‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’: Frances McDormand in Oscar caliber comedy

Oscar winner Frances McDormand (“Fargo“) shines in another dark comedy, Martin McDonagh‘s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” that premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 4 to rave reviews. She plays a grieving mother who tries to shame the local police chief (Woody Harrelson) into investigating the murder of her daughter. McDonagh, a Tony-nominated playwright, won the Best Live Action Short Oscar in 2004 for “Six Shooter.”

“Three Billboards” is from Fox Searchlight Pictures, the studio that shepherded “12 Years a Slave” and “Birdman” to Best Picture Oscars in 2013 and 2014 respectively. It will screen at the Toronto film festival prior to being released on Nov. 10 just as awards season kicks into high gear.

Expect McDormand to figure in many of the year-end critics awards and to be a strong contender at the Globes on the comedy/musical side. The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. may wish to right that wrong of 21 years ago, when it went with Madonna for “Evita.” While McDormand went on to win the Oscar for “Fargo,” the “Material Girl” was snubbed by the academy.

Likewise, the actors branch of the academy is sure to embrace McDormand once more. While she reaped two supporting bids in the years since her win (“Almost Famous,” 2000; “North Country,” 2005), she has never contended in lead again. Although the actress has not been given as meaty role in a movie as this one for two decades, she has parlayed such parts into awards on both Broadway (“Good People,” 2011 Tony) and TV (“Olive Kitteredge,” 2014 Emmy). With that latter win, McDormand became just the 21st performer to claim the triple crown of acting awards.

Below, a sampling of the reviews for McDormand in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” After reading these excerpts, be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.

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Geoffrey MacNab (The Independent): “She is superb as the stoical, strong-willed but vulnerable mother. Mildred isn’t just in search of vengeance. She is trying to make sense of an event so horrific that it defies any easy rationalisation. Whenever her character risks becoming too introspective, there will be a flash of humour. We’ll see her ridiculing her abusive ex-husband and his jailbait-aged girlfriend with savage glee or cursing the photogenic news reporter who is always on hand to report on any new town scandal or misfortune.”

Fionnuala Halligan (Screen Daily): “A commanding Frances McDormand plays a strong-minded working-class woman who thirsts for justice for her murdered daughter in Martin McDonagh’s quixotic, loose ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.’ Anchored by a funny, foul-mouthed performance from McDormand, McDonagh’s daringly-structured dark comedy is rich and layered and often laugh-out-loud funny but trips over constant tonal shifts.”

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