Before my second “Should Have Won Best Picture” film, I dug deep to find a vaguely-related (in that one might associate “winter” and “ice”) MST3K short – Circus On Ice! Watch this for the unforgettable “Suddenly mitosis takes place!” scene:
But of course, the real deal here was the feature presentation. While I didn’t have any particular problem with “The King’s Speech” as a movie – it had some nice moments and Colin Firth did a good job of stuttering and Geoffrey Rush was good…but it was relatively uncompelling. When a movie needs to put in scenes of “Queen Elizabeth as a child” to keep interest up, well, you know. The movie that I am 100% behind from the 2010 Oscars was Debra Granik‘s gritty Ozark underworld drama Winter’s Bone.
Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence in her breakout role, and one of my favorite performances ever) is a 17-year-old girl carrying the burden of her two younger siblings in the face of abject poverty, a catatonic mother and a mostly-absent father who is armpit-deep in the rural Missouri methamphetamine racket. The plot of the film turns on Ree learning that her father Jessup has put the family property up as bond and then skipped his court date. Ree has about a week to turn her father up or she, her two young sibs, and her catatonic mother are going to be suddenly homeless.
She sets out to navigate the meth underworld in an attempt to find Jessup, or evidence that he is dead. She starts out by approaching her frightening uncle Teardrop (“I said shut up once already with my mouth.”) but he is remarkably unwilling to help, considering it’s his only brother we’re talking about here.
Undaunted, she goes through unsavory folks like Little Arthur to learn that she really needs to talk to local heavy Thump Milton – who, it turns out, has absolutely zero interest in talking to her. Thinking that her father might have recently hooked up with an old girlfriend, she manages to get down to the Arkansas border to learn the disturbing news that while in the company of some unsavory-looking guys Jessup had pretended not to know the old flame – despite in fact having hooked up again that week.
(On a side note, Marideth Sisco, who was a music consultant on the film, also has a small role as the materfamilias of the old flame – and every time I watch the film I am absolutely mesmerized by how flat her face is. I’m sure she’s a nice woman, and good at what she does, but wow.)
As Ree teaches her siblings how to hunt and eat squirrels (this is like Homeless 274 – definitely an upper-division class) clues start to pile up, Ree learns from the bondsman that the property wasn’t nearly enough for her Jessup’s bond, and that an unidentified man had put up the balance in cash. Meanwhile Teardrop comes around to Ree’s side and lets her know that Jessup was facing a long prison sentence and was going to talk to get out of it – making it look like he may have been killed in retaliation.
Ree makes one last attempt to contact Thump Milton, and gets beaten to a pulp for her troubles. It’s a touch-and-go situation with Ree in the hands of the Milton family…
What are we ever gonna do with you, baby girl?
Kill me I guess.
That idea’s been said already. Got any others?
Help me. Nobody’s said that idea yet, have they?
…until Teardrop comes to gather her up, and apparently he’s such a badass nobody in the Milton clan really wants to mess with him.
Then, the movie gets real. Milton’s wife comes to get Ree, bags her head, and drives her out to a remote lake – where Jessup Dolly’s body has been disposed of. “He’s not deep,” she says, and makes Ree help her cut off Jessup’s hands with a chainsaw. The hands, as evidence of Jessup’s death, are delivered to the Sheriff (claimed to have been thrown up on the porch overnight) and not only is the Dolly property saved, but Ree also gets to keep the majority of the bond money put up by the mysterious man (“Considering the way it all went down, he’s not coming back for it”). The End.
Straight up one of my favorite movies ever. Probably a bit better with subtitles on, because there’s a ton of mumbling and tough accents, but just a perfect screenplay, certainly one of the best of the modern Odysseys. I think one of my favorite things about the movie is that simple fact that Jessup Dolly is in fact dead, and has been all this time. Hollywood would find a way to have Jessup show up alive and save the family and live happily ever after, and puke puke whatever.
Watching Jennifer Lawrence portray this character who is slowly coming to grips with the idea that her father may in fact be dead in one of the great cinematic performances by a teenager in memory is…divine? Honestly, I don’t think JLaw is ever going to beat this movie (and no, “Don’t put metal in the Science Oven!” doesn’t count…well, maybe her appearance on Between Two Ferns), and if she does, I really desperately want to see that film.