Sunday, February 27, 2011

The First Annual Taste My Sad Oscar Sadstravaganza.

The First Annual Taste My Sad Oscar Sadstravaganza.

Hey it’s Oscar night everyone! The glitz, the glamor, the self-congratulatory pointlessness of handing out awards for the year’s best movies. This night’s got it all!

You may have read my well-received five-part series on sad films nominated for Oscars this year. (The series itself was nominated for a Saddie, but lost out to Power to the Humans’s take on corporations as machines. Tough loss.) As we’ve discussed again and again in the blog, Oscar season is harvest time for the moneylenders Taste My Sad; Oscar nominees usually are weighty, dramatic films with messages and deaths and mentally challenged people and all of the stuff with which devotees of this blog are eminently familiar. It’s yet another reason for the sad fetishists to rejoice once it starts getting cold out.

The First Annual Taste My Sad Oscar Sadstravaganza is my way of showing my appreciation for all the sadness the Oscar-nominated films have given us this year. I’ll be going through every category and picking my winners, but I’ll leave the decisions on the “best” in each category to the actual Oscar voters (you’re welcome), and stick to a distinction that I feel uniquely qualified to bestow: “saddest.” And if you can’t wait to see how I determine which film had the saddest sound editing this year… well you’ve come to the right place. (There are 24 categories, by the way. Buckle up. We’ll be here for a while.)

Saddest Short Film, Live Action
The Confession  
The Crush
God of Love
Na Wewe
Wish 143

I have seen none of these films, obviously. (I’ll be relying on IMDb a lot in the first batch of categories.) Of these five films, God of Love seems to be the not-sad exception to the rule. (It’s a modern-day Cupid story about a lovestruck darts player. I see what they’re doing there.) But holy bajeezus, these other four are HEAVY.

To me, live action short films are the things you make in your backyard with your friends when you’re twelve. But I doubt a lot of twelve-year-olds are making movies like Na Wewe, about the Hutu-Tutsi genocide in Burundi (right next to Rwanda!) in 1994. Short and NOT sweet. The Confession is about a boy who wants to do something mischievious before giving his first confession, which sounds harmless enough. But IMDb says that it turns “unexpectedly tragic.” Oof. Wish 143 is about a kid with terminal cancer who wants to lose his virginity before he dies. It’s like American Pie meets a kid with terminal cancer. The Crush (also innocuous-sounding) is about a kid who has a crush on his engaged teacher, and then challenges her fiancĂ© to a duel. Cute, right? Except I have a really strong idea from the IMDb plot summary that he ACTUALLY KILLS HIM, or something like that. WHAT.

In the end, I’m going with Na Wewe. Genocide really is the trump card here.

Saddest Short Film, Animated
Day & Night
The Gruffalo
Let's Pollute
The Lost Thing
Madagascar, a Journey Diary

I’ve seen one of these! Pretty much all of us have: Day & Night was the delightful Pixar short that preceded Toy Story 3. Not sad! So adorable. Similarly, The Gruffalo is about “a cunning mouse [who] goes for a walk in the forest and outwits a succession of predators.” It features the voices of Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson and John Hurt, but somehow not Mark (G)Ruffalo. Missed opportunity there.

The other three are more serious, I guess. Madagascar: A Journey Diary is not, apparently, the threequel to Madagascar (as I had hoped), but pretty much some guy who goes to Madagascar and shows us what he saw there. Sounds like Snoozefest McGee to me, but apparently the animation style is cool/unusual. Still not really sad, though. The Lost Thing is about a kid who finds a “strange creature” on the beach and tries to find it a home, although everyone else is too busy to care. I don’t want to talk any more about this short because all I can think about right now is the Montauk Monster, AKA the only thing from Long Island more terrifying than JWOWW.

That leaves us with our winner, Let’s Pollute, satirical environmentalist-porn in the form of a 50s-style educational film instructing us on how to continue to be good polluters. Yeah OK Al Gore. I’ve already read The Lorax, but thanks.

Saddest Documentary, Short Subject
Killing in the Name
Poster Girl
Strangers No More
Sun Come Up
The Warriors of Qiugang

Ohhh the documentaries. A veritable breeding ground for the sad. Short documentary filmmakers have the added challenge of making us horribly depressed in less than 40 minutes. Three of this year’s nominees took up that challenge, while two opted for more informative or sociological content (Strangers No More, an inspirational film about a multicultural school in Israel, and The Warriors of Quigang, about Chinese villagers fighting pollution [again with the pollution!]).

Sun Come Up is about a group of people who IMDb calls the “first environmental refugees:” the Carteret Islanders, who move to a war-torn section of Papua New Guinea when their community is threatened by rising sea levels. I can very much relate to this struggle, as I was often concerned about rising sea levels as a young boy growing up on Long Island. Poster Girl is about a solider returning to America from Iraq and dealing with all kinds of issues; the user review on IMDb says it “wallows in despair.” That’s what I’m sayin’! But I’m afraid even a despair-wallowing film about a war veteran comes in second to Killing in the Name. The inciting incident of the film is a suicide bomber’s attack on a Muslim man’s wedding, which killed 27 people, including the fathers of the bride and groom. OOF. The film follows the groom as he speaks out against terrorism, speaking to victims and perpetrators of terrorist attacks. I suppose that’s kind of an uplifting message, but watching a sad dude go around talking to terrorists and terrorist victims can’t be a whole lot of fun. Also I don’t want to be accused of being xenophobic here. So the American solider loses, and the terrorists win. Wait that doesn’t sound right.

Saddest Documentary, Feature
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Inside Job
Waste Land

I may offend a lot of people I know here, but Exit Through the Gift Shop just seems colossally boring/annoying to me. I don’t get this whole Banksy/street art thing. Whatever it is, it’s certainly not sad. Waste Land is about “the transformative power of art and the beauty of the human spirit.” OK, #1, shut up, and #2, what is with all the art documentaries? Aren’t movies MOVING pictures? If I wanted to see art (which I don't), I’d go to a museum. Or I’d stay home and draw something awesome in MS Paint.

The other three are more serious/less arty. GasLand is an environmental film, but I’ve filled the environmental quota with that pollution short. Better luck next year, environment. Inside Job is about the financial crisis, and while it’s the frontrunner for the Power to the Humans Frothing at the Mouth with Anger Award, it’s not quite as sad as our winner, Restrepo, which follows a group of soldiers in Afghanistan for one year. The film is named for one of the soldiers in the unit who is killed early in the film. Hopefully this makes up for the last category, soldiers.

Saddest Sound Editing
Toy Story 3
TRON: Legacy
True Grit

Ahhhh the sound categories. I Googled “what is the difference between sound editing and sound mixing,” and got a Yahoo! Answer that sound editing is “the art of recording sound effects, creating certain sounds, and background music” while sound mixing is “when you take all those elements plus the dialog onto a mixing board and actually create the volumes and the pans (left or right or surround, etc.) that will appear in the final cut.” Whoops, sorry, I fell asleep for a minute there.

So how to determine the saddest sound editing? Let’s try to think about which of those movie’s sound effects would be the saddest if you or I heard them while walking down the street. It’s safe to say that all of the nominated films feature sounds that might scare the bajeezus out of me, but might not necessarily make me sad. Hearing toys talk might certainly freak me out, but it wouldn’t make me cry as much as Toy Story 3 did. Whooshing TRON noises would also freak me out, as would the Inception “BWWAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.” True Grit has a lot of gunshots and Western sounds and stuff, but the gunshots (which are potentially sad, for sure) are kind of few and far between in that movie. Unstoppable (which I did not see) is about a runaway train. A runaway train might have a lot of screaming passengers, worried that they are about to die. Again, I did not see this movie. It might well be a freight train for all I know. But even if it is, the train could run into a car or the Chrysler building or something like that (OK, OK, I like what you did there), and people would be screaming then. And the sound of screaming people is sad enough for me.

Saddest Sound Mixing
The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

So now it’s the saddest combination of sound effects and dialogue and stuff? UGHHHHH. Let’s just give this to The King’s Speech. That first scene where he’s stuttering and everyone’s just standing there in the stadium, looking at him all quiet and hopeful and sad. I think that counts as sound mixing. Taste My Awkward Silence.

Saddest Visual Effects
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Iron Man 2

I’ve not read any of the Harry Potter books, nor have I seen any of the films since the fifth one (Order of the Phoenix). Sorry, NERDS. I know something sad happens at the end of the sixth one, but am not sure what is covered in the first half of the seventh one, or whether the visual effects depict sad events (oh yeah BTW that’s the criterion I’m going with for this category). So I consulted Harry Potter maniac/GFOTB Julia Falkenstern. She said that while sad things do happen, and the overall cinematography contributes to the sadness, the visual effects are “not really sad. Just snazzy and cool, ‘cause HP is awesommmee.” Got it.

It’s really not much of a contest, actually. The effects in Inception and Iron Man 2 are pretty much just badass, and Alice in Wonderland’s were probably creepy and Burton-esque. The clear winner is Hereafter, a movie which depicts the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia! HEY NOW. That’s one of the saddest events ever! Well played, Eastwood.

Saddest Original Song
“If I Rise,” 127 Hours 
“Coming Home,” Country Strong 

Alright, I just did the research and listened to all these songs. I was most reluctant to listen to the song from Country Strong, although I figured it would be the front-runner in this category, because the fact that Country Strong exists makes me sad. But just hearing Gwyneth Paltrow’s voice made me angry, and this ain’t Taste My Angry. (By the way, if any of you working moms out there could use some advice on how to balance raising your kids with having a career, Gwyneth Paltrow has got some for ya! It’s very relatable.)

“We Belong Together” is some nice jaunty Randy Newman stuff. (Let’s note that if the Mariah Carey song entitled “We Belong Together” were in this category, it would win in a cakewalk. Look how hot sad she is in that video!) “I See the Light” is the poor man’s “A Whole New World,” which all things considered isn’t the worst thing to be. But it's not really a sad song, even though it's slow. And so I think “If I Rise” wins, because it bored me to tears. Side note: whatever happened to Dido? “Thank You”/”Stan” were awesome. I even like that song “White Flag.” Now she’s disappeared, only to pop up on a random movie soundtrack, stealing Cher’s spot in the Oscar nominee list. But Lord knows the Academy likes picking the worst songs a lot of the time, so don’t be surprised if she soon joins the fraternity of Oscar winners, alongside Phil Collins and Three 6 Mafia.

Saddest Original Score
127 Hours
How to Train Your Dragon
The King's Speech
The Social Network

I know The Social Network’s score was co-written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who seems like a pretty sad dude. But c’mon. Inception. BWWAHHHHHHHHHHHH. Like all the despair in the world wrapped up in one loud sustained noise. BWWAHHHHHHHHHH.

Saddest Makeup
Barney's Version
The Way Back
The Wolfman

What a weird combination of movies. I haven’t seen any of ‘em. Sad makeup I suppose is makeup that makes people look old or ugly or generally sadder than they currently are. I think the makeup gimmick is to make Paul Giamatti look younger in Barney’s Version, although I might be wrong. But that movie just looks really annoying to me, so it’s out. The Wolfman had those commercials with the guy’s hand doing something weird. It was one of those commercials that freaked me out so much that I had to look away from the TV whenever it was on. That made me mad. So that’s out too. So by default, The Way Back, which actually seems like a good movie (it’s about people who escape from a gulag during World War II and, somehow outdoing both the Proclaimers and Vanessa Carlton PUT TOGETHER, walk 4,000 miles to freedom), wins. I have no idea what it is about the makeup in this movie that is worthy of a Best Makeup nominee, but I hope it’s something sad, or else I’ll sure have egg on my face.

Saddest Costume Design
Alice in Wonderland
I Am Love
The King's Speech
The Tempest
True Grit

Here’s a tricky one. I guess the criterion here is, do the costumes reflect how sad the characters are? (Man I am killing it with these criteria.) But so this category usually features a bunch of films set in periods when people wore much fancier clothes than they do today. Period dramas about the British royalty are popular nominees, and no matter how stuttery Colin Firth was in The King’s Speech, he still had some baller outfits. This year we’ve also got surreal fantasy movies with superfluously crazy costumes in The Tempest and Alice in Wonderland. I can’t get behind that. I Am Love, which I have not seen, is a romantic drama set in Milan, commonly referred to as the fashion capital of the world. And while I don’t think the movie is actually set in the world of high fashion, the clothes in that movie almost certainly can’t match the bleakness of those in True Grit. She’s trying to find the man who shot her pa! And lookin’ very plain while doing so. I like it.

Saddest Art Direction
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
The King's Speech
True Grit

For me this translates to “bleakest looking sets” and all that. A lack of colorful scenery in a movie can really contribute to its overall sad factor. I’m going to go out on a whim here and give this to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, because I recall the trailer looking really washed out and grim. Also let’s note here that it’s recently been revealed that The King’s Speech was partially filmed on the same set as a gay porn film. And while I don’t personally get down with what goes on in those films, I wouldn’t really call it sad.

Saddest Editing
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King's Speech
The Social Network

I mean I’m really at a loss for what would constitute sad editing. Maybe a lot of slow fades to black, and a lack of star wipes. In any case, I think this one goes to 127 Hours, for all of the cutting back and forth to sad memories of James Franco’s life before he had to up and cut his arm off. That was often quite poignant.

Saddest Cinematography
Black Swan
The King's Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

Similar criterion to that of Saddest Art Direction. And since Harry Potter isn’t nominated in this category, let’s go with True Grit, also looking as washed out as Renee Zellweger without makeup. (Oooooo SASSY.)

Saddest Foreign Language Film
Biutiful, Mexico
Dogtooth, Greece
In a Better World, Denmark
Incendies, Canada
Outside the Law, Algeria

Well I mean this one seems obvious. But let’s discuss the four films in this category that I have not seen first. Dogtooth is apparently really weird and really awesome according to certain outlets I read. Also, the IMDb plot summary includes the phrase “girl-on-girl action.” BRB going to watch Dogtooth. Outside the Law is a historical drama about Algeria’s fight for independence from France during World War II. And though the Africa element is in play here, it seems like one of those inspirational freedom-fighting dramas, like Braveheart or Chicken Run, which aren’t really that sad in the end. Incendies, according to IMDb, is “powerful and moving tale of two young adults' voyage to the core of deep-rooted hatred, never-ending wars and enduring love.” I say it shouldn’t count, because Canada is hardly a foreign country.

The last two really bring the sad. In a Better World is an intimate family drama with a dash of cancer. But does it ALSO involve the mass asphyxiation of a bunch of Chinese immigrants? Well, Biutiful has got all that and more.

Saddest Animated Feature Film
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

Alright here’s where we get into the “Is Toy Story 3 sad?” debate. Just because you cry at a movie doesn’t necessarily make it sad. (For example, I have cried from laughter during Semi-Pro.) Remembering your childhood is bittersweet and melancholy and all of that, but it’s not really sad, I think. After all, being an adult is pretty awesome. The main actual sad part in Toy Story 3 is when they think they’re all going to die in the trash thing. That part is SO LONG. It’s far longer than I expected it to be for what is essentially a kids’ movie. So for that alone, Toy Story 3 wins.

Saddest Adapted Screenplay
Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, True Grit
Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini, Winter's Bone

Clever criterion for this category: whichever movie has the saddest source material! Toy Story 3 is in this category because it uses characters from previous film (guess which ones), which is dumb, so it’s out. The novel on which True Grit was based has already inspired the 1969 film with John Wayne, and apparently that movie was real different/not as sad or realistic. Aron Ralston’s memoir, which inspired 127 Hours, is entitled Between a Rock and a Hard Place, probably the most glib title for a book about cutting your arm off that I can think of at the moment. And I have on good authority that The Accidental Billionaires, Ben Mezrich’s book which inspired The Social Network, is hackish and lame. So we’re going with Winter’s Bone, based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel, which I imagine is quite grim and difficult to get through.

Saddest Original Screenplay
Mike Leigh, Another Year
Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington, The Fighter
Christopher Nolan, Inception
Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right
David Seidler, The King's Speech

I’ll use this category to recognize Another Year, a movie I wanted to see for the blog but never got to. It’s about a happy older couple and their relationship with their younger, unhappier friends. It’s the rare movie that features discussions of sadness so openly and prominently in their plot summaries. Well done.

Saddest Director
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter

Now we get to the fun ones. It’s important to note that in judging these categories, I’m not going to be deciding which actual person is the saddest. It won’t be like, oh Annette Bening has never won one of these, I bet she’s sad. This is mainly because all of these people are rich celebrities, and I’m sure they don’t have any problems.

Here we deal with five movies that aren’t strictly sad movies, but all featured tragic  or at the very least uncomfortable elements. My favorite movie of the year was The Social Network, and what I especially liked about it is how David Fincher never really overplayed his hand in evoking our sympathies for the main characters. (By which I mean, he leaves it up to us to decide if we’re going to feel sorry for Mark Zuckerberg or Eduardo Saverin or the Winklevii or none of the above.) A fine directorial choice, yes, but one that leaves him out of the running for this award. Sorry Finchy. The Coens and Aronofsky aren’t really interested in sadding it up, I don’t think, and I don’t really know anything about Tom Hooper. So I’ll go with David O. Russell, for concealing the fact that the HBO documentary about Dickie Eklund is not really about his boxing comeback, but actually about his drug addiction, until we actually see it in the movie. That was a bit devastating, and even though the idea to do that was presumably in the script and not necessarily a directorial choice of his, he wins.

Saddest Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Quite a varied category here, with two of the people who were not, in fact, fighting in The Fighter. (Along with a whole host of others.) Hailee Steinfeld is too awesome to be really sad in that movie, and plus she’s totally the lead and is only in this category because the Oscars are really stupid. I don’t remember anything of note that Helena Bonham Carter did in The King’s Speech, by the way. Not that she’s not a good actress, because she is, but I don’t really get all the hubbub about her part in that movie. Jacki Weaver was apparently really terrifying in Animal Kingdom, an Australian crime film that I did not see, but we’re trying to shy away from the terrifying parts. Slightly less terrifying and more delusional/dream-crushing was Melissa Leo, who edges out sad Boston Amy Adams for this award. Oof what a mom. I'd hate to be one of her sons, or that one daughter who owes her $200.

Saddest Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

This one’s gotta be cracked-out skinny Christian Bale. Renner and Ruffalo are just too awesome for words. Geoffrey Rush was really good in that movie but he was never really sad. And John Hawkes had that sad moment at the end of Winter’s Bone but I was too busy being scared of him for most of that movie. So no real contest here. (That’s 0-for-2 tonight for Mark Gruffalo, BTW.)

Saddest Actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Much like how the two lead acting categories appear to be done deals in the actual Oscars, they really weren’t all that competitive in the sadness. While I wrote about three of these movies for the blog, Nicole Kidman really takes the cake in the sad department. She cries A LOT. She moves her facial muscles A LOT, which is surprising, all things considered. Michelle Williams fights a lot with Gosling, and Jennifer Lawrence has her share of sad/poor moments, but they can’t match Kidman, who spends pretty much that entire movie being sad.

Saddest Actor
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

A two-man race, really. Being a drunk with only one working eye is sad, but Jeff Bridges played the Dude, so I can never really not laugh when he's onscreen. Jesse Eisenberg played "the youngest billionaire in the world." Next. And Colin Firth has really great moments of sadness in the movie, but his struggles can't really match those of our two front-runners. I do think James Franco played the desperate moments in 127 Hours incredibly well, but... shall I run through the litany of sad things in Biutiful again? Please don’t make me, as I might start crying. Javier Bardem, winner of both the genetic lottery and the Saddest Actor award. (Sorry Franco. Cut off both your arms next time and we’ll talk.)

Saddest Picture
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Here we are, the award that no one is still reading for/people might have skipped down for because good Lord is this long. Oof. Sorry everyone. There were lots of great moments in all ten of these films, and all of them are encapsulated in these GIFs.

I’ve watched two of these movies for the blog, so I guess they really have to be considered the front-runners for this award. But the other eight had their sad moments, too, and it’s important to give them their due. (I’ll put up the SPOILER ALERT sign for this paragraph, even though they will be incredibly mild spoilers.) The ending of Black Swan is obviously sad out of context, although in context I was too busy regaining my breath when that movie ended to be sad about it. The Fighter is one of those movies where it gets real sad before it gets real inspirational, especially in Christian Bale’s awesome crackheadedness. If you think the top doesn’t fall over at the end of Inception, then that’s heckas sad. He’s living his whole life in a dream! Katy Perry might enjoy that feeling, but being in limbo for, like, FOREVER would reallllly suck. The Kids Are All Right turns serious in its depiction of the fact that, yes, lesbians have relationship issues, too. The King’s Speech has that great scene where Colin Firth tells Geoffrey Rush about all the stuff that happened to him when he was younger, and that’s plenty sad. It’s really in the same mold as The Fighter, sad before it gets stirring. Toy Story 3 we’ve discussed. And the girl in True Grit ends up with about as many arms as James Franco in 127 Hours, so that’s gotta count for something.

When I wrote about 127 Hours back in the day, I worried that I was expanding the boundaries of Taste My Sad too far. I had a similar thought with Winter’s Bone. I do really want to restrict this to movies that are primarily thought of as being sad, and I will continue to do that in the future. But it was fun (that’s definitely not the right word) to talk about the depiction of actual sad stuff – despair, loneliness, malaise, poverty, etc. – in non-tearjerker movies. In that regard, Winter’s Bone brings the sad far more than 127 Hours (a film which belongs in The Fighter/The King’s Speech category that I just made up). It effectively communicates just how rough this community of people have it even while keeping its focus entirely on the internal world that they inhabit. The subtle sadness that enters when we think about the implications of all the stuff we’ve just seen (namely, the difficulties that they have as compared to people in other parts of the country) is quite profound, and stays with you for days after you see it.

So Winter’s Bone it is! They’re rejoicing in the Ozarks. No they are almost certainly not. Good Lord have you seen that movie? Those people do not rejoice. I’m so sorry for writing this much. Enjoy the Oscars, everyone!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Winter's Bone.

Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010)

Here’s the last in the wildly acclaimed series on the Oscar-nominated sad movies of 2010. (Winter’s Bone earned four nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress [Jennifer Lawrence], Best Supporting Actor [John Hawkes] and Best Adapted Screenplay.) Remember to look for the first annual Taste My Sad Oscar Sadstravaganza, coming to a computer screen or smartphone near you this SUNDAY. I have apologized in advance to the Oscar folks under the assumption that no one will need to actually watch the show after reading my take. Sorry guys.

Category: Sad movie about The Mountains. This great country of ours famously has its share of purple mountains’ majesties. (Note: Maybe they’re purple underneath all the trees and snow and such, but I have never seen a purple mountain. Purple hills, sure, but not purple mountains.) They’re quite beautiful to look at in calendars and on nature programs. Often times we flatlanders will vacation in the mountains and enjoy the log cabins and fireplaces and hot chocolate and horrific skiing accidents. Then, of course, there’s the mountain climbing set, who often find themselves trapped next to a rock or jumping over a 30-foot-wide crevasse. (STALLONE.)

But here we’re talking about The Mountains, which are entirely different. The Mountains are INTENSE. They’re mysterious and dark and secretive, with lots of trees and fog and steep curves in the road (when there even are roads!) and such. It’s hard to travel through them, it’s easy to hide within them, and it’s REALLY easy to manufacture and consume lots of cheap drugs in them. And the people! Well… you all know how I hate to offend, so let me tread carefully here: There are lots of nice people in The Mountains who are friendly and like playing the banjo and don’t fulfill the stereotypes. There are also lots of disgusting drug-addled redneck Neanderthals. You take the good with the bad. Oh also the air is thinner. So pretty much an entirely different world than the relatively civilized (sub)urbia to which so many of us are accustomed. (Winter’s Bone is set in the Ozarks, which apparently feature little of interest to non-Mountain People outside of Bronson Branson, Missouri.)

Generally movies about The Mountains aren’t strictly sad, but more depressing/disturbing. Obviously we wouldn’t describe such films as Deliverance and Wrong Turn as being “sad.” But those movies are about outsiders who get off on the wrong foot with The Mountain People and are terrorized accordingly. If I’m not mistaken, Winter’s Bone is entirely about The Mountain People, and I’m sure these People are capable of being sad (or depressed, at the very least) on their own terms.

My familiarity with this issue: FsOTB will recall that I recently spent a year in The Mountains, as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in wild and wonderful/open for business West Virginia. I met some lovely people and had some fun times, but a lot of the time couldn’t help but feel very out of place. To be fair, I stuck out like a sore thumb: I talked differently, I rooted openly for the Yankees at the local tavern, and at the time I did not own one flannel shirt. (I've since rectified the flannel situation, HIPSTERS.) Being different from the local folks wasn't always bad or jarring, but… well one time FOTB Micah Lubens was visiting, and in the evening we went to the gas station to purchase some libations. A couple of gentlemen entered the gas station and told the cashier that they had just seen a body lying face down in a ditch nearby. They were unsure if the person was dead or alive. The cashier seemed unperturbed at this. After a few minutes’ discussion, one of the two men said, “Well, it’s OK, we’re partying with the deputy,” and then they left. This all happened.

The biggest stereotype of people who live in The Mountains is probably that they are inbred. Of course this is unfair; they can’t all possibly be inbred, or else there wouldn’t be Hatfields AND McCoys. But then again… well this other time I was at work, talking to the town's sheriff and some of the folks who worked at the office, and the conversation came around to a local family who had a reputation for being inbred. The sheriff told me that if this family saw you driving by their house, they’d come out and hiss at you, like snakes. He also told me that the son in this family had a genetic deformity such that his eyes were on the sides of his head, like a walleye fish. He said, “that boy could stand on the railroad tracks and see a train coming from either direction.” This also happened. (I never investigated this any further, by the way. But if it's possible to be more scared of hissing noises than I was before I heard that story, after hearing it I sure was.)

Obviously I know Appalachia is different than the Ozarks, and anecdotal evidence like that doesn’t make it right to generalize about All Of The Mountains, but you asked me what my familiarity with this issue was, and I did the best I could. I’ve never even tried meth!

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Ree Dolly is a seventeen year old teenager raising her younger brother and sister in the Ozarks while her father was in prison. Her father is now on parole and has disappeared. Ree soon learns he has put their house up for his bail bond and it will be taken from them if he does not show up to court. Ree is forced to go against the hillbilly community to find out the truth about her father.” I love the use of the term "hillbilly community," like they have lobbyists and stuff. I'd thought that people in West Virginia disliked the term until I was speaking to someone about the Appalachian Festival, a town fair-type thing with lots of different booths and free stuff, and the woman called it "Hillbilly Halloween."

What I thought of the movie: Well that was one bleak film. It’s simple and straightforward and not contrived and real authentic. That last one is particularly impressive: it achieves the difficult task of feeling real to an audience that is almost entirely unfamiliar with the film’s setting. We kind of get it right away: the movie is good at showing and not telling. It’s about poor people, often cruel, drugged-out people, who generally act in their self-interest and sometimes get really pissed off when people stick their nose where it don’t belong. We don't agree or even like a lot of the characters in the movie, but we kind of understand them.

Ree, played by the awesome Jennifer Lawrence, is a really tight character: courageous and independent and not always sure of what to do. Her uncle, played by the also awesome John Hawkes, is real bad-ass. These are cool, interesting, not messianic characters to watch and get to know and root for. And while the movie is pretty focused on Ree’s quest to find her dad, there’s some other great stuff to fill in the blanks too. Of particular note to me was a scene where Ree, who we often forget is a 17-year-old girl, goes to see an Army recruiter. He senses her desperation and the complexity of her terrible situation, but it’s all just so understated and exactly how that conversation would go. There’s all this desperation hiding just underneath the surface of this girl, dealing with way more than anyone her age should have to deal with, but the movie totally doesn’t overplay it at all. Man it’s a good movie.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: As mentioned before, I do kind of feel like Jean-Luc Picard/Locutus of Borg here, having been assimilated and then brought back from the other side the way that I have. Like Picard, I’m occasionally haunted by the memories of The Mountains, particularly those times when I briefly came into contact with people that resemble some of the villainous types in this film. (I don't have as much to say about my experiences with these people, but I will direct your attention to the blog People of Walmart.) After seeing the movie, I compared those characters to the evil sisters in The Fighter, ugly people with uglier personalities, so proud of being the sort of people that they should be ashamed of being. God it made me mad, and being so mad at them made me mad, too, because in the end they’re people like you and me, who were babies once and didn’t mean to turn out the way they did. Added to which is the fact that many of them are torn up by drugs and all that. Maybe it’s not fair, but goddammit these hillbillies are allowed to VOTE. The thought of merely sharing the blessings of democracy with them makes me mad and starts the whole vicious cycle all over again.

Corollary to this point: the geographic and cultural isolation of this community made me think about their relationship with the anti-government lunatics in the Tea Party. In some cases, The Mountain People are even more radical than the general Tea Party, which I think is a practical function of how isolated they are from the government, and how much seething hatred they have for government interference into their way of life. (The recent tragedy in West Virginia is just another example of this long-standing trend.) It's really reflected in the movie too: the antipathy towards "the law," outsiders, even insiders they don't like/aren't related to. It's a real get-off-my-lawn mentality, and it's pretty scary. If you hang out in the woods, isolated from the rest of the world for long enough, you might start doing/thinking some crazy things. Just look at Ted Lynch Kaczynski.

Corollary to the corollary: what really sunk in while watching this movie is how inaccessible the American dream (whatever that actually means) is to these people, especially Jennifer Lawrence and her siblings, who are young and cool and generally untouched by all the ugliness around them. Her one escape route (for monetary reasons, primarily, but also to just get away from all the heaviness) is the Army, which, while very noble, is also fraught with its own difficulties. And she can’t even do that.  There’s no college in sight, no lucrative/pointless office job, just killing squirrels and fending off “the law." PLUS taking care of younger siblings! If I had to take care of SOTB Lauren Krizel when I was 17, it would have started with me calling her "Loafy" for a while and ended with us hitting each other until one of us got hurt and ran away. That's no way to raise a kid.

How I felt after the movie ended: The release of all the #tension was kind of a relief. It’s hard to say whether I think this movie qualifies as a “sad movie,” under the not very strict strictures that I’ve been occasionally working under in this blog. But whether or not the plot is as sad as that of Beaches or not is kind of immaterial. The movie makes you ponder some really depressing stuff, how people survive in an economically depressed region when they have been surrounded by terrible shit their whole lives, without strong parental guidance and all that. How you or I might have ended up just like them, or probably worse, if we were born into their situations. Bleak stuff. So I think it counts. And even if it doesn’t, it’s on the blog now. Officially sad.