Thursday, 3 March 2011

True Grit (2010)

While clearly a product of the Coen Brothers' quirky mentality, the above film is on the surface one of their more mainstream and accessible movies. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards -- and won none of them, so perhaps I should briefly comment on this week's ceremony and examine the film in respect of its failed nominations.

I must confess that I had seen very few of this years contenders before Oscar Night, but I have read sufficient reviews and commentaries and seen numerous clips of the various films to form some strong personal opinions. One movie I did see was "The Fighter" (reviewed below) and while I understand why Christian Bale's showy performance caught the voters' eye, I think that Melissa Leo's win was influenced by her previous best actress loss; for my money, the unnominated Mark Wahlberg gave a better performance than either of them.

But back to "True Grit": like a lot of people I have fond memories of John Wayne's crowd-pleasing performance back in 1969, which won him his only Oscar. While my memory of the film itself is now a little hazy (must watch it again, Pat), I do believe the Coen boys when they say that their version is far more faithful to the original Charles Portis novel (note to self: must read). Apparently great chunks of the film's dialogue were taken straight from the printed page, and that may be one reason why their movie lost out on the best adapted screenplay award (plus the fact that Aaron Sorkin's script for "The Social Network" was so timely). "True Grit" also lost in the sound editing and sound mixing categories -- one of these days I will understand the difference between these two and discover why they are even award categories. Further losses were for art direction and costume design, both of which were won by the very successful, colourful, and entertaining "Alice in Wonderland" from Tim Burton; however I can understand the movie's inclusion amongst the nominees. as the film's details possess a fine eye for time and place.

Moving on to the main awards, Hailee Steinfeld did a remarkable turn as Mattie Ross and was more of the right age than Kim Darby in the earlier film; if any of the characters demonstrated what 'true grit' really means, it was she, in a fearless performance. However first-timers seldom win the major awards -- although it has certainly happened occasionally in the past -- and one can only hope that we will see more of this fine young actress in the future. As for Jeff Bridges' nod for best actor, which would have made him a winner two years running, despite thinking that he is one of Hollywood's finest actors and something of an original, a win this year would have been a travesty. I was frankly not all that taken with his turn in last year's "Crazy Heart", but that role allowed greater versatility and pathos than his shambling, mumbling turn here. This is not to say that he wasn't both watchable and oft-times amusing (far better than Matt Damon's conflicted Texas Ranger), but it was hardly great acting in what was a very strong year.

Which takes us to the losses for Best Picture and Best Directing: while the two categories have occasionally provided wins for two different movies, one is back to the old conundrum of how can a best movie direct itself? It was clear from the get-go that the final contest would be between "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech", and I too would have opted for the winning latter. This British film will probably remain a timeless classic in the years ahead when Facebook has become something of an internet relic. On those grounds alone, the Coens' reworking of "True Grit" will probably also win the test of time.

This brings me to the movie's last Oscar loss: cinematography. The Coens' regular colleague Roger Deakins has been nominated by the Academy a total of nine times and has never won. I find it hard to understand why the filming of CGI-generated special effects in "Inception" was considered a greater achievement than the achingly beautiful and poetic cinematography on display here. He wuz robbed!!!

In summary, this new version of an old favourite may not have been an award-winner, but it is a major achievement and can proudly take its place with the brothers' finest films.
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