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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

February 24, 2011 at 10:15 AM

Oscar countdown: “True Grit”

This morning’s weather in Seattle feels like those cold nights in the woods in “True Grit,” doesn’t it? The Coen brother’s Western was one of the holiday movie season’s pleasant surprises; a smart, elegant period piece with a good story to tell, and that introduced us to a major young talent. And “True Grit” turned out to be a box-office magnet as well; it’s earned more than twice as much as the Coen brothers’ previous high-earner (“No Country for Old Men” — which, as it happens, won a bunch of Oscars). It’s the only remake in the best picture lineup, and it’s one of those films that pretty much everybody seems to enjoy — unlike, say “Black Swan” and “Inception,” which have divided audiences, it’s hard to find anyone who didn’t get a kick out of “True Grit.” My one hesitation over the film — and this isn’t really a complaint — is that the movie isn’t quite as much fun as reading the Charles Portis novel it’s based on, which was new to me and which seems to have marvelous dialogue on every page (much of which made it into the movie intact). If Joel and Ethan Coen win the adapted screenplay award, they’ve got Portis to thank. “People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day” — and that’s just the opening line.
Total U.S. box office: $164 million, putting it third among the Best Picture nominees
Total Oscar nominations: Ten, for best picture, director(s), actor (Jeff Bridges), supporting actress (Hailee Steinfeld), adapted screenplay, art direction, cinematography, costume design, sound editing and sound mixing. (“No Country for Old Men,” for the record, earned eight nominations.)
Best chance for a win: A couple of scenarios could play out here — “True Grit” could be the underdog who wins a healthy share of Oscars, or it could go home empty-handed, as there’s no category where it’s a sure thing. Nobody thinks it’ll win best picture (though you never know; as I said, everyone seems to like this movie) or best director, and Bridges seems unlikely to repeat last year’s best actor win. But watch Hailee Steinfeld in supporting actress; she’s one of those out-of-nowhere success stories and has conducted herself charmingly during awards season; voters have been known to reward promising kids in this category. Also a good shot: the great Roger Deakins for cinematography (he’s never won, despite eight previous nominations), and possibly the Coens in screenplay, if enough voters aren’t Aaron Sorkin fans.
Odds of this movie creating some fabulous Oscar-night weirdness: Wouldn’t it be fun to see Bridges win again? If he did, he’d join only five other performers in winning back-to-back Oscars: Luise Rainer, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Jason Robards and Tom Hanks. Not likely, though. Steinfeld should give an adorable speech if she wins — for her feature film debut! — and it would be a kick if the famously reclusive Portis shows up.
Where I’d rank this movie among the ten Best Picture nominees: 8
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Hailee Steinfeld, getting a word from Barry Pepper in “True Grit” (photo courtesy Paramount Pictures)

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