Is it a spoof, seriously played for laughs? A Hollywood vehicle or art house gem? With the superb Jeff Bridges as a gun-slinging Falstaff, Matt Damon as straight man, Josh Brolin as slick-haired villain, the usual assortment of pock-marked outlaws, and the debut of a wise, sensible, and precocious fourteen year old Hailee Steinfeld -- the remake of True Grit is a sure hit for a Best Picture Oscar nod.
True, the movie was shunned by the Globes nominators who might have included it in their non-dramatic Best Picture lineup, but the wisdom is that the foreign press does not favor Westerns.
At yesterday's premiere at the Ziegfeld, no one seemed to care. Frances McDormand avoided the red carpet. A crowd that included John Legend, Robert De Niro, Stephen Daldry, Richard Belzer, Jesse Eisenberg, and Coen Bros. veteran Marcia Gay Harden (she debuted in Miller's Crossing) trekked cross-town in the cold night, spilling into The Four Seasons for a wildly packed after party where "pickled buffalo tongue" (see the film) was not on the buffet.
Ethan Coen spoke about reaching back to the 1968 Charles Portis novel, originally a series for the Saturday Evening Post on which the original 1969 western, True Grit with John Wayne, was based. (Portis is still around, he said, and has not yet seen the film.) Indeed, what makes this movie so special is the archaic sounding language, delightful once you get into its rhythms, particularly poetic in a courtroom scene where Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) explains a horse theft.
The ever-affable Bridges held court in the famed restaurant; he spoke glowingly of working with the Coens again. "They know what they are doing," he said, just as they did in The Big Lebowski, a movie that baffled critics when it first came out and is now a cult classic. Then Bridges went head to head with the legendary Sylvia Miles on the subject of Best Actor Oscars.
Of course now True Grit will ride with the brilliant front-runners for the Academy Award: The King's Speech, The Fighter, and Black Swan, but hey, when it comes to this sort of shoot out, the Coens are used to it.
This post also appears on Gossip Central.