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Critic wrangle: “Frozen River.”

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08012008_frozenriver.jpgI really didn’t care for Courtney Hunt’s feature debut “Frozen River” when I caught it at Sundance, but others did, to the point where it won the Grand Jury Prize, was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, opened New Directors/New Films and now, in theatrical release, is receiving mostly praise, while star Melissa Leo’s name is being idly tossed around by the early Oscar-watching crowd. Her nervy, ego-free performance is without a doubt the main reason to watch the film.

Amongst the praise: Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly observes that “as written and directed by Courtney Hunt, the movie is no somber, medicinal downer. It takes the form of a thriller you can believe in,” while Stephen Holden at the New York Times finds that “Ms. Hunt’s eye for detail has the precision of a short story writer’s. She misses nothing.” Andrew Sarris at the New York Observer claims the film “plays out as one of the strongest feminist statements I have ever seen onscreen,” and that “Ms. Leo and [co-star Misty] Upham somehow project an aura of indestructibility around Ray and Lila that should prove thematically and spiritually invigorating for adult audiences with a feeling for the heroism of everyday life.”

More measured in his acclaim is Andrew O’Hehir at Salon, who writes that “‘Frozen River’ isn’t cinematically ambitious or formally adventurous, but it’s built around powerful and nuanced performances by Leo, Upham and Charlie McDermott (as Ray’s teenage son, uncomfortably poised at the edge of manhood).” “What lends it distinction, if only mildly,” adds Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club, “are the engrossing particulars of the setting, with its uncommon glimpse into tribal law and reservation life, and Leo’s performance, which brings overdue attention to a career spent laboring under the radar.” Ella Taylor at the LA Weekly allows that “the movie careens uncertainly between gritty realism, sudden bursts of melodrama and inspiration,” but concludes that “what sticks in memory isn’t Ray and Lila’s 11th-hour redemption but the unnerving lack of basic safety that comes with living on the financial edge.”

Not won over: Slant‘s Ed Gonzalez, who writes “Call it Sundanceploitation, only this one is a more shameless brew–less intuitive, more manipulative and amateurishly performed, and so screechily written you might be excused for thinking Paul Haggis was behind it.” And the New York Press’ Armond White suggests that “from both Ray and Lila’s overburdened motherhood and oppressed femininity to the utterly joyless environment they share, Frozen River says little about the realities of American poverty and human subsistence. It merely proves how self-righteous middle-class filmmakers can be about the underclass.”

[Photo: “Frozen River,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2008]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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