Every Oscars race for Best Picture features one 'little film that could' and 2010 was no exception. But Debra Granik's Winter's Bone was smaller than most. Made for $2 million and grossing less than $10 million in the US, it was the the least seen (if not least praised) of the 10 contenders for the big prize.
But that's one (perhaps the only?) benefit of the expansion of the BP race from 5 to 10: focussing attention on smaller but worthy films. And now with the DVD and Blu-ray release of Winter's Bone in Australia, audiences who missed it in cinemas (it came and went before receiving its four Oscar nominations), have the opportunity to discover for themselves what all the critical fuss was about.
Adapted from the novel by Daniel Woodrell, Granik's film is a heroine's journey set in the Ozark mountains. That heroine is 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Oscar nominated Jennifer Lawrence), the daughter of a meth-cooking dad who has gone AWOL whilst on bail. Having put the family home up as surety, if Ree can't find him before his court date, she, her two younger siblings and her mentally absent mother will be rendered homeless.
Ree encounters hostility and obstruction in her search for her father, from neighbours and kin, most notably her uncle Teardrop (Supporting Actor nominee, John Hawkes), who repeatedly warns his determined niece to leave well enough alone. But she won't which leads to a climactic scene on a river, at night, with a chainsaw.
Winter's Bone starts out grim and becomes even more so, but it's also beautiful in its way and quite affecting. Granik effectively captures the country noir of Woodrell's novel, both in look – the landscape is reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic The Road (2009) – and the characters, whom you can never be sure if they mean to do Ree good or harm.
Do yourself some good and (re)watch Winter's Bone.