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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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Elevating the Oscar winners, Part #3: Best Leading Actress

This continues my experiment with predicting this year's Oscars entirely without logical thought of reference to rumors and odds, but entirely on the basis of my emotions, with reference to the newly-named human emotion of Elevation.

My usual logical and, of course, profound official predictions will appear with the annual Outguess Ebert contest on Feb. 8. These early judgments are entirely subjective and inarguable. They won't even include discussions of the other four nominees. They will not necessarily be reflected in my Feb. 8 selections.

Best Actress: Melissa Leo. What a complete performance, evoking a woman's life in a time of economic hardship. The most timely of films, but that isn't reason enough. I was struck by how intensely determined she was to make the payments, support her two children, carry on after her abandonment by a gambling husband, and still maintain rules and goals around the house. This was a heroic woman.

The film's premise seems unlikely: A poor woman in a part-time job fights to survive. She gets some help from her concerned teenage son. She catches another desperate woman trying to steal her car. They team up to drive across a frozen river to smuggle Chinese from Canada to Mexico. This could have made a terrible movie.

Courtney Hunt, the writer-director, works with Leo to make this unlikely woman convincing and believable. There is no strain, no going for effects. Leo plays very close to the bone, closer to the soul. She does what she does because her kids can't live on breakfast cereal and Tang. She is never pathetic. She is resourceful. She trusts herself. She's trying to raise good kids. I cared deeply for her, I even loved the character, so there's my vote.

"Frozen River" returns to theaters on Friday, Jan. 30, and because of Oscar attention will get more bookings than it's had before. That's the way to see it.

My official predictions will appear with the annual Outguess Ebert contest on Feb. 8.

The blog entry on elevation is here:

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/01/i_feel_good_i_knew_that_i_woul.html

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