will probably not win: Natalie Portman appears to have Best Actress sewn up for Black Swan (of the film's nominations, the one I would argue with the least), and Geoffrey Rush would get my vote as Best Supporting Actor for The King's Speech.
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Best Picture is a long shot, but the film's best chance at an award may be for Best Adapted Screenplay, because Granik and Rosellini use story and sharpened dialogue to create the vivid backdrop of the Ozarks. The antiquated customs -- waiting to be invited over a home's threshold, invoking common blood between relations, not asking for "what oughta be offered" -- and the quirks of Ozark English are note-perfect: true, much comes from Woodrell's book rather than Granik, who grew up in Bethesda, outside Washington, but it was by no means certain that the book's narrative would make it to the screen so well. It does not need to bludgeon the viewer over the head with the plot's turns or make the characters into simple types: in fact, much remains unclear even at the end. In one of the best of many good scenes that fill in small details, Ree happens upon the birthday party being celebrated by some of her distant relatives. The down-home music performed by actual musician Marideth Sisco and her band Blackberry Winter (they also performed the cleaned-up version of Missouri's state song, the Missouri Waltz), part of a fine soundtrack with original music by Dickon Hinchliffe of the Tindersticks, is not window dressing but part of an organic whole, the simple sound that goes with the bleak landscape.