Against a backdrop of insipid projects propped up with special effects instead of substance comes the haunting and brilliant "Winter's Bone."
Set in the meth-soaked Missouri Ozarks, the movie is a delicious rarity theses days: An unusual story, intelligently told, wonderfully acted and skillfully directed.
Simply put, this is the most satisfying movie I've seen this year.
"Winter's Bone," pulls viewer into a subculture of forested squalor, where scarred old Ford trucks rumble along dirt roads, folks subsist on deer and squirrel meat, and the phrase "don't ask, don't tell," carries a dark resonance that has nothing to do with gays or the military.
Think "Deliverance," without the whitewater.
The film centers on a 17-year-old girl, Ree Dolly, trying to hold on against daunting odds. Her mother is disabled, her father has vanished, and Ree is left to care for her younger brother and sister. Things go from merely depresssing to all-out desperate when Ree is told her missing, meth-peddling dad has put up the family home and surrounding timber tract for bond.
Unless he shows up in court or she can prove he's dead, the family home goes on the auction block in a week. So Ree begins a frantic quest for her AWOL father, venturing into a ramshackle world of backwoodsy denizens who alternately encourage and rebuke her.
The film is artfully infused by bits of country and blue grass music and conjures a startlingly authentic hardscrabble culture; you mean there are places in America where people still live like that?
There are moments of gut-churning bleakness and brutality (think chainsawed body parts.) Ultimately, in ways that are wonderfully subtle, like a glimpse of floral fabric on a clothesline, "Winter's Bone," becomes an affirming emotional journey.
The movie won a best-of-show accolade at the Sundance Film Festival. Most of the media buzz is about Jennifer Lawrence, the actress who plays Ree.
Largely overlooked is the performance by John Hawkes, who portays Ree's drug-addled, malevolent uncle, Teardrop. His transformation from broken, brooding monster to a man of brave determination is worthy of an Oscar nomination.
No, "Winter's Bone," has no dazzling special effects, no super heroes, no video game lineage.
It is only a simple and fresh story, told astonishingly well.
What a refreshment.