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Winter’s Bone: Visual Anthropology

January 10, 2011

After seven thousand award nominations, I finally had a chance to watch Winter’s Bone this weekend. The film, directed by Debra Granik, is set in the Missouri Ozarks and tells the story of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a seventeen-year-old girl who has stepped up as head of the family (which includes a ten-year-old brother, six-year-old sister and barely-cognizant mother) when her crystal meth-cooking father disappears after his latest arrest and subsequent release on bail. Of course, the house was used for the bond and Ree has a week to find him or face eviction.

The film covers that week, with Ree confronting an interesting cast of characters, most of whom are relatives of hers, as so often is the case in small rural communities. As a product of such a community, I have to give Granik and crew major kudos for capturing the exact essence of rural American culture. More often than not, when Hollywood goes to the country, they pile every imaginable stereotype into their characterization, casting oddballs and dressing them as if they were the Hatfields and McCoys. According to interviews, Granik (a self-described “super-metropolitan person”) spent quite some time in Missouri, studying the people, the way they interact, the way they walk, talk, cook, skin a squirrel… everything. According to Granik they even switched out new clothes with the locals to ensure that they looked appropriately stained with life. On a similar note, she also chose to cast the film with a mixture of locals and fringe actors whose faces are worn and weathered with those same stains of life rather than Hollywood’s Botoxed elite. She describes her process as “visual anthropology.”

Mimicking the cold, hard storyline, Michael McDonough‘s cinematography perfectly captures the bleak hopelessness of the residents of this small town. I could almost feel the cold, smell the scent of firewood being burned, as I watched the characters dance around the inevitable revelation that takes place: this isn’t just a character study of some mountain-living eccentrics; this is the tail of backwoods mobsters. The Sopranos immediately came to mind as Ree’s character was shoved into a truck (and later into the back of a Cadillac) and taken down a dark, dreary road in the “middle of nowhere.” The mystery/suspense aspect of the film caught me off-guard. I hope that those who think it’s too “quiet” a film will take this newfound information into consideration when making the decision to see it. I don’t get a penny out of your viewing, but I definitely feel it’s something you should do.

You will notice that there is a huge list of awards won from the festival circuit at the top of this post. Below, I have listed the awards the film has been nominated for/won along its journey from critics’ organizations and guilds. And, below that, is a list of Top Ten lists it appeared on for the year. There are lots. When you watch Winter’s Bone, you will know why. It is a good story, with great visuals, amazing directing and breakthrough performances. Jennifer Lawrence has been nominated and/or won several awards already (as well as picked up a role in the X-Men prequel, X-Men: First Class) and is expected to be a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. John Hawkes (Deadwood) has also been heavily garnished with praise and award nominations. He, too, stands a good chance of making the Oscar shortlist come January 25th. To that list, I would like to add Dale Dickey (My Name is Earl), who has gotten some recognition in a few of the award competitions, but has seemed to lose traction in terms of the Oscar. I have to say that she does an outstanding job in her role as Carmela, to complete the Sopranos analogy. I was wowed by her work and hope that from this film, she gets more work. All three are deserving.

And with that, I will shut up. Go watch the movie.

Critics’ Top Ten Lists, 2010:

New York Magazine (David Edelstein) – #1
Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert)
Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan)
Los Angeles Times (Betsy Sharkey)
The New York Times (Jeannette Catsoulis)
The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern)
The New Yorker (David Denby)
The New Yorker (Anthony Lane)
Entertainment Weekly (Lisa Schwarzbaum)
San Francisco Chronicle (Amy Biancolli) – #1
Associated Press (David Germain) – #1
Associated Press (Christy Lemire)
Sight & Sound
National Board of Review
AFI
Film Comment
Rolling Stone (Peter Travers)
The Village Voice (FX Feeney)
The Village Voice (Dan Kois)
Time Out New York (David Fear) – #1
Newsweek (David Ansen)
Newsweek (Seth Colter Walls)
The Philadelphia Inquirer (Stephen Rea)
The Philadelphia Inquirer (Carrie Rickey)
San Francisco Chronicle (Peter Hartlaub)
The Christian Science Monitor (Peter Rainer)
Time Out New York (Joshua Rothkopf)
Cleveland Plain Dealer (Clint O’Connor) – #1
NPR (Ella Taylor)
Variety (Boyd van Hoeij)
San Francisco Bay Guardian (Cheryl Eddy)
The Kansas City Star (Robert W. Butler) – #1
Time Out Chicago (Ben Kenigsberg)
A.V. Club – #1
Thompson on Hollywood (Anne Thompson) – #1
A.V. Club (Keith Phipps) – #1
Chicago Reader (J.R. Jones)
Movie City News (David Poland)
The Observer (Philip French)
indieWIRE (Eric Kohn)
indieWIRE Critics Poll
Village Voice Critics Poll
MSN Movies (Sean Axmaker)
MSN Movies (Jim Emerson)
MSN Movies (Richard T. Jameson)
MSN Movies (Don Kaye)
MSN Movies (Dave McCoy)
MSN Movies (Kat Murphy)
MSN Movies (James Rocchi)
MSN Movies (Glenn Whipp)
A.V. Club (Noel Murray)
A.V. Club (Tasha Robinson)
A.V. Club (Scott Tobias)
A.V. Club (Nathan Rabin)
The Arizona Republic (Bill Goodykoontz)
Slant Magazine (Ed Gonzalez)
Slant Magazine (Nick Schager)
IFC.com (Alison Willmore)
IFC.com (Matt Singer)
The Tufts Daily
Southeastern Film Critics Association
Oklahoma Film Critics Circle
Austin Film Critics Society
Light Sensitive (Patrick Z. McGavin)
GreenCine Daily (Aaron Hillis)
Fox 4 News (Shawn Edwards)
Las Vegas Film Critics Society
Dallas/Ft. Worth Film Critics Association
Movie City Indie (Ray Pride)
Tikkun (David Sterritt)
CNN.com (Tom Charity)
Creative Loafing (Matt Brunson)
eddieonfilm (Edward Copeland) – #1
Anthony Kaufman
World Socialist Web Site (David Walsh)
Mike D’Angelo
Sarasota Film Festival (Tom Hall)
The Herald (Robert Horton)
The Star-Ledger (Stephen Whitty)
Pullquote (Amy Monaghan)
Film Comment (Laura Kern)
Sydney Film Critics
Encore Magazine (Miguel Gonzalez)
Sunday Telegraph (Nick Dent)
Drum Media (Ian Barr)
Trespass Magazine (Beth Wilson) – #1
DVD Bits (Richard Gray)
Pick of the Flicks (Giles Hardie)
Drum Media (Scott Henderson)
CinemBlend (Katey Rich)
Movie City News (Kim Voynar)
Badass Digest (Devin Faraci)
Marshall Fine
Beaver County Times (Lou Gaul)
About.com (Rebecca Murray)
D Magazine (Peter Simek) – #1
BBC’s Talking Movies (Tom Brook)
Sound on Sight
Dragon Paradox (Kevin Williamson)
Dragon Paradox (Liz Braun)
Dragon Paradox (Jim Slotek) – #1
Seattle Weekly (Sheila Benson)
New York Magazine (Bilge Ebiri)
Lance Goldenberg
Larry Gross
Cinema Scope (Michael Sicinski)
Critic’s Notebook (Martin Tsai)
For Those About to Rock (Nick DeCicco)
San Antonio Current (Steven G. Kellman)
San Antonio Current (Ashley Lindstrom)
San Antonio Current (Kiko Martinez)
The Loft Cinema
St. Petersburg Times (Steve Persall)
Orlando Sentinel (Roger Moore)
The Miami Herald (Rick Bentley)
The Bowling Green Daily News (Michael Compton) – #1
The Dallas Morning News (Chris Vognar)
St. Louis Beacon (Harper Barnes) – #1
The Allentown Morning Call (Amy Longsdorf) – #1
Austin American-Statesman (Charles Ealy)
Baltimore Sun (Michael Sragow)
Chicago Reader (Andrea Grunvall)
Empire
Parallax View (David Coursen)
Parallax View (Andrew Wright)
Gli Ultracorpi (Mariella Lazzarin)
Gli Ultracorpi (Andrea Mattacheo)
Gli Ultracorpi (Chiara Pandolfo)
International Business Times
Entertainment.ie (Mike Sheridan)
Living in Cinema (Craig Kennedy)
Minneapolis Star Tribune (Colin Covert)
St. Paul Pioneer Press (Chris Hewitt)
Dublin Film Critics Circle
Surrey Now (Julie Crawford) – #1
Gapers Block (Steve Prokopy)
Tallahassee Democrat (Mark Hinson)
The Wrap (Steve Pond)
Remorse Code
Random Ramblings
City Brights (Dean Rader)
The Seattle Times (Moira Macdonald)
Denton Record-Chronicle (Todd Jorgenson) – #1
Denton Record-Chronicle (Boo Allen) – #1
River Cities’ Reader (Mike Schulz)
Box Office Magazine (Mark Keizer)
Box Office Magazine (John P. McCarthy)
Toronto Globe & Mail
New Orleans Times-Picayune (Mike Scott)
The Portland Oregonian (Stan Hall)
The Portland Oregonian (Shawn Levy)
The Portland Oregonian (Marc Mohan)
USA Today (Claudia Puig)
New Haven Advocate (Donald Brown) – #1
The Province (Glen Schaefer) – #1
Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten)
Austin Chronicle (Kimberley Jones)
Austin Chronicle (Marc Savlov)
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Joe Williams)

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