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Oscars ‘Daily Bite’: How indie hit ‘Hell or High Water’ became an Academy front runner

Chris Pine, left, and Ben Foster in

Chris Pine, left, and Ben Foster in "Hell or High Water." Credit: CBS Films / Lorey Sebastian

Throughout the ongoing Oscar conversation, most of the attention has focused on two titles: the musical “La La Land” and the gay coming-of-age drama “Moonlight.” Both were made for low to modest budgets and began as limited releases before riding a wave of critical acclaim to become best picture nominees.

Meanwhile, another indie hit has quietly strolled onto the Academy’s red carpet: David MacKenzie’s “Hell or High Water.”

The crime drama set in windswept West Texas stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as brothers who rob banks with an unusual and somewhat puzzling goal: to give the money back. A grizzled Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) and his American Indian-Mexican partner (Gil Birmingham) begin following the brothers from bank to bank, trying to guess their next move.

Written by Taylor Sheridan (whose script for “Sicario” won a Writers Guild Award last year), “Hell or High Water” received only a modest theatrical release, but drew rave reviews — not only for its terse dialogue and colorful characters but for its prescient themes of Red State economic woes, distrust of the government and out-in-the-open ethnic tension (the two Rangers trade many sharp but affectionate barbs).

Fans of the film hoped it might garner a screenwriting nomination — which it has — but it also earned nods for Bridges as supporting actor and for film editing. What’s more, “Hell or High Water” landed a slot among the nine best picture nominees, edging out Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” and Clint Eastwood’s “Sully,” among other high-profile dramas from 2016.

“A lot of people say, ‘It’s a good movie for these times,’ ” Bridges told Indiewire late last year. “Isn’t it always ‘these times’?”

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