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Someday it’ll get its own post, but invariably I’m happier with and more interested in the screenwriting nominations than the Best Picture ones.  Granted, that’s partially because there are ten screenwriting slots.  But they always seem to contain at least one movie I think was one of the top five Oscar movies of the year, but didn’t make the best picture cut.  This year is WALL-E, of course, but in the past few years have included Lars and the Real Girl, The Squid and the Whale, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, American Splendor, and (because I’m not afraid to go there) About a Boy.

So I was intrigued when I saw Frozen River pop up with a screenwriting nomination.  By the time I popped the DVD out of the player, I was still intrigued.  Not by the movie, which wasn’t terribly interesting, but by how the movie ended up with a screenwriting nomination.  The script hadn’t won many awards, wasn’t nominated by the WGA, and it was Courtney Hunt’s first screenplay.  Ascribing it to savvy Oscar marketing seems unlikely given the film’s shoestring budget.  And, oh yeah, the For Your Consideration ad doesn’t mention the script or Hunt.

Certain elements of the movie do smack of Oscar bait.  Melissa Leo plays a woman whose gambling addict husband recently left, only days before Christmas.  And who decides to run illegal immigrants across the border to help make ends meet as her part-time job at the dollar store isn’t putting food (other than popcorn) on the table for her two sons.  And Leo’s accomplice is a Native American living a trailer who desperately wants to get her one year old child back.

But the reason for my surprise (and the reason the film may be described as a “small” movie) is the very narrow, linear path of the movie.  Melissa Leo doesn’t have money, wants some, and sees making runs as opportunity to get some.  Anything broader than that is more or less disregarded and setbacks of any real sort are nonexistent.  There’s no discussion (in the dialogue or thematically) of the ethics of illegal immigration.  Not much of a comment of the relationship of the reservation to the rest of the area, or even much of a glance at the rest of the area at all.  There’s no evil character keeping Leo down, no particular obstacle she has to overcome.

(spoilers after the jump) Read the rest of this entry »

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