Frozen River (2008)
In my quest to see many Oscar-nominated movies in the days before Oscar, I watched Frozen River, which is nominated for Best Actress (Melissa Leo) and Best Original Screenplay (Courtney Hunt, who is also the director).
First off, I'll say that Melissa Leo absolutely deserves her nomination. She fully inhabits, without any hint of condescension or self-awareness, the working-class mom who unexpectedly finds herself in the immigrant-smuggling business. From the first moments of the movie, as the camera pans over her weathered skin, her pink bathrobe, and her pack of cigarettes, I was drawn to her character. She kept me engaged and interested through the movie.
The bad news is I don't really think the movie, or the rest of the cast, was as good as her. Misty Upham, who plays the Native American woman who teams with Leo in her business, a little flat as an actress. So as good as Leo was, the scenes often felt a little unbalanced.
The movie as a whole is fairly engaging, but also a little predictable. After the first 15 or 20 minutes, you can imagine many of the places the movie will go. I did find the ending poignant without leaning too hard towards depressing or hopeful. The movie is worth seeing for its portrait of working-class poverty and especially for Leo's performance.
The Edge of Heaven (2008)
The Edge of Heaven follows 6 major characters (2 mothers and daughters, 1 father and son) and their connections to one another. In outline, it calls to mind similar cross-cultural movies such as Babel and Crash. I tend to enjoy these types of movies, and The Edge of Heaven is a worthy addition and puts its own spin on the genre.
The movie concerns Germans and Turks who throughout the movie move between the two countries. The movie begins with an older Turkish man living in Germany who falls in love with a Turkish prostitute living in Germany. Events ensue, and his son ends up going to Turkey. The prostitute's daughter ends up coming to Germany (and then back to Turkey), and so on and so forth.
The movie addresses in a beautiful way the ways that parents and children interact, and what happens when those bonds are broken. It also looks at the connections that can take place outside the bonds of family. Many sad things happen in the film, but it doesn't leave you feeling depressed. In the days since I've seen it, I've thought about the characters a lot. Its one of those movies where you wish you could follow the characters even longer. The director, Faith Akin, also never forces the connections between the characters. While lives intersect, I found the connections plausible and never forced.