A year after it won two major prizes at the Sundance Film Festival, the gritty drama "Winter's Bone" cast a warm glow over Hollywood on Tuesday by picking up four Oscar nominations, including best picture.
The film, budgeted at just $2 million, featured a no-name cast in a bleak story about crystal methamphetamine addiction in America's heartland.
Critics raved about the movie, which earned a respectable $6 million during a limited release at the North American box office through independent distributor Roadside Attractions.
But its recognition factor pales in comparison to the nine other best picture nominees, led by such heavy hitters as "The King's Speech," "True Grit" and "The Social Network." The second-lowest grossing nominee was "The Kids Are All Right," with ticket sales of about $21 million and a marquee cast.
While "Winter's Bone" was often touted as a best picture contender, and its 20-year-old star Jennifer Lawrence as a likely best actress nominee, there was every possibility that it could slip under the radar of Oscar voters.
In the end, it picked up additional nominations for John Hawkes' supporting role as a terrifying uncle and for the adapted screenplay written by director Debra Granik with producer Anne Rosellini.
"It was really great to see 'Winter's Bone' do so well," said Bradley Jacobs, senior movie editor at Us Weekly magazine. "That's one thing that can be great about the Oscars. It can, in good circumstances, shine a lot of light on a small movie that really deserves attention."
Lawrence, touted as a rising star in Hollywood, plays a teenager named Ree who is told that she and her younger siblings will be evicted from their home in the rural Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri unless she can find her dad, who has disappeared. As Ree sets out to find him, she uncovers a web of secrets within a hostile criminal underworld.
"Winter's Bone" won the dramatic competition grand jury prize and a screenwriting award at Sundance almost a year ago, and Roadside simultaneously came aboard after paying a low-six-figure sum for distribution rights.
While the film is considered an Oscar outsider, its real victory lies in the nominations announcement. The film has sold about 4 million copies on DVD, and that number could rise to at least 5 million or 6 million thanks to Oscar attention, Roadside co-president Howard Cohen said.
"The other win will be on Oscar night," he told Reuters. "What the ceremony's going to mean for 'Winter's Bone' is an incredible amount of publicity to keep the life of the film going and more people to rent it and buy it."