Melissa Leo is probably my favorite actress of the moment. If given the opportunity, I would follow Leo blindly into a foxhole. I would probably skip too. That is how much I adore her. Not only is she a great character actress but she is also ridiculously off-the-cuff. This past Oscar season proved just how wonderfully over-the-top Leo can get. (Admittedly, I like my actors and actresses a little crazy as long as they don’t enter Charlie Sheen territory.)
My favorite performance from Leo is in Frozen River. Ray Eddy is a hard-edged unintentionally feminist anti-hero. Leo owns this character. I can’t think of any other actress who could portray Ray with the same level of grittiness and to the same degree of success.
Of the six main Oscar categories, the only race still up for grabs is the best supporting actress race. After winning the Critics Choice Award and the Golden Globe, The Fighter‘s Melissa Leo seemed the obvious front runner. But when the BAFTA nominations were announced yesterday, Leo was noticeably absent from the ballot. Leo may have the lead in American critics circles, but across the pond Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech), Miranda Richardson (Made in Dagenham), Amy Adams (The Fighter), Barbara Hershey (Black Swan), and Lesley Manville (Another Year) are who made the cut.
In a way, I am not surprised. Leo is one of the best actresses working in Hollywood. She is on par with Meryl Streep, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. Her tendency to take on gritty and unflattering roles, most notably Ray Eddy in Frozen River, also makes her one of the most under-appreciated actresses.
Compared to her The Fighter co-star Amy Adams, whose performance is remarkably and wonderfully against type, Leo is her always hard-edged self. There are few actresses who could play Alice the way that Leo did and it is a character that works into her character actress strengths. This is why Leo’s performance can easily be lost in the shuffle.
I have read some rumblings that Leo’s award winning streak is in some ways making up for her not winning the Oscar for Frozen River. I could not disagree more. Leo’s performance in Frozen River did not receive 1/3 of the accolades that she has received for The Fighter. As far as independent films go, Frozen River did have the momentum going into the Oscars that Winter’s Bone has. Moreover, I do not believe that Frozen River has been seen by a large enough audience, even though it has been two years since its critical success.
The best supporting actress race is still a three-way race between Helena Bonham Carter, Amy Adams, and Leo. If Leo wins the SAG, the Oscar is likely hers. But I am still skeptical because Leo is always the consummate character actress. For some reason, I believe this works against Leo while Adams’ extreme likability factor works in her favor. (There are endless possibilities in this category that I am just wrapping my head around.)
I’ll leave you with this thought of mine from the Golden Globes that sums up my understanding of Melissa Leo’s acting career:
When I was writing my thesis on Frozen River, I never expected Melissa Leo to be a trending topic one day.
Winner of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury prize, Winter’s Bone is a breed of independent filmmaking unlike any other. Adapted from a 2006 novel by Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone takes a grippingly realistic look at life in the impoverished Ozarks region in southwestern Missouri. Yet it is also a frightening country noir – a term coined by Woodrell – about the dangerous blood ties that drive much of the film’s narrative.
17-year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is the primary caretaker for her young siblings and her incapacitated mother. She learns that her father, a notorious methamphetamine dealer, has vanished and that after his last arrest, he put her family’s property up as bond. To save her home and protect her family, Ree must find her father, dead or alive.
Ree treks through the backwoods, begging various family members for information on her absentee father’s whereabouts to no avail. Her extended family, including her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) are guided by a code of silence that keeps them pitted against the law. When the clans ways are threatened by Ree’s search, she is given false leads and, worst of all, beaten. In spite of her desire and attempts to escape her roots, Ree has been initiated in.
Winter’s Bone is strikingly similar to Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River. Familial strife is centered around dire economic and political circumstance. Like Frozen River, Winter’s Bone can arguably be defined as a Neo-Neorealist film, those American independent films that have emerged since 2006 and depict harshly realistic portrayals of American life. The noir aspects of Winter’s Bone sometimes mask what is Neorealistic – the long takes, the presence of nonprofessional actors, the use of a real setting. These techniques and markers of authenticity, such as when a banjo-laced performance graces the screen, coupled with the harrowing dangers of Ree’s quest only magnify the emotional intensity of the film.
Jennifer Lawrence’s unforgettable performance is something marvelous. In a film dependent on one character’s tenacity, Lawrence carries the film with her low Southern accent and every stubborn stare. Ree has been dealt unfortunate cards. Her responsibilities to her siblings means she cannot escape her ancestral ties, although that would never be an easy achievement for her to begin with. At just 17, her choices could mean life and death. This fact never escapes us because of Lawrence’s performance.
The message behind Winter’s Bone is clear. As long as a version of the family structure survives, then the path to getting there, however horrific it may be, is worth the struggle.
Since it is October 10, 2010, I feel inspired to write some sort of top ten list. About what though, I’m wasn’t quite sure at first. I could, as my friend Kim, write about the top ten worst sequels. But that would require me to have seen certain sequels. I even considered writing about movies that have something to do with numbers. Of course, that means I would have to include A Beautiful Mind, a film I detest so that list just was not happening.
Then it dawned on me. This past week, I began going through my first blog posts and editing them. I’ve noticed, among other things, that my writing skills were horrible, my proofreading skills were lacking, and every movie was one of my favorites. I had a severe inability to dislike or critique anything. Today things are different. At least I hope four years of college and a Film Studies degree have noticeably improved the quality of this blog.
In the over five years since I have been a blogger, I have never written a definitive top ten list of my favorite movies. I’ve posted and commented on plenty of other movie lists but never my own. I have my reasons. “Joanna, what are your ten favorite movies?” is a question I hate to answer because it puts me on the spot to think of something creative and insightful. On top of that, my cinematic interests and thus my list is are always changing. What I loved years ago, I could rewatch and hate today. With all of this in mind, here it is. My top ten favorite movies and why I love them. Continue reading “A Binary Day Top 10”
Months ago I posted that I was writing a senior honors thesis on film. At the time, I didn’t know what it would be on. But after months of deliberation I finally figured out, more or less, what I am researching: American Identity in post-9/11 American Independent Cinema. (Sometimes I wonder if this topic makes me sound way more intelligent than I really am, but I digress.)
I am focusing on three films: Frozen River (2008), In Between Days (2006), and Goodbye Solo (2008). On the surface, these three films seem completely unrelated but what I have found that they are linked by a foremost a common character and narrative: the immigrant. This films question how American identity and the American Creed are changing in the twenty first century as a result of immigration. Or at least, that is what I am trying to show.
Here are the trailers for Frozen River and Goodbye Solo:
And here is an interview with filmmakers So Yong Kim and Bradley Rust Gray. The more I research their work, the more I admire their dedication to independent filmmaking as a way to produce quality and exceptional stories and works of art.