Tag Archives: True Grit

For what they are worth (very, very little) my Oscar predictions in the form of a digestible round-up

Phil Collins with his Oscar, yesterday

Opinions about the Oscars are like arseholes. Everybody (OK, nearly everybody) has got one. So I’ll keep this nice and brief, and then you are free to carry on with your business.

Firstly, Best Picture. I haven’t seen Winter’s Bone or The Kids Are All Right yet, but that doesn’t matter because neither have a prayer of winning the big prize. It looks like being a straight fight between The King’s Speech and The Social Network. That’s fine with me, because of the rest of the field, only Toy Story 3 really deserves to be up there and sadly, being an animated feature doesn’t appear to carry much water when the big prizes are being handed out.

I’d give it (and I think they will give it) to The King’s Speech, which is sweeping, moving and lots of other adjectives ending in -ing. To simply brand it feelgood entertainment would be to do it a disservice. I thought the composition was thrilling (I loved the way that speech therapist Lionel Logue’s gaudily shambolic office/house was used to frame the relationship between the two men), and also found an unexpected touch of the surreal embodied in the use of a number of off-kilter low-angle shots and bizarrely intimate close-ups redolent of a true British classic: Terry Gilliam’s dystopian Brazil.

In terms of the acting categories, Natalie Portman is nailed on to win Best Actress for her turn in Darren Aronofsky’s manic farce Black Swan, although Michelle Williams is a nice outside bet for Blue Valentine. If Colin Firth doesn’t win the Best Actor award for his nuanced portrayal of the repressed Bertie in The King’s Speech, I will eat my hat (which would, admittedly, taste a bit nicer if James Franco were to get some love for his bravura one-man, three-limb show in 127 Hours).

Geoffrey Rush, magnificent in The King's Speech

I’m already preparing to eat one hat (an unloved beanie dating from about 1996 that has 100% SERIOUS emblazoned across it, FYI) in resignation due to the fact that the magnificent Geoffrey Rush (as the aforementioned Logue) will lose out to Christian Bale (The Fighter) in the Best Supporting Actor category. Bale’s a fine actor, but here he chomps his way through the scenery in a conspicuously mannered fashion, taking all of his cues from a superior performance by Samuel L Jackson as an addled crackhead in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. It’s already bad enough that he’s stolen all the limelight from his  co-star Mark Wahlberg who centres the film (solid, entertaining fare, by the way) with a steely, resourceful turn, and was summarily ignored by the panel.

As I have previously written about, one of the most ludicrous decisions from the panel was to shortlist True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld in the Best Supporting Actress category, despite the fact that she’s in almost every scene and the film is totally framed around her. So the least they can do is give her the award to make up for it, especially in the light of Melissa Leo’s (The Fighter) decision to pimp herself out in a barking mad self-promotional push. Helena Bonham-Carter does fine in The King’s Speech, but up against the titanic Firth and Rush, she isn’t really given that much to do.

I anticipate dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a-boring-movie Inception will take home a slew of technical awards, but I would tip The Social Network for Best Editing. It can’t be an easy task to harness Aaron Sorkin’s snappy 1940s-paced dialogue or the ruthlessly cross-cut momentum of the narrative, but editors Angus Walsh and Kirk Baxter have helped to produce a coherent film about THE ZEITGEST which doesn’t betray its thematic roots in the field of the terminally short-attention-spanned.

In other awards, I would love Banksy to get the Best Documentary nod for Exit Through The Gift Shop, and I would literally go crackers (although I don’t really know what that means) if Dogtooth triumphs in the Best Picture in a Foreign Language category.

Anyway, let’s see who will win!

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Motherfuck him and John Wayne

True Grit, then. Another stone-cold masterpiece delivered by the greatest film-making force currently operating in the US and perhaps the world, as many would have you believe?

Frankly, not quite. This adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel (as opposed to a remake of the 1969 film version with John Wayne) is certainly enjoyable, imbued with a streak of the Coens’ typically discursive humour and possessed of a steady narrative momentum, yet falls short of their highest standards thanks to an ultimate reliance on deus-ex-machina plot developments and character intervention (blame the source material, perhaps?) and a distinct lack of real emotional clout.

The joint directing team certainly show their pedigree in the expert handling of a couple of tense action scenes. As with similar moments in earlier films Miller’s Crossing and Fargo, they demonstrate a thrilling capacity to build tension through silence and sidelong glances, before delivering explosions of genuinely shocking violence. In terms of the look of the film, Roger Deakins’ beguiling, often stunning cinematography contributes hugely to the evocation of a totally convincing sense of time and place.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon both turn in laconically amusing performances as gone-to-seed lawman Rooster Cogburn and windy Texas ranger LeBeouf respectively. However, they generate less kinetic energy between them than Elliot Gould’s Marlowe on his own in Robert Altman’s similarly dyspeptic reimagining of orginal material, The Long Goodbye. Less impressive is Josh Brolin (an actor I normally hugely enjoy) as the pathetically villainous Chaney. The tension mounts in anticipation of his arrival, yet his thunder is immediately stolen by Barry Pepper’s portrayal of the more complex ‘baddie’ Ned. It could be argued that Brolin is deliberately wet, however more menace would have been welcomed.

Furthermore, as a friend brilliantly pointed out, one awkwardly mystical sequence involving a horse, blue lighting and a sound stage, is more than reminiscent of one of The Dude’s sojourns into fantasy in The Big Lebowski, which somewhat breaks the spell of the whole thing. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to not picture Bridges as the Dude.

Luckily, the male performance hole (there was simply no other way to put it) is filled by an astonishing central performance from newcomer, 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, the spirited, earnest moral centre of the film (as long as your moral compass isn’t too far from Charles Bronson’s in Death Wish) who will not quit until her father’s murder is avenged.

True Grit has other faults. The Coens stray into queasy territory in the scene when Cogburn repeatedly assaults a young Indian brother and sister by kicking them to the ground from their elevated porch. Despite drawing laughs from a healthy percentage of the crowd it certainly wasn’t funny to me, and made me feel uncomfortable. It is one thing to portray an unpleasant period in history from a morally neutral perspective, but another thing entirely to mine cheap laughs from nasty racism.

Ultimately this is Steinfeld’s film; the young actress totally owns True Grit. It is refreshing to have a film told from such a different perspective and her performance energizes proceedings. Ironically, with all the Battle of the Sexes hoo-ha last year around the Oscar showdown between Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) and James Cameron (Ferngully 3D Avatar), if Steinfeld were to pick up an award this year it would strike a much more telling blow for equality. Her dominance of the film (not to mention her screen time) makes a mockery of the Oscar panel’s decision to shortlist her for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, as opposed to lead.

True Grit is beautifully shot, well-mounted, yet fundamentally unmoving fare, enlivened by some superb action sequences and blessed with one of the all-time great performances from a child actor. However, it comes as a disappointment after the intensely personal and dazzlingly disturbing territory that the Coen Brothers mined in their last film, A Serious Man.