Films falling through the awards cracks: “Mud”...Where did our love go?

In an excellent feature today on the Tribeca Film Festival website, Karen Kemmerle asks, "Why Has Everyone Forgotten About Mud?" She points out that the movie has a near-perfect 98% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, a respected review aggregate site that compiles the thoughts of critics worldwide. "Is timing truly everything?" asks Kemmerle. "Award nominations are always accompanied by talk of the snubs and surprises, but this is especially true of this year’s Golden Globes [where the film was shut out]." Her argument concludes, "With Oscar announcements set to be announced on Thursday, January 16, we can only hope that Mud figures in the equation." I couldn't agree more.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols firmly cemented his name in my brain with 2011's modern classic Take Shelter. That picture made my Toronto International Film Festival Top 11 and earned a spot on my Top 10 of 2011. It still stands as one of my cinematic highlights of the past five years.

Naturally, any followup would necessarily be subject to extremely high expectations on my part, despite every effort to maintain some semblance of objectivity. It was in that lofty context that Mud arrived, debuting in competition for the prestigious Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2012. It was snapped up by Roadside Attractions and parent company Lionsgate for domestic theatrical distribution, had its triumphant U.S. Premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and screened in Austin's SXSW Film Festival in March. That's where I was fortunate enough to catch it, after which I awarded the film five stars and a place on my 2013 SXSW Film Festival Top 8 Narratives.

In what I was (and still am) convinced could become an American indie classic, two Arkansas boys on the cusp of manhood, Ellis and Neckbone, come across a mysterious island in the Mississippi River on which an enigmatic drifter has taken up residence. This peculiar man -- Mud, portrayed with frightening brilliance by Matthew McConaughey -- is everything a young teen imagines would be lurking in the shadows of forbidden places. He's scary, he's a puzzle, and, most of all, he's a magnet.

Tye Sheridan (14 at the time), who played Steve in Terrence Malick's Oscar-nominated The Tree of Life, portrays young Ellis with such charming authenticity that there's little doubt he's destined for stardom. His performance was a standout of the festival. Now 17, The Hollywood Reporter recently described him as "one of the most in-demand male teen actors in Hollywood," and at least one industry insider told me that casting agents think he's "the hottest thing since sliced bread." True to form, his turn in David Gordon Green's Joe, opposite Nicolas Cage, earned a place on my 2013 Toronto International Film Festival Top 8 and earned Sheridan the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Upcoming Young Actor at the Venice International Film Festival. Now the scripts are piling up and he already has three more films awaiting release.

McConaughey and Sheridan are surrounded by talent in Mud. Ellis' partner in crime is Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who provides much of the wisecracking comic relief in an otherwise dark and, dare I say, creepy narrative that's filled with noir tension from start to finish. The adult cast is filled with accomplished veterans including Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, Sam Shepard, Paul Sparks, Joe Don Baker, and Take Shelter's Michael Shannon. All are up to the task. But this is a coming-of-age story first and foremost, and it's the pas de trois between McConaughey, Sheridan, and Lofland that is the heart and soul of this magnificent film. Add stunning cinematography from Adam Stone (who also shot Take Shelter), masterful editing by Julie Monroe, and a haunting score by David Gordon Green's composer David Wingo (who scored Take Shelter and Joe, as well) and you have what I (and many others, judging from the reviews) consider to be the decade's benchmark in the coming-of-age genre.

At the time, I described Mud as Stand by Me meets Killer Joe, a wonderful, original tale of two boys growing up in rural America. So what happened? Against the backdrop of a parade of wonderful titles in 2013's awards lineup, there's no reason this film shouldn't be up there with the best of them. Unless the critics making these decisions have such a short attention span that they can't remember what 98 out of 100 of them raved about this past spring. Where's the love now?

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NOTE: There aren't nearly as many as there should be, but a few honors have been bestowed upon the film. Out of over 20 different groups announcing nominations and awards in the past few weeks, six have recognized Mud.

Spirit Awards: Jeff Nichols nominated for Best Director, winner Robert Altman Award (to Nichols, casting director Francine Maisler, and the cast)
National Board of Review: One of the year's Top 10 Independent Films
Online Film Critics Society: Matthew McConaughey nominated for Best Supporting Actor
Chicago Film Critics Association: Tye Sheridan nominated for Most Promising Performer
Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association: Tye Sheridan winner Best Youth Performance
Broadcast Film Critics Association Critics' Choice Awards: Tye Sheridan nominated for Best Young Actor

Numerous individual critics and insiders have weighed in as well.

Legendary Oscar-winning filmmaker Pedro Almodovar placed Mud #7 on his Best Films of 2013
Empire Magazine placed Mud #4 on their Top 10 of 2013



Author

Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at Larry411.com

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  • Author: Larry Richman
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