Release date: Aug. 20
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Prior Oscar winners: Holly Hunter (“The Piano”)

A melodrama about teenage girls careening out of control, “Thirteen” seized audiences at its 2003 Sundance Film Festival premiere, sending both acquisition execs and young fathers into a frenzy. Winner of a directors trophy in Park City and a special jury prize in Deauville, Catherine Hardwicke’s directorial debut follows the downward spiral of Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) from innocent adolescent to tongue-pierced, sexually active, shoplifting bad-girl. It’s not exactly the stuff Oscar winners are usually drawn to, as few teen-centered dramas have entered the Academy’s top tier, but “Thirteen” is decidedly adult material — more akin to “American Beauty” than “Sixteen Candles.”

The Academy always loves a fresh face, and, as the wayward Tracy, Wood has been praised by many critics as a revelation. As Tracy’s single mom, struggling to stay hip, sober and parental, Oscar winner Holly Hunter could grab a supporting actress nod.

Much of the buzz around “Thirteen” has centered on the genesis of the project: Hardwicke collaborated on the script with the now 15-year-old Nikki Reed, a family friend.

And the results make for a bracingly genuine script, filled with frank dialogue and all-too-true scenes of adolescent desperation. The background story also makes for compelling real-life drama: seeing director and actress at the podium screams “Good Will Hunting.”

The film has also been used as a point of social debate, from required viewing at schools to an hourlong forum between daughters and parents on “Oprah.”

It should also help that Hardwicke isn’t a total industry outsider; as a production designer, she has worked on films such as “Three Kings,” “Vanilla Sky” and “Tombstone.”

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