It's not too often that people in the hills of Southern Missouri have a particular reason to celebrate come Oscar time. Winter's Bone — a bleak but much-praised drama set in the harsh landscape of the Missouri Ozarks — has given them one very big reason this year.
Shot on a small budget, using a mix of little-known screen actors and local talent, the film centers on a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who has to track down her bail-jumper father in order to avoid losing the house where she's raising her brother and sister. It has earned critical raves — and four Oscar nominations.
"I hope you heard the hillbillies screaming," laughs Beth Domann, one of the local actors featured in the movie, "because it started early. I think everybody's real excited about it."
Based on a novel by Missouri native Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone tells a dark story about the drug subculture in its rural setting. And yet it has been embraced by the locals — even those who aren't onscreen.
"I've seen it five times — tonight's going to be my sixth," says Lianne Drysdale, who turned up for a recent Oscar-season celebration at a restaurant in downtown Springfield. (No red carpet, no paparazzi, just a chance for fans to mingle with actors and musicians featured in the film.)
"The first time I saw it, I knew it was a winner," Drysdale says. "The whole cast is just marvelous."
Marideth Sisco, whose solo unaccompanied singing voice opens the movie, is one of the performers who has had to get used to a new kind of fame. She keeps pens handy now, for autograph seekers. She has been traveling — throughout the Ozarks and the U.S., even overseas.
"Who would've thought?" she marvels. "Sixty-seven years old and I'm in a brand-new career, and going to Italy, Austin, Texas, and New York. It's not anything at all I expected."
Almost everyone here who loves Winter's Bone talks about the authenticity of the film, from the accents to the scraggly-looking animals. Director Debra Granik, who shot the film in Missouri to better capture the details of Ozarks life, remembers what happened when a shipment of brand new Carhartt jackets arrived for her actors to wear.
"We looked at these brand-new ones, without any life, no history," she says. "No one had sweated or toiled, no one had stood in a deer stand for four godforsaken cold nights in any of these coats."
So the crew gave local residents the new jackets in exchange for their worn ones. It's just these kinds of details that ring true for audiences here.
Apparently, they've also won over at least some of the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: Among the four Oscars Winter's Bone has a shot at on Feb. 27 is the big one — Best Picture.
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