Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Not exactly a summer crowd pleaser, but the best movie I've seen this year

Mi hermano and I had a blast during the week off in New York and, even better, Philly, but we only ended up doing about half of the murals tours I had mapped out simply because it really was murderously hot.

So, what do you do when it's too hot to move? Go to the movies, of course. I asked for "Inception," but we couldn't work it in over the weekend, so that's to come this weekend. Apparently, it might be pretty good.

We did, however, manage to see at least five movies during the week, including the recently restored "Breathless," which looks better than ever and is just as sublimely silly as I remembered. I just love that flick. We also saw the Duplass brothers' "Cyrus," which was as downright uncomfortable to watch as it was sheerly entertaining; "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," which was a surprisingly good portrait of quite possibly the rudest woman alive (and yes, it is a singular experience to watch a 75-year-old woman do a joke about anal sex); and "Micmacs," a flight of fantasy from Jean-Pierre Jeunet that never reaches the sweet heights of "Amelie" but is nonetheless a little ball of fun (which I liked more than my brother.)

Easily the best of all, however, was "Winter's Bone," and that's what I'm here to talk about today.

Nothing draws me into a movie faster than sense of place, even if, as with Debra Granik's mesmerizing film noir of sorts, that's a place you'd never really want to even visit for a minute in the real world. We've all driven by such places, maybe a beaten-down shack or a collection of them, and wondered just how in the world someone lives like that.

Well, the answer, of course, is you really don't want to know, but the two things that make "Winter's Bone" work so well are how much humanity she finds in this extremely bleak tale set in Missouri's Ozarks and the compelling lead performance by newcomer Jennifer Lawrence (well, new to me, but you may recognize her if you manage to see this ... and trust me that you'll never forget her performance as Ree Dolly; in a related bit of very good news, she's just been cast as Mystique in Matthew Vaughn's "X-Men: First Class," which just keeps piling on the good casting news.)

At the movie's outset, Ree learns that her deadbeat father, who among other wise career options is a meth dealer of some sort, is due in court in a few days, and to make matters worse has put up the house she and her two younger siblings live in as the guarantor that he'll appear (which, obviously, is none too likely.) This sets in motion what could have - in lesser hands - been a pretty straightforward detective tale, but instead unfolds naturally (if a bit slowly) as more of a descent into hell as she tries to uncover the mystery of just where her father is hiding out and at the same time save her family.

To reveal much more about the plot would be a crime, so I'll just say it unfolds much like Rian Johnson's "Brick," with Ree methodically compiling often contradictory clues from a cast of characters who are far too unpolished to even be called unsavory. If anything, however, it has far more urgency in its storytelling and, no offense to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who I always enjoy, just a far better hero to cheer for.

Lawrence, often nonverbally, just perfectly captures the mix of fear and resolve that drive Ree on her quest, and though she'll probably be overlooked when that time comes, here's hoping she somehow slips into the Best Actress race at the Oscars much like Melissa Leo did for "Frozen River." And she's aided here - eventually - by her uncle Teardrop (yes, really), played by John Hawkes, who does a great job of concealing his motivations until it finally becomes clear just how much he's willing to help. It's a natural performance that will have you wondering where you've seen him before (and the three best answers I could find all involve TV: As the unfortunate brother of Danny McBride's Kenny Powers on "Eastbound & Down"; as the Jewish merchant Sol Star on "Deadwood"; and, perhaps best of all, as the janitor George on the ghostly "I Only Have Eyes for You" episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer.")

But as usual, I digress. The bottom line, if you can still find it in theaters, "Winter's Bone" offers a chilling look at a place you'd never want to live in but will enjoy visiting if you can dig film noirs with a raw streak of reality. Peace out.


Bob said...

I'm going to try to get to "Winter's Bone" soon. It's playing at 1 or 2 theaters in Seattle. I'll try to get a review of "Cyrus" up today if I have time.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'll definitely stop by later to check it out, Bob ... "Cyrus" was a bit hard to watch because the characters were all so awkward, but that gives it most of its charm too

sammy_so-so said...

Joan Rivers was incredibly open in this movie, she gave the camera full access to her life, which in my opinion really upped the quality of the film. Brilliantly edited, it was really visually stimulating, and the subject matter was actually quite moving.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm with you on all those counts, sammy ... Going in, I had no idea what to expect, but it really was a very revealing portrait, and an enjoyable one too

jeremy said...

Winter's Bone is my favorite this year so far. I really hope Jennifer Lawrence is not overlooked come awards season. I downloaded the book just the other day and hope to get to it sometime by summer's end.
Mad Men Sunday!!!! WHeee! It feels like its been forever.

Reel Fanatic said...

It truly does feel that way, Jeremy ... I can't wait to find out what's up with the new agency, but even better, what happens to my favorite, now single, character, Bertie