The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
An offbeat talent known for writing (The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom) and directing (When Billie Beat Bobby) some of the better films made for television, Anderson moves to the big screen with this heartfelt drama. As Evelyn Ryan, a real-life small-town mother of 10 who supported her family by winning contests (Anderson adapted the film from a book by Ryan’s daughter Terry), Julianne Moore turns in a characteristically terrific performance as a woman who won’t let life beat her down, despite the many mouths, lack of money with which to feed them and a drunk husband. Woody Harrelson is worth a face-punching on a good day, which works to his advantage because his Kelly is truly pathetic; borderline abusive and ashamed that his wife is carrying the family, the film’s most cringe-worthy moments spring from his whiskey-fueled crying fits and appliance bludgeoning. If you don’t already know that Julianne Moore is one of our greatest living actors, this underseen film will prove it to you, as she takes a potential simp—it was the ’50s, after all, condoms and divorces were rare—and makes her dignified and inspiring.