Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone has been nominated for a number of Oscars, including Best Picture, so I keep asking myself–have I missed something? I mean, it’s an atmospheric, well-acted picture about Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a teenager trying to hold her family together in the Ozarks. This isn’t easy–her mother is a catatonic mess (too many drugs??), her meth-making father is on the run from adate in prison (his collateral for bail being the family home) and unless he makes a sudden appearance, Ree and family will be out in the streets–or woods. Consequently,the stubborn Ree tries to find her father, and this plunges her deep into the meth underworld–in other words, walking a number of blocks from her home to be greeted by people warning her to “stay out of it.” This happens repeatedly, and after disregarding this advice yet again from the particularly fierce wife (Dale Dickey–and you don’t want to mess with her) of the local meth druglord, the wife and her cronies (spoiler alert) savagely beat her and threaten her with worse.
Don’t let me mislead you into thinking the movie carries some momentum–it moves at a pace that would make a snail seem speedy; the more time, I suppose, to revel in the various unsavory goings-on. The performances are fine (Garret Dillahunt as the sheriff and Oscar-nominated John Hawkes as a dangerous uncle excel), but the movie is a singularly uninvolving experience, and a certain plot development near the end–in the aftermath of this horrific beating–demands a leap of faith that’s difficult to make.
If you want to catch up with another Oscar nominee, you would do better to spend a few hours with David Michod’s The Animal Kingdom, an Australian crime film about a family of criminals both falling out and falling apart–thanks to the strong arm of the law and some angst in the newest member–a teenage nephew who’s been taken in by the “loving mum”(Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver) of this criminal clan. In a way, the milieu of The Animal Kingdom is just as seedy and unappealing as Winter’s Bone, but it’s compelling throughout, with well-delineated characters (Ben Mendlesohn as the dangerous uncle is the banality of evil incarnate, while Jacki Weaver deserves the Oscar for her subtle turn as the mother with no shortage of steel), bursts of brutal violence, and unexpected yet credible plot developments. Definitely worth seeking out.