Down to the Bone (2004)

Down to the Bone
Director: Debra Granik
Writer: Debra Granik
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Hugh Dillon, Clint Jordan, Caridad De La Luz
Part of: Real America

Irene (Vera Farmiga) is a mother of two boys, stuck in a rather joyless marriage with Steve (Clint Jordan) and a drug addict. When she even takes her son’s birthday money to buy coke, she realizes that she’s hit her low and goes into rehab. In rehab, she meets Bob (Hugh Dillon), a nurse with whom she immediately forms a bond. But it’s not that easy to get away from her old lifestyle.

Down to the Bone blew me away. Especially Vera Farmiga is a-ma-zing. But not only that, it’s also an honest look at drug addiction, without the usual narratives that often muddy the waters a little bit.

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Old Joy (2006)

Old Joy
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Writer: Kelly Reichardt, Jonathan Raymond
Based on: Jonathan Raymond‘s short story
Cast: Daniel London, Will Oldham
Part of: Real America

Mark (Daniel London) and Kurt (Will Oldham) are old friends who haven’t seen each other in a while. When Kurt invites Mark on a weekend camping trip, Mark gladly accepts, if only to get a break. As they spend time together, they slowly reconnect, even though they are at completely different places in life.

Oh boy, that film was way too boring for anything. It’s not even 80 minutes long but it felt like it was three hours, at least. Three boring hours. I didn’t connect with either of the characters and I just couldn’t care less about it in general.

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Frozen River (2008)

Frozen River
Director: Courtney Hunt
Writer: Courtney Hunt
Cast: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham, Charlie McDermott, Michael O’Keefe, Mark Boone Junior
Part of: Real America

Ray (Melissa Leo) dreams of a house for herself and her family. But when her husband takes off with the balloon payment and leaves her and her two sons (Charlie McDermott, Dylan Carusona) without any money whatsoever, her dream (and down-payment) seem lost. But then Ray happens upon Lila (Misty Upham), a Mohawk who also fights to get by. Circumstances throws the two of them together as they start smuggling people into the US through the Mohawk territory.

I’m not exactly sure why and how I missed Frozen River so far, but I really am cursing myself for it. It is absolutely fantastic. Writing, story, cast and general filmmaking actually left me breathless a couple of times.

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Putty Hill (2010)

Putty Hill
Director: Matthew Porterfield
Writer: Matthew Porterfield
Cast: Sky Ferreira, Cody Ray, Dustin Ray, James Siebor Jr., Zoe Vance
Part of: Real America

In one of the poorer parts of Baltimore, family and friends come together for the funeral of a young man, Cory who died of an overdose. There are his brother (Cody Ray) and his sister (Zoe Vance), his cousin (Sky Ferreira) and her estranged father and simply his friends. But what did all of them really know about him?

Putty Hill plays nicely with its style (that often seems like a documentary and/or has an unseen interviewer butting in to ask questions directly of its charactes) but once the excitement of that stylistic approach fades, there’s nothing really left to keep the movie interesting.

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Kid-Thing (2012)

Director: David Zellner
Writer: David Zellner
Cast: Sydney Aguirre, Nathan Zellner, Susan Tyrrell
Part of: Real America

Annie (Sydney Aguirre) spends most of her time on her own with her BMX bike, exploring the world around her; whether that is the attic, the playground where she gets into scrapes with other kids or the convience store where she steals. While out exploring in the woods, Annie stumbles upon an old well from which a voice (Susan Tyrrell) calls out for help. Annie is unsure how to deal with that situation and runs at first, but she’s also drawn back to the well.

Kid-Thing is an engaging, slightly weird, not very easy film that works better than I thought it would. Mostly that’s due to Sydney Aguirre, who is all kinds of amazing.

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Chop Shop (2007)

Chop Shop
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Writer: Ramin Bahrani, Bahareh Azimi
Cast: Alejandro Polanco, Isamar Gonzales, Rob Sowulski, Carlos Zapata, Ahmad Razvi
Part of: Real America

Ale (Alejandro Polanco) takes care of himself basically, despite his young age. He is constantly trying to make more money and jumps at any chance. When he is offered a job and a place to stay in Rob’s (Rob Sowulski) chop shop, Ale asks his sister Izzy (Isamar Gonzales) to join him and also finds a job for her. Ale wants to buy an old food truck and run it together with Izzy, which would finally give them some independence and security. But things aren’t that easy.

Chop Shop shows us a side of the US, we don’t get to see very often and it does so with an excellent script, good pacing and a lot of sensitivity. I liked it a lot.

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