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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

True Grit a Hit

If you see only one movie this year, make it True Grit. Which I can say because I've seen only one movie this year. I think that includes rentals.

Anyway, TG was well worth being "it." I saw it nearly two weeks ago, and I'm still thinking about it. A few critics dismissed it, in part because the bar for Coen Brothers movies is now set pretty damned high, especially after they won an Oscar for No Country. The thing about the Coens is that you can't always tell immediately how good one of their films really is. O Brother got mixed reviews--and still pops up as a two star film on my Comcast guide--but it's one of their best, a film that gets better and funnier every time I see it. I still don't fully get The Big Lebowski (too LA?), but it has become one of the great cult movies of our age. And hardly anyone seemed to notice Miller's Crossing, although it still burns in my memory years later ("Ahn-achy!"). True Grit, on the other hand, seemed great the first time through, and it made me want to sit through a second show, although I compromised by just watching the trailer on-line over and over again (kudos to the Johnny Cash!).

The other reason for the early critical ambivalence may be that this was a "remake," which didn't go so well when the Coens did Ladykillers, maybe their weakest film. A lot of critics have fond memories of the Duke in the original. All apologies to the Man Marion, but the new one kicks his ass six ways to sundown. Far better film-making, and all around better actors this time, with the caveats that it is hard to top either Robert Duvall (Lucky Ned) or Strother Martin (of Cool Hand Luke fame, here as the horsetrading Colonel), but the excellent Barry Pepper and Dakin Matthews at least fight those duels to a draw. Meanwhile, Stanley Fish, who I like only intermittently, has a great review here, explaining its thematic superiority to the elder version.

Somehow, TG turned into the big popular hit of the Oscar season. Really love to see some nominations here: Bridges, Steinfeld, Damon, etc. And I can say that with confidence, because I've seen one movie this year.


At 10:39 AM, Blogger Will said...

Agreed. We saw TG on Sunday. I'm still going over every scene in my head, and pretty much have been non-stop since leaving the theater. It was incredible. Bridges will be nominated for Best Actor. It's pretty much a given. However, The Presidents Speech is the next on our list to view. And I have heard A LOT of Oscar buzz surrounding the main actor on that film, as well. (His name escapes me right now, and I'm too lazy to look it up.) So, when we see that, I'll weigh performances and see who I think comes out on top. But Bridges is gonna be tough to beat.

"You promised that man a proper burial!!" "The ground's too hard! If these boys wanted a Christian burial, they shoulda gotten themselves killt in tha summer!" .. Sorry. Random, I know, but I love it.

I remember you saying you weren't a fan of The Big Lebowski in class one day. I can't believe that. It's one of my favorites. But I guess it just appeals to a certain type of sense of humor. Or people or can empathize with lazy hippies who have crazy friends. Either way, I liked it.

Anyway, I agree completely. I too have only seen one film this year, and I am more than certain it will be winning some Oscars. It's science.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger fronesis said...

Yep, I loved it too. The Coen brothers are hit or miss with me: I didn't understand the Big Lebowski either, and I didn't really like O Brother. But Fargo is one of my favorite films.

True Grit was just perfectly done, I thought. Guess I need to go watch the original...

At 11:20 AM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

Will, you picked what may be my favorite quote from TG, although there were lots to choose from--Bridges on the witness stand was priceless, and Damon's "sun got in your eye" quip had me rolling. Not to forget Hailee (?) Steinfeld, who was scary good.

On Big Lebowski, I'm not sure I have a good argument other than to say that it meandered so much I lost focus and ended up feeling like the Dude. I enjoyed the scenes with Bridges, Turturro, Beschimi and Goodman (in the bowling alley, etc.). But whenever we went to David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, David Thewlis and the rich Lebowskis I got bored and annoyed--they struck me as all affectation and little wit.

Fro, let me defend O Brother's brilliance. When I first saw it I couldn't quite get past its weirdness and the way it frustrated my expectations (based on the Odyssey? not THAT closely). But the music is amazing, and it is visually striking--every frame could be a painting--plus, it features some of the best lines of any movie I know: "Do. . . NOT. . . seek. . . the. . . treasure!!", "We thought you was a toad," "Get in boys, I'm gonna R-U-N-N-O-F-T.", "I'm the damn paterfamilias!// But you ain't bona fide.", "Lots of respectable people have been hit by trains.", "We could hire our own midget, even shorter than his." I could go on.

More broadly, I see it as a fantastic movie about populism and politics in the South. They really ought to teach this in politics and film classes. Every scene with Charles Durning as Pappy O'Daniel is amazing--the cynical politician whose relentless, two-face pandering ultimately makes him the redeeming hero. This is a strange truth of politics that you rarely see on screen, where tales of idealism and innocence betrayed (the template for All the King's Men, etc., etc.) are the standard narrative. Then there's the brutal satire of southern racism--a great twist in a movie that otherwise revels in quirky periodicity. It's Birth of a Nation turned inside out.


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