This year’s Academy Award track is running frisky ponies. The Social Network and The King’s Speech were fast out of the gate and looked like winners. But here comes a big-hoofed galloper with Jeff Bridges urging him on like the Big Lebowski in spurs. True Grit came from nowhere to ten nominations.
How did this happen? Even the Coen Brothers, who directed it, said they were surprised. The Oscar season is supposed to be handicapped on the Golden Globes racing form; where True Grit was a 20 to one shot. The winner-picking ability of these hundred straggling journalists who can’t afford admission to the clubhouse at Hollywood Park Raceway has always been so good they usually do the scratch sheet for the 5000 elite members of the motion picture academy.
But this upset should surprise no one. True Grit is great filmmaking. That’s what the scribes of HFPA (Hollywood Foreign Press Association) can’t understand because they are not moviemakers. It is what the members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences do understand perfectly.
Filmmaking is not just putting a good story together. The Social Network and The King’s Speech (along with several other films this year) do that quite well. But the True Grit kind of movie is the soul of Hollywood. Old timers used to call films like True Grit “Movie movies.”
Movie movies are not stories on film, they’re windows into another world where we are abruptly set down, must quickly learn the rules, and then participate in an evolving drama so full of big characters they take our breath away. That’s a movie movie. It can be called Lawrence of Arabia or Gone with the Wind or The Wizard of Oz or Chinatown or ET.
The people who make movies in Hollywood know how to make movie movies. They know it better than anyone else in the world. Many of them came to Hollywood because they saw one of these films as a child and decided they wanted to be there, in the movies.
When they see a film like True Grit it reawakens all those reasons for what they do, all the craft they feel proud of, and all the reasons they put up with the assholes they suffer day after day to work in the movies.
To the stringers who write star interviews for papers like the Zagreb Post and the Latvia Times, True Grit is another Western. To the people who toil in Hollywood, it is a reason to believe movie movies are still possible. And giving True Grit ten nominations is an affirmation of the true grit of American moviemaking, and an affirmation of the value of all the Hollywood people as bit players on a big screen.