The Losers: Debra Granik Deserved an Oscar

By  · Published on February 24th, 2015

by Lauren Schacher

Roadside Attractions

Over the past week, we’ve been Chicks Who Script chimes in on a director who launched a superstar.

I will never forget watching Winter’s Bone for the first time. It wasn’t in a theatre or at a festival, but at my parents’ home in Georgia on our modest television during winter break of 2010. My dad, a cinephile to the core, had rented it after having read that it won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance. It was magnetic. Of course, a month or so later, it was then nominated for – not one – but four Academy Awards. Those nominations were for Best Picture and both Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jennifer Lawrence) and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (John Hawkes), but not for best Director (shout-out to another snubbed director, the incomparable Ms. Ava DuVernay).

The script got a nod for Adapted Screenplay, which was split between Granik and producer Anne Rosellini. As you know by now, neither Granik nor the film won that year. Tom Hooper and The King’s Speech won for best director and film, and adapted screenplay went to Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network.

Most people will remember Winter’s Bone as the film that launched Jennifer Lawrence. (And yes, go back and watch, because she’s truly incredible in it.) What I hope they also remember is what a great film it is: a true thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat with rugged, complex characters fighting for their lives in a way we don’t see often. It was a home run that year and for good reason. Film, lest you forget, is a collaborative medium. Particularly raw, vulnerable performances like these? Those don’t just come out of theatre school and raw talent; that’s a combination of all of the above and the other people on set, primarily the director.

As good as an actor’s performance is – and I’m admitting this as an actor – it’s not the whole picture. Yes, Lawrence is mad talented, and likely worked like a beast on this film (her audition story A+), but I’m sure even she would attribute the truly spectacular result to that special actor/director relationship. Lawrence is now the biggest star in the world. Where’s Granik?

Granik’s first feature Down to the Bone (2004) starred Vera Farmiga. Together they took home the Sundance Grand Jury prize as well as awards for best director and lead actress. She returned with her sophomore feature, Winter’s Bone, winning the same award at Sundance, and a slew of others. Does it make sense that she’d then vanish off the Hollywood radar shortly thereafter? Without downplaying her work since then – she released a doc last year called Stay Dog – she’s certainly been out of the mainstream. If Winter’s Bone came out today, you might expect to see its director soar into studio deals afterwards (although if you’re keeping track of the female director stats, you’d know better than to expect anything). It would be as if Damien Chazelle just up and never made another narrative after Whiplash. (Chazelle, on the other hand, has a few films set up at the moment, the first being La La Land starring Miles Teller and Emma Watson.)

So would an Oscar nomination have changed things for Granik? Hard to say. Only four women have ever been nominated for best director; and the first (and only) woman to win the award was Kathryn Bigelow only one year prior for The Hurt Locker. She seems to be doing alright.

Did Granik deserve a nomination? Hell yes. If you Google search Granik, one of the first articles to come up about her will be Marlow Stern’s piece on “Life After ‘Winter’s Bone’” that was published in October of 2014. It’s a solid read and will give you a good idea of perhaps why you haven’t seen more of her.

I, for one, hope Granik comes back with another vigorous narrative and blows the competition out of the water. Oscar for Granik. That’s my vote.

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